Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s time to feed the plants. Gardening nubes will waste money on proprietary fertilisers but an experienced gardener knows where to get most of their supplies for free (or very little money). Here are some cheap/free alternatives and the pros and cons of each:
- Pros: compost can be made from most garden and household waste, including weeds, prunings, paper, raw kitchen scraps, and human faeces/urine. Compost bins/heaps cost very little to make and produce a lot of rich, organic matter. In colder parts of Australia, gardeners can take advantage of the heat produced by compost bins/heaps by positioning tropical plants (i.e. bananas) nearby.
- Cons: a compost bin/heap needs a lot of space: ‘at least a cubic metre in order to generate the heat that will accelerate the breakdown of the materials’ (Costa Georgiadis, via Gardening Australia’s Series 23, Episode 5). Meat, fish, and cooked food can’t be composted as they attract vermin and gardeners need to maintain the right carbon-nitrogen ratio or they may end up with a stinky mess.
Worm castings and worm wee
- Pros: worm farms will break down most kitchen scraps into castings and wee. Compact and relatively odourless, the farms can be kept indoors. Worms also make kid-friendly pets.
- Cons: there’s usually an initial set-up cost for a worm farm and worms. Worm farms tend to be small scale and will not be able to cope with large amounts of kitchen waste. Worms won’t eat onion or citrus and will need a lot of TLC.
Bokashi bin juice and contents
- Pros: a Bokashi bin will break down kitchen scraps that can’t go into a compost bin or worm farm (i.e. meat, fish, dairy, onion, citrus). Bokashi bins are small and odourless; hence, they can be kept in the kitchen, next to the rubbish and recycling bins. After a couple of weeks, the fermented contents can be added to a compost bin/heap without attracting vermin.
- Cons: there are initial costs (the bin) and ongoing costs (fermented grains) and the Bokashi bin contents require a place to go, whether it be a compost bin/heap, the bottom of a pot, or an unused garden bed.
Weed tea fertiliser
- Pros: weed tea fertiliser only requires an old plastic pot and a bucket. The process of making it also drowns the weeds, preventing them from resprouting.
- Cons: I can’t think of any at the moment.
- Pros: leaf mould requires very little effort to make, it’s free, and can be used as a mulch (after 1 year) or seedling compost (after 2 years).
- Cons: leaf mould requires patience (at least 1-2 years) and it doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients.
- Pros: adding animal manure to the compost heap will speed up the process of decomposition. Using animal manure as fertiliser is a good way of getting rid of what is essentially a waste-product.
- Cons: it can be difficult to get manure for free or cheap in urban areas. Animal manure can introduce weeds and or herbicides; it also needs to age before it can be used in the garden, otherwise it will burn plant roots.
- Pros: green manure fixes nitrogen in the soil for other plants to use.
- Cons: it requires the purchase of seeds, some planning, and an empty garden bed.
- Hamilton, D 2011, Grow your food for free (well, almost), Green Books, Plymouth
- Rodwell, P (ed.) 2003, Back to basics: a practical guide to old-fashioned self-sufficiency, 2nd edition, Reader’s Digest (Australia), Australia
- Yates, A 2006, Yates garden guide, 42nd edition, HarperCollins Publishers Australia, Australia