Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Awesome Garden Can be Free-ish

Sorry I've been a bit MIA lately. I've been away for work quite a bit in the past 2 weeks. However, the seedlings (almost all of them) have at least another set of leaves. Some have THREE sets of leaves now! *sigh* They grow up so fast! ;)

Today, thanks to a cancelled flight, I had the opportunity to finish reading The Green Gardening Guide by Joe Lamp'l. What it really underscored for me was that you don't need to spend a ton of money for a gorgeous garden, whether it be full of veggies, flowers or foliage. Which I knew in my heart of hearts but forget every time I walk into a garden center and am seduced by various fertilizers, specialty tools, etc. You.don't.need.all.that.crap. Seriously. Resist the urge. Save your pennies for a nice bottle of wine or a craft beer to enjoy after an afternoon in the garden.

Let's review what plants need to thrive: Appropriate amounts of light, rich soil, and water. Sun light is free. Rich soil can be free too.

Say what?!? Free awesome soil?

Compost my friends, compost. Don't landfill those veggie peels or coffee grounds or fall leaves, throw them in the compost pile! First off, nothing, not even organic matter, decomposes in our landfills so get the idea that the landfill is like a ginormous compost pile out of your head. (Which also means that you should not be seduced by biodegradable packaging or anything else. But I'll save that rant for another day.) Secondly, compost piles can be super low tech: a pile of stuff on the ground. Personally, we use a black trash can with holes drilled into it. Working compost into the worst soils, including Virginia clay, make it rich, well-draining, and awesome. Because compost is black gold. I love that Lamp'l points out that when you fertilize your plants, you're really feeding the soil. And since good, rich soil is composed of lots of microorganism, earthworms & insects, don't use a fertilizer that feeds the plant but kills the stuff that makes your soil good (like, ahem, conventional fertilizers). That's like one step forward, two steps back!

Think your soil might be deficient in something? Contact your local extension office. Often soil tests are free or cheap (like $10).

Let's move onto water. Water for the garden can be free: rain. If you build a rain barrel (or buy. This is the option we are going to do), you can dramatically reduce the extra water you purchase to water your plants. The Green Gardening Guide lists things you should consider when making/buying a rain barrel, so make sure you know that before you proceed. Want to buy even less water for your garden? Use gray water. Have a bucket in your shower that captures the water that comes out before it's hot. Have a bucket in your kitchen sink for when you're washing vegetables. Empty these buckets into your rain barrel & "VOILA! " even more free water.

Now,'ve got your free sunlight, soil and water...what about plants? First off, if you're wanting to garden on the cheap (and don't want to spend a ridiculous amount of time tending your garden), PLANT WHAT WANTS TO LIVE THERE. Plants are like're not going to be able to get them to do anything they don't want to do. If the plant likes full sun, don't put it in shade, it will be more prone to pests, won't perform very well, and you'll be constantly fighting an uphill battle. Instead, plant something that thrives in shade! You won't have to deal with pests (plants are also like people: if it's healthy, it can fight off an invader better than if it's sick) and it will be almost maintenance free. I mean, there are not pesticides going on in the rain forest & stuff seems to get growing well in there...

Trust me, I have learned this the hard way. Spending a lot of time trying to convince a dahlia it might like part-sun, only for it to be covered with powdery mildew and produce all of 2 flowers before it decided to die was not fun. It was frustrating, in fact. And time consuming. So, if you don't have full sun in your yard, don't even wander over to that side of the nursery. Embrace your part-sun (or shade) -ness!

And, you can get free plants. How do I know? I just got some last weekend via Freecycle. In spring & fall, you'll see lots of posts from people dividing their hostas, liriope, daffodils, etc. or riping up bushes they don't want. You may need to dig them up, but that's a small price to pay for free plants! So, join your local Freecycle today!

Another idea? Starting plants from seeds. There might be a bit of start up costs if you're not blessed to have a sunny window or a warm climate, but those are just a one-time thing. Wanna go even cheaper? Seed swap with friends and neighbors. Or exchange cuttings. Many plants (basil & mint definitely come to mind) can be propagated by placing cutting in water (like what I did with my ivy trellis project).

In short, getting down to the "roots" of gardening, really organic gardening, isn't expensive. In fact, it can be waaaaayy cheaper than conventional gardening since you depend less on fertilizers and pesticides, both of which can be pricey AND it can be waaaaayy less time consuming since you're planting what will grow in a spot rather than what you WANT to grow in that spot.

Food for thought.

(hahahhahhahahaha! I crack myself up! hehehehe)

1 comment:

  1. Two thumbs up! Garden centers are tempting and overwhelming, so it makes it easy to forget that gardens were plentiful long before the advent of modern growing "necessities".

    I'm starting my first garden this year and I look forward to your tips, tricks and thoughts!