Picking up our organic and homegrown herbs, fruits and vegetables have been the initial vision for moving away from the city. Of course, one can grow foods indoors or from small balconies, but while some of our crops thrived in our windy and shaded balcony in Woodstock (celery being the star so far), most of them sadly didn’t survived (tomatoes, beetroot, pepper, herbs…). As we’re preparing to move into the house in Simon’s Town right at the beginning of spring, we are thrilled to get our hands dirty and witness every little green growth. But starting an efficient garden on a budget requires some patience and exploring around.
Here are some tips on how to start a resourcefulness herb and vegetable garden.
1. Find a local soil and compost provider
Local nurseries are not only going to be way cheaper than the average gardening franchise, but it’s also… local! By supporting their business, you’re sustaining local growth and become part of a gardening community.
In our case, we turned ourselves to Plain and Simple, a business run by two good friends of Ambrose: Chad and Lyal. They’ve been using lockdown to develop their nursery in Mitchells Plains, one of the Cape Flats in Cape Town. Their initiative offers a sustainable and positive message for the community and our plants have been loving their nutrients-enriched organic soil. While our aim in the long run is to generate our own compost, Chad and Lyal are for now our go-to guys when it comes to soil!
To support Plain and Simple, contact them at: +27 for only R20 a bag of 10 kg. You’ll also find them in the thrift markets of Observatory!
2. Gather your own seeds and roots
Buying packaged seeds in the shops can add up quite rapidly. While the turnover of purchasing seeds at Starke Ayres for R25 is definitely worth it in the long term, buying multiple seeds when starting a garden on a budget can be a limited factor. For that, we’re just grateful for all the resources on YouTube.
We’ve particularly been enjoying the content of Jag Singh who displays the whole process of collecting the seeds from the vegetable in your fridge to the harvest months later. It’s so simple that we wonder how come we haven’t started before? Just pay attention in getting some organic and non-GMO food to start with and the rest, patience will take care of. In our case, we’re going to mix our garden with non-GMO seeds from Starkes Ayres (spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers…) and repotted veggies roots (celery, green onion, garlic, potatoes…).
- Daisy Creek Farms with Jag Singh
- Kevin Espiritu, aka Epic Gardening, also offers great detailed content for all level gardeners.
- For French speakers, Le Potager d’Olivier offers valuable content, including a well-explained (and mind-blowing!) video on how to use urine as a quick, free and powerful fertiliser.
3. Explore secondhand markets
Gardening can easily be seen as a fancy hype, a romanticised practice which would look great on any Instagram accounts. From the beautiful glass greenhouse to the photoshoot in between the crops holding a straw basket filled with freshly picked veggies – yes, you know the type 😉 The reality of it can however be more… practical! With humble beginnings come humble resources, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! What matters is the plants’ well-being and the food they bring you. And what’s better than recycling items, like old plastic buckets, that would have ended otherwise who-knows-where?
One of our favourite markets to go in Cape Town is the Milnerton Flea market. Every weekend, people come to sell various treasure junks, from old rusted tools (easy restoration tips here) to unwanted furniture. The possibilities are endless. With the sea breeze and mountain views, the setting is ideal and even more when you manage to bargain a deal! For instance, we recently bought three containers (two plastic and a metal one) for R60 in total after negotiation (R80 otherwise), which is cheaper than the price of one new equivalent plastic container in a regular shop! The thrill that comes from even the slightest bargain is just so rewarding.
Here are the market info and other second-hand shop details in Cape Town:
- Milnerton Flea Market, free entrance, Saturdays: 7h00-14h00, Sundays: 7h00-15h00. Website. Facebook.
- Munro’s, 131 Lower Main Rd, Observatory: offers a wide range of items, particularly decorative items, glassware, frames.
- And obviously the very active Facebook Market and Gumtree.
4. Look for scraps
Another way to look for cheaper alternatives when it comes to plant pots is to look for regular buckets. We recently strolled around Plastic Mania in China Town (Century City) and noticed that while a medium size pot plant would cost about R50, a simple bucket was only R20. We even spotted some buckets with broken handles (which we ultimately don’t need for growing plants), asked for a discount and received a 15% reduction! And that lead us to the next tip: just ask! Whether you spot an unused box in a shop, big empty tins or plastic bottles in a restaurant or wooden scraps in someone’s backyard, you’d be surprised how much people are willing to give away. If you start talking to people, explaining them your project, they might even put things aside for you.
You can also find wood scraps outside handmade furniture shops. Living in Woodstock, there are plenty of studios and creatives working with wood and very often we find big pieces of wood left on the streets. We even found once a 50 cm2 marble piece outside, for free! Just got to be ready and dare to pick when things are at your disposal.
There are also multiple reusable alternatives when it comes to gardening: from egg trays to the brown paper of your toilet roll, everything is at your disposal! It’s just a matter of searching around and thinking outside the box! Here are some alternatives:
- Garden beds with old tyres
- Growing seeds in egg trays
- Growing seeds in toilet roll. We’d recommend keeping spaces in between the rolls to avoid mould being formed on the outside of the roll as you water them. While some also suggest to keep the roll when planting (as it could act as a barrier from insects to the still fragile stem), we choose to remove it as it may take too long for it to decompose and allow the roots to fully expand… Just have a trial first and see what works the best for you!
- Potato planters using unused bulk bags
5. Turn to gardening enthusiasts for advice
These days one can find any information one click away. However, when it comes to gardening, you might want to turn to a community that has experience in working in the same climate and species as you. For that, we’ve joined two very active and kind groups on Facebook, which have helped us in identifying some plants. Generally, members of the group ask questions and tips relative to bug, diseases, plant identification, but also share their successful harvest. The amount of engagement is amazing and every day we learn something new by just reading the posts and comments!
Here are two groups that we joined and would recommend if you want to start planting and become self-sufficient in South Africa (although most of the content apply to anywhere in the world):
- Livingseeds Veggie Gardeners, which is a group owned by the company Livingseeds that offers a crazy wide range of non-GMO heirloom seeds. We haven’t yet purchased their products because of their relatively significant delivery cost but their website is still very resourceful, as they include a monthly filter that guides you on what to plant in South Africa every month of the year.
- Self Sufficient Homesteading and Gardening, which mostly discusses gardening topics, but also touches on renovating or homemade alternative that feed the self-sufficiency loop.
- Self Sufficiency & Sustainable Living (South Africa), which provides various insights on sustainable methods applicable here in South Africa, from cob houses, off grid living to gardening tips, it’s another useful group to join.
As we are continuously learning and looking for alternative methods, we will update this initial list of tips and supply. Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment if you also know some useful ways of gardening simply!
Written by Alice.