THE GOOD LIFE
How TO...GET CROPS FOR FREE
Practical ideas and advice for would-be smallholders
The cost of stocking a vegetable patch with new plants can soon mount up, but it’s surprisingly easy to get them for free just by saving seeds from this year’s crop or by propagating cuttings. You don’t even need to have the plants in the first place – you can get them from a friend or neighbour’s garden (with permission, of course!). Cross-pollination means saved seeds can differ from the parent plant, but they may be better adapted to the microclimate of your garden – plus it’s exciting to see which variations may have occurred.
Instead of conscientiously pinching off the offshoots, known as runners, that strawberry plants send out, allow a few of them to take root. Gardening books often talk about pinning them down in pots of compost, but there’s no need. Leave them attached to the mother plant and then, come early spring, dig them out to plant elsewhere or give away.
Raspberries like nothing better than popping up new shoots all over a plot so, chances are, if you know someone with raspberry bushes or canes, they will be more than happy to dig out the offending plant and hand it over. Gooseberries are more restrained, but you’ll often find that any low branches start to take root in the soil – leave them to do this and you’ll have a new plant in early spring. When it comes to pruning blackcurrants and redcurrants, instead of composting the cuttings, simply make a narrow trench in the soil in a sheltered spot and lightly cover the stems (cut end down). You’ll be amazed how many have taken root when the growing season begins.
RUNNER BEANS AND PEAS
The peas and beans that have become too fat and woody to eat are perfect for transforming into next year’s plants. Let them ripen and dry on the plant, then remove from the pod; discard any that look blemished, too small or mouldy, and store in an airtight container.
Let the last of your summer crop flower and run to seed. Snip off the seedheads and hang upside down in a paper bag, so the seeds can drop out. Label the bag. Keep in a cool, dry place and, in a month or so, separate them out and store in a labelled envelope.
If you opt for heirloom varieties, you’re more likely to get seeds the same as the parent plant. Choose healthy, ripe fruits, slice in half around the middle and pick out the biggest, fattest seeds. Space them out on a coffee filter and dry in the airing cupboard for two weeks – do the same for chillies. Cut up the filters to make seed discs ready for planting. Store in an envelope in a cool place.
Stock your flower border with free plants, too. Collect seeds from dried sunflowers, foxgloves, poppies and aquilegia.