Friday, 5 June 2009

Frugal Friday - Frugal Gardening and Horse Manure

For the past three years, I've attempted to grow a vegetable garden. Last year, it was potatoes and tomatoes with a couple of pak choi and one purple sprouting broccoli; the year before, it was courgettes/zucchini, broad beans, two sweet corn, and bell peppers. My success rate has been pretty dismal - I did get broad beans but the sweet corn were still born (I didn't know, then, about how they pollinate). Something ate the leaves off the bell peppers before they'd been in the ground five minutes. The tomatoes were doing well and I was looking forward to bottling some home-made tomato sauce, until the night I came home from work to find the vines had turned black. (Like everyone-else's crops last year, they'd got blight.) Even my success-story courgettes have a one-in-three plant survival rate.

This year, I'm growing potatoes, approximately 50 onions (bought as "sets"), 12 garlic, six broad bean plants (only two planted out so far), one courgette (I planted out three), 8 or 9 sweet corn (not planted out yet - I think the 9th won't survive), and 3 butternut squash. It's raining, so no photos of the garden, but here is a shot of the "nursery" beside the big kitchen window:

Corn to the left; broad beans and butternut squash in the middle; just planted sunflower seeds to the right. The blue trays are the ones the supermarket sells mushrooms in. The clear plastic, 3-inch pots are yoghurt pots.

So far, I haven't spent a huge amount of money on this year's vegetables: I've purchased fresh corn, courgette, sunflower and broad bean seeds. (Around here, packets of seeds cost between 69p and £2.) The other seeds are survivors from last year. The onion sets were £1.95 for a bag of 100 from the shop in Kew Gardens. Whilst I was there, I spent another £1.90 on three supposedly "disease free" garlic bulbs, only to find them riddled with that grey mould when I went to plant them out. Therefore, my garlic comes from a couple of bulbs bought for cooking, which sprouted whilst I stored them in the shed. The butternut seeds were rescued from the innards of a butternut squash I used in a stew.

My main expense comes in the form of organic peat-free grow bags, which I buy for the compost they contain. At £2.46 each, they are the cheapest way I can buy a peat-free growing medium for the pots/potato tyres and they're the largest bags I can lift at the garden centre (I think each grow bag holds 40 litres of compost). On Wednesday, I lugged home four. Grow bag compost is what that seedlings are growing in.

Also on Wednesday, I purchased a packet of seeds of a variety of late summer sprouting broccoli. When the corn gets planted out on Sunday, I'll fill their blue tray with compost and try growing them. I could have bought seedlings, but they weren't that healthy.

Our soil is my biggest problem. In some places it is impregnable. (I planted a couple of lavender once, only to have one die because its roots couldn't penetrate out of the hole in which it was planted.) One of the gardening books I read suggested growing giant sunflowers because they have really tough roots which break up hard soil - sort of nature's rotavators. Hence the sunflowers I'm attempting to grow.

My other great-white-hope for our soil is our compost bin, a.k.a. The Dalek. And that is the source of today's Frugal Friday tip:

Locate your nearest stables and collect some free horse manure to compost.

Two weekends ago, we took a couple of flexi-tubs, the big fork and spade, and popped into the local stables. For a "Please Ma'am, may we raid your manure heap?", we collected enough horse manure and discarded bedding (wood shavings as well as straw) to half fill the Dalek. It cost us 15 minutes and a smile. I'm tempted to do it again, to fill the Dalek up completely, and then get a second compost bin. Heaven knows, we need the stuff!

- Pam

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