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.