With the Christmas season over for another year, many families will be looking at their finances, which probably took a bit of a hammering. Not helped at all by record prices for some fruit and veggies including such staple items as kumara, pumpkin and potatoes. It never ceases to amaze me that more people don’t grow their own.
Gardening is one of the best ways to save money, increase happiness and get some bonus exercise! There is nothing better than freshly harvested produce from your own backyard. Scientific studies even show that flavour and nutrient levels can be enhanced from home grown versus commercially grown crops; partly due to less reliance on chemical fertilisers and partly due to less deterioration in the crop from harvest to table.
I hear and read lots of excuses why people can’t grow their own – not enough land, no money to buy fertiliser, poor soil, no gardening experience, living in a rental, too busy, medical conditions and so on. I’m sorry, but none of these excuses wash with me; there is a solution to each and every one of them. I know this from personal experience and from seeing many other gardeners of every age and background growing crops with success.
Here’s just one example. As recent immigrants to NZ some 60 or so years ago, my parents had a relatively low single wage, limited English skills, few friends or relatives to rely on for advice, no access to social welfare, no knowledge of the local climate, a rapidly growing young family and no spare money to buy fertilisers or other gardening aids.
The first they owned was on nearly pure sand, with a bore to supply water. As their first crop, they hand-dug a huge garden out of the lawn and planted the entire area in seed potatoes purchased at bulk rates from the local stock and station agent using what little spare money was saved. Cropping knowledge was gleaned from the trusty, well-thumbed Yates Garden Guide, a handy lunar planting calendar (which I still have), some lovely old neighbours and the local newspaper gardening column.
The children were dispatched to collect seaweed from the beach and horse manure from nearby paddocks for fertiliser. The kids also helped weed the crop, using garden forks made from dowel and sharpened number 8 wire. Compost bins were built to recycle plant matter to produce valuable humus. Paths were created from old rubber conveyor belts salvaged from a local business (with a side benefit of warming the soil).
Mum would get up at 5.30am every day to water, spray and fertilise the crop, and the whole family pitched in at harvest time three months after planting. The result? I don’t know how many pounds of potatoes that first crop produced, but it was enough to feed a family of eight for nearly a year, with the left-over sprouting potatoes used for next year’s crop. From that initial expense, plus a lot of hard work and dedication, my parents didn’t have to buy potatoes for many months.
Of course, that is just one crop type, the story was repeated many times over for many other crops, with more expensive items like fruit trees being purchased as more money was saved.
Yes, there were mistakes. Mum had a cigar box full of labels of plants and trees that didn’t make it, almost like a plant mausoleum! But each one was there for a reason, to remind her what went wrong and what plants would thrive or die in our soil and climate. Valuable information to grow from and valuable experience to pass on to the next generation!