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Day 3 – Cashed up Christmas – grow your own

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Pinterest graphic how to save money by gardening

Do you dream of growing your own vegetables but worry that your space is too small?  Today I share with you a guest blog post from my good friend Kristen from No Space Too Small.

Kristen is a creative frugalista, one of those people manages to make beautiful, stylish things seemingly out of nothing. She has also recently embarked on her project to demonstrate that you can garden even in small spaces.

This is especially of interest to me because having downsized to an apartment earlier this year, I miss my vegetable garden. In reality, with two kids and a full-time job and daily commute I had little time for maintaining my garden.  But I have visions of growing things on my balcony. My lovely partner put in some racks over my air conditioning unit on the weekend (he is such a keeper), and we are starting to think about what to grow. It is tempting to go out an spend a lot of money on stylish pots from those boutique gardening places, which would negate the cost benefits of growing things in the first place.  I know I will learn a lot from Kristen’s post and hope you will too.

How to save money by having a garden (even if you think your space is too small!)

We all know that having a veggie garden can improve mental and physical health, reduce your waste and carbon footprints, and that food you grow yourself tastes amazing.

But can growing your own food actually save you money? Especially when you only have a tiny space to work with?

Once you have bought the potting mix and containers, planted the seeds, fed and watered them for months and your chosen veggie is ready to harvest, there will likely be piles and piles of them in the supermarket – it’ll be down to a $1/kg and, if your aim was to save money with a garden, you’ll be crying into your trolley.

But it is possible to save money by having a small space garden! Here are the top 5 tips from my balcony.

  1. Reduce your costs
Flowering spring onion
Spring onion in flower

There are lots of things you can do to keep your costs down in the garden.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Grow food from scraps (I planted my spring onion ends years ago and they still grow faster than I can eat them.)
  • Learn to save seeds (or, in the case of my parsley, forget to water it and it will just go to seed for you, planting itself in every neighbouring pot for free.)
  • Repurpose other things as pots (just be sure any container you use if food-safe and deep enough, unless your favourite thing to do is water your plants every 10 minutes all summer.)
  • Turn human food scraps into plant food with a compost bin or worm farm (there are commercial worm farms that will fit under your kitchen sink or in a small balcony corner.)
  • Look for plants in the dead-and-dying sale sections of the nursery (They might look a bit sad, but plants want to live, so with a good water and the right location, I’m convinced you can bring them back to life.)

The lower your costs are, the sooner you will start saving money.

But pick and choose where you are going to save. One thing I would always spend money on is the potting mix – make sure it has the “ticks” that show it meets the standards or it will have a lot of trouble trying to turn a little seed into a healthy plant.

  1. Grow herbs (maybe)
Forgetmenots and mint on toast with sage tea
Forgetmenots and mint on toast with sage tea

I know you’ve heard it before and you will hear it again. Grow herbs, but only the ones you like to eat!

How often have you needed a few springs of this or that, only to have the rest of the bunch they made you buy at the supermarket just goes limp in the fridge?

Per kilo, herbs are some of the priciest foods you can buy (I just looked it up, fresh herbs are literally $300/kg at the supermarket and come swaddled in plastic) but they are some of the easiest to grow. If you don’t believe me, try googling “how to grow mint” and you will get pages and pages of results on how to stop mint growing! And herbs are going to be much easier to fit on your balcony than pumpkin (which will be 30c/kg at the shops before you harvest a single one.)

Other plants that will give you a big bang for your small space buck are chillies (between $10-$60/kg at the shops), salad greens (about $17/kg) and edible flowers (such as forget-me-nots, pansies and nasturtiums. I haven’t seen these at the shops, but I bet they would cost a bomb!)

Just make sure you grow herbs you will use – you won’t save a lot of money on coriander if the smell of it makes you gag.

  1. Make gardening friends

People who garden are great people.

Importantly, people who garden are growing things you might want to eat!  While you might have enough room to grow 10 tomato seedlings from seed, you may only be able to fit two full sized plants in your small space. There’s bound to be a chicken-raising friend out there who would like to swap 8 seedlings for some eggs. I grow a kaffir lime tree. It takes up a big chunk of precious balcony space, but it smells amazing and when the supermarkets are selling tiny bags of kaffir leaves for $3, there are lots of opportunities to share.

  1. Google it

One great way to waste all your money is to put a plant in a place it doesn’t want to be. Trust me, I should know. Before you choose a plant for your small space, do some research on how to take care of it. At a minimum, figure out if your space has the right amount of light, how big the container needs to be and how much water it likes. Gold star for you if you find out what type of soil it likes and what it likes to be fed. This will save you a lot of money and a lot of heartache.

  1. Grow gifts

People who don’t genuinely love a handmade, homegrown gift are just not the sort of people I want to be friends with.

There are lots of gifts to be given, even from a very small garden. Succulents are so hipster right now and you can hardly stop them from replanting themselves. Why not put a few cuttings into some painted tin cans or some teacups from the local op shop? In a few weeks, they will have taken root and make a lovely, sustainable, ethical gift. Herbs will also make lovely gifts – try herb-infused olive oil or herb butter. Everyone will wonder how you managed to grow so many lovely things when you only have a tiny balcony.

That’s because they don’t know, there’s no space too small for a garden.

When Kristen moved in to her apartment in 2012, she thought she might grow a few things on the balcony. Now her two balconies (a total of 10sqm) are home to more than 75 containers growing nearly 40 types of plants, most of them edible, and it’s getting better all the time. You can follow along at No Space Too Small www.nospacetoosmall.wordpress.com and on facebook and Instagram @nospacetoosmall

It is difficult to calculate exactly how much you ‘save’ from growing your own. But assuming I use my herbs at least once a week (which I do), and assuming I save $3-4 a bunch, I calculate my savings at around $182 a year.  But of course, if you use your herbs to barter for other things (e.g. fresh eggs) or you use your garden to grow gifts for people, you could save and earn a lot more.  How much could you save?

My tally of savings this month:

Wants versus needs – estimate $300 just on Christmas
Kogans mobile $167 plan $365 days
Growing your own herbs $182 a year

Total:  $649/year

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