Gardening on a Budget: What You Really Need to Grow Your Own Food

Candy Harris' vegetable garden in Clarkville in Canterbury was built from scratch.


Candy Harris’ vegetable garden in Clarkville in Canterbury was built from scratch.

When planning a vegetable garden, it’s all too easy to dive deep and plant as much as you can into your plot.

But consider two things first: what you actually eat and how long you have to maintain your patch.

Be realistic about how much time you need to spend in the garden, the limits of your local climate, and how much you need to grow (to avoid waste). This will help make vegetable gardening more profitable.

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What vegetables to plant?

Choose proven varieties to start with, grow what you like to eat (from seeds if possible), and grow crops that aren’t that cheap to buy. Think shallotssnow peas, boysenberries and raspberries.

Familiarize yourself with the climate in your area and what plants will thrive or dip in your local plot. Deciduous fruit trees require a certain amount of winter chilling during dormancy, which is usually calculated as the number of hours below 7C; on the other hand, mangoes and papaya can only be grown in the warmer parts of New Zealand.

If you want fast and hearty, choose leafy plants such as salad, kale and spinach waiting for long term plants to mature. Plants establish leaves first, then flowers, then fruit, so for a quick comeback, start with leafy crops.


Grow these budget edibles to get the most out of your gardening.

Raised beds or directly in the ground?

Raised beds are fabulously practical and make ideal growing environments. Filled with a mixture of topsoil and compost, a raised bed heats up quickly, drains well and allows roots to breathe, resulting in healthier, stronger plants.

But setting up a raised bed can be expensive. Balclutha’s gardener, Carmen Gray, has gone the upcycling route. “I collected free pallets and made myself a compost bin, raised beds and a potting bench. Repainted with leftover fence paint. Total cost: a bag of nails.

Gardening directly in the ground is fine too. “Forty years ago, we were just digging up our plots,” says Hunterville gardener Rita Martin. “Hard work, no flash raised beds; we just marked off an area and dug, dug, dug. We were young and had no money. We threw in some lawn clippings and still tried to dig them up, added lime which is still very cheap, and did our best. We produced great food and it was a labor of love. Don’t let people tell you it has to be expensive or complicated. Just work on small pieces at a time and you’ll definitely get there.

The raised beds in Kim Whitaker and Gerda Gorger's large shaded vegetable garden in Waiheke are all made from recycled wood.


The raised beds in Kim Whitaker and Gerda Gorger’s large shaded vegetable garden in Waiheke are all made from recycled wood.

Soil: as cheap as land?

Just as wood is expensive, buying soil to fill your raised beds can also be expensive. Homemade compost is convenient, but if you’re still waiting for yours to mature, what can you do?

“When we made our first raised beds at first, we placed dead, chopped tree stumps that had been dug up in our garden at the bottom of the beds and then piled dirt on top,” explains Leigh Cuff , gardener from Auckland. “Wood rots over time and brings worms.”

New Plymouth gardener Maree Wiki has an endless supply of coffee grounds that she adds to her garden. “Coffee grounds are generally pH neutral when used. The local cafe gives me an average of 10 bin bags a week and it goes straight to a 20m bank that borders our property, along with the grass clippings from the vehicle. Now we have a 20m by 4m bank writhing with thousands of tiger worms reared on coffee grounds. It also stinks of coffee and repels cats and dogs. My pets avoid this area like the plague.

Beans with red flowers supported by a bamboo trellis.


Beans with red flowers supported by a bamboo trellis.

Accessories: do I really need anything else?

Look for free plant supports, pots and tools through Freecycle, Trade Me or your local junkyard.

Horowhenua planter Cynthia Hancox is a fan of the latter. “Went to the landfill to get some paint for a sheet metal fence and noticed four large pieces of steel reinforcing mesh. I walked up to him to ask permission to take him and noticed some metal trays (paint them bright colors and use them to hold lots of little pots, so they self-water) with handles hidden under one. They turned out to be long-range hedge trimmers.

“I noticed a vono bed frame at the bottom of a trash can (great doors or trellis) then realized there was a large farm gate leaning against a post (no more trellis if I don’t not fixed to use as a door to the orchard) I also found a bottle rack that will go well with my hand tools, a piece of fire screen (great little trellis) and a refrigerator shelf (will convert hinged folding shelf in the greenhouse) And yes, I have paint Total spent: $0.

This is taken from New Zealand gardenerGrow More’s latest special edition, Spend Less, a guide to reducing the cost of living by growing your own vegetables, fruits and herbs.

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