The ecomony''s lousy. Costs are up. Incomes are down.

Gardening has many benefits. Sense of peace, connection to nature, sense of accomplishment, source of pesticide-free food, something to do on Sunday morning as the neighbors drive to church....

But if we don't watch ourselves, we can buy great plants, hardscaping, watering systems, packaged compost, and wind up with what amounts to $20.00 tomatoes. Not cheap. Maybe really, really, good, but not cheap.

As an officially "cheap" guy, I do lots of things to save money in the garden. None are original. Some I learned from grandparents, who learned from their parents. Some are newer to me. Please feel free to add more! I could probably use some of your frugal habits!

1. Grow from seed. A packet of seeds can last for several years. This year's beans were from packets that I bought last year, so essentially free seeds. The tomatoes were from 2 to 3 year old seed packets. Even more free. Fresh seed is usually very cheap, compared to buying the plants. Saved seeds take a little more effort, but if you have nonhybrid varieties, they are even more cheap.

2. Grow from free starts. Some (not all) of our grapevines were from cuttings taken from established vines. Very little effort, and no cost. It takes about 4 years to get grapes from cuttings. We also have chives, mint, multiplier onions, garlic, garlic chives, forsythia, fig trees, pussy willow, rose of sharon, sedum, sempervivum, strawberries, and roses grown from free starts. Somehow, this is also much more rewarding than buying them. It's also fun to say, "This came from my friend's yard" or "this came from my grandmother's yard". I also have irises that came from illegally-dumped yardwaste in a local park. Somehow, I take pride in that as well. They are really gorgeous, too. I think that the official word for this is "scrounging".

3. Let the lawn go brown. This applies to dry-summer climates. Not all neighborhoods allow brown lawns, and not all spouses allow them. If you can get away from it, quit watering it, let it go brown. Cut any weeds that come up. When the rains start again, the lawn will green up and grow again. Mine has for the past 5 years. This is nature's cycle. Expectation of green lawn in a dry-summer climate is zone-denial. Tell the neighbors to get over it. Meanwhile, you save the cost of energy, gas/electricity if you are using a power mower; cut back on the water bill, and can be smug about your environmental consciousness.

4. Exchange with online or local friends. Most of my fig trees were started from cuttings that came from an online fig forum. Members mail cuttings to one another, so the cost is just postage and packaging.

5. Use gardening to accomplish other goals. This grape arbor provides shade for a south-facing French door. We built the arbor over a weekend. The grapes were either cuttings, as already mentioned, or 1st year plants for about $10.00. The arbor provides deep shade in the summer, keeps the bedroom much cooler than it used to be, saving air-conditioning costs. It also provided about 50 pounds of grapes last year, which are so sweet and 'grapey' they make the grocery store grapes hang their heads in shame.

6. You know I had to mention chickens. Actually, they do not make for cheaper eggs than you can get from the grocery store. However, the eggs are much better, and they come from happy hens. To save money, on feed, I feed them fresh weeds or leaves every day. This supplements their diet - they still get prepared chicken feed. Given how rank the grapes grew this year, I break of a couple of 6-foot grape branches and give them to the hens, every day now. They devour the leaves quickly. The hens also get lots of kitchen scraps, and any slightly moldy but not rancid veggies and other foods. I no longer buy packaged manure for the garden - instead, the chickens provide lots of good compost.

7. Scrounge for compost sources. Drop by starbucks or other coffee shops and ask for coffee grounds. Our local shops sometimes give me 50 pound bags of coffee grounds, happily. Unfortunately, then I feel guilty about taking something for free, and but a cup of coffee. Coffee grounds are similar in carbon/nitrogen ratio and other minerals, to manures, but smell a lot better.

8. Save eggshells and scatter them on the tomato patch. Eggshells are high in calcium. You could buy lime, but eggshells are free. I crush them so that they don't look like eggshells.

9. Grow some shade trees from seeds. True, you may not live to sit in their shade, but someone will. I planted ginkgo, locust, and maple seeds when I was in grade school. These are now huge trees (because I am old). A seed-planted ginkgo, started 10 years ago, in my yard is about 15 feet tall now. I feel very good about that.

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I'd love to retrofit our house to use the water from the sink for outdoor purposes. Maybe after I see how much water we get from rainbarrels after we get them installed.

Did you get chickens?
This gets into being a locavore. I just got back from our farmers' market. Must have been the timing - one booth had donut peaches & nectarines for $1.50 a pound. While there, they marked them down to $1.00 a pound. They were SO good - puts the Safeway fruit to shame.
Local strawberries are in. My plants just went into the ground, so I won't have any for a bit. I can go through a quart a day, myself.

I'm glad people are getting the word out about eating local, but the word "localvore" makes me laugh on all sorts of levels. Growing up, we had a big garden until we moved into town. Even then, we had tomatoes. We'd go to a farmstand for apples and corn. Everyone knew that local was better.
OK, back to being "cheap" (or frugal),

The prior generations did know how to garden without paying a lot of money for it. Some didn't have a way to buy seeds every year, so thay had to save their own. By choosing the plants that did the best in their yards, and in their climate, they improved the varieties year after year. They did the same with fruits and vines.

I often feel really wasteful. A mature grapevine needs to have 90% of the new growth removed, each winter. Cut into 18 inch segments, those pruned vines can be planted and grow into new grapevines almost as fast as a purchased plant (It takes about one extra year). I also keep my fig trees pruned back, and each could provide dozens of cuttings. Meanwhile, a purchased fig tree, one year old, will run $20 to $40. Same for strawberries. Our strawberry border started as 2 plants. Now there is a border running around most of the garden beds, with dozens of plants. I have to throw away the offfsets because I have no place for them. Actually, the hens get to eat them, it's a treat.

Our predecessors also knew that trees gave shade. They didnt have A/C, so they planted trees. My great grandparents had a yard shaded with grapevines, butternut trees (who even knows what a butternut is now?), peaches and apples. These all had double benefits of shade + food. Their scraps all went to compost (not garbage to haul away or run down the disposal). They did not buy plant food or pesticides. They mulched with locally collected leaves, pulled weeds, and trimmings. They didn't have bags of barkdust to buy at Lowes.

In the interest of more cheapness, I also wanted to add that I use bamboo or tree-trimmings for plant stakes. My neighbors think it's weird. The bamboo also provides enough big, coarse, dried leaves, that it replaces about half of the straw that we use for chicken bedding. It takes time to rake them up, but not as much time as a trip to the feed store to buy a bale of straw.

Everything is mulched, to save on the water bill. Some of the mulch is purchased. A truckload of composted yard waste is about $20.00 here. A lot of mulch is chopped trimmings from the yard. In the fall, I go around to the neighbors and ask for their bags of leaves. I chop the elaves using a lawnmower. They make a great mulch as well. Sometimes, I'll rake a neighbor's yard to get the leaves. They think that's weird, too, but it is one of the best mulches you can get. And it costs nothing.
I'll see what I can find. Honestly, I don't think too much about it. I do lazy-man's composting, and pill eveything into a bin over several months. I water it if it dries out. I added red wiggler worms a couple of years ago and they make their way through it as well. When the bin is full, I cover it and start the other one. I mix it once in a while. The completed compost is stored in a garbage can until done.

Anyway, I'll keep your question in mind.
You grow bamboo without it taking over? I'd love to grow my own bamboo poles.

We never rake, because the leaves never stay in our yard. They get blown away. It's one of the few downsides of living here... no leaves for mulching or compost.
We have underground barriers to prevent spreading. We installed heavy duty plastic barrier material, about 2 feet deep, in a circle around the bamboo. So far, it's holding.
Wow. That's some dedication.

I tried bamboo at one time, but the bare-root ones I purchased died.  I'll try again when I get more land because I see a lot of uses for them, and I think they're amazing as well as beautiful. 

My mom and others keep warning me about their spreading, but like you, I plan on creating a barrier.  I think it's worth it.

There are some that dont spread too much.  I like bamboo a lot and it's very useful.  We harvest a big batch every year, and it comes in handy for many uses.

Lawn: I don't think I've watered a lawn since I put out the sprinkler at my grandfather's to run through it when I was a kid. We get enough rain in Vermont that the grass is always green, except in the winter when its under snow, and a brief period in late winter/early spring when it's finally turned brown, but will soon turn green again. I also don't remove/kill weeds. I love the violets, white clover, etc... that grows in the yard. White Dutch clover fixes nitrogen, and used to be common in US lawns. Violets are high in vitamin A. I'd eat the dandelions too, if I could get myself in gear to pick the leaves before they start putting out flowers in the spring. Too bitter after that.

Ok... some weeds I do get rid of. Thistles are right out... even native thistles. I like to go barefoot.

Laissez-faire gardening: I'm big on native plants, so I have allowed a few test patches of yard to grow up. We have a solid wall of New England Asters and Goldenrod growing in a patch in the Fall. I do nothing to that patch, no fertilizer, no weeding, etc.. The plants look gorgeous, at least to me. I did have a neighbor offer to weedwhack it for me. I declined. They're going to really hate me when more of the yard is given over to natives. I'm thinking about interplanting them with other native plants so I have flowers more than just in the autumn. We have a long patch of white/purple violets growing under the deck. Once again, free.

Compost: My compost heap is very lazy-fare, as we have been dumping everything in a pile at the edge of our tiny "front woods". This year may be the year I finally get a dedicated compost operation going. I'm going to need it for square-foot gardening. Sometimes things grow out of the compost. One year we got about six pumpkins from it. I think the heat of the compost pile helped the pumpkins. Another year butternut squash grew out of it. This makes me think I should be saving seeds.
I live in an area with lots of farms. The local compost guru says that horse manure is perfect, so I'm grateful there's a horse boarding operation down the road. I'll probably be able to get some for free. I don't think there's one Starbucks in Vermont. Do you have any info. on coffee grounds in compost?

Eggshells: I have been crunching them down and putting a tablespoon in when I plant tomatoes. Otherwise, they go in the compost. I don't think there's a lack of lime in our soil, as we live in the midst of calcium carbonate country.

Mulch: A local master gardener who does landscape design swears by newspaper. Now that papers use soy inks instead of lead, they are biodegradable. She says she only uses an inch of mulch mulch, as she has layers of newspaper underneath. I'm going to be trying that this spring. I'll also be dismantling our winter wreath and putting the needles under our conifers and acid loving plants.

Chickens: Maybe next year. Have to get a small coup constructed, and figure out how to keep them safe from local predators. Also, when I grow grapes, I get the grape leaves for dolmas.

Seed Saving: I may be turning over one of the crispers in our fridge for seed saving. Seeds will last even longer in the crisper, I've been told... but in a plastic ziplock. I hate plastic, but I can see using the same ones over and over.

I wish I could find people willing to share starts. I suggested starting an online group for Vermonters who want to trade seeds and plants, or just give them away, and got a lot of blank looks. I think I'll try again when I have more time.

Use gardening to accomplish other goals Until we can afford a fence, I'll be planting some privacy screens. Probably the quickest for this summer will be vining plants, maybe morning glories. We live next door to a rental (thankfully, not right next door... I'd pull my hair out) and the revolving door side of the duplex always seems to house boneheads. They were in my mini-woods tromping all over the place just as things had started to thaw, but before the ground firmed up. A prime time to destroy any spring ephemerals that grow there. I may allow any poison ivy to grow along the property border.

We will be planting windbreaks, as we don't have any. I haven't planted anything for shade or along the foundation yet, as we need to get it painted next year. We'll have to get someone else to paint the ladder reachable parts, as neither of us can deal with heights. I've seen how careless people can be when it comes to plants, so I'm going to save myself the insanity and wait a year.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to use gardening to silence barking dogs, I'd be most grateful. However, I'm not interested in poisoning them.

That's so cool that you planted trees when you were a kid, Daniel! I've set a goal to try to plant one for every year I've been alive. I just found out our area is a major wildlife corridor from the Adirondacks to the Green Mountains, so I'm looking into whether or not it makes any difference to plant trees and shrubs as cover along their path. The deer have a well-worn path up the hill across from our house, up through the trees.

Could be more. I'll have to think about it.

Thanks for the really nice description of your gardening. Like mine, it sounds a little messy, but "real", which is what I like. It doesn't fit in with modern suburban "estate"-style yards. They can go **** themselves, "estates" are not productive, not earth-friendly, and they don't have a right to tell me what to do with my yard.

That being said, it probably helps that I share fruits and vegetables and eggs and flowers with neighbors. Not a lot, but even a little is a nice gesture.

I added a water barrel last week. Our Summers are mediterranean and dry, but even a small rain fills it up. The spout drains half of my roof. The rain water is no-salt, unlike well water, so it doesn't add unwanted salts to container plants. Plus, it isn't part of the well-water system, so I don't feel guilty about using it to water. I may add a second barrel if I can find one at the big-box store. I was impressed at how easy it was to set up, and how fast it filled.

I wish I could find takers for the maples and other trees sprouting in my yard. I feel guilty pulling them out. Norway maples are invasive anyway, but the Japanese maple seedlings are cool to look at. Also the ginkgo seedlings that I compulsively plant despite not gaving a place to put them. Also the wild cherry seeds that I planted - I will prune one small for a unique backyard-orchard tree (aggressive pruning to keep it limited) so that the fruits are accessible and the tree doesn't take over the yard. Also the fig trees that I compulsively start from cuttings, ditto.

Newspaper mulch is a good way to start a garden bed in former lawn. They say to put down a layer of newspapers, I think about 10 sheets thick, and cover with compost. By the time the newspaper degrades, the grass is dead and the ground is friable from the added complost and effect of earthworms. I have not tried this method, however.




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