I am fortunate enough to have bought my greenhouse many years ago, when I moved to my current abode. I’ve also received a lot of gardening gifts over the years, so although I have a reasonable amount of gardening sundries, I started thinking just how much I could do if I didn’t have any or couldn’t afford to buy them, could I grow for free? Personally I wouldn’t be stuck but I have heard so many people saying they would like to grow, but … they think they can’t because they don’t have the space, or don’t have the money, but all it takes is a little bit of thought.
I wondered if it could be possible to grow produce free, completely free. You would need some access to a growing medium, it’s OK to start seeds off in a piece of damp paper, but they need something which will also supply some sustenance. First you need a container, so yogurt pots, milk bottles etc. destined for the bin, can be recycled as plant pots. Building sites are a goldmine for the frugal gardener. There is often large tubs lying around, even plastic barrels, and the builders often don’t mind if someone asks for them. Don’t forget to put a drainage hole in the bottom of the tub.
If you don’t have access to a garden and since you now have a tub, there could be plenty of soil around, building quite often means a source of top soil, perhaps they would let you have some of that as well. You may of course have a garden, forlorn and neglected and if you do, you will probably already have a very good source of fertile soil.
People are usually quite happy to share seeds with others. Cuttings might be easier to come by. If you see a plant in someone’s garden, you could always ask for a cutting, it only needs a little shoot, taken from the parent plant from the joint. Carrying a polythene zip bag with some damp newspaper or similar, will keep the cutting fresh for a little bit longer. You can put it straight into your pot of soil or pop in a jar of water and wait until you see new roots forming before potting up.
Potatoes at the back of the cupboard, forgotten about, can be thrown in a tub of soil. Seeds from tomatoes and peppers and many other vegetables, pop them in a pot. Store cupboard peas can be sprouted and grown.
You don’t need special equipment, you can use what is to hand. This is a throwaway world and the number of plastic pots and tubs, thrown into landfill, could have another life as plant pots. Plastic bottles and containers of all shapes and sizes can be utilised into pots for sowing or planting in. A polythene bag over the pot, makes a good greenhouse. If you can get the five-litre water bottles, then the world is your oyster. You can use them like mini-greenhouses. Courgettes don’t need a greenhouse, and many other plants are happier outside.
The more adventurous amongst you can look further afield for discarded furniture. I’ve grown plants in old wooden drawers before and onions in a wheelbarrow. Old handbags, tyres, boots and toys are all amongst quirky planters.
Of course you will need some gardening tools. Old cutlery serves just as well but you have hands, they are very good tools, at least for smaller tasks. There are often old gardening tools offered on freebie sites. Now you have your plants, what about feeding them? Fertiliser still needs to be paid for – or does it? I use the water eggs have been boiled in and tea (minus the paper bag though). If you live near a beach, there is seaweed.
Places like Starbucks and Costa have bags of used coffee grounds, usually in a bin for customers to help themselves. There is plenty of manure if you live near a farm, a little goes a long way and you only need a little, just put animal manure in a large container of water and use that to water the plants. Chicken manure is like gold. Another option is to make liquid fertiliser from nettles or comfrey if you can get them. Use a tub of water and leave the greenery to rot down until it smells a bit, it may be offensive to your nose, but the plants love it. Many of the natural, freely available fertilisers are just as good as commercial products and won’t cost you anything.
Keeping predators at bay could be another problem. Bake some eggshells to harden them and crush them before putting them round your favourite plant. Baking helps to harden them and provides a cutting edge that no one-footed gastropod would dare traverse. The little green monsters attacking your plants – spray with water with some dish washing-up liquid added.
Don’t despair if you’re in danger of being swamped by weeds, a quarter pint of white vinegar, three tablespoons of salt and a squirt of washing-up liquid. Fill a spray bottle and spray only the unwanted plants though, it is not selective.
By this time, you have proven that you can grow something without it costing anything other than using intuition. Using some store cupboard ingredients means you don’t need to buy costly fertilisers, or insecticides etc. So far you can see just how many things lying around the house can be utilised in the garden without the need to buy anything. Herb and courgette seeds could come from friends and neighbours.
Now that you have grown something yourself, you can exchange with friends so your menu might expand to exchanging courgettes for eggs, then off out foraging for mushrooms. So you can sit back and enjoy lovely fresh mushroom omelette and new potatoes with chopped chives, peas with mint, stuffed courgettes followed by fresh berries. If you happen to have some amaretto, poach the berries in a little water, sugar, add a little amaretto and you have a feast fit for a king.