You already know the basics. Pick it fresh and it will be way more nutritious and tasty than anything you can find in a store. You also know exactly where it has been and whether any pesticides were used in growing it. But growing your own veggies is also a huge money saver, provided you do it right.
Choose a sunny spot and prepare your garden soil with lots of compost, or get some dark window boxes for your veg, and get started.
It all begins with the seeds
Forget the pre-germinated veg seeds in six packs. Grow your own from seed. New veg hybrids are super expensive, and you may only get a tiny amount of seeds.
Here’s how to get more seeds for your buck:
Stick with the old favourite cultivars such as Floradade or Roma tomatoes and Fordhook Giant chard.
If you don’t know the cultivar names, you can judge how many seeds you’re getting by feeling the packet or by shaking it and listening to it rattle.
Still not sure? Go online and check out a major seed company’s website. They usually give prices per number of seeds or per weight, and when they work by weight, they often say how many seeds that represents.
Once you’ve had your first crop, you can collect seeds, but the plants won’t be as uniform in the second generation.
Make sure all your seeds come up
Not sure of your ability to germinate veg seeds? It’s not rocket science! Follow these guidelines for a crop that’s second to none:
Sow almost everything except root veg crops and maize in seed trays for easier control.
Seed packets will tell you how deep to sow. You can also use the diameter of the seed as a rule of thumb. Plant at the same depth as the seed’s diameter. The smaller the seed, the less covering it gets.
Keep the soil constantly moist until germination. In the ground, you can help seedbeds stay moist by lightly covering the soil with grass clippings.
Trays can be covered with a plastic bag to create a self-watering system in which evaporated water condenses on the plastic and drips back into the tray.
By sowing correctly and keeping your seeds moist, more of them will grow. You get more plants for less investment.
Why seed trays save you money
Seed trays and a good potting mix are worth investing in here’s why:
Less exposure to pests like cutworms and less losses.
Uses less water because of higher density sowing and small surface area.
Better germination thanks to easier control.
Able to germinate in shade, so you don’t have to water as often.
Keep big drops of rain that can expose seeds off by germinating under cover.
Easier to prick out (thin out) without damage so that you can use more of your germinated seedlings.
Stagger your sowing, but plant a little extra
It’s easy to get so much veg from your garden that you don’t know what to do with it. Sow a few seeds at a time, and space sowings two to four weeks apart. That way, everything won’t be ready all at once. Keep your unsown seeds fresh by storing them in a glass bottle with a sealable lid.
It’s ok to have a bit of a surplus of veg that is suitable for bottling or freezing. Then you can avoid buying expensive out of season veg. For example, you can cook up and freeze surplus tomatoes for winter use.
Get some self-seeders
Some veg species will naturalize in your garden. Which these will depend on your climate, but some plants will come up by themselves every year, giving you hassle-free veg without spending a cent. For example, rocket and mustard lettuce are often great self-seeders.
Thin out and plant out
As soon as your seedlings have two to four real leaves (the first two leaves are usually seed leaves), you can thin them or start pricking out of trays to plant in beds or window boxes.
Use a stick, or a pen that’s stopped writing to loosen the soil, and lift the seedlings one by one from the loosened soil.
Grip them by a leaf rather than the stem so that you don’t damage the stems and kill the seedling.
Water well after planting out at the correct spacing. A little well or dimple in the soil around each seedling will make it easier for the water to sink in where you need it most.
Water daily until you see new growth, showing that the roots are settling in.
Pests, plant nutrition and watering
Now it’s just a matter of making sure that soil doesn’t dry out altogether, watching out for insect pests and signs of poor nutrition. Instead of buying expensive pesticides, try these cheats:
Snails and slugs love beer, and will happily drown themselves in it. Use it as bait if you have snail problems.
Wood ash also repels snails. Scatter wood ash around your plants, but don’t let it touch their stems.
Soapy water with a few drops of dishwashing fluid can kill many insects, provided you get enough coverage.
If you have nocturnal pests you can’t see by day, repel them with a homemade chilli and garlic spray (We’ll link to a recipe for this below).
Fertilizer, even organic fertilizer, isn’t all that expensive, but you can also make compost teas.
When your plants are growing well, water can be reduced, but keep the soil covered with mulch (grass clippings are great), so that you can save time and water by irrigating less often.
Garden with a few friends
Although a feast of veg that’s way too much to use is often the rule, you may have occasional disasters. By gardening with a few friends, you can share out excess seedlings and extra veg between yourselves and enjoy a greater variety of fresh food. You’ll also be able to share tips and tricks with one another and help to identify and solve problems together.
Better food for less
Store-bought produce has often been picked green and allowed to ripen off the plant, reducing nutrition and affecting flavour. Cold-storage keeps veggies ‘fresh’, but doesn’t help with nutrition, and pesticide residues, though not fatal, can influence your health in the long term.
In the offseason, veggies are imported, and even when they aren’t, you’re paying for labor and transport. Whole supply chain profits: the farmer, the packing operation, the transport company and the retailer all have to make money from produce.
By growing your own veg, you skip all these producers and middle-men, and you save!
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