Thursday, March 15, 2007

Gardening on the cheap

UPDATE: pictures now work!

Today is Frugal Friday, and so I wanted to share with some of you my attempts at making gardening less of a hit on the wallet. Many of you might have already thought of these ideas, but this is my first year having my own garden. Here's what I've learned (I have pictures, but Blogger won't let me post them right now... will update later if I can get it to work):

First, I didn't know until this year that seeds were so cheap! I bought peas and tomatoes for a combined price of $.040. Shop at WalMart, and look for the American Seed brand. There are a decent number of seeds per pack, and if your garden is as small as mine they'll absolutely last two or three years. I also got some seeds for free from my mom. Unless you have a huge garden, you won't need more than 30 seeds for any one type of plant, I would guess. So why spend several dollars per pack for hundreds of seeds (which will die after a few years) when you could spend $0.10 a pack for a smaller amount? Or buy the $0.30 packs (which have more seeds) and share with a neighbor or family member.

Now that you have your seeds, you have to germinate them. I like using peat pellets, although I suppose there must be cheaper ways of doing it. Does anyone else have suggestions? But I got some of mine for free this year (thanks to mom), and free is as frugal as it gets. :) What I didn't want to do was to spend tons of money on the greenhouse systems that the peat pellet companies want you to buy. I did buy a small one, when I didn't know what I was doing, and it works quite well. However when it came time for me to germinate a new batch of seeds, and I needed another way of doing it, I decided to get creative. Who here saves cheap plastic containers? I'm sure I'm not the only one... I looked around the house to see if we had an old container suited to be a greenhouse. What should you look for? First, the container should probably be plastic so that it will retain the moisture. Second, it needs a plastic top. Third, the top must let sunlight in. Fourth, it must be tall enough to accommodate the peat pellets and the germinated seed growth. Unfortunately, I only had one container which fit the bill, which you can see in the above picture (with my pea seedlings already peeking out!). It would hold 5 pellets, but I needed room for 15. What to do? I went to Walmart in search of a suitable container, but none were cheap enough except the ones with solid tops. So I tried a dollar store, and voila! It did cost me more than I had hoped ($1.06), but it was large and the top was slightly vaulted and would let in sunlight. You will probably be able to find these much cheaper than I was able to if you keep a look out for these containers during the year.

And now that the seeds are planted and hopefully well on their way to producing a nice crop, how do you save those extra seeds so that they will still germinate next year? The key is to keep them cool and dry. The cool part is easy enough. You can store them in the refrigerator or freezer. I keep mine in a large, empty, spaghetti sauce jar. The dry part takes a bit of creativity -- or just reading around at seed saving company websites. I learned from Victory Seeds that you can place dry milk into a cloth bag and it will absorb the moisture for you. I didn't feel much like sewing a cloth bag, so I improvised and used a paper towel. I folded it in half, stapled the two sides closed, filled it up with dry milk powder, and stapled the top closed. It took me less than a minute, and will hopefully protect my seeds for next year's garden. In the picture below, you can see my big spaghetti sauce jar, the seed packs inside it, my homemade milk pouch, and the chopsticks I have to use to get things in and out of the jar. ;)

Don't forget to visit Crystal for more frugal ideas!

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  • Laurie

    Nice post - thanks for the reminders.

    You can make seed starting pots from newspaper! Here's some instructions:

    As for keeping saved seeds dry, I use the silica packets that come in shoeboxes. I pick them up off the floor at Walmart (they're happy for you to take them - I've asked)

  • Laura

    I am a fanatic about saving containers! I usually use them for keeping leftovers. Sometimes I use a container that I don't mind throwing away to dispose of grease/oil left in the pan from cooking burgers, ground beef, or frying eggs.

    Gardening is something I am looking to work my way into. We have gophers aroung here that will devour anything planted in the ground. They even chew on fruit tree roots!

    My husband built some planter boxes for me that have wire mesh on the bottom to deter the critters. Now all I need to do is decide what kind of soil mixture to use.

    Sorry I don't have any seed starting suggestions, but I will be back to see if anyone else posts some more tips.