Our edible garden adventure – Part I

Here’s an extreme grocery hack – stop buying groceries and grow them yourself!

I couldn’t tell you right now if the rewards of home gardening (ultra-fresh, organic produce) are worth the efforts (digging, planting, weeding). It is a definitely a lot easier to have someone grow your vegetables on your behalf and deliver them to a nearby shop or market on your behalf and maybe it’s cheaper too, but we are giving growing our own a go.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a bit of planning, which involved choosing a site for the garden beds, selecting the veggies and ordering seed. The garden needs to get about 8 hours of sun to thrive so we picked a west facing fence, plus our sunny patio will be home to a bunch of containers. We’ve chosen veg and herbs that we actually eat but also picked plants that a gardener friend tells me will be the easiest crops for the beginner – these include curly kale, rocket, chives, basil, tomatoes and chillis. We’ve also got some squash and carrot seeds since we eat so much of both it is worth giving them a go at least.

We physically started on the veggie garden this weekend by putting a raised bed together. The Original Plan on Sunday morning was to dig some horse poo and compost into a new bed on the edge of the lawn so it would be ready for planting next week. As soon as we started to dig we realised we were running into various bits of rubble and some quite sticky (clay) soil.

On the Friday before I had splashed out on a soil pH testing kit from Bunnings and this showed us we have very alkaline soil with a pH of 8 or more. The desirable range is slightly acidic ph 6 to 7. According to the kit, it isn’t feasible to try to alter the pH that far, or at least that it would be a constant battle. Add the clay and rubble into the equation and (with the help of some rapid Googling) we formed The New Plan – the construction of a raised bed that would be filled with some shop-bought soil and compost.

In a handy stroke of luck, at the end of last week hubby had spotted a couple of massive pine crates going for free on the side of the road in an industrial estate nearby. He had grabbed one on Friday thinking it would make a great planter. Once the The New Plan was in place, I had this fantastic idea to cut it in half lengthways, creating one lower height planter box and one raised bed frame. On Sunday afternoon this is what we did, and by another stroke of luck the raised bed frame was almost identical to the size of the bed we had already dug. So hubby shot out in the van and grabbed the other crate for a future Raised Bed No. 2*.

Top part of the pine crate sliced off to make a frame

Top part of the pine crate sliced off to make a frame

The first pine crate refashioned into a planter box

The bottom part of the pine crate – now a planter box

Later on Sunday afternoon, hubby mixed in some horse poo (free from the side of the road!) with the original soil to bring the bed back to level, and then placed the raised bed frame on top. He then filled the frame part way with rotting leaf litter and wood that we had been composting in a pile. Then we were back in Bunnings buying 3 bags of garden soil and 3 bags of organic compost to top it off. The final touch was some mulch in the form of wood chippings that we homemade with a mulcher that hubby found on eBay.

Maximum mulch

Maximum mulch

I don’t know if the layers and the composition we came up with are ideal, but I think that the main root ball of leafy veggies only extends a few inches, so they will have the top layer of compost and the underneath layer of clean garden soil (of the correct pH) in which to grow. I’m hoping that the leaf litter and manure will help with the drainage in the poor clay soil before the worms get active and in time those lower layers will compost so it won’t matter about root depth next year.

Next week and the week after we will be preparing our containers and filling them with soil and potting mix and getting our seeds in. We are planting everything in place, mainly because we are too lazy to transplant seedlings. If we have time we’ll plant a few seeds in pots to replace anything that doesn’t take. We are a bit late in the season to start because we were on holiday in September but hopefully something will grow after all this effort!

I don’t mean to be exclusive with this post series. We are attempting to grow veggies in a couple of raised beds sited on bare ground but also in a variety of large and small containers on a paved patio. So anyone with a balcony or small yard should be able to grow a few things. I think the biggest obstacle for most people would be the investment in time to set everything up but on the plus side it was great exercise!

The cost of our edible garden adventure so far is $20 on seed, $24 on soil and compost, $15 on the soil testing kit, $60 on a compost bin and $50 on an old bakers trolley that we will use as a moveable base to a large container. The mulcher we needed anyway to deal with our garden green waste. The outlay so far comes to $169.


Repurposed bakers' trolley

Repurposed bakers’ trolley

All our containers have been found on the side of the road on local Council clean out weekends and our garden tools (spade, fork, pickaxe) were gifted from a retired couple who were downsizing. Our time invested you can count as free exercise without the need of a gym and excellent couple bonding time…**  We have a bit more to spend next week (maybe $40-$60?) on more clean soil and potting mix for our containers plus a few castors/ wheels for the large pine crate containers, so we are looking at a total outlay of around $210-$240. Given that we currently spend $40 a week on organic veggies, if we produced enough to keep us going for six weeks over summer then we’d be winning.

That might be a bit optimistic but my intuition tells me that we should be able to produce a fair bit and reduce our grocery bill if we spend the time setting it all up the next couple of weekends and then a couple of hours a week from then on maintaining everything. I will post again in this series if anything grows!

Happy grocery hacking/ gardening!


* For raised bed no. 2 we are going to try the lasagne method of soil creation with no digging and see what happens. I am still looking for a version which allows us to use green waste we already have in the garden without having to buy straw.

** If you prefer to include labour costs in the calc in the Mustachian style, we spent two full days on planning and building so far, and will need another two days next weekend for more building and sowing.

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