Stretching Your Dollar in the Garden

Gardening, or more to the point, growing as many of your own fruit and vegetables as you can, is one way to off-set the times when your dollar has to stretch further. Most readers aged around their sixties will remember growing up at a time when our parents were very conscious of hard times. In many cases we have memories of big vegetable gardens, fruit trees, chickens in their runs, baking, bottling, preserves and jam-making. There was no waste, everything was used, and the expression of the day was: ‘Waste not, Want not’.

There were always ample greens to cook with, bottled fruit for dessert, and eggs or porridge for breakfast. The savings made on these basic food items, from one’s own backyard, meant extra pennies to buy the other commodities one could not produce.

Killing a chicken for Christmas or another special occasion was a luxury, as the chooks were valued more for egg production than meat. We even knew our neighbours, and everyone would share their surpluses in the street where they lived or with friends. This is a far cry from the way we live sixty-odd years on. Back then we knew the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, with ‘wants’ placed on the back burner. It is likely the current economic situation will bring about some sort of resurgence of those depression-era concerns and solutions.

I was recently prompted to reflect on my childhood as a result of reading this American blog: “I eat all natural foods and I’m still active and healthy at age 86…Last week I planted three more dwarf fruit trees – so I now have twelve of various kinds. I COOK my food and don’t eat out of a box. I home-can, dry, and freeze my surplus summer foods. Just like your great-grandmother used to do. I grow a small vegetable garden and also a medicinal herb garden. Everything is organic. I’ve studied herbs for some years. I grew up during the Depression of the 30s and I can do it again. People can be surprised how many things they can do without when it comes down to food. But we NEED the small organic farmers.” An excellent article and one we should reflect on.

Growing Vegetables

At this time of the year it is your last chance to get a crop of greens in for winter. If you leave it too late then the plants will not reach maturity and in the spring may go to seed.

The best vegetables to grow would be silverbeet, spinach, broad beans and winter lettuce. Next would be members of the brassica family such as cabbages etc. There are two ways you can go about this: in containers, or in raised gardens.

Container Planting

The containers I prefer to use are the polystyrene boxes you can obtain cheaply at the fish departments of supermarkets or fish wholesalers. Drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage and fill with a mixture of 80% compost and 20% top-soil. Mix these in a wheel-barrow or on a plastic tarp and add some garden lime, sheep manure pellets or any animal manure you can obtain. Blood & bone can also be included.

Fill the box to about two-thirds full with the mix, and if you have any earth worms, place them into the mix as well. Cover with a couple of sheets of newspaper and wet it down. This is to create a weed barrier for any weed seeds that might be in the soil or home-made compost. Besides, worms love the newspaper. Now fill the box to nearly to the rim with purchased compost, which will be weed-free. Now you can plant your seedlings or seeds into this top layer of compost.

Place the container in a nice sunny position. If you have chlorinated water then fill your watering can and any buckets with the chlorinated water and leave for 24 hours to remove the chlorine, before using it to water the plants. (If your tap water is not chlorinated, forget this step.) I am endeavouring to keep the cost of doing this as low as possible, but would recommend that you purchase a bottle of Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) and spray it over the freshly planted seeds/plants. Repeat about every two weeks – it makes a big difference in the quality and maturity times of your crops.

In each box you have room to plant either: six brassicas or lettuce; eight silverbeet; twelve spinach; ten broad beans or lots of carrot seeds for thinning later. If you like greater variety in your cooking, look for winter-growing Asian vegetable seeds in seed stands or in a mail order catalogues such as ‘Kings Seeds’. You can have lots of these boxes growing different crops in your back yard. They are easy-care and look neat. If you need to place them on a lawn area, then lay down a sheet of black plastic over the cut grass to sit the boxes on. It will likely kill the grass over time, but that means less mowing and it is better to have a full tummy than have a brilliant looking lawn!

Raised bed planting

Raised beds are more permanent than containers, and save on kneeling! If your back yard is fairly full with established plants, then you will likely have to use a sunny part of your lawn to place your raised gardens. When constructing the raised garden make sure you place it so that you can work the garden from all sides which means you will never have to walk on the mix and will avoid the problem of compacting.

Begin by mowing the lawn as low as possible in the area where you will construct the raised garden. Build a surround with any suitable materials such as wood, bricks, concrete blocks etc. If using tanalised wood, paint the wood all over with two coats of acrylic paint to seal in the chemicals.

Place cardboard over the mowed lawn at the base of the raised garden to prevent any weeds or grass growing up. Now fill the raised garden using the same method as for container planting. If you use concrete blocks, then the cavity in the blocks can also be filled and smaller plants such as lettuce or herbs can be planted in the cavity.

Poultry Business

If the recession starts to hit harder, you will want to make your garden as productive as possible. Keeping chickens is an increasingly popular way to be more self-sufficient and keep costs down. If you have the room and means, then construct a small chicken house and run. Chickens can be fed kitchen scraps, weeds as well as some chicken food to give you a ready supply of eggs for eating, and manure for your gardens.

Collect the chicken manure and place into a large bucket or container and fill three-quarters with non-chlorinated water. Stir well and use the liquid manure to feed the soil in your gardens. Dilute 1:10 with non chlorinated water and water this over your gardens.

A little of the MBL can be added to this as well.

For those gardeners that wish to increase the nutritional value of their crops then products such as Rok Solid, Ocean Solids and BioPhos can be applied to the gardens at the prescribed rates on the jars.

If you are new to gardening you will be bound to have successes and failures to start with. The key is to ask for tips from experienced gardeners, so that with time and experience, you will have many more successes than failures.

Problems ring me at 0800 466464 (Palmerston North 06 357 0606)


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One comment on “Stretching Your Dollar in the Garden

  1. This is a really interesting post – thank you.

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