I didn’t want to call it gardening for dummies, because you’re not dumb. You just don’t know how yet!
I’ve put together a little garden primer with three levels of expense – FRUGAL, AVERAGE, MONEY TO BURN.
Most of my garden is average or frugal. The whole point is to save $$ on groceries by growing your own stuff right? Well, for most of us.
Things to do ahead of time:
Save up newspapers, cardboard, small cups for starting seeds, buy white vinegar and a large sprayer, scout out locations for the mulch pile and garden plot(s), gather seeds, build your structures.
The mulch pile is the source of rich nutrients for your garden, and best of all it can be free. A note of caution – do NOT locate this next to your bedroom window. Just don’t.
1. If possible establish a location for a mulch pile. Anything biodegradable goes on the pile – shredded junk mail (set the kids to work with the shredder – they are low to the ground and have limber backs), toilet paper rolls, tissues, food scraps, tea bags, etc. No people or animal waste! There is no need to worry about balancing the browns & greens. Just give it the occasional watering if you need to, and let nature do its work. Once or twice a year, shovel out the black gold on to your garden beds.
FRUGAL – Just throw everything in a relative pile shape
AVERAGE – Make a 3 sided enclosure with pallets, chicken wire, scrap wood or cinder blocks (free or cheap on Craig’s List)
MONEY TO BURN – For a mere $229 this fancy schmancy compost thingy
2. Pick the garden site. It should get full sun or close to it, drain well, and be out of the traffic zone (kids, dogs, path to the clothesline). Consider the front, back and side yards.
FRUGAL – The sun is free! So far.
3. Water source. In most places you will need to water your garden on a regular basis.
FRUGAL – Rain water and watering the base of the plants with the hose. Also use bath, kitchen sink or cooking water. You paid for it once already, you might as well get all the use you can.
AVERAGE – Set the sprinkler up and let it water the plants, the sidewalk, and the sky.
MONEY TO BURN – Install a drip irrigation system and timer. The upfront costs can be $200-300.00. It’s fairly easy to install. You will need to repair and replace components periodically. In the long run, it could save money by watering JUST the plants, and not the neighborhood.
4. Prepping the planting beds
FRUGAL – Spray the grass in the desired area with white vinegar. Lay many layers of newspaper down, and top with card board. Hold it down with rocks or whatever you have handy. Vinegar will kill the grass and any other living plant. BEWARE! In a couple weeks remove the newspaper and cardboard. The grass should be dead. DO NOT till this up, because it will only bring weed seeds to the top. If grass isn’t all dead, repeat. The longer you leave this on, the better. Die grass Die! Spread one bag of manure thinly over the top. Cost $5.00 for manure.
AVERAGE – Kill the grass per the instructions above. Create raised beds with scrap wood or rocks in your desired shape. Fill the beds with soil from the mulch pile, or dirt from another area in the yard. Spread one bag of manure thinly over the top.
MONEY TO BURN – Buy pressure treated wood at the lumber store. Create your desired shape. Spray grass with natural weed killer made with clove oil. Spray again. Hire someone to till it up or rent a tiller. Lay down a thick layer of newspapers. Fill the great smelling beds with store bought garden soil, compost, and manure. Cost? at least $400.00
5. Get some seeds! Only pick things you actually LIKE to eat. If you get food stamps, you buy seeds with them. How cool is that?
FRUGAL – You can save some seeds successfully from things you buy at the store. Potatoes, garlic, winter squash, and watermelon are the best bets. Dry them thoroughly, and store them in an envelope – you get free envelopes in the mail all the time. Look for local seed exchanges, get extra seeds or plants from friends, buy seeds on sale at the end of the season.
AVERAGE – Buy some seeds at the store or nursery.
MONEY TO BURN – Order your seeds from an organic heirloom seed catalog. If you want to try something new and different, this is the place to go!
6. Start your seeds! Look up your zone to see when the last frost is and start you seeds about 6 weeks ahead of that.
FRUGAL – Get a bag of potting mix or seed starter. Use any kind of container you can find to start the seeds following the directions on the back of the package. You can use egg cartons, paper milk cartons, yogurt cups or make your own out of newspaper. All plastic containers must have drainage holes. I use the plastic party cups from the Dollar Tree, and then reuse them for next year, and for as many years as they hold up.
AVERAGE – Buy plastic containers at the garden or home improvement store, and use potting mix or seed starter following the direction on the back of the seed packet. Throw out the plastic containers after you transplant the seedlings.
MONEY TO BURN – Go to the nursery and buy vegetable and herb plants in 1 gallon pots and plant after last frost date.
7. Controlling weeds after planting is crucial unless you have all the time in the world and a strong back. For the rest of us, here are some suggestions.
FRUGAL -Put grass clippings, leaves, paper shreds (more junk mail) all around the base of your plants. For big plants like tomatoes and squash, lay cardboard around the base. Spray white vinegar around the edges of your garden, on the foot path, or by the fence. DO NOT get it on desirable plants.
AVERAGE – Sprinkle Preen weed control all around your plants. Pull some weeds by hand. Give up and let the weeds have their way.
MONEY TO BURN – Hire someone to come in and weed every week or lay weed cloth down and around every plant, then cover with decorative bark for a very Martha Stewart look. I love you Martha, but for the rest of us “common folk” we have to keep it real.
8. You will probably need some structures throughout the garden such as something for the cukes and green beans to climb on, and tomato cages.
FRUGAL Plant the climbing plants next to an existing fence or pound found poles/branches into the ground and make a trellis with string between the poles/branches.
AVERAGE -Build a tee-pee with pvc pipe and string for the beans, buy tomato cages. If you’re lucky, have you spouse build a trellis or two. Football season should be over by then.
MONEY TO BURN – Buy beautiful wood trellis and other structures from a catalog or local nursery. The structures will have lovely glass or carved wood embellishments and cute motivational sayings for the gardener.
With basic maintenance ( water and weeding) you will receive a lot of reward for your work. You can save on groceries by picking your own fresh picked produce.
Plant what you like to eat. Plant things that are expensive or hard to find, trade produce with a friend or two. Plant in every speck of ground that you can. Go vertical. Dry, can, freeze.
Strive to do more, plant more every year.
Good luck, and I welcome your questions!