Seven budget tips for allotments

Growing your own fruit and veg is a great way to cut down on food bills, but gardening costs can mount up, here are some ways to save the pennies

1. Save with seeds

Sowing seed

Packets of seeds are much cheaper than plants, and if you lose young plants to a sudden frost or a hungry mouse, you can just re-sow. If you sow directly where plants are to grow, or on a prepared seedbed for transplanting later, you’ll also avoid the expense of compost, seed trays and propagators.

Leave some of your crop to go to seed that you can use next season. Beans, tomatoes, chillies and many flowers are easy to save seed from, although seeds from F1 hybrids won’t be true to parent type, so best not collected.

Save: 15 French bean plug plants ‘Cobra’ = £11.99
Packet of 70 French bean seeds ‘Cobra’ = £4.49

Share: Most seed packets contain far more seeds than you’ll need so why not suggest splitting packets with fellow growers to reduce cost and waste.

Read more:
Sowing vegetable seeds
Guide to sowing seeds outdoors
Collecting and storing seeds

2. Reuse and repurpose

Homemade pots for seeds

Some crops are best started off in pots, but you can save on cost and plastic-use by making your own pots from paper or using the inner tube of toilet rolls. These have the added benefit of being able to be planted directly into the soil to biodegrade, minimising root disturbance.

Old net curtains can be used instead of horticultural fleece, pruned branches can be used as plant supports and cardboard can supress weeds (make sure to take any tape off first).

You can reuse plastic to save it going into the recycling, and repurposed food packaging, (like the containers mushrooms or grapes come in) make great seed trays. If you have any milk or squash bottles, cut the bottom off and sink them into the ground at the base of plants. Watering into them will direct the water straight to the roots where it’s needed, rather than the top of the soil where up to 80% can be lost through evaporation.

Save: 15x 7cm black plastic seed pots = £1.50
Homemade newspaper seed pots = £0

Share: Many allotments and gardening centres have donation bins where used plastic plant pots can be given, or taken to be used again.

Read more:
How to make paper pots
How to be a greener gardener

3. Make your own compost

Composting material

Improving the condition of the soil is essential to getting the most from your plot and bags of compost and mulch can be one of the major expenses for gardeners. There is also the carbon footprint from the plastic bags they come in and the transportation to and from the garden centre.

Home composting is very easy to set up and there are multiple ways you can turn your waste into growing gold. Composting bins can be built from old wood pallets – ask on local Facebook pages if anyone is giving some away – or see if your council offers discounts to buy composing bins.

Collect fallen leaves in the autumn and in 18 months, you’ll have leaf mould, which can be used as a mulch or for sowing seeds. Alternatively, try  Hügelkultur (a mound of decaying wood and other compostable material, plants are grown directly on) for a low-effort raised bed.

Save: 50l bag peat-free compost = £6-£8
Homemade compost = £0

Share: Buying manure in bulk is cheaper so see if anyone on your allotment site would like to share an order. If you live in a rural area, local stables often give away manure, though you may need to collect.

Read more:
Hügelkultur explained
How to compost
Guide to leaf mould

4. Get plants for free

Strawberry runners planted up

There lots of ways to make your plants go further. If your allotment doesn’t have a plant swap, suggest starting one, it’s a great way of expanding the range of what you grow, as well as making sure that your spare seedlings don’t go to waste.

Dividing and propagating what you have also gives you plants for ‘free’. Strawberry plants should be replaced every three years and by potting up your strawberry runners, this doesn’t need cost you a penny. Dahlia cuttings can be taken in spring to boost your supplies and even the off-shoots of tomato plants can be popped into water where they’ll soon grow shoots.

Even kitchen scraps can be used to fill your plot. Spring onions, lemongrass, lettuce and celery will all re-sprout if you put the, usually discarded, root end into water instead of the bin. If you want a challenge, try growing slips from sweet potatoes or encourage a piece of ginger to sprout. You can also collect the seeds from your chilis and tomatoes, and, if you enjoy chamomile tea, rip open one of the tea bags and sow the seeds inside (used tea bags can also be used for sowing seeds in, just check if they contain plastic).

Save: 6x strawberry plants = £6.99
Replacement strawberry runners = £0

Share: Local community groups and apps such as Freecycle and Olio regularly offer spare plants, garden equipment and even sheds and greenhouses for free, if you are able to collect.

Read more:
Growing strawberries
How to grow sweet potatoes
Grow celery from the root

5. Feed plants with plants

Watering an allotment

Ditch shop-bought plant feed in favour of homemade. It doesn’t just make financial sense, it’s also better for the environment and saves on chemicals, packaging and transport.

Comfrey tea is great for encouraging flowers and fruit, and nettle tea promotes lush leafy growth. Or try composting your kitchen waste with a wormery or bokashi bin, both of which produce a rich feed.

There’s nothing new about the plants feeding plants principle. Traditionally allotment gardeners have dug bean trenches in the winter and filled them with kitchen scraps, ready to be covered in the spring and runner beans sown on top, to feast on the decomposing organic matter all through the season.

Green manure is increasing being used over winter to protect the soil from weeds and erosion, and to feed the soil and improve structure in the spring, all for the cost of a packet of seeds.

Save: 1lt organic liquid vegetable feed = £7.99
Nettle tea = £0

Share: If you don’t produce enough kitchen scraps to fill your bean trench, ask neighbours if you can have theirs in exchange for some of the produce in the summer.

Read more:
How to make comfrey tea

6. Grow expensive to buy crops


Carrots and potatoes may be allotment staples, but as they are inexpensive and readily available at the shops, it might make sense to use the space for more unusual vegetables. Asparagus, may take a while to get established, but the benefit is years of spears which are expensive at the tills.

Simple swaps can save pounds. Instead of onions, try shallots – rather than cabbage, grow purple sprouting broccoli. If you can’t imagine an allotment without potatoes, first earlies give you new potatoes which are tastier and more expensive than a maincrop spud, or try varieties like Pink Fur Apple, which are delicious and near-impossible to buy.

Save: 1kg Baking potatoes = £0.70
1kg baby potatoes = £1.80

Share: Avoid having the same gluts as other gardeners. Then you can gratefully accept their runner beans and courgettes, and return the favour with garlic and spinach.

Read more:
How to grow potatoes
Unusal veg to try

7. Plan your plot

Vegetable plot

To make the most of your plot and avoid waste, make a plan of what you want to grow, where and when. Factor in how long a crop will spend in the ground so that you can follow it with another quick crop before the end of the season. Reduce waste by sowing little and often to make sure that you have successional crops rather than gluts then famine.

Remember to factor-in protecting your crops once they are in the ground. Be aware of the weather so that if a late frost is predicted you can cover seedlings with fleece, and remember the old allotment adage, “If you don’t net it, forget it”, to make sure that wildlife doesn’t eat up all your veg before you get a chance to.

Good planning can also save you money by making sure you’re buying plants at the most economical time. Fruit trees and bushes, are much cheaper if they are bought bare root in the winter, which is the best time to plant them.

Save:  3x Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ canes (in containers) = £19.99
3x Raspeberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ canes (bare root) = £9.99

Share: Ask fellow allotment holders what grows well on their plot and what the most common pests and diseases are in your area. It can save you lots of time and effort if you know that you need to protect against rabbits, or to grow resistant varieties if potato blight has been a problem in the past.

Read more:
Successional sowing
Crop rotation
Creating a budget-friendly garden

About the author – Jenny Laville
The RHS Digital Editor for Shows, Jenny has had allotments for nearly 15 years, and currently has a plot in Buckinghamshire.

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