I had a couple of interesting comments after I published my Veg Savings Update for February, which got me thinking. Helen, the Patient Gardener, tweeted to say she wasn’t convinced growing your own saved any money. The food was much better, but Helen remained unsure as to whether it’d leave extra cash in her pocket.
Fellow Essex blogger X Marks the Plot said that ‘…unfortunately, I’ve spent so much money on the plot already that even if I did scale back it would take years to pay for itself’.
This made me ponder my savings experiment. I think I’ll save in 2011, but I’ve had my plot four years, and am in the lucky position where I reckon I’ve made most of the investments I’ll ever have to. Unless something like a tool breaks, anything else I spend is normally because it sounds like fun, such as my blueberry bushes.
I thought I’d list out what it cost me to start up my plot, so perhaps I can get an indication of whether I have ever broken even. These are the basic startup costs I came up with, plus a few ways around them.
I’ve got a spade, fork, rake, and hoe, which cost roughly £15 a pop, plus a trowel. Trowels are priced at about a fiver in most shops or garden centres. Some new plotholders might be lucky enough to take over tools, or you might be able to find them on Freecycle or at a jumble sale.
These will vary in price, depending on how mature each bush is when you buy it. An established, two – three-year-old gooseberry bush will cost upwards of a tenner, but Karl from Blackgates Garden blog recently bought some one-year-old bushes in a discount supermarket for a quid each. He’ll have a longer wait for fruit, but once they’ve grown up, Karl will be absolutely raking it in.
I bought four gooseberry bushes, three blackcurrants, three rhubarb crowns, and about 25 strawberry plants, and I’d estimate these set me back about £100.
Over time, I’ve also put in about 25 raspberry canes. I was lucky enough to be given some of these, but the ones I put in to get me up and running cost me a good £20.
Once you’re away, you can increase your numbers gradually through cuttings, etc, but there’s still an expensive initial cost.
Other Plants (£15)
Rather ambitiously, I bought 10 asparagus plants too. These do take ages to establish, and I’ve never really had a good crop from them. A bit of a luxury at £15…
It’s a long time ago since I first went into the local nursery and filled my basket with seeds. All I can really remember was massive excitement! I reckon I spent about £40 in my first season of seed sowing, but I did get very carried away and wanted to grow everything under the sun. I was well taken in by the shiny packets too.
I don’t spend that sort of money now, as I’m more focused on what I like growing, and most seed packets will last me a couple of years. If you shop around, I reckon you get could most of what you want for under £20, and some research will find plenty of ways to eek out some free seeds here and there.
All the Other Bits and Bobs (about £60)
I could never keep up with all the little things I’ve had to buy, but there are a few bits that spring to mind. There’s my annual rent of £18, watering cans, and in my first year, I invested in a large pile of horse muck to manure my beds (£15). My shed is full of stuff that I’ve accumulated, such as bamboo canes for growing plants up (£5) and a roll of chicken wire to keep the pesky pigeons off my brassicas (what is it with pigeons and brassicas?).
One of the best things about allotments is the creative ways plotholders save money so that the costs are kept low. Using twigs to guard young plants and making wigwams from willow and hazel are both ways to avoid some of the odds and sods costs described above.
Excess pots for growing seedlings can be found for nothing at many garden centres, and a bag of potting compost might cost you another £10. Books are a super source of reference, but if you’re on a budget, loads of information is available online at discussion forums and GYO websites. And don’t forget our libraries need us too!
Total Startup £280
I reckon I was up and running for £280. I took an excitable gung-ho approach, buying everything brand new and feeling far too impatient to wait for cheaper, younger fruit bushes and plants to mature.
Thinking back, I’m sure it could be done cheaper. Anyone recently started a plot? If so, what has it cost you to get going?
And has anyone out there got some ingenious money-saving ideas for new allotmenteerists? I’d love to hear them!