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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Replies to This Discussion

Would a wee pygmy pig become a pet?

In Vermont, we have transfer stations (used to be known as the town dump). Once upon a time, every farm had its own dump. That started to change when toxics started leaking into the groundwater, lakes, streams, Lake Champlain, etc... We have voluntary recycling at the dump, but not everything can be recycled locally. Plastics are a big culprit. Also, everyone who lives in the area pays for a sticker, and then a punch card. One punch equals a 33 gallon garbage bag, so it costs $2 a bag to throw away garbage.

I need to check out construction sites and ask for scrap lumber. I was going to use plywood as bottoms for my square foot gardens, but found that formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of most plywood. I would love to be able to scavenge bricks!

Oh I really love this article. I am trying to spruce up my garden in my yard. Thanks!

Moving this post back to the top...  Still relevant.

I would emphasize more, starting from seeds and cuttings.

Exchange starts with friends and contacts, in person and on line.

Saving seeds that grow true or are OK if they don't.  Saving seeds is a good way to develop locally adapted varieties, and also to bring in new genetic diversity to your area.

Scrounge - I have some great plants from discards, found while walking the dogs or at yard and estate sales, waiting to be hauled away.

Rustle - With some ethical precautions.  Don't steal without asking the owner of the property, but there are roadside plants and abandoned houses and cemeteries, and old cemeteries where the manager will let you take some rose or shrub cuttings, or iris rhizomes.  These abandoned plants, by the mere fact that they survived, are well adapted to your own region.  Darwinian choices at their finest.

Close-out, end of season, mark down.  Be careful with these - some are good only with compost.  Still, I have a rhubarb, some shrubs, and perennials that just needed some TLC and were marked down to near-give-away.  OK if you are careful and don't mind the risk and sometimes wait for recovery.

10. Remove your grass lawn. Replace it with a pollinator lawn. This is one of the best things you can do as a private citizen to help bring back our bee population.  Replacing your lawn with native low-maintenance cover crops such as clover is beneficial to bees and other pollinators. It also increases the space for planting larger plants, such as flowers and vegetables. Finally, no chemicals are necessary and your yard's ability to absorb rainwater and runoff with be enhanced

That sounds perfect to me!   Im a big fan of bees and other friendly insects!

I started two scarlett maples from seedlings about seven years ago and they're already over thirty feet tall.  I also have two star magnolias that a friend twigged for me and they grew over three ft in two years and one of them bloomed the third. I have three wild butterfly weeds that bloom bright orange, they shame the store bought ones, that I dug out of a field beside the public hwy.  And wild pink honeysuckle vine from the woods. I've transplanted various daffodils that were growing along the road  where abandoned homesteads used to be.  And liliac bushes.  The wild ones are always healthier and have much brighter color.

Daniel, I enjoyed your post.  Good ideas and information.  

Maybe I shouldn't mention it, but when you talked about saving some illegally discarded flowers, you said (perhaps to deflect any criticisms) the official term was “scrounging”.

No offense intended, but I don’t like the word “scrounging”.  It has a very bad connotation (and denotation).  Perhaps I don’t appreciate the intended use, but I would call it “gleaning”.

OK, gleaning it is!

Daniel, I'm fairly new to the A/N site and I'm still reading the various blogs. I know you posted this article some time ago, but I just discovered this post, and it is certainly relevant it is for me today.  I've just printed it and will use your many goods ideas in the near future.  I'm happy to say that I'm already "scrounging" as you suggested and have several things growing in my yard that were given to me by friends.  Since I just bought my house last year and the landscaing was nil I'm starting from scratch, a new tree, a couple of shrubs, and some xeriscape plants this year.  All of the people who contribute to your blog are an inspiration to me. I have a 4' x 30' bed in which I'm in the process of killing the grass with tarps. Once our hot summer is over I'll begin to plant some food-producing things along with herbs.  Thank you for all the information. 

BArbara, thank you for the comments!

My gosl is to make gardening available, fun, and useful for anyone. The garden shows and garden centers are there to mske a living. which is fine, but there are so many options that don't require expense and may be better!

This year for me, learning grafting has been rewarding. I also started more plum trees from cuttings, snd some shrubs from offshoots or cuttings.

Daniel, I planted a tree this spring and had planned to plant another one next year.  After reading all these postings it just dawned on me that I could save the little branches I will be cutting off the existing one and grow a new one!  To some this may have been obvious, but being a novice gardener this is a new way of thinking. If it works, I'll be able to plant my new little tree this fall and best of all as you say it will be "free".  Grow onward!

Barbara, do you know what kind of tree? Some you can do that and some not. also depends on the time of year. I usually use dormsnt cuttings.


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