My Thrifty Kitchen Garden in June – 5 ways to save money

It’s almost halfway through June, which is just ridiculous. We’ve had rain, sunshine, rain, rain and more rain so far, which means that every day is a growing day. And once the hot summer sun returns, everything will explode and I’ll be out early morning and late evenings trying to retain some semblance of order.

veg plot in June

This year has been an interesting one so far, particularly since I forgot about the packets of annuals that I threw down at the end of last year’s growing season. I never usually have any luck with my slightly chaotic, slapdash method of chuck it in and see what happens. But this year has been different. The likes of larkspur, scabious and calendula have popped up, thriving alongside the usual self-sown suspects such as pink and purple toadflax, hollyhocks, lychnis, honesty and foxgloves. These are all plants that will continue to grow in number year on year, as I collect their seed and scatter them throughout my borders. Self sowing annuals are one of the thriftiest way to fill space, feed the pollinators, and delight the senses.

In recent years I’ve been looking at ways to gradually reduce costs of maintain, even growing my little kitchen garden. The self-sown annuals have been amazing; they thrive because the conditions are right, which requires very little input from me (win, win).

I’m all about saving pennies where I can. So here are five super-easy, basic ways I’ve been achieving low-cost growing at the Smallest Smallholding:

Make my own compost
I’m nowhere near 100% reliant on my own compost production, but I’m taking small steps to cut down the amount of money I spend on feeding my soil and improving soil condition. We have three large compost bins that house of all our green waste, and a lot of kitchen waste too (I’m vegan, my other half is mostly veggie and we have a lot of fruit and vegetable peelings!). The art is getting the compost mixture ratio right – dry/brown and wet/green in equal parts, and plenty of turning to aerate and give worms easier access to the good stuff.

Leafmould – a great soil conditioner – is also easily made from the ash, damson, dogwood, elder, apple, cherry, acer and sycamore leaves that fall in autumn. I pop them in reused compost bags turned inside out, leaving them for a few months to rot down into a crumbly consistency. Eventually we will create a dedicated leafmould bin as our paper birch trees grow and we have more leaves to compost!

french lavender

Softwood cuttings
Lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage and marjoram are all herbs that I can easily take softwood cuttings from. Late spring and early summer is perfect for taking the young green growth. The same can be done for any woody shrub like orange blossom or hydrangea. I’m surprised I didn’t take this approach much sooner as propagating cuttings is such an easy way to save money and nurture an incredible number of new plants to maturity.

Take cuttings earlier on when the shoots are turgid (full of water, hydrated). Make sure the cutting is taken from a lateral branch that isn’t flowering, and take around 10cm cuttings above a node (you can shorten them later). Keep the cuttings moist. Strip off the bottom leaves, leaving at least two sets of leaves on the cutting. You can also strip away a little of the softwood bark around the cut point.

Potting compost for cuttings can be a mixture of soilless mix (eg equal parts sand, coir, perlite/vermiculite), and after dipping and coating the cutting wound in rooting hormone, place it in a pot and wait for the magic to happen. Some plants can also be steeped in water to allow cuttings to root (like tomato shoots or geraniums) – just make sure you change the water every couple of days. Once roots appear, you can pot them onto into soilless mix, eventually potting on to more fertile growing medium.


Brambles aren’t always bad news
We actually let about three or four established wild brambles grow like espaliers in our garden. I try and grow them as laterally as possible, and allow them to flower and fruit. The pollinators adore their easily accessible flowers, and we use the fruits in autumn for pies, crumbles and cakes, freezing whatever we don’t use.

They do require frequent clipping as they’re vigorous, almost thuggish growers, but other than that they’re pretty easy to handle. We also make sure to leave some berries on the plants for the wildlife – it’s only fair! You can cut them right back down to ground level in winter.

Making my own mulch
We use grass clippings to mulch the raspberries in late winter and early spring, chip the copious number of buddleia cuttings to make chunky mulch around the greenhouse and in the little wildlife area, as well as general homemade compost for mulching around our veg and flowers. Mulch is magic; it suppresses weeds where they need suppressing, helps the soil to retain water in dry spells, aids drainage in relentlessly wet conditions and also leeches some goodness back into the soil below. Mulch, mulch, mulch should be one of your gardening mantras.

Seed collection
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve become a seed collector, squirrelling away little envelopes and packets of seeds for scattering in autumn and spring. Poppies, larkspur, nigella, hollyhock, lychnis, honesty, aquilegia, calendula and tagetes all happily grow from saved seed in my flower borders.

And providing you don’t have F1 varieties of fruit and veg, you can also seed save from many kitchen garden favourites, such as raspberries, strawberries, nasturtiums, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, beans and peas.

It’s quite straightforward to save seed from tomatoes, chillies and peppers, as the seeds are simply collected from the ripened fruits and stored. Peas just need to be left on the plant until the pods are hard and dry. Beans, brassicas and squash are a little trickier, as they can be pollinated by bees that have already pollinated plants from neighbouring gardens or allotments, so you can end up with a plant that’s a mixture of a couple of varieties of the same species. For now, I’m just sticking to the easy wins!

How do you save the pennies in your garden? Let me know!






November Frugal Goals

acers in november

So once again it’s time to set my frugal goals, and really focus on getting some funds banked in the savings account before the festive period. I can’t quite believe that here we are, already in November 2017 – two more months of the year to go, and two more months to really make 2017 the year that we got that little bit closer to where we want to be.

I feel that this time of year can be really tough if you’re living on a budget, with so many temptations to spend a bit here, and there. But with a bit of a plan, it’s entirely possible to stick to that budget and continue on your thrifty journey throughout the festive period!

Falling Back, Looking Forward

We were lucky to enjoy lots of sunny, uplifting days in October, and I hope November continues in the same vein! Although, last weekend the clocks went back once again, and my own internal body clock is still having trouble adjusting! Come 5pm, the world is once again dark and cold, and when I am unceremoniously awoken at 6am each morning, I’m still feeling my way around in the dark, not quite ready to face the day. As such, I have an inkling that this month is going to be a bit of a battle to resist the urge to a) put the heating on a lot, and b) go into winter foraging mode and eat everything. Everything!

This is partly why I think it’s useful to set monthly goals – to keep myself in check, to keep our energy usage and bills in check, and keep on a positive, frugal path that’ll see us debt-free in a few years. Otherwise I could end up centrally heating and eating my way into a heck of a lot more debt 😉

So on we go with my November Frugal Goals…

frosty garden

Introduce a pound coin saver jar
I know that some people like to do an annual challenge with saving £1 and £2 coins, but I’m an impatient type, and would rather save up my pound coins over a month, and then deposit them into my savings account regularly. I might not get a massive hit of cash, but I’m happy to top up little and often… and the urge to dip in and out will surely be less if the pot is emptied more often!

Continue skimming my bank account
I go with the ethos that no money I make can be considered disposable or as “profit” until I’m debt-free. One little trick I’ve picked up in helping to increase my savings a little each month, is to “skim” my bank account for a few pounds and pennies to get to a rounded-off number. For instance, if I have £374.38 in my account, I skim 4.38 into my savings, leaving me with a rounded £370. So no wasting money on treats and getting into the mindset that I have a spare £5 here or there… I keep chipping away when I think I have a little to spare, and into the savings account it goes. There are a few apps out there that do this automatically (ie CHIP), but I’m going to rely on my own judgement for now.

Bank another £250 in my savings
I have two short-term goals that involve making “big hit” payments. With all the skimping and saving that I’m doing, I’m hoping to make a number of “big hit” pay offs that won’t hurt my bank account. For November, I want to bank £250 in savings, to help me achieve this.

Pick sloes and make sloe gin for Christmas!
I see that sloe gin costs around £13-25 in the supermarkets at the moment. As one of my favourite festive tipples, I know I can make some seriously good, gluggable (eek! not too much!) sloe gin here at home, with a non-branded value bottle of super-cheap gin, available from your local discount supermarket for well under a tenner. Check out my sloe gin recipe here.

Spend no more than £60 a week at the supermarket
Yes, a repeat from last month. Already failed in this first week of November, but I’m determined to get there!

Enquire about getting a water meter fitted
I’m convinced that we could save a packet on water bills with a meter, and that having one fitted would make us much more aware of our water usage. Good for us, good for the environment.

books on a shelf

Send off my unwanted books to WeBuyBooks
We have a TONNE of books that we never read anymore, sitting in storage boxes in the house whilst we finish decorating the dining room, where the bookshelf used to creak under their weight. This month, I want to go through my stash and send off any books worth a few pence or pounds, and the rest can go to the charity shop. Definitely on a declutter mission this autumn/winter.

Find a frugal solution for shoe storage!
Bit of an odd one, but we seem to have a surprisingly large collection of shoes for three people. I admit, it’s mostly me not wanting to let go of old, battered Vans, or old tired Toms, as well as “what if” party shoes (I never go out to party, ever, boo, sucks to be me, NOT), so I really need to Marie Kondo the hell out of my shoes. And with what’s left, I’ve got to find a suitable shoe storage solution in our coat cupboard, that doesn’t involve a rickety old shoe shelf that falls over all the time. It annoys the hell out of me that our shoes are constantly out and on display, and E seems to enjoy pulling out the neat rows of shoes and scattering them about.

Batch cook a tonne of pies, soups and stews
I started with chilli last month, but we’re almost out! Tonight, I made a new batch of veggie curry, and over the next week I’m going to go for leek and potato soup, more veggie chilli, and some sweet potato and lentil pie portions. We’re actually starting to struggle for space in our little fridge-freezer, so I might have to look at cheap chest freezer options in the new year…

Spicy autumn soup recipe with butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot

Finish decorating the utility room
How does this fall under frugal aims, you ask? Well, it’s where I’m hoping we’ll be able to store bulk purchases of household goods, and we need to find a frugal solution for fitting the storage cupboards too. Do we refit the old, dated and wonky cupboards, or invest in new units that could last us much longer? It’s something I really want to get sorted as we’re desperate for storage space (and I also want to have a larder shelf too…)

Make a few more listings on eBay/Facebook selling pages
We have so much stuff to root through, that I’m going to try and make some bundles to sell on Facebook selling pages or eBay. I don’t mind if I don’t make a wad of cash, as it’ll be a relief to get rid of the “stuff” in our lives that we no longer want or need, without sending it to landfill!

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to end up with too many fails at the end of the month!

How about you? What are your November frugal goals? How do you think you’ll fare as the festive season approaches?

Autumn maple tree

Reflecting on October Frugal Goals

So at the beginning of the month I set myself a few frugal living aims for October, and I thought I should check in to see how I have done. In the past, I’ve been a bit of a talker and not much of a do-er, so I’m trying to be accountable to myself and stick to my goals and budgets!

Autumn leaves

This was my original list from my October Goals post, and underneath I’ve got some feedback on each frugal goal:

  1. Earn at least £200 extra on top of my normal salary
    So far I’ve got abut £120 saved up from this month, which is not bad considering that sometimes it feels as if I’m living on peanuts! But October is not over, and I’m hoping to add another £20 or £40 to the pot, so all in all although I haven’t reached my original goal, I haven’t done too badly either. 
  2. Don’t put ANYTHING on credit cards this month
    Yeahhhh, this one didn’t go too well as I ended up buying a big ecourse bundle to help with my freelance, and I’d forgotten that the Amazon Prime annual subscription was coming out this month too! Added to that, a few little shops prior to pay day meant that I added another £30 to the balance, but at least I’ll be able to pay that off straight away now that I’ve been paid. I thoroughly deserve a smack on the wrists for this one, though.
  3. At least 15 no-spend days
    I’m not actually sure, but I do know that there were many days where I didn’t spend anything! I think I shall have to get my old bujo (dotted bullet journal planner) out again and start drawing up my No Spend Day charts again so that I can track this one more closely. But I would definitely say that the spend:no spend ratio was much, much better this month. 
  4. Harvest the rest of the carrots in the veg patch
    I have harvested around 75% of all the carrots in the veg patch now, and we are eating our way through them. The Autumn King carrots have grown very well this year and are a really good size. I decided to leave the rest in as our well-draining soil is a great natural store for them. Once my supplies are getting low inside, I’ll clear the rest out and then it’s time to get the alliums in!

    Sloes for gin

  5. Make my own sloe gin in time for Christmas!
    As we’re still waiting for a frost, this one is on the back burner at the moment. Once the first frost arrives, I’ll pick the remaining sloes and into the gin they will go! 
  6. Batch cook more freezer meals
    This month I’ve been really pleased with how much more batch cooking I’ve managed to do, as it’s really made a difference with cutting down spends for lunch at work, as well as making easy, quick but healthy meals in the evening. I made a huge batch of veggie chilli which I will be making again for November, and I think I’ll also make my sweet potato and lentil pie portions too. I’m also planning on batch cooking and freezing leek and potato soup portions, as these are really lovely with crusty bread for lunch on a chilly day.
  7. Spend no more than £60 at the supermarket each week (a tough one)
    Well, no, this didn’t happen. But we have cut down our supermarket spends a lot since I’ve been concentrating on meal planning and doing the big weekly shop. I still managed to miss a few items that we had to go back for, but I noticed we have been going back far less regularly and have probably knocked £30 off our weekly spend already. I still maintain that we can get through a week with £60 for the three of us plus two cats… it’s not an easy task but definitely not impossible! 
  8. So a bit of a mixed bag on the October Frugal Aims front… I think it’s easy to slip into bad habits when the salary starts getting low before pay day, but I’m pleased that I’ve managed to put aside some extra earnings this month too to balance the bad bits. 

    How about November then? Check out my next November Frugal Goals post!