Beginners guide to frugal food gardening (1)

When I started this blog the main reason was to keep a log of our own efforts, secondly I hoped to inspire maybe one or two younger people to give this a go. Times are hard, there’s no denying that and growing your own food is neither difficult or costly. If you have been put off by advertisements for pricey kitset raised gardens or lists of equipment needed to start this is for you. This is a very basic guide only. You really only need a sturdy sharp garden fork and some seeds to start….and a hose. My husband prefers to buy older, secondhand tools – these can be picked up cheaply and they are of better quality than newer ones. This is how we have grown our garden over 6 years on very little money…but with time and some patience.

Gardening isn’t always easy – there are always failures along the way, a bad season for some varieties, pests… the neighbours cats!

This was how our back yard looked in our first summer here, we had just put a smallish garden in one area of our back lawn. Note: the pile of branches at the back was a rampant banksia rose that had just been pulled off the house. Basically we just had a bare lawn at the beginning.


Soil preparation: All plants like sunshine so, the more the better but don’t be put off if your desired area gets only partial sunshine. If you are starting from bare grass simply dig up  squares of turf (minimum of 1 foot) and turn them straight over so the grass is face down in hole. This will give instant garden and add organic matter to the soil below. Organic matter is essential for the long term health of your garden, as it breaks down it releases nutrients for plants to feed on. To begin with we dug holes to put or vegetable and fruit scraps in, covered over and planted on top. Using the fork flat bash soil to break up, it must be quite loose and fine to plant in.

Planting: Vegetable groups have their favourite time of year to grow, ask Google what to plant when. All vegetables will grow from seed generally planted directly into soil. Some, like broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini etc are better started off in seed raising mix in pots or trays first. Carrots, onions, beetroot, silverbeet, radish, corn, beans, peas generally don’t like transplanting and are best sown directly into the soil, following directions on the packet. Potatoes (likewise sweet potatoes) need to be grown from seed potatoes etc.

Pumpkins can be grown from  the seeds taken out of any you eat (at beginning of summer) and just thrown onto an area with alot of organic matter, we use our old compost heaps for pumpkins. Permanent crops like asparagus and yam (okra) are very cheap to start off and just grow every year.

Watering properly is vital, too much will rot your seeds / plants, not watering enough will kill them.

Compost and nutrients: Any successful gardener or farmer will agree that soil health is the key to success. This takes time and you really just build it up over years but the effort is worth it. With the exception of bark, red meat, pet waste, conifer (pine) needles and eucalyptus leaves any organic matter is good. You do not need to build a wooden compost heap, they can just be freestanding in a corner somewhere, or as we do just in piles onto the garden (our garden is big though, there is room for this) We grew approx 1000 kgs of fruit and vegetables this year, nutrients need to be replaced. We are very fortunate and are able to get sheep manure, seaweed and old pea straw for free but this has only been for the last two years, before this we simply had our own compost (fruit & vegetable wastage, autumn leaves, weeds, eggshells, coffee grounds etc) If you have access to seaweed, this is great but it can’t go straight on the garden, its too salty.  It needs to be hosed off well. If you don’t have ready access to bulk compost ingredients you can always scrounge from others eg asking local restaurants for organic waste is not out of the question, scavenging sackfulls of leaves from local parks etc. Commercially produced fertilisers are great but you cannot beat compost and organic matter to enhance soil health.

Particularly puggy soils will loosen up with the addition of lime of gypsum, though lime will alter the soil ph balance, sometimes adversely. An excellent source of gypsum is common old wallboard, (often found in landfills) again check this out on Google.

Fruit & nut trees, berries: For more expensive plants such as fruit trees – most of ours (and there are plenty) have cost us nothing. Our fig, almond, 1x peach, 2x feijoas and 1x lemon  and some berries have been given by family as Christmas or birthday presents. A relation knew we wanted grape vines and bought us some as a wedding present. Apricot, plums, walnut and peach have all grown, self sown, in our compost heap from waste. Recognised, removed and nutured, they are all fruiting fine. We have also given heaps of trees away.

Berries can grow from cuttings or divided canes from other people. We were given 2 raspberry canes four years ago. We now have 2 long rows of raspberries grown along wires which give us a mass of fruit. Berries can also be propagated by ‘pegging down’ – find a longer trailing branch, cut a few tiny nicks in it and peg those nicks onto the soil with wire, or plant those nicked areas into the soil. One blackberry plant has become 5 that way. Strawberries send out little runners that can be taken off the plants at the end of the season and planted. Virtually the only fruit plants we have bought have been 12 cranberries bought as tiny things for $1.25 each 2 -3 years ago, we just had our first harvest.

Self seeding vegetables: We often leave the last of different varieties to go to seed, where they are growing. They seed directly into the soil under and around, seedlings once big enough can be taken up and transplanted out. These tomatoes were all self sewn from tomatoes fallen on the ground, seedlings popped up the following spring and were transplanted.nivan garden

We had around 15 plants this way. We do the same with silverbeet, lettuce, spinach etc.

Our back yard now


Saving seed etc in next post.

5 thoughts on “Beginners guide to frugal food gardening (1)

  1. Just curious, what part of NZ are you in? Have just moved from the Wairarapa where I had a great veggie patch and figured out the growing conditions, now get to start again in Canterbury, near the Port Hills. It’s going to be a blank canvas. Managed a little mini crop this season in our rental, but looking forward to getting to next settled and getting stuck in!


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