Tips for the Thrifty Gardener
Looking for ways to save $$$ in the garden? That’s what we thought! This spring, resolve to be thrifty where it counts. From starting from seeds, to composting, to homemade mulches, gardening doesn’t have to put you in debt.
A garden doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, there are many ways a garden can save you money. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your garden in top shape without draining your bank account. Supplement them with your own creative ideas!
Grow from Seed
It makes good sense, and saves dollars, to start easy-to-grow plants from seed rather than buying started seedlings from a nursery. Many vegetables and flowers can and should be sown directly in the garden. For lettuce, arugula and other salad greens, sprinkle the seed in wide rows.
You will get at least three cuttings of salad greens, which can sell for upwards of $6 or $7 per lb. at the local supermarket. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, radishes and turnips are also easy-from-seed vegetables. Garden mainstay veggies such as beans, peas, squash, cucumbers and corn all come easily and quickly from seed as well, as long as you wait until temperatures are warmed up to the 50°F range both day and night.
Sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, alyssum, sweet peas, morning glories and nasturtiums are some of the more beautiful and popular flowers that can be grown for the price of a pack of seeds. If you enjoy cut flowers, a pack of seeds will produce lots and lots of flowering plants so you can enjoy bouquets all season long.
While you’re starting from seed, consider joining friends in a seed-starting cooperative for plants that need a head start indoors. Peppers, eggplants and tomatoes all need to be started indoors in the United States, except in the warmest states. Have one person start eggplants, another tomatoes, and at planting time, just divide the started plants among the participating members.
Don’t give your leaves away! Chop them up with your lawnmower and put them in a pile, or make a simple compost bin with chicken wire and four stakes. Add vegetable trimmings, prunings, weeds (without seeds) and other compostable materials.
Stake with Reused Materials
Scavenged materials make serviceable stakes. Political sign stakes—minus the actual signs—are a good size for propping up peppers or small pea varieties, or vining cucumbers. Just wait until after the election before collecting them! Scrap wood or old broomsticks or rake handles can be fashioned into tomato supports, and an old stepladder can be repurposed as a bean or flower tower.
Fertilize with Living Plants
Planting a cover crop in your vegetable garden when the weather is not conducive for growing edible plants is a surefire way to improve both the structure and the fertility of your soil. Winter rye, mustard and clover are widely available and are good choices. For more information on cover cropping, consult your Cooperative Extension.
Get Creative with Weed Barriers
Laying down 3-4 in. of bagged mulch, at considerable expense, has become almost a rite of spring for many homeowners, but there are many materials that will perform the same function at a fraction of the cost. Newspaper, cardboard or shredded paper topped with straw, pine needles or chopped leaves, make an effective weed barrier between plants. If you don’t like the look of these alternatives, try using shredded wood mulch in the front of the garden, and paper or cardboard topped with straw in less visible areas.
Water with Rain
Use rain as much as possible to water your plants. Rain barrels need not cost a fortune. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for instructions on how to create a low-cost, DIY version.
Seed Pots Come in all Shapes and Sizes
Seeds can be started indoors in any type of container. Use juice cartons sliced in half, yogurt containers, takeout containers…the list is endless. All you need to do to make these containers useful is poke holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.
Mark with a Stone
One attractive way to keep track of what’s growing where is to mark the names of your plants with indelible ink on flat stones.
Source: Home and Garden Seed Association