So now you’ve made the decision to ‘grow-your-own’ food, and you’re ready to get started. But you might be in for a bit of a shock! If you head to the garden centre and buy a handful of seed packets, you’ll probably wince when see the total at the check-out. Although it’s an easy way to get started, it’s certainly not the cheapest. So here are six simple ways to get seeds and plants, either for free or at a very low cost, which will help any budget-conscious gardener.
1. Share seed packets with friends
Packet usually contain quite a lot of seeds, sometimes too much for the average family, especially if you’re short of space. With some crops, such as salad leaves, lettuces or radishes, you can save seeds for sowing later (known as ‘succession sowing’ so you have an ongoing supply of your crop), but often there’s just too many to use. So why not get together with some friends and share the cost of your seeds. You could even agree to take on growing a couple of vegetables each and then swap plants when they’ve grown a bit. And it’s always good to work with others for a little moral support.
2. Ask for divided plants
Helpful friends and neighbours might also be able to share some of their existing crops with you. For example, pegging strawberry plant runners into the ground will let new plants grow quite quickly – they may not fruit the first year, but after that, they’ll get established, and in no time you’ll have your own runners to share! Dividing herb plants is also a great way to share – try chives, mint or thyme.
3. Use shop-bought vegetables
Some vegetables can be grown by using an original one. For example, divide a head of garlic into individual cloves, and plant them a couple of inches deep and about 6cm apart. Before long, you’ll have a new head of garlic at the base of each clove – when I tried this I was desperately giving garlic away to everyone within a year! Technically, you can do this with potatoes too, but most experts recommend using special seed potatoes, as you get a better result.
4. Find a seed-sharing scheme
You may have a local sharing scheme such as ‘Freecycle‘ in your area, and this is often a fantastic way to get seeds or plants for free. Or look out for local plant sales, such as a sale at your local allotment – again, many people grow too many plants for their needs, and will sell the surplus for a very small sum, or perhaps a donation to charity. You can also find online seed swaps as well.
5. Free seeds with a magazine
If you don’t mind paying out a little, gardening magazines often have free seed packets attached, and you’ll have the added bonus of helpful growing information as well.
6. Collect your own
But one of the best ways to start is to collect seeds from the food you buy – kids love this especially, and it really helps them to understand the cycle of plant growth. There are lots of vegetables that have seeds inside, which generally you eat (e.g. tomatoes), or even throw away, such as bell peppers, squash, pumpkin and chillies. You can even grow more unusual vegetable varieties like plum tomatoes this way. So begin by collecting seeds from the vegetables you eat.
Wash the seeds out thoroughly in clean water to remove any stickiness (a fine sieve is best for this), and lay them out on newspaper or kitchen paper to dry. Once they’re ready, you can store them in a labelled envelope until it’s time to plant – check the internet for sowing instructions. Seed will keep very well from one season to another too, so don’t forget to harvest seeds from the crops you grow and store them in a cool, dry place until next spring – you’ll find your vegetable growing even cheaper!
Next time we’ll talk about how to sow your seeds, without spending a fortune on seed trays and containers. Meanwhile, get started with collecting, and do let us know in the comments if you’ve started your own seed collection. And don’t forget, kids love gardening, and they’ll especially love collecting their own seeds for free!
Coming next: Growing Vegetables on a Budget: 10 Imaginative Ideas for Free Containers
Photo courtesy of Scyrene at Flickr Creative Commons