Tips from an expert: Grow veggies, save money

With ever-increasing grocery costs, we’re all looking for ways to cut back on monthly expenses. One way you can cut back on your food bill, and help save the planet at the same time, is by growing your own vegetables at home.

However, it’s not as straight forward as popping a few seeds in the soil and praying for the best. It involves some planning and lots of work and smart advice to make sure you are in fact saving money. The costs associated with growing your own vegetables can add up quickly – the trick is to limit your expenses.

We’ll be honest, we’re bankers, not gardeners, so we turned to the experts for advice. We had a quick sit down with Joy Phala, a leading South African landscape designer and founder of Organic Kitchen Gardens, about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch.

AB: What crops are the most cost-effective crops to grow at home?

JP: When it comes to growing food to save money, look for plants that last long but also choose foods that you and your family eat on often.

Fruit and nuts tend to be on the upper scale of the consumer price index – they also live the longest and reward you with years of homegrown produce. The key is to ensure a small steady supply over a long period. If you have the space, plan on growing more than one fruit tree with different harvesting times. For example, grow both winter and summer varieties of strawberries and early and late varieties of apples.

AB: What are some of the hidden costs of home gardens? Do you have any tips to save on these costs?

JP: There are no “hidden costs” but there are a few strategies that gardeners can use to lower the cost of establishing and maintaining a home garden.

  • Invest in the soil: Gardens rise or fall on the health of their soil. Healthy soil captures and holds onto water 100 times better than poor soil, which means less pressure on your municipal bill water bill. It also creates and stores nutrients for your plants, which in the long run means less money spent on fertilisers.

Create healthy soil by going organic, incorporating compost, organic fertilisers and soil conditioners, and mulching with organic matter such as fallen leaves, grass clippings or compost.

  • Make your own compost: Not only will you save money, but you’ll be helping to reduce greenhouse gasses caused by incorrect disposal of food waste in landfills. Urbanites with no outdoor space for compost bins can create compost with a Bokashi bin or a worm bin. Nearby schools, hospitals and neighbours will appreciate your excess compost if you happen to have any left over.
  • Install a rainwater tank: Save on the water bill by taking advantage of this free resource in the Spring and Summer months.
  • Grow green manures: These are plants that are proven to create soil nutrients, add organic matter to feed the soil and over time create the right soil structure for the healthy growth of your garden. Examples include Clover, Alfalfa and Buckwheat.
  • Start from seed: This is very useful and cost effective with vegetables. A packet of seeds with at least 100 seeds per packet is more affordable than seedlings. Swap seeds with friends and save money!

AB: What advice do you have for people who are starting their urban garden for the first time?

JP: Well, come to my courses! Start small so you don’t get overwhelmed and discouraged. Leafy vegetables like Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce and Asian greens are the easiest edibles to start with. As you become successful with one type of edible, you’ll gain confidence.

For salad greens, plant a small number of seeds each week. This way, you can harvest your vegetables as they grow and have a constant supply throughout the growing season.

AB: Do you have advice for people who want to have a home garden but in in a small urban space?

JP: Plants will grow just about anywhere… from old Wellington boots to priceless contemporary-style planters. All they ask is that we care for them and not desert them in the high summer heat. With urban gardens, it’s about maximising space: Look at wall space, indoor and outdoor space.

AB: What are some of the best crops to grow between September and December?

Small fruits such as Cape gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries (cold winter areas). My personal favourite herbs for this time of the year are definitely basil, Artemisia afra, coriander, thyme and rosemary.

Veggies this time of the year include heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, multicoloured carrots and golden beetroots.

Excellent advice Joy, thank you for sharing with us! (Follow Joy on Instagram to find out more about the exciting journey of home growing.)

To our readers, we hope this is a good point for starting your own vegetable patch and not only enjoying the benefits of gardening but a slightly lower food bill too.

Latest on African Bank Stories

Maria uses her winnings to pay for her child’s school fees.
Fulufhelo entered our Re Ja Joy competition and shares her story about how the winnings helped her become debt free.