Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gardening with Little Time or Money

Once upon a time, I lived in an apartment and wished I could have a garden. Then I lived on a farm and wished I didn't. Today I have the land but not the ability. Still, each spring the lure of growing my own, eating fresh and even saving on the grocery bill wins out over all the protests I can muster.
Over the past few summers, I've figured out what works for me and what doesn't. Plowing and tilling definitely don't...neither does bending and stooping and weeding and spending more on fertilizers and pest control than the harvest would cost if bought at the store. Containers, however, do work for me... easy to access, easy to water and weed and keep free of pests. A few flowers tucked in among the harvest and I feel like summer was worth the wait.
Lettuce, at $1.19 a 9-pack (last year they were $.99) grows in a couple of window boxes off the rails of the deck. I start picking fresh leaves almost immediately and take the entire heads much later...two or three months of fresh salad greens for less than $3. You have to like that.Jalapenos are planted in an old strawberry pot and all summer long, they produce more than we can possible eat which gives me the opportunity to put up my famed garlic-roasted peppers for the winter and for gifts to very special people. I buy the smallest containers of tomato plants possible and buy them early. That keeps the cost down and by the time the weather is cooperating, they have doubled or tripled their value in size. A trick I learned with tomatoes is to remove the lower leaves and plant the seedling as deep as possible without covering the leaves.Roots will branch out from the planted stem and result in strong, healthy plants. They are relegated to a couple of large pots and so far I've had good luck crowding 3 or 4 plants into a single pot. They produce enough to eat abundantly all summer with plenty for canning...which is about as simple as any canning project can be. Oregano, Basil, Rosemary and Parsley fill a corner of the deck and almost resent it if I try to "care" for them or don't take regular clippings for kitchen use.
I have a small pergola (8'x8') covered with Wisteria. The filtered sun and shaded area underneath has provided a perfect environment for Onions and Garlic, more Oregano and Lavender. A small pot of chives seems to like it under there, too. Every year I try to come up with something to fill the remainder of that space. This year, I'm trying for more tomatoes but it might be too shady. I wish I'd thought to plant peas early. Several years ago before the Wisteria had grown, they didn't do well in there because of the intensity of the sun but it might have been perfect this year.
The pictures show my scrawny start but I will re-post later in the season and we'll see how my lazy lady's cheapo garden is doing. In the meantime, I've thought of a few "free is my favorite price" gardening tips for alternatives to things like expensive fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

TIPS

Free Plant Food:
1) Look on your kitchen stove. Cool and use the water from boiling or steaming vegetables, pasta and shellfish. Use it to water your plants or put it in a spray bottle for a foliar feeding (sprayed directly on the plant leaves).
2) Instead of throwing fruit and vegetable scraps and peels away or down the disposal, save them in a plastic container with a lid, like a butter tub or ice cream container. When it is full, just drop the contents in a hole near your garden plants and cover with dirt.

Free Pest Control:
1) Soapy dish water, either poured over or sprayed on, takes care of some threatening bugs.
2) Hot red pepper flakes shaken on top of the soil around plants wards off squirrels and a multitude of other critters.
3) A natural bug spray for plants can be made with 2 c. water, 2 hot peppers and 2 Tbsp of Vegetable Oil. Liquefy in a blender, stir in a few drops of dish washing liquid and strain into a spray bottle for use directly on the plants.
4) Empty your pencil sharpener shavings around your plants.
5) Mulch around tender seedlings with well-crushed eggshells.
6) Mulch tomatoes with a few layers of wet newspaper topped with 2" of grass clippings to protect the plants from picking up harmful spores from the dirt.

Container gardening doesn't require expensive containers. Try these:
1) Old bucket or sand pail or wash tub
2) Boot lined with a plastic bag
3) Purse lined with a plastic bag
4) An old watering can
5) A discarded waste basket
6) A no-longer-usable child's wading pool or sandbox
7) A tissue box cover turned upside down (keep dirt from falling through the hole with old pantyhose or a plastic mesh produce bag)
NOTE: Punch drainage holes in anything with a solid bottom before using as a planter.

Just a thought:
1) Disposable plastic picnic knives make good plant labels. Write on the blade with permanent marker and insert the handle into the soil
2) Old kitchen sponges cut into 5 or 6 strips can be mixed with the soil the help retain moisture in your plants.

BE SURE TO CHECK THE COMMENTS FOR "TIPS" FROM READERS

7 comments:

Deb Baker said...

Wow...and here I am thinking there is no way I could have my own garden. I love the container idea and was thinking I have so many squirrels nearby but you had a solution! I do have the perfect spot, a little corner area facing the east sun by the front door. Perhaps I will try a container garden with jalapenos, cherry tomatoes, and maybe pumpkin. I'm wondering, what are some good veggies for a container garden which are low maintanence?

Anonymous said...

Gardening in containers IS low maintenance. The most important issue is watering - like Goldilocks, not too little, not too much...soil moist, never wet or dry. You can easily test by sticking a finger as far as possible into the soil.

Nicole (Martina's daughter) said...

Last year I did tomatoes, peppers, baby carrots and herbs in containers... This year I'm expanding! Corn, fingerling potatoes, peas and broccoli are all started... I just wish that the unseasonably cold weather and strong winds would STOP! I have already had to restart ALL of my tomatoes from seed because the first batch was beat to death by the wind here in NM. :(
Another tip I've learned is to dry banana peels and chop them up to add to the soil for potassium. You can also just wrap a banana peel around the root ball when you plant the plant. The potassium helps the roots grow strong and healthy (I remember POTassium improves the stuff in the POT)
Keep up the good, thrifty advice!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the cool tips! It's high time we all learn a little gardening! We may NEED to grow our own food before long!

Cindy said...

Amazing! Just what I need, when I need it!!! Our tomatoes are just beginning to turn red, our peas are getting eaten, other plants have some black & yellow spots! Gotta make the time to take better care of them! Thank you SO MUCH for all the answers to all my gardening questions, in one locations! I'm PRINTING this one out to use DAILY! Love the blog!

Donna said...

Love the container idea, as well as them doubling for garden decor,we went to this idea for several reasons, as well as the raised garden areas....Donna C.

from the desk of mi said...

living in an apartment this was GREAT information. i am a "herb" girl myself and had been trying to figure out how to grow my own herbs with such a small kitchen window that gets very little sun..thanks for the tips!