In this neck of the woods (just a bit south of Denver, CO), Memorial Day weekend is the first time we can be reasonably certain it won’t frost again. I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, since I’m talking 6250 feet in elevation here. We’ve had snow on Aug. 1st!
This season, everything has stayed warm and reasonably moist since mid-May. The hummingbirds have also appeared from their annual migration — another good sign. (They leave not long after Labor Day.) I’ve been gradually planting, a little here and there. If you’re starting to put in your garden, as well — or at least thinking about it — here are ten frugal tips that should help you do it better.
*Use up your old seed. Even if it’s an older sell-by date, many of these seed packets are still quite viable. They may not have as high a percentage, though, for germination — so plant them thickly.
*Look for seeds at dollar stores and discount places. Even the ‘fahncy’ brands will cost less at these places…and generic seeds do just fine. In fact:
*Generic seeds are often more reliable than the new types. Why? Because the new ones have only gone through a year or so trial. Generics are usually the old standards, heirlooms that have gone into the ground for generations. They often do better in more difficult conditions, because they’ve had multiple generations to adapt to them.Examples: Blue Lake, Provider and Kentucky Wonder for green beans. Straight Eight and pickling cucumbers. Yellow Bantam for sweet corn. (I’m also hooked on Honey n’ Cream, a newbie that’s been around long enough to know its chops.)
These reliable garden stuffs also make it possible for you to:
*Save good seed for your next garden. Let your last crop of beans ripen until the pods are dry — shell them, and you’ve got next year’s seed. Spent marigold and zinnia blooms contain literally dozens of seeds — and all you have to do is pull them off and throw in an envelope.
*Get good equipment. This is one area where truly you save more by spending more. A good brand of shovel or hoe will last for decades. Look at Consumer Reports, or check Amazon for customer comments. Tools do go on sale during the spring — and again at the end of the season. Or look for an estate sale — if they’re an avid gardener, they’ve usually left behind good stuff.
*Keep your ground fertilized, the old-fashioned way. Sure, you can spend extra money and buy planting mix with specialty ingredients, like Miracle-Gro. But you can save a great deal by just adding what our ancestors did: manure. Try a local farmer or rancher…a fairgrounds…or even the local zoo. Just a garbage bag’s worth of horse or cow manure makes a difference. (Let it dry out first, so it won’t ‘burn’ plants — or till it in a few days before you plant.)
*Brew up some tea — for your garden. Manure tea, that is. Put a half-shovelful of manure in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket. (Mine used to be full of laundry detergent.) Fill with water, then let ‘mellow’ for a day or so. Water your plants with this — they’ll love it.
*Start a compost pile, posthaste. Your eggshells, banana peels and assorted leftovers can really add to your garden. (They help out with container gardening, too.) Youtube is full of how-tos for constructing your own compost bin, including this one, done with a garbage can:
*Put in a drip system. Drip hoses aren’t that expensive, and they keep the water where it should be — on your plants, instead of spraying into the wind. Even that’s too expensive? Try gallon jugs or tin cans — poke holes in them and place by plants that spread, like cucumbers, zucchini or tomatoes. Fill daily.
*Pick your veggies while they’re young. Not only will they be more tender, they’ll taste better. And the parent plant will have time to make more blossoms — and set fruit. I’ve even had success trimming beans, broccoli, spinach and other greens back — if you do it early enough in the season, they’ll have time to regrow and produce again.
It’s not hard to start a garden, but the benefits are terrific: better health, plants that help purify the air, and food that you know is fresh, crunchy and good for you.
Cindy Brick grew up in a Michigan gardening family; her grandmother sold fresh eggs and bouquets of Queen Anne’s Lace ‘weeds’ to tourists in Grand Rapids. Cindy writes and gardens in Castle Rock, Colorado, including her own flock of up-and-growing baby chickens. Find out more on her blog: A Brick’s Look At Life.