Gardening on a Budget, Going Green

Plant food

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.

Leaf mould

  • 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.

Animal manure

  • 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.

Green manure

  • 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

2 thoughts on “Plant food

  1. Urine is great for compost, but I’d think twice about adding human faeces to it. Aside from the squick factor, there’s a real danger of the contamination of vegetables with pathogens present in your poop. Stick to the standard chicken/ cow/ horse/ sheep manure.

    A super thrifty way of building a compost bin is to use pallets. Ask around – many businesses are happy to give them away. Arrange three upright in a U shape, secured by four star pickets and some wire. Lastly, buy or scrounge 2 x 1.5 metres heavy duty black plastic (from a building site), which is nailed with a board on the back of the bin so that you can cover the compost when it’s raining or cold. Total cost for everything should be around the $10 – $15 mark.

    1. Yeah…composting human/cat/dog faeces is generally not a good idea, especially if you’re thinking of sprinkling the compost over your vegetables.

      However, it can be done if you use a composting toilet which produces high enough temperatures for a long enough period to kill off all of the nasties. Apparently there’s a book called ‘The Humanure Handbook’ which explains the process in great detail.

      I haven’t tried composting yet as it requires yard space that I don’t have, but the Bokashi Bin, the (free) worm farm have been quite successful. Still waiting for last year’s batch of leaves to break down into leaf mould…should happen any time now…

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