Bay of Plenty Times
Take a leaf out of garden’s book and grow the savings
Grow your own fruit and vegetables, and cut the food bill
Grow food. Save money. I’m sure readers have heard they should be growing fruit, vegetables and herbs in their gardens (patios or balconies) to counter the sharp price rise in fresh food.
It’s not advice I share much, because I’m better at killing edibles than harvesting crops. For those with greenish fingers, it can help with a): spending less overall at the supermarket if you’re on a very tight budget, or b): eating better for less. They’re two different concepts.
Someone who simply needs to cut the food bill is better off growing fruit and vegetables that are prolific producers. The “eating better for less” crew save by growing more obscure crops that cost a small fortune in the supermarket. Things like basil, berries, asparagus, chillies, fancy lettuces and so on.
Don’t take gardening advice from me. Instead, listen to Tracey Maddox, plant doctor at Kings Plant Barn, Stonefields. Maddox herself has only a small garden so concentrates on growing dwarf fruit trees and high-producing plants such as tomatoes.
Amazingly, her two-year-old dwarf mandarin tree produced 23kg of fruit last season and is on its way to another bumper crop. Likewise, a range of tomato varieties saved her plenty of dollars at the supermarket in summer.
Maddox’s top three garden money savers are 1: citrus (lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit); 2. brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and cabbage); and 3: leafy greens (lettuce, spinach and silverbeet).
Other fruit trees and vegetables that can be prolific include feijoas, garlic, green beans and snow peas.
Adding my 5 cents to that, everyone’s garden has a different aspect and soil, but I’ve had huge success with kale, which doesn’t die off in winter, and spinach, which grows like a weed and self-seeds every year. Add to that list Lebanese cucumbers, thanks to an accidental purchase from the Ngataringa Organic Gardens this year, when I had meant to buy a bean seedling punnet. We’ve eaten a cucumber a day this summer.
Likewise, I do what Maddox recommends, and have a herb garden with thyme, sage, oregano and lemongrass, all of which are planted once and harvested for years. If money is really tight, it might just be best to buy dried
Maddox herself has only a small garden so concentrates on growing dwarf fruit trees and high-producing plants such as tomatoes.
herbs than fork out for the plant. Or ask friends if they have cuttings.
I sometimes succeed with basil and courgette. The basil, however, is a “nice to have” because thanks to Google I’ve discovered that mint, which grows like a weed, makes an amazing pesto, and can also be used in place of basil in many dishes.
Gale-force winds in early January broke my healthy courgette plant in half, so that was another wasted $5 or so in potted plants. Maddox recommends buying seeds if money is tight. “A packet of seeds might be anywhere between $3 and $6, but you’re getting a whole lot of seeds. Seeds give you more bang for your buck.”
If you’re from the “eat better for less” school of thought, then there are a number of other fruit and vegetables to consider. Maddox recommends the likes of berries and snow peas. I’m considering planting turmeric to see how that goes — although it’s super-cheap to buy fresh from Indian supermarkets.
Turning to my many fails over the years, Maddox says a lack of soil preparation, fertilising, pest control and watering are usually responsible. She hit the nail on the head there. “[Gardeners] generally don’t water enough, and I mean a good deep water. They don’t fertilise enough. You can’t just put plants in and leave them. And the plants need protection from disease.”
To save money successfully, it is worth doing the maths on the cost of the seeds/ seedlings, water, fertiliser, and disease/ pest control. Then weigh your crop and compare it to store prices. Sometimes it might be better value to buy fresh and preserve, buy frozen, or buy dried/tinned vegetables.
Nonetheless, I’m motivated to give it a go. Members of my household moan about my spinach salads, and Maddox reckons lettuces grow easily. I’ll give them, and tomatoes another go.
Finally, I asked Maddox about Vegepod raised gardens as I want to downsize my home eventually. They cost a bomb, and you have to buy the company’s expensive growing medium. They do, however, produce a ton of edibles.
“There is an initial outlay but it saves money on water and sprays,” she says. “Mine is a herb garden. My sister-in-law has a 2-metre one which she plants out in succession. She doesn’t buy any vegetables.”