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Gardening on a Budget

by Arzeena Hamir

Gardeners who need to make frugal decisions at this time of the year can take heart in a number of alternatives that will not only lower the cost of gardening, but will also enhance the pleasure! Here are five steps every budget gardener should follow:

Plan ahead
Make a list of what you’d really like to see in your garden and stick to it. There’s no use growing winter cabbage, regardless of how lovely it looks in the frost, if no one in your family eats cabbage. A list will also keep you under control when you see the end-of-season sales and are tempted to purchase something on a whim. In addition, if you plan exactly where plants are going to go, you won’t make last minute mistakes such as placing sun loving plants in the shade.

Start a compost pile
It’s surprising to see how many gardeners haven’t constructed their own compost pile and still pay to have their grass clippings and leaves hauled away and then, in turn, purchase fertilizers every year. Compost is free food for the garden! It helps break up heavy clay soils, absorbs water in sandy soils, and encourages microbial life, thereby decreasing that chances of any one disease becoming rampant in the garden.

Compost piles don’t require anything fancy. The walls can be made of recycled 2 x 4s, chicken wire, or even hay bales. All that you need is access to the pile and enough space to turn it every now and again.

What can you put in the pile for free? Grass clippings and leaves are a great choice since you probably have your own source as well as your neighbours’. Check with local tree care companies to see if they have any wood chips to give away. Coffee grinds from the local caf� make excellent compost, as does shredded newspaper. Don’t forget to include your vegetable scraps and egg shells. Once you get hooked on composting, you’ll even start going after the local barber for hair, and even saving dryer lint!

If you’re an apartment gardener or are cramped for space, a great alternative to a compost pile is a worm bin. The requirements for a successful worm bin include a good size container, usually a Rubbermaid bin, about � lb of red wiggler worms, shredded newspaper, and then a steady supply of kitchen scraps. The resulting "worm casts" make excellent fertilizer for garden & potted plants. For more information, City Farmer has this article on worm composting .

Many of the expenditures that gardeners make for containers and equipment can be cut down by re-using items you already have at home. Margarine tubs, yogurt & cottage cheese containers and egg cartons are fantastic for seed starting. Old gardening boots, wheelbarrows, and toolboxes can make whimsical substitutes for expensive outdoor containers. Window frames can be converted into cold frames and plastic milk jugs and pop bottles can be used to make a mini greenhouses or hot caps.

Start from seed when you can
One packet of tomato seed is often equivalent to the price of one tomato start yet you get the potential of at least 30-40 plants in each packet. While it may take longer and require advance planning, starting the majority of your plants from seed can be a big savings, especially if you’re using recycled containers. No need for expensive heat mats – the top of the VCR or water heater is ideal. Fluorescent tubes make a suitable substitute for expensive grow lights and can be rigged up under a table or on a shelf in the garage.

Don’t forget to try to save your own seed during the season. Not only will you save on the seed purchase the following year, but you’ll also be able to select seed from plants that you know did well in your climate. Most communities now arrange for seed swaps in the early spring where you can trade your excess seed for new varieties. Make sure that you save seed from non-hybrid plants.

Choose plants that keep on giving
In the vegetable garden, climbing peas, tomatoes, beans & squash tend to provide more produce than their bush equivalents. If you’re limited in space, growing these plants vertically can be very successful. In addition, plants like zucchini are notorious for their yields. Trade with neighbors for food you didn’t grow.

Among the flowers, try growing multi-purpose plants to get more bang for your buck. Many flowers like bachelor’s buttons, violas, calendula, pansies, & roses are edible as well as beautiful. Yarrow, alyssum, fennel, cumin, & coriander all attract beneficial insects as well.

Find a friend
Not only can you share ideas with a gardening buddy, but you can also share the costs and make it cheaper for both of you. Very few of us require a whole packet of seed for the gardening season; most packets contain 40-100 seeds. Why not split the packet with a friend or else trade seed for a variety you didn’t buy? A gardening buddy is also a great person to share tools with. If you’ve got a fantastic hoe and your friend has an excellent pitchfork, why double up?

Sharing with a gardening partner will also allow you to purchase certain inputs in bulk. If you require potting mix, why not go for the bale size instead of the small packages? Compost, if you can’t make your own, is much cheaper if purchased by the yard and shared with a friend or two.

Joining a garden club is a great way to meet gardening enthusiasts if no friends or family are willing to team up with you. Most clubs also hold plant exchanges or sales where you can get plants for a real steal.

Arzeena is an agronomist and garden-writer for Organic Living Newsletter. Subscribe to this free e-newsletter here.

Growing An Indoor Herb Garden

By Kate Gilby

If you live in the northern hemisphere, then it is likely that your garden is tucked up for the winter. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy freshly picked herbs. Many varieties will grow quite happily indoors on a sunny windowledge or porch. In addition to providing a source of fresh herbs, an indoor garden can look extremely attractive, and they are a wonderful introduction to gardening for children.

Herbs which will grow indoors:

You will need to find a sunny, well lit spot to grow your indoor herb garden. Ideally, it should be south facing, but if this isn’t possible choose a situation that will receive plenty of light through out the day. Try to avoid a north facing place because it is unlikely the plants will receive enough light to grow properly.

What you will need:
Herbs, either plants or seeds
Good quality compost
Suitable containers

Buy your herbs from reputable suppliers, don’t buy seed packets which are out of date, and avoid any straggly or unhealthy looking plants. The same is true for compost, choose a good all purpose compost, your herbs will be relying on it for nutrition for some time.

The containers are easier to select. You will find a wide range at garden centers and nurseries. Alternatively, you can use ones you already have, or adapt other objects. I grow my geraniums in a old mop bucket, and my lemon mint is growing in a teapot with a broken handle.

If your children are helping with your indoor garden, a nice idea is to take some plain plant pots, and let the kids decorate them with paint, paper etc. to produce their own unique pots.

Once you have planted your garden, it will need some care. Remember, indoor plants rely on you totally. Water regularly, but be careful not to over-water, this is the main cause of death for most indoor plants. No more than once a week should be sufficient, I water once every two weeks. Check the compost before watering, if it still feels moist wait and check again the next day. If you have used a good compost, and your winter is relatively short you will probably only need to feed your plants once. If you have a longer cold season, it might be an idea to use the slow release pellets you can buy in garden centers.

Copyright Kate Gilby 2003

About the Author:
Kate Gilby lives in the UK, and is the editor of kate blogs, a blog devoted to writing, web and graphic design. She is also the owner of More Than Mint a resource for herb growers, and Decorating Divas, a home decorating resource.

A Dozen Ways to Save Money on Yard Care
and Related Items

by Dr. Charlotte Gorman

1. To help protect your house from winter winds and, thus, save on heating bills, consider planting a windbreak. Call your Land Grant University’s County Extension Service for specific information on how to correctly design your windbreak (such as how far trees should be from your house and what kind of trees to plant). In certain areas of the U.S., actual fuel savings from windbreak protection can be about 18 to 27 percent.

2. Using plant materials wisely can help reduce your energy costs. Winter heating bills may be reduced as much as 15 percent while the energy needed for summer cooling may be cut 50 percent or more. Check with your Land Grant University’s County Extension Service for information on energy efficient landscaping (such as proper placement of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs in relation to your house).

3. Use drought resistant grasses and plants which can survive on limited amounts of water. Ask your County Agricultural Extension Agent about drought resistant grasses and plants that are adapted to your area. The fewer times you must water your yard and plants, the lower your water bill.

4. Water your lawn and outdoor plants only when necessary and water deeply. Frequent shallow watering draws roots near the surface where they are subject to sunburn and drying out. Unnecessary watering wastes water, time, and your money.

5. Whenever possible, water your lawn yard plants, and the vegetable garden only in the early morning, late afternoon, or evening. It is best to refrain from watering in the heat of the day, when it is windy, or when the sun is shining brightly. Under these conditions, you waste a large amount of water through evaporation.

6. Mulch plants in your yard to help hold moisture in the soil. Spread leaves, cut grass, pieces of bark, plastic, and other appropriate materials around the plants. (Make sure that the mulch does not prevent water from soaking into the soil when you do water or when it rains.) The longer you can keep the soil moist through mulching, the more money you will save on watering.

7. Use a "soaker" hose rather than a sprinkler, where possible. Less water is required when a "soaker" hose is used because the water is concentrated on the soil nearer the roots; and there is, also, less evaporation.

8. Remove weeds from your yard. Weeds use water which could be used by your flowers, shrubs, trees, and grass. A weed-free yard will require less water than one infested with weeds.

9. Rather than let gasoline-powered yard equipment idle for long periods, turn it off until you are ready to use it again; and you will save gasoline.

10. Keep the cutting edges sharp on gasoline and electric-powered yard equipment. The equipment will cut more efficiently and, therefore, use less energy. Dull cutting edges tend to fray grass blades and thus increase water evaporation from the grass plants.

11. Use "hand" lawn mowers, pruners, clippers, and other yard tools whenever possible rather than gasoline or electric-powered ones. "Hand" tools consume only your physical energy.

12. You can save money and do your lawn a favor by using a mulching lawn mower instead of bagging and carting off grass clippings. The mulched clippings fall back to the soil and add nutrients.

About the Author:
Dr. Charlotte Gorman is an Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A & M University System. She is the author of The Frugal Mind, The Little Book of Living Frugal, and Speak for Yourself.

Florida Gardening

Q. Help! We have just moved to Southwest Florida from Michigan and don’t understand the growing seasons here. When is the best time to grow what ? Mike

Best bet to get acquainted with your new growing environment is to visit your county Extention office. It is free.  Just look in your phone book. They are a wealth of information and have free pamphlets and brochures.  In South West Florida they are run jointly by the county you live in and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences Dept.  Master Gardners volunteer in the Extension Offices in this part of the state and they are very knowledgable and a wealth of information of growing just about anything as well as how to control pests in your yard, how and when to fertilize, you name it.  They are the best resource you have, they are knowledgeable and helpful.  Give them a call today and visit often!  Barbara Nelson – Master Gardener (in training still)

Try asking your local nursery.  If one isn’t available then do a web search on growing plants for your zone.  And as a last resort just observe the seasons for 1 or 2 years to determine your growing seasons. Good Luck.

The growing season in South Florida primarily begins in September or early October.  He can get great planting help from his local County Agricultural Extension Office.  It takes some "getting used to" when planting in subtropical Florida, but with the mild winters and really hot summers, it just makes sense to plant late in the year.  As most of the southern part of that state has sandy soil, he will no doubt need to enhance the soil.   The Agriculture Extension Agent will be able to advise on this subject, too.  Good luck, Mike!  Mary Millard, Floridian transplanted to rural Nevada (and the desert)

Making Fresh Flowers Last Longer

Q. When I get flowers from a florist, they include a little packet of powder that makes them last and look good for so very long. Surely there’s a simple answer to this. Does anyone else in this frugal community know how to make your own powder? I like to gather wildflowers and would like for them to last longer. Thanks! Dee W

Aspirin is supposed to extend the life of cut flowers – Robert

I used to be a professional floral designer. The packet of powder that comes with fresh flowers is basically just sugar. There is no evidence that this powder keeps flowers any fresher. It is supposed to kept the bacteria count in the water low. I reccomend to keep flowers fresher longer is to change the water everyday. This helps to keep the bacteria low. – Valerie

In place of the florist floral life extender packet, an aspirin, (not ibuprofin), works just a well. Aspirin seems to lengthen the life of the flowers. Just be sure to snip a bit off the ends of the flowers each day. The stems seal themselves, reducing the water flow to theflowers. – Maria

I find that a pinch of sugar in the water seems to work quite well. The sugar will nourish the flowers just as long as the commercial preservatives work. – Heather

If you put an aspirin in the water with the flowers it does the same thing as the packet from the florist. Faye

I use cheap vodka. I read this hint somewhere long ago (could have been online) and tried it; works wonders! It especially makes cut roses smell wonderful as they bloom. also, regular bleach will do the same thing, but with a faint bleach odor. I have no measurements; I just put "some" in the water. They both work because they kill bacteria in the water that would clog the stems otherwise. – TAW

Use sugar or a sugar substitute. This should increase the life of your cut flowers. Also cut them in the morning while the dew is still on them. – CSinbad

Add a little clorox, or 2 bayer aspirin, or just use 7-up instead of water! – Brian and Melissa

If you will crush an aspirin and place the powder in the water, you will get the same result as the florist package provides.

To make your fresh flowers last longer, even longer than with those little packets that sometimes come with them, add about 1/3 Sprite or 7-up to 2/3 water. They last almost twice as long. Angie

Keeping Cats Out Of The Garden

Q.  Does anybody know of a way to keep cats from using my garden and potted plants as a toilet?

I found a remedy which works for us. I hope it does the same for you.  We sprayed the plants with a solution of a little cayenne and water.  It’s nontoxic to the animals, doesn’t hurt the plants, and boy, the cats sure hate the smell of it when they sniff around to prepare to answer nature’s call.

One is to put human hair around your plants (on top of the soil). It’s my understanding that animals hate the smell and are deterred from it.  Any hair salon would probably be more than happy to sweep some up into a bag for you.  Another is one my neighbor uses. She puts moth balls around her  plants. Again, I think it’s the smell.  I don’t know, however, how viable either of these options are for a food garden.

Moth Balls–place a few around the edges of garden, flower area, in pots, etc.–keeps them TOTALLY away!!! And doesn’t hurt the plants or vegetables at all.

This is cat repellant recipe I heard on a radio gardening show that featured a well respected garden expert. Her formula is simple:
2 parts cayenne pepper
3 parts dry mustard
5 parts flour

Mix it together and sprinkle where ever you wish to repel cats. It must be reapplied periodically and after a rain. 

I took plastic canvas of a complementary color, matching the flower pot, or using brown to blend with soil, and cut a cover to fit round the plant. My cats can not dig in the dirt, so they go elsewhere to "do their business".

If you place some lemon peel or any other citrus peel on the soil of potted plant, the cats should leave the flower alone as they do not like citrus smell.

I use aluminum foil or pine cones around the bigger plants, put cayenne pepper on the soil of the smaller plants. However you questioned "pot plants" and I don’t have a tip, except to plant some catnip for the kitties.

My cats used to dig in the houseplants, which would annoy me to no end.  So, one day I decided to cover the surface of the dirt in the pots with large pine cones that I had picked on a hiking trip.  It worked!  No longer did the kitties mess with my plants.  The pine cones added a decorative flair, too.  However, I now have three children, one of whom loved to grab the pine cones.  I solved this problem by tying a large pretty scarf around the plant and covering the pine cones.  No more hassles!

Compost Tea Anyone?

“The soil is the most important thing!“ I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that! As in raising a vibrant family, the foundations of character and virtue are vital, so in the health of your plants, the nutrients present and the microorganisms surrounding the roots are imperative for their vigor.

The secret to intensive gardening is rich, rich soil. Always add good compost and encourage worms in the earth by using organic practices, and never let a weed get beyond the seedling state so as to compete for space and nutrients!

Building your soil is not as hard as you think. Making compost tea is easy, and if you can realize the value and do it, you can get ‘black gold’ in your garden!

There are several ways to do this. One is to buy compost, but it isn’t good stewardship. We all have pounds of waste from vegetable and fruit trimming especially in the summer and fall. We can turn that into a compost heap, but many of the minerals and ‘goodies’ was out in the rain never to be seen again. You want it on your garden soil!

I want to share the best idea I know other than having red wiggles in a worm farm (I will get to that another day). Start with 4 or 5 white gallon pails with lid, food grade preferably. I asked a restaurant owner to please save the empty 4 gallon mayo and pickle pails for me, and he was glad to. bucket

Get a drill with a 1/3 ” bit and drill holes in the lid and bottom for drainage, and also some in the sides to allow airflow. Once it is over 1/4 full, it won’t blow around; you may use a rock, too.

Next, you save several day’s worth of scraps (excluding meat, eggs, dairy products, bones, or citrus peel and seeds) and toss it into the bucket and replace the lid tightly. Then a beautiful thing happens…

The holes allow for flies and wasps to enter and lay eggs. This may sound gross, but it is part of God’s design to decompose waste. Otherwise, our world would be afloat with rotting grossness. Shannon, the gardener who shared this idea studied black soldier flies as a source of larvae for chicken food. If your raise your own chickens, they will do their best when they can get bugs, wild seeds, and larvae from the cow droppings. Sounds yucky, but ours never got sick and sat huge broods of chicks without help from incubators! The yolks were so golden that they blinded us when we cracked open the eggs :) But, I digress…

The female enters through the holes and lays her eggs, then leaves. The scraps create a controlled nursery for these larvae which are the champions of decomposing waste. As the weather turns hot the grubs will decompose a half bucket of waste in a day or two, creating compost tea that will not burn your growing seedlings and plants. If it gets too hot the grubs will exit through the holes at the bottom and return when cooler. You will not have to stir this like a compost bin which needs turned.

Make sure there is enough moisture by adding wet scraps of cantaloupe rind or rotten tomatoes. Keep the lid on tight so it doesn’t flood in a rain.

It is important to keep it moist and hot so the good organisms are encouraged. The air holes allow air so the anaerobic microorganisms can’t survive.

When you have several buckets working, set them where they are needed most. A dark fluid will drain from the lowest holes. This is a mixture of compost and manure tea just like red worms produce, but you won’t have to store this over the winter as you do worms. It is similar in consistency, although a lot less stinky, than fish emulsion. Move the buckets often as room allows since the soil under each bucket will quickly turn black with the new nutrients.

Shannon said that she moves her buckets every 3-4 days when it is hot and the composting most active. Once the plants grow and fill in available area, she leaves them in place the rest of the season.

I love the idea of not having to go to the nearest farm and shovel up manure for my beds. And I don’t like keeping scraps in my kitchen for long to draw fruit flies. If you have a kitchen garden like the French and Italians, it isn’t even a long walk. You may find yourself eating fresh green beans or a tomato right off the plants when you visit! For more pictures of it being used go here.

signatureJacqueline is the author of Deep Roots at Home, a site designed to grow your roots deeper in healthy living, gardening and God’s reflection in creativity.