Ten Ways to Plant a Frugal Garden

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.

5 thoughts on “Ten Ways to Plant a Frugal Garden”

  1. FYI Unless they are heirloom seeds I would not recomend saving the seeds . Hybrid seeds dont grow true, you may end up with a squash instead of the tomato plant that you planted .
    Heirloom seed company that I use is http://www.rareseeds.com .

    In agriculture and gardening, hybrid seed is seed produced by cross-pollinated plants. In hybrid seed production, the crosses are specific and controlled. The advantage of growing hybrid seed compared to inbred lines comes from heterosis. To produce hybrid seed, elite inbred varieties with well documented and consistent phenotypes (such as yield) are crossed and the resulting hybrid seed is collected. Another factor that is important in hybrid seed production is the combining ability of the parent plants. Although two elite inbred parent plant varieties may produce the highest yields of their crop, it does not necessarily mean that crossing these inbreds will result in the highest yielding hybrid. Combining ability is the term used to describe the level of heterosis that the parents will generate in the resultant seed. Higher combining ability between the parents results in increased performance in the resulting hybrid seed. Hybrids are bred to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants, such as better yield, greater uniformity, improved color, disease resistance, and so forth. Today, hybrid seed production is predominant in agriculture and home gardening, and is one of the main contributing factors to the dramatic rise in agricultural output during the last half of the 20th century. In the US, the commercial market was launched in the 1920s, with the first hybrid maize. All of the hybrid seeds planted by the farmer will be the same hybrid, which causes the first generation of seed from the hybrids planted to be inbred. This is why hybrid seed is generally not saved from subsequent generations and is purchased for each planting. Hybrid seeds are much dearer than normal seeds, due to the technology, time and effort put in to produce them.

  2. Okay, I am new to gardening and know people have used manure for generations. Please explain to me how it doesn’t make people sick, especially if you have root crops.

  3. Michelle, thanks for mentioning the seed issue — you’re absolutely right, hybrids do not always reproduce true. But if you stick to the old standards (which are almost all non-hybrids), you’ll be fine. Thanks for taking the time to explain this carefully.
    Melissa, people have been using manure for hundreds of years on their crops — the Chinese even use human poop, calling it “night soil.” Now that I don’t exactly advocate — because you can pick up strange diseases from it. (Though I’ve read about and seen some composting toilets that do a good job of converting even human waste into safe compost. Although just to be safe, I’d still use it just on flowers.)
    Dog poop has the same issue. Cat ditto. BUT you can safely use horse, chicken and cow manure after it’s sat for at least 2 weeks, and preferably a month. That gives the acids and such time to break down, and the manure to convert more to compost. Using it fresh can shock and ‘burn’ your plants — and kill them. (I lost some promising squash plants this way.)
    Rabbit manure is a different story — it can be used safely right away, though it’s not a bad idea to let it sit for a while, as well. (So the urine fades off.)
    It may sound gross — but truly, it’s not, not any more than fertilizer that you buy in a bag. Look at the ingredients list, and you’ll often see various animal manures listed — or the chemicals and raw ingredients that make up animal manure.
    Using these has been going on for thousands of years. If the Egyptians and Europeans have been doing it for that long — and my farming ancestors have been doing it for hundreds of years — and honestly, I’ve been doing it for 30-plus years now with no harmful effects (except the ‘burning’ issue)…you can feel safe trying it.
    UPDATE: Sadly, we got nailed with 6-9 inches of hail earlier this week. The tomato plant was just beginning to bloom. So were the peas, and the climbing beans were starting to vine. Everything, including my flowers, was pounded into the ground during more than 1 1/2 hours of hail and rain.
    The garden looks like a weedwhacker was taken to it. It may recover — I hope it will — but I just feel sick about it.
    Thanks, both of you, for writing.

  4. Thanks for the tips!!! I finally have land (new homeowner yay!) and I never thought of going to the dollar store / discount store for seeds. I went to home depot and spent a pretty penny on seeds, flowers, etc.

    I will definitely look into generic seeds, too! I am working on my garden this weekend.

    Thanks so much!


Leave a Reply