Once the buzz of Christmas has passed, the task of paying off bills can leave many gardeners on a strict budget. 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:
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 café 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 ½ 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: http://www.cityfarmer.org/wormcomp61.html#wormcompost
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 neighbours 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 freelance gardenwriter. In her free time, she runs Terra Viva Organics.
Plant Presents from Your Own Garden
by Ron Williams
Whether you are looking for ways for you or your kids to provide cheap presents for the extended family or you are after ways of cutting the bill of Christmas gifts this year, or do you just like to give gifts which have a personal element to them then here is a suggestion or two for you.
If you are looking to make a present for the gardener in the family or someone who has recently moved into their own home, someone in a flat or unit, a person who can’t manage a full sized yard, a family member who loves to cook with fresh ingredients, etc. Then why not consider giving them something from your own garden. Here I am talking about plants that you have divided off from your own garden plants.
There are many plants growing in the average garden that can be divided, or that have naturally self layered themselves. Where you could go along and take a rooted section, pot them up and with a bit of dressing up of the planting container, you could produce a really nice gift for someone you care about.
These plants include many herbs as well as perennials or shrubs and even some trees manage to send out self-layering branches or suckers from the root system. Some perennials or bulbs will increase their size or number of bulbs over time. All of these provide you with an opportunity to cheaply create a wonderful present for someone else.
First things first you will need to obtain a number of pots either plastic ones left over from additions to the garden population, or from someone you know, or you can go out and purchase a pot plastic/ceramic/terracotta etc., to suit your needs. If the person you are giving the plant/s to is not a real gardener, then you might consider getting a pot with a waterwell in the base to increase the plants’ chances of surviving.
Next, you need to begin looking for your plant material, so take a careful look around your garden at the soil level. Check out which plants are showing multiple stalks growing out of the ground. Or those sprawling plants where a branch has leaned over on to the ground and taken root along the branch, maybe one where a branch has become buried under the mulch. Or one where there is a sucker growing from the soil a short distance from the parent plant. Another possibility is seedlings growing in the garden a distance from the parent plant material. Maybe there is a clump of plants or a big patch of bulbs where you can do some dividing. Many of these plants benefit from being divided up or being allowed some more growing room in the particular area where you have taken away some material.
Different parts of the world will have a differing range of plant species, which lend themselves to this form of self-propagation. If you can’t find any plants that are doing this in your own garden, why not look at a friends or neighbours garden. Or you could maybe join forces and give a joint present using plants from another family member’s garden. Or another possibility is to buy a plant in a pot that has several plants already established in it. Divide that up before you use half in your own garden, and still have half to repot and give away. Even if you are not confident about your gardening skills you can still pick up cheap plants at the local market, school/church fair, garage sale etc. Repot them into a bigger or nicer pot for a fairly cheap present, or possibly even right up to shrubs and trees, (Including Topiary and Standards or even Fruit trees).
Another possibility is to multiplant a few different plants into a long/large round tub. This will create an instant garden on the move. Some themes you might consider here is herbs, indoor foliage, bulbs, annuals, alpine/rock, cacti/succulent or even patio gardens mixing some annuals and perennials.
It is best to moisten the ground around the plant that you are going to work on well before you do the dividing, as this allows you to remove the maximum amount of root mass during the dividing process. The first step is to divide the clump or cut away the joining branch to make the separate plant available. Then using a spade, fork or gardening trowel, dig as far out from the potential plant as practicable, because this will give you the biggest root mass possible. Go down as far you believe you need to, (this will depend on such circumstances as size of new plant, species of original plant material, type of soil, other plant or landscaping material around the area, etc.). As gently as you can dig out the new plant. Shake off any excess soil and refill the resulting hole in the ground if necessary.
Prune back the foliage of the new plant to roughly equal size of the root mass, trying to protect some of the new foliage growth. Repot as soon as practicable, so that the roots do not dry out and die.
Another thing to consider is what sort of pot you are gong to plant into; if it is only a plastic pot then you do not need to prepare it beforehand. However if you are looking at painting it, then do this before you get digging.
When painting up pots, you will need to do some preparation work for the paint to stick properly. Plastic pots should have their surface roughened up with a bit of sandpaper. While some terracotta pots should have a primer applied to the outer surface before you paint them. Try not to get primer or paint onto the inside of the planter, because while most wont there are still some paints which contain chemicals that may affect or contaminate the soil and plant over time.
Other possibilities for decorating up pots include simply gluing on bits and pieces including stones, tiles, buttons, sticks, shells, ornaments, ribbon, stickers and decals, etc. Other ways of decorating up a pot for the initial presentation is to wrap up just the pot (not the actual plant)., using either wrapping paper, cellophane, material, a cheap teatowel or even hessian. Hold these wrappers in place with string, ribbon, bandana, scarf, etc.
Other possibilities for adding value to the potplant is to provide some growing information and name tags for the plant/s included. Other little quirks you might add include a personalised name tag, (Hi, my name is David the Diffenbachia), or a little watering indicator, miniature hand tools, small amounts of fertiliser, pot ornaments, watering can etc.
So as you can see, creating a very personal gift for just about anyone can easily be within the grasp of anyone. Why not go out into your garden and start thinking about what presents you can be preparing for Christmas this weekend.
Ron Williams is a Freelance writer as well as being a Horticulturalist and Rehabilitation Therapy Aid at a Psychiatric Hospital In Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Poinsettia Selection and Care
by Georgiana Marshen
The poinsettia is the official holiday plant and many of us either buy one or are given one as a gift during the holiday season. Here are some guidelines to help you choose and care for this popular plant.
Plants should have an abundance of foliage that fills the stems all the way to the soil line. The foliage should be a rich green color.
Bracts (the colored part of the plant) should have color all the way to the edges. Avoid plants that have too much green on the edges of the bracts.
Plants should be balanced and full when looked at from every angle. The entire plant should be in proportion to the container it is growing in. As a standard gauge, the plant should be 2½ times taller than the diameter of the container.
The stems should be stiff and showing no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping.
Plants that are on display for purchase should be in an area where they are not crowding one another, as air circulation is critical.
The soil should be moist not waterlogged. If the plant is wilted and the soil is waterlogged, chances are the plant is suffering from a virus and should be avoided.
If the paper or plastic sleeve was removed during display, ask the garden center to replace it before taking the plant home. Chilling winds and temperatures below 50 degreesF can cause plant damage.
Place the plant in a bright sunny window but protect it from the hot afternoon sun by using a shade or sheer curtain.
The room temperature should be between 68-70 degrees F.
Water the plant when the soil feels dry to the touch. Use the finger test- stick your finger into the soil about 2 inches down. Rub the soil between your fingers; if it feels dry it is time to water. If it feels moist, wait another day and retest.
Fertilize the plant after the blooming season only. The flowers are the yellow centers of the bracts.
Keep the plant away from drafts or excessive heat.
Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold so don’t expose them to temperatures below 50 degrees F.
When watering, allow the water to drain out of the container completely. Do not allow the plant to sit in standing water the, roots will rot.
Georgiana Marshen is a master horticulturist and freelance garden writer. She has been published in BackHome magazine and is a contributing garden writer for American Profile Magazine.
Spice Bags for Warm Drinks
from Seeds of Knowledge
8 sticks cinnamon, broken into small pieces
2 whole nutmegs, crushed
1/3 C. whole cloves
1/3 C. minced dried orange peel (or 1/4 C. ground)
1/4 C. whole allspice berries
Optional: garnish with cinnamon sticks, slice of orange, lemon peel
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Tie in sachets of 1 tablespoon each in a double thickness of cheesecloth; transfer to an airtight container (perhaps into a canning jar with a decorated lid and tied with a big bow!!).
One sachet will flavor 1 quart of cider, tea or wine. To use, simmer 1 quart of the chosen beverage with 1 sachet for 20 minutes; ladle into mugs.