your best (and worst!) cheap, thrify, and diy garden tips?

purple1701(5B Chicago)April 16, 2013

Hello there friendly fellow gardenwebbers!

I am starting my first vegetable garden, inspired by memories of tending one with my mother as a child, as well as a desire for a more healthy diet. I am constrained to a minimal budget, and I would really love to hear everyone's best tips for how they saved money using unexpected, non-traditional garden items, oddball tips, or did things themselves! (ie - more than just things like "start from seed instead of buying plants". That's pretty much common sense, I think?)

Or even, what you thought was a great idea that turned out to be not so much a great idea at all!

I'm hoping to hear lots of great stories :-)

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IAmSupernova(SE Texas 9A)

Germinate your seed in coffee filters/paper towels. Then you know the seed you're putting into your seed starting mix (which isn't necessarily cheap) is good. With the traditional seed straight into the seed starting mix I was always over doing it to compensate for for the ones that didn't germinate for whatever reason.

I'm also experimenting with germinating my outdoor seeds in coffee filters first, and then planting them directly outside. So far I'm testing this with radish, arugula and loose leaf lettuce. The radishes went in a day earlier than the other two, but about half were up already. Much less water used keeping the top layer of soil damp, I'd estimate it cut a week of daily watering out of my schedule.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 2:33PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Thanks iamsupernova, that's a great tip! Considering a failed attempt recently (luckily it was more of an experiment with my kids than a serious endeavor), I am planning to do just that this weekend! That way I can plant only the ones that sprout, I believe is the idea. Have you tried putting them in the fridge first? What exactly does this do?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 2:41PM
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Take care of your soil structure and pH, don't force your planting times because you have a "nice weekend" ahead of schedule, scout your plants for pest/disease, don't be afraid to remove a sick/diseased plant, make a quick map of what/where you've planted if you're planting a good amount of stuff, mulch unless it's cost prohibitive (this can solve/slow a lot of weed, watering, soil structure, nutrient holding, and disease issues all by itself).

This post was edited by nc-crn on Tue, Apr 16, 13 at 15:04

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 2:46PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Don't buy cheap stuff a thousand times, buy good quality stuff the first time...

Make your own fertilizer etc, compost is easy to make, woodash, catch fish, throw them in the compost, or make fish emulsion

Make your own deer repellent(soak garlic and water,strain,spray plants)

Make your own potting soil(compost,peatmoss with lime/woodash

Mak your own seedling pots(newspaper,etc) or buy cheap plastic under-the-bed storage bins, fill that with your homeade potting soil, and plant your seeds in that! It's reusable, stronger, and cheaper than the steadying trays you would buy..

Be creative, think outside of the box! Instead of buying twine to tie your tomatoes, maybe theirs a vine you could use growing wild in your backyard..

Make your own fence out small trees trees, that's what my brother did!

Sprout your own seeds!

Save your seeds!

Sell excess seeds/seedlings and at least break even with what you paid!

Sell cutting of your plants!

Rake up all the leaves you could in the fall, you'll be grateful comes spring/summer..

Water deeply, not shallow.. Shallow watering evaporates and plants suffer..

Drip irrigation, would save you tons of time and money. Time is money! Like i said buy quality the first time..

Make the most of your garden space! Instead of having traditional rows, which walk paths make up half your garden, Have 3-5 foot wide garden beds and only 1-2 feet walk paths.

Grow more than enough food! What the extra fees buck for watering,etc.. It is much more expesive at the grocery store, plus it is shipped from across the country... Why pay more for any inferior product, when you could grow it for a few bucks!

Dont get lazy! Take care of your plants! If you stop watering for a couple weeks and your plants die, all the time and money invested in them is lost!

Make your raised beds out of dead trees, no need to buy expensive lumber!

Look for free compost/soil, my city gives compost away free, and it's good!

Talk to cattle farmers and get cheap/free manure

Use leaves, grass clippings, and chipped branches you get free from a tree service is a mulch, or even in compost

Do all the work yourself!

Harvest rainwater for your garden, or well/spring/pond water

Always do things right the first time, or you'll be paying twice! Save yourself time and frustration!

Dont watse your money on a tiller, have a no till garden! Save your back pain, and your wallet for gas!

If you are going to till, use hand tools, much cheaper, and sustainable!

Don't get caught up in the hype of all new gardening trends, you'll spend tons of money on products!

Don't order to many seeds, I made this mistake this year!

Have a buddy give you cuttings for perrenials,etc..

Use fluoresent lights to start seeds rather than HPS/MH, much cheaper

Grow a cover crop/green manure, recycle nutrients back into your soil.

Make your soil as healthy as possible(compost,mulch,cover crop/greenmanure,etc), you save big money of fertilizers etc..

Take advantage of sales, just picked up nice blueberries plants for 4 bucks each!

Sell excess produce from the garden

Drive your bike to gardening centers, get a hitch to take your finds back home!

Take advantage of the rain, run out their and lather up your shampoo, just don't get that soap in your garden!

Man, this fun! Someone stop me!

Always research before you act, I can tell you are smart, you're asking for advice! Maybe not as much crazy advice as I threw at you, but aye, you'll be so cheap, you'll have a life savings stacked up, your kids college paid for! Who knew simple gardening could be so lucrative? I'm going to shut up now..

Good luck,

This post was edited by Raw_Nature on Tue, Apr 16, 13 at 17:04

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 4:32PM
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"don't force your planting times because you have a "nice weekend" ahead of schedule"

Good tip! I've learned this one the hard way.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 4:39PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Joe - that's a lot of great info! If I could ask, what is the difference between "deep" watering and "shallow" watering?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 5:13PM
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Joe covered a lot of stuff, but I would most agree with using your lawn clippings as mulch. It's free, readily available and safe for veggies (so long as you don't use herbicides on your lawn). It will also eventually break down and provide nutrients to your soil. Leaves also make great mulch, but they are more abundant in the fall than in the spring.

Check the sales rack at stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. My wife and I have found awesome deals on plants that were almost as good-looking as the plants they were selling for retail price. Close-out stores like Big Lots and the Dollar Tree also sell seeds and bare-root plants for way less than retail stores.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 5:44PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)


Shallow watering is only a short watering(very few minutes), wetting only the topsoil(top 4 or so inches, if that)..

Deep watering is watering long(several minutes), soaking the topsoil and subsoil a foot or so deep..

Plant roots "reach" for water.. If you water shallow, the vegetable roots are going to be very shallow,near the topsoil. Moisture in the topsoil is the first to evaporate, thus starving your plants of water, if you don't water very frequently. If you water deeply, your vegetable roots tap deep in the soil to uptake the water, the plant has better anchorage because the roots are deep in the soil, which leads to stronger plants, they are also less susceptible to drying out.. Not only does deeper water promote plant health, it also conserves on water! Like I said the topsoil Is the first the evaporate, if you water the undersoil deeply, the topsoil could be dry, but the subsoils still very wet.. Which leads to less watering, and less risk of your plants being affected if you forget to water... Drip irrigation is effective because the water is concentrated at the plants roots and soaks into the soil before it evaporates like a sprinkler.. It also keeps the foliage dry, reduces disease,etc.. Mulch helps retain moisture that would otherwise evaporate from the topsoil..

Basically, what I'm saying is - instead of watering for five minutes everyday, water for 30 minutes once or twice a week..


    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 7:15PM
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IAmSupernova(SE Texas 9A)

Nope haven't put them in the fridge or anything. I just keep them on top of it(warmest place in my house). I think some seeds require cold to germinate and that may be one reason to put them in the fridge, but I'm not really sure. I haven't came across anything like that yet.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 7:34PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

When you buy more seeds than you can use in one season, put the remainder in the fridge. Your germination rate the next year will be far higher than if you had left them warm. I have a zip-lock bag in the back of my fridge with a dozen or so (dated) seed packets and a packet or two of dessicant. I'm always surprised at how well seeds from them germinate compared to year-or-more old seeds I didn't refrigerate.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 8:56PM
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Don't let your garden harvest go to waste. Learn the best ways to freeze, dehydrate, and can. You'll love the convenience of the product and the satisfaction of growing it yourself - and knowing just how it was grown.

We started a canning club. Turns out a lot of folks want to learn to can. We had 15 folks turn out last month for our first meeting. We now have 47 people signed up. Our second meeting is this Friday and we'll be making pepper jelly and making friends. When the garden season gets crazy, we'll have buddies to work with.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 9:24PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Most of Raw Natures stuff is right on!
A couple things I'm not in agreement about.
Have the beds 3-5 ft wide and walk paths 1-2'. This is fine if you never want to get a wheelbarrow into the garden to add some compost or soil! I have a semi shallow area and didn't allow for the 3' that you need to maneuver a wheelbarrow! We've made do with a lot of extra work!
Be sure to allow 3' areas to work in the beds (wheelbarrows, etc)
Grow more than enough food----Only if you are prepared to can/freeze/donate/give away! Believe it or don't, some neighbors don't want those 3' long zuchinis that have been left on their porch!
Believe it or not, some food banks will REFUSE to take excess produce at certain times of year! Ask them ahead of time if they want it at a certain time of year!
Do all of the work yourself. Nice--if your able! If not, look into work sharing places on the net (can you fix a few dinners for a few hours of hard labor?) etc. We have a barteing type thing that goes with freecycle for services.
Freecycle- Ahhhhh my favorite! Ask and you (usually ) shall receive! Check it out in your neighborhood!
Off to make an asparagus quiche! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 9:49PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

You made a good point,Nancy, my friend! I still have just enough room for a wheelbarrow.. The point was: don't waste half your garden space for walking.. I have a huge wheelbarrow four feet wide! I suppose you could find small ones...

I would rather grow more than enough food, than be starving! We have a freezer for something! I try to only eat out of my garden and wild edibles in my area.. I dont like eating from the store.. Besides being new, he probably will lose some plants, better be safe than sorry, aye? By me, there are tins of beggars with cardboard signs on the main highway "poor, need money, food", he probably get a few bottles of jack in his backpack... But I still would be more than happy to give then vegetables, i love giving someone a touch of health!

Do all your work yourself.. I should have said have your son do half the job! No, I really enjoy it, so it's no a problem.. I'm to picky about my garden, it would kill me to watch someone garden in my garden! Then you get in the whole trust thing..

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 10:12PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Well, I have to admit that I went out and bought a freezer after my second year! Not sure everyone can afford that though.
Canning can be pricey to set up also, but, as I said freecycle is my friend! Also garage sales, thrift stores and flea marts!
Have fun and Happy Gardening! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 10:31PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Freezers are our best friend, huh? So are juicers! They can go through some serious produce! Would much rather drink raw vegetable/fruit juice than water!

Nancy, good point! Freecycle, criagslist could have some great finds! As I mentioned, free compost from the city's not to shabby either..

Happy gardening,

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:14PM
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Fun thread!

My best tip:
Let things go to seed and you'll be eating volunteers all year. We ate self seeded mache salads all winter, and we've been eating self seeded arugula (and giving away bags of it) for weeks now. Have been transplanting and giving away the self seeded leeks - you get the picture. Plus, stuff is very pretty when it flowers and makes seeds. The volunteer plants are super hardy, and all that food is cost free and work free.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:34PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

That brings up a good point! Harvest wild edibles that are growing for free, without any water or fertilizer, no money whatsoever! Get a good foraging book and eat for free!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:40PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Learn to save seed. One of the most important seed-saving lessons I've learned is don't eat the tastiest, healthiest, biggest and bestest: leave them to seed so you're selecting for good genetics.
I'm glad there's been a discussion about path width. One of my early mistakes was to make my paths impractically narrow.
A soft pencil (I use a 6b) is the most weather-resistant marker I know. And it can be rubbed off!
Ask that people who say some version of "don't use wood chips/products as mulch, it ties up the nitrogen" provide peer-reviewed evidence. (ok, that's obviously just one of my 'things'). *edit* I should have said, I agree that the tie-up thing is an issue when woody mulches are dug in, so I don't use them on annual gardens.
People are recommending clippings as mulch. I never thought I'd say it, but I'll add a caveat: go easy. We've had a really bad fly year in NZ, and I'm pretty sure my rampant clipping use didn't help. I never saw evidence they were breeding at my place, but my neighbour is certainly convinced...

This post was edited by feijoas on Wed, Apr 17, 13 at 0:24

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:17AM
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Leaves and lawn grass as mulch can form dense mats...depending on your climate things can go kinda wrong and more water can run off than get into your soil (as well as soil/oxygen concerns if it mats up too much).

Some areas can do this, some can't... We get too much rain here to use leaves/grass as a summer crop mulch...especially leaves.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Wed, Apr 17, 13 at 0:41

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:39AM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Thanks Nc for bringing that up, thats a good concern.. Everyone know what's leaves do tonyour lawn if you don't rake them up, smother your grass! You could use this to your advantage, but as NC mentioned it could be problematic as a mulch.. But it's very rare that I see and problems in the forest, where the majority of the leaves fall.. Everything seems real fluffy and airy.. Perhaps the trees block the hard impact of rain,etc...

I grow a cover crop of winter rye, and cut thandown in spring.. I get the equivalent of very rough airy straw.. When I apply my leafs/grass clipping, I apply it on top of the biomass the winter rye produces, it stays very fluffy and airy, no matter what, it's almost like a matress! If you are applying to it to bare soil it could cause problems.. It also depends on how finely chopped the grass clippings and leaves are...

If you are concerned of it smothering your garden, compost it first.. Or use it sparingly.. A few leaves on the soil, is not much of a concern... Or just use a different mulch...

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:56AM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)


If you don't mind telling us what you use for mulch? I think others in your situation can benefit from other alternatives..

Appreciate it,

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:58AM
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3" of straw...for my local weather and soil it's the one of the best for a balance of weed control, oxygen availability to soil, and water retention.

It's rigidity allows for water and oxygen infiltration while it's randomly applied lattice-style overlay excludes light which some weeds like. It also keeps water from evaporating out of the soil very effectively at 2-4".

This post was edited by nc-crn on Wed, Apr 17, 13 at 2:07

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:06AM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Do you grow a green manure to get your straw, or just buy it?

Appreciate it,

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:10AM
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I mostly get it for free/cheap after Halloween from people who use bales for decorations, I crop year-round and don't have acreage. Even if I did have acreage I'd rather source it elsewhere than devote the amount of land it would take to source 3" of straw for my garden. What isn't incorporated into the surface is composted after a year and reapplied.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:24AM
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The way I found free straw was to post an ad on Craigslist. I picked up 14 or so bales that one farmer here couldn't use/sell because it had started to rot. Bad for him but good for me because I can mulch with it and at the end of the season I compost it anyway. I'll be going back for more just to compost.

Also find a source for free manure. My wife found a horse rescue close to us who will give me all of the green and aged manure I care to take (and he loads it too).

Starbucks used coffee grounds. Go in and ask for them and they will bag it all up and give it to you. Great for soil tilth and has some nitrogen. Worms LOVE them.

Make your own compost. I compost the green horse manure and leftover straw, used coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, shredded paper from my office, shredded cardboard, grass clippings, etc.

Start a worm bin. Red worm castings (and worm castings in general) are phenomenal for your plants. I started one this year for less than $30.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:58PM
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bluebirdie(Z8 SF E Bay)

Wow! So many good ideas already mentioned... what's left?

Use cardboard box along walkway/path instead of roundup in the Spring (or any weed season).

Use recycled foam containers for seedlings transplanted from wet paper towel method (our waste company does not accept foam for recycling). Cut up foam at final transplanting to avoid disturbing roots.

Soak recycled drip heads in diluted vinegar and detergent water, clean and blow to ensure flow, reuse next season.

Leave the best of the last corp and allow to dry. Save seeds for next year. Oh wait... duplicated. Scratch!

Grow vine vertically, and bush in front to save space and water.

Last but most importantly: plant what you will eat, sow what will grow, and eat what you harvest!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Shop in the grocery store.

No seriously, you would be surprised how much stuff in there can be used for growing your own.

You want celery? Buy a bag of it at the grocery store that isn't pre-cut (the kind you have to break off the base yourself). Instead of snapping them off, cut them off and leave the base intact. When you're done with it, leave the short little tufts in the middle alone and plant the base. It will happily root and grow into a new celery plant.

Virtually all dried beans you can buy in the store will sprout if you soak them first. Buying a bag of lentils in the store is dirt cheap, and you can grow all of them you don't eat.

Ginger and horseradish root, eat the bottoms of them and then toss the tops in the dirt, and watch them regrow.

Find your favorite pepper, eat it, plant the seeds you scoop out of it. If it isn't a hybrid, the seed will grow true. If it is hybrid, you'll still get something pretty darned close to what you ate (most of the time).

Tomatoes will root so easily, I've heard stories of people buying those cherry tomatoes still on the vine in the store, picking the tomatoes off, sticking the vine in the dirt, and it rooted and grew into a full new plant and kept on bearing fruit.

Find a kind of potato you like (even from those fingerling bags) and plant it. It'll grow in almost anything, and will give you tons of potatoes.

You would be surprised how much kitchen "waste" you can actually grow back out into perfectly good food plants.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 4:37PM
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star_stuff(Greensboro NC 7a)

I agree Edymnion about the grocery store ~ very good tips!

The tip that I can't recommend enough is 'save you leaves!' If you don't have any trees (or enough trees), then you could round up what you can from the neighborhood curbs when they pile them/bag them in the fall.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! And compost too!


    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 5:25PM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Do comparison shopping when buying seeds. You'll be amazed at how expensive some big and well known places are compared to much smaller outfits.

I just posted in another thread about potatoes that Territorial sells 2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes for $15 bucks but DeBruyn sells 5 lbs for $4 and 50 lbs for $19!

Be careful of shipping costs might save a couple dollars buying a certain type of seed from one place, but the 5 or 7 dollar shipping cost will erase any savings you may have had.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 8:42AM
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The difference between those two are probably that the Territorial are certified seed potatoes and the DeBruyn are not.

Practically speaking there is no significant difference. What it means is that the more expensive ones have gone through extra steps and been grown more careful to make sure they are as close to 100% disease free as they possibly can be. The cheaper ones are just the leftovers after they sold the main crop to the supermarkets.

While that sounds like you should spend the extra money for the certified ones, in all practical ways the uncertified ones are almost as likely to be disease free (as they couldn't sell diseased crops to the food market, as all the major potato diseases show up pretty clearly on the spuds themselves).

For me, the only reason to ever order seed potato from anywhere is if you are getting a really oddball variety that you can't find in the grocery stores. Ever since Walmart started carrying those bags of red, white, and blue fingerling potatoes though, I haven't had to order any seed stock though. Those purple ones are my favorites. So good...

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 9:26AM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

DeBruyn potatoes are certified and grow great. Their retail store is a few towns over from me. Several farm stores and retail nurseries in the area purchase bulk quantities from them and sell small amounts that customers bag themselves for low per pound cost. I know they also ship to stores in cities far away that also resell at low prices.

Finding a place that sells bulk seeds and tubers that are repackaged by customers or staff can give big savings.This is especially true for potatoes, beans, peas, and corn where the small seed rack quantities are inadequate for those with larger gardens. Many times these are at farm/feed stores and hardware stores in towns near rural areas. Their bulk onion sets and bundles of onion plants are also great buys. Find a place like that near you for big savings if you are planting a large garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Great prices on bulk seed and tubers

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 11:08AM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Naturegirl beat me to it, but here's what DeBruyn says on their site:

All the De Bruyn Seed Potatoes are certified seed potatoes. Most varieties come in "B" size, several come in a mixture of "A" & "B" size.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 11:27AM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

wow guys, there is some awesome stuff here! keep it coming :-) I guess I should let you know that my garden is pretty tiny, it's only 4' x 24' so some of this stuff won't apply to me like walking aisle widths etc. But I am really digging (pun intended hehe) all of it, keep it coming! I'll come back with some updates when work isn't so crazy busy...

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 2:29PM
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Make a list of the items you need for your garden. has a 'warehouse' for returns or stock with damaged wrapping, much of it is almost new and never out of the package and marked down 20-30%. Tools, fencing, etc. can be good buys there. I got great deals on hardware cloth and free shipping.
And I've bought a ton of stuff like rakes and hoses and so on at garage sales.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 2:57PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Ok so back to this: a few notes: I am pretty much out of funds for this project and will most likely, as in 99.99% of the time, not be able to buy additional supplies. Hence the title including the words “CHEAP,” “DIY” and “THRIFTY”. I’m going to list what I’ve already done, and what I have seen already in your posts that I think is do-able for me. Some of it just won’t be and I’ll be looking for alternative, creative substitutions.

To begin, here’s what I’ve already done: the area I’m planting in is 4x24 feet and runs from the back of the house to the garage along our driveway/parking area. The length of it runs east and west, and there is a fence on the north face. Last fall we pulled out all the landscaping (lots of ornamental plants, some gravel, etc) and used a rototiller borrowed from a neighbor to till in piles and piles of leaves. I think it would have amounted to about a foot high across the whole length or so, before tilling in. We went down as far as we could with the rototiller, which was about 12” I think. Over the winter, my father in law dumped the ashes from their fire there.

This spring, we tilled in 2 bales of peat moss. I did the “mason jar soil test” with my kids, the thought that was great fun. From the looks of it, the balance of sand, silt, clay and organic particulate matter is dead on where it should be. Oh, and my father in law had the soil tested about 6 or 7 years ago and did have a garden there. Maybe even longer ago than that. The kids and I also did a DIY ph test with vinegar and baking soda (separately), and it would appear that our soil is very slightly on the acidic side.

I planted potatoes and onions last weekend. I did dust the potatoes with sulfur first (have a bunch on hand from the DIY cosmetic stuff I do) so hopefully the ridiculous amounts of rain we’re getting here combined with the cold nights won’t hurt them too badly.

What I can’t do that everyone seems to think is a necessity: MULCH! I can’t afford it. Not only that, but I hate the smell and how it looks anyway. I know that might be ridiculous, but I’m really looking for some other solutions.

Shoot, have to run. More update tomorrow.

Thanks all!!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 5:58PM
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You seem to be busy. Mulch helps busy people in many ways.
Sometimes I buy mulch but I also save bags of leaves to use as a mulch. When I was younger and the kids were at home we would go on mulch runs. If someone had multiple bags of leaves put out as trash, we would ask (we were never refused) and bring the leaves home as a mulch. I met a nice person who would actually call and let me know when he was putting out leaves, he had a larger property and often there were 10-15 bags at a time.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 6:24PM
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I bet if you talked to a few neighbors, they would be happy to supply you with grass trimmings from their yards. It should be great mulch.

OK, here is an important factor - use that fence to go verticle with such things a beans, peas, cucs, and even melons. It will give you a lot more space. I'm planting a vining zuccini this year, Trombonni Zuccata or something along that line. It grows as a climbing vine and produces huge, tasty but different looking squash. Here is a link to utube video of it.

Here is a link that might be useful: climbing zuccini

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 8:11PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Ok coming back to this again!

Some things I can do /am doing: I’ve been saving vegetable and fruit scraps for months. I usually use the veggie scraps to make my own broth, which I will continue to do, but I’m now thinking that the leftover “sludge” I strain out could be placed around the plants or buried around them and then watered down. Fruit stuff I’m thinking of doing “blender composting”, has anyone had good results with this? I also have access to as much coffee grounds as I want from my office, and I am saving egg shells. Haven't seen this mentioned here yet, but planning on doing lots of DIY pest repellant. The bad bugs, not the good ones, that is. I plan to plant daisies, lavendar and marigolds to hopefully attract good bugs and birds. We're in a pretty urban area so there won't be any issues with deer, but possibly problems with rats, mice, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels. Hopefully the hawks will take care of that, as we have several in our neighborhood.

A couple other things I can’t do: use the fence at all! Wish I could but the neighbor is going to rip it down and put up a new one this summer. Hopefully it doesn’t kill my plants! Also can’t compost, the in laws we live with won’t allow it. And no amount of logic will deter them. I almost gave up on the whole idea when that came up, but I decided it’s not the end of the world.

Some ideas I really like that I’ll most likely try to do: saving seeds, cloning plants, rain barrels - not sure what to use yet, but hoping for some crafty diy solutions, juicing/freezing - we don’t have canning stuff and can’t buy it but we do have a great food processor and a chest freezer, and no one has mentioned this, but I’m thinking that any time I boil vegetables (to eat) I’ll dump the cooled water around some plants. Not sure if pasta water would be beneficial at all, can anyone weigh in on that? I do want to do a cover crop toward the end of the growing season, we’ll see how much that costs… I really like the ideas about getting things from the grocery store. Going to try some of that!

Ideas I don’t like: cardboard in the garden. Call me silly, but I want my garden to aesthetically look nice as well, and that just doesn’t seem like it would look pretty. At all. I’m thinking that the grass clippings as mulch might be helpful (and won't look too bad) during our hot season (yes, Chicago has some very hot summer weeks!), but I think I’ll need more explanation on how that works. I’ll do some searching, but I like it as it would be free whereas mulch most definitely is NOT free.

Also, I’ll of course go do a search right after I post this, but I’m curious what the “volunteer” and “self-seeded” things are?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 4:43PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

You mention you don't like the look of mulch. There's an old saying: 'nature abhores a vacuum'. Nature will do its best to cover the 'vacuum' (bare soil) with 'mulch' (weeds) and you'd need to hoe constantly...
Mulch can be any material that covers the soil, free or otherwise.
I don't use inorganic mulches like rubber and stone as I want the benefits of them breaking down.
Do you have a local farm store? Round here we can get the hay/straw floor sweepings for free. Bear in mind it's always loaded with seeds, but lifting it to pull any roots from the soil does the trick.
I use lots of cooking water on my plants/compost. The main thing to avoid cooking in salted water if you plan to use it on the garden.
Or tip hot, salty water on weeds in cracks etc away from the garden.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 6:12PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Be sure that neighbor doesn't mess with your garden! He actually could be liable for any losses if he messes it up!
Would the in-laws be opposed to just leaves and grass clippings? They are fine on their own (then you could sneak out and bury your kitchen scraps and fruit/vege sludge!)They wouldn't know the difference!
I use cardboard in the garden during the winter to discourage weeds! I'm right up against acres of horse fields and have to cover them somehow! I remove what's left when planting time comes around.
Happy gardening! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Here's another thrifty tip:

When you save your own seed, save extra. Then, you can trade it for different varieties in the Round Robin Forum here on Gardenweb. I love the seed swaps there, especially the Incredible Edibles Swap. This year I received 67 different varieties of tomato seeds to try out when I participated in the tomato swap!

Not only are seed swaps thrifty, they're super super fun!


    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 6:30PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Julia and all, on that note, here in Sonoma Co we have a seed bank that is open to the public the last weekend of every month. They have a large garden that you can help with or not, and any seeds are free. They also have some sort of class each month. It might be on saving seed, growing wheat, watering's different all of the time! Some people grow extra plants just to donate seed. I have sunflower, carrot and cilantro to donate this year.
You might look into this or even start one! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 8:42PM
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I think that mulch is anything but a necessity. I never use mulch. Your garden is small enough that a few minutes a day with a hoe or your fingers should keep the weeds down.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 7:51AM
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Here is one thing that's saved me money. Get some really big pots cheap ( I got slightly cracked fiberglass type pots at Home Depot for two bucks each by asking nicely- they were going to toss them. I have perennial herbs in the pots, like various types of mint, chives, and oregano. I bring them into my basement each winter, along with the geraniums I use on my front porch. They all go dormant ( basement stays around 55 degrees) and come back strong when I put them outside in the spring. Yearly herbs and flowers with no expense but lugging the pots.

Let people know you are starting a garden. I got my mints and some bearded irises from a coworker after chatting with her about trying to start my garden. Now I pass along both when I need to divide them. I hate to commit plant murder but sometimes you need to divide things and just don't have anymore room. I love being able to share with another gardener.

Use cheap bamboo and garden cloth to make a pup tent over your bed to extend the season in fall and spring. I use clothes- pins to clip the remay cloth to the bamboo frame I wire together using twist ties. This lets me grow arugula, kale, and mustard all winter here in Virginia. It's all bolting now that it's warm. People in my garden club all rip theirs out and compost it, but it's still edible. We eat kale tops just before they flower like broccoli florets. Arugula flowers make a great herb or addition to salads. Bolted arugula leaves are slightly more bitter but make great pesto or add them or bolted kale to a creamy potato or pasta casserole for extra vitamins and an herbal kick.

Your kids will love it if you grow a prolific and tasty cherry tomato like sungold or sweet 100 that they can pick and snack on. Kids also love colored beans like purple royalty or yellow wax. My nephews who are super picky eaters love what they call "fun beans"- chilled crisp yellow wax beans served with yogurt dip I make with dill and chives fom the garden.

Oh- and I don't mulch my beds. I just plant pretty intensively and weed a little each day. In the fall, I rake all my leaves into a pile and run the lawn mower over it, then spread the chopped leaves around as my winter mulch.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 9:35AM
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My best advice I learned the hard way is to know the difference between patience and procrastination. Impatience is as bad as procrastination.

One thrifty tip I learned is to use water bottles for replanting. They are free, most everyone will gladly give more than you need, they don't take up much room in a tray, they can be any size you need, and you can see through the bottle to know how dry your soil is getting. Just don't forget to poke holes in the bottom!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 11:18AM
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Since almost no one needs as many seeds as most packets contain, you might find someone to share costs with. My neighbor and I each buy different seeds then split the packets. Plant and seed swaps are great, too. Here in Washington, we have several each year and there are always plenty of leftover plants and seeds for newcomers who don't have anything to trade. Gardeners love to share! I agree that Freecycle is a great place to get gardening items. One year I got a huge load of old chicken manure for free just for cleaning out a coop that hadn't been used for many years (so the smell wasn't too bad, and it composted down quickly with added leaves, straw and grass). I give away lots of seedlings every spring to beginning gardeners, and I've received tools, hoses, etc., even 3 huge plastic water cisterns to catch rainwater.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 1:51PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Feijoas mentions that “nature abhors a vacuum” and while I can’t dispute that, I have to mention again that I cannot afford traditional mulch. So other ideas that are free and easily available (while hopefully still being somewhat pretty? Maybe??) are ideal. Maybe this is a long shot, but what about planting a bunch of wildflowers? Sort of as a cover crop, and/or to attract beneficial insects and birds? Something I can foresee being a problem with this would be how much might that detract from what the plants need, ie, would the wildflowers “eat” more than they should and deprive my actual food crops of necessary nutrients?

I do plan to be in the garden daily, even if only for a few minutes during each weekday and then much more time on weekends, and it is small so I’m hoping that as creekside mentioned, the maintenance won’t be too much of an issue.

Nancyjane - I like the idea of “sneaking” in my compost under the leaves and grass clippings lol.

Some people have mentioned grass matting up and actually preventing moisture from getting to the soil, anyone care to weigh in on this further?

And Julia, thanks for the seed saving/swapping tip. I do hope I can participate in that!

Gottaweed - could you elaborate more on the water bottle replanting tip? I like that idea! What exactly is it for? Seedlings? Relocating plants? I don’t personally have many water bottles as we use a filter attached to the sink (bottled water is very expensive in my book!) but I’m sure I can collect a few from around the office and such.

I do frequent freecycle, but for some reason in my area I haven’t seen much gardening stuff. Maybe the time of year has something to do with it.

These are all so great, thanks all!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 4:53PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

In the spirit of this post, here is the most recent DIY thingy DH made for me. (I'm so lucky, he's amazingly handy!)

These are rain gutters that were cut to fit under the a-frames made from pallets, which the kids and I then planted lots of leaf lettuce in. There are small holes drilled every so often along the bottom to allow for drainage, and they are capped at the ends with more holes drilled there as well.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 4:58PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Also, as mentioned by one of the very first people to respond to this post, I am working on the wet-napkin-in-baggies germination thing. *fingers crossed*

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 5:00PM
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No heat mats? No problem! I used my car and microwave. Weird? Yes, but they seeds love it.
For your car: protect the interior with old sheets, and stick your pots/flats in there. The back window is perfect.
(I did drive around with them a couple of times.)
Microwave: protect the inside with plastic, paper towels, newspaper, whatever will work for you.
Crack the door to trigger the interior light and turn on the light below if your microwave is the type that has a stove fan.
My seeds germinated fast using these methods. :)

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 6:15PM
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Purple1701, I cut the tops off the water bottles and drill holes in the bottom. I transplant my seedlings into them. They're the perfect size!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 10:58PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Sharon - with the microwave, did you actually turn it on? with the plants in there or before to warm it up? I'm a little confused about that one, but intrigued lol. My microwave is a countertop style, and not very big, so not sure if/how this might affect this method.

Gottaweed - thanks for clarifying! So you keep the seedlings in there until they reach a certain size I would guess. And I would imagine that this might be ideal for smaller plants, but maybe not for some larger ones, or ones that grow really fast or have super active and deep root systems.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 9:49AM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

- Do not use shortcut peat pots or those jiffy 7's or the newer coco coir pellets. The only things these are good for is the compost pile.

- Grass and straw mulch attracts crazy. So does cardboard and newpaper, but I agree that it's ugly and gets loose in the wind. A flying sheet of cardboard can easily decapitate a prized tomatoe. For this stuff to be used in my yard it has to be used in conjunction with other mulch piled on top, making the worms very, very happy.

- My best tip that has helped me the most over the years - Living mulch! There are so many to choose from, but my favorite for the vegetable garden is crimson clover (NOT to be confused with red clover). It's not very cold hardy for my area, so I would imagine Chicago winters will kill it too. It blooms a very bright red making it pretty and useful. It attracts bees big time so that helps with pollination, and yet it doesn't suffer from any pests or disease. It isn't a water hog per se, as it actually shades the ground conserving moisture while crowding out weeds. If planted a week or two behind the veggies, it won't over-take them, as it does grow fairly fast, but not tooooo fast. Once the veggies get taller in mid-late summer they begin to shade the clover, making it less prone to reseeding itself, and, as I stated earlier, it mostly dies out in winter. But the little bit that does survive easily rototills in next spring and adds nitrogen to the soil. I absolutely love this stuff and buy 10 lbs every year to scatter willy nilly where I need to keep weeds at bay. (costs way less than bales of straw) Having said all of this: not all clover is created equal. Red clover (which is actually purple, who names these things?) as well as white dutch, yellow, or basically any other clover besides crimson will become a nightmare in your garden if scattered "willy nilly"! It is so clovery-recognizable that it's easy to pull just the weeds and keep the clover.

p.s. I don't rototill much, as I prefer the lasagna method more and more, but I still have not found any volunteer reseeding to be invasive.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 2:38PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

I really like the "living mulch" idea... I have a box of wildflower seed that I was thinking of using for this purpose. I know that it would multiply, but unless it's going to actually detract from the things I'm growing for edible purposes, I don't mind that. I would love to see flowers all mixed in with my veggies... but is this a terrible idea?? This is something I just happen to have on hand, whereas buying more seed is not in my budget. So I'm really hoping I can do it.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 5:37PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Ok so no wildflowers as living mulch, someone answered that for me elsewhere. Any more great thrifty diy ideas out there?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:33AM
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I'm using a piece of unused guttering left over from when we built our house for my strawberry plants. I got end caps for it and will punch holes in the bottom then mount on one of the cross pieces of wood coming off of the corner post to the next post for my garden fencing. Also, I always sit planted containers of seeds on my clothes dryer when drying the laundry. They germinate so much quicker. I have a heat mat, but don't think I've ever used it.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 8:58PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Thanks ladies and gentlemen. I am just amazed with the wealth of tips and information given here.

Special thanks to the starter with this great idea and also to Raw_Nature.
I will have to come back, many times to read ..asnd read again.
I hvae a few tips too. Most of them already revealed..haha.
- - Why buy twines, when you have some old T-shirts, especially green ones. They are east to strip to tie plants. They are also much better than hard , cutting twines,
--- Never bough seed starter kit or mix. I buy some pearlite, some peat moss, Then I sift some good old garden soil and compost and mix all together. I I had some dry leaves (maple..etc) I crush them and mixed in as well..

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 2:32AM
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Don't know about your location, but where I live (Santa Cruz mountains of California) pocket gophers are a plague. So my tip is, use wood-framed raised beds with half-inch hardware cloth attached to the bottom. Use staples, nails or screws to securely attach the hardware cloth with no gaps that a gopher could fit through.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 2:33AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

About "living Mulch"

Wild flowers idea does not seem practical to me, because some of them can grow and overwhelm the things that you have planted. But there are a few green mulch ideas that I know:'1) plant clovers.. (2) plant fenugreek. I like fenugreek for two reason: One , it is edible. Two its root can improve the soil by producing nitrogen.( gets it from air). Right now I have planted fenugreek around my tomatoes. You can also plant cilantro. Again, it is an edible vegetable . Both of those are "Cool Crops" and should foine in zone 5. Before they get to tall, just cut them off the ground(leaving the roots in place).
Clover is similar in soil improving characteristis to fenugreek, but not edible. But its roots and top can make a nice green manure in addition to green mulch.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:49AM
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Hi Purple! Sorry it took so long No I just cracked the door so the light would stay on and I turned the light underneath the microwave to get even more heat to the seeds. I have a Kenmore Microhood so it has a fan and a light for the stove.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:15PM
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I have problems with bending over or stooping, crouching, whatever you want to call it, in the garden. This year I'm making seed mats out of cheap paper towels, separated so they are only one ply. Got a roll for .50. I can sit at my cutting table in the sewing room at night, mark my proper distances for whatever veggie I want on the towels with a sharpie then put small droplets of Elmer's glue on the marks and drop the seeds on them and let dry. I put waxed paper on top of a layer of newspaper to protect my table. If you layer several layers of paper towels on top each other, the pen's marks will go through all of the layers. I really didn't feel elderly even though I'm almost 70, but my knees, back and other joints are telling me otherwise this year. This is such a wonderful help to me and I enjoy doing the mats in my off times. Now all I have to do is take them to the garden when the time is right, lay them out in the proper rows, then cover with soil and water in. I think it will make for a neater garden, too. This will save the knee and back breaking efforts for planting the tomatoes and other things I started from seed and I will use a little seat on wheels for that.

1 Like    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 7:43PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

does the glue dissolve once planted? is there any possibility it might hurt the plant or hinder it's growth?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 1:02PM
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silverkelt(Z5b/Southern Maine)

Feed stores will sell seeds at the season for 75%-95% of at times, Ive bought green beans at 5 cents a packet before..

Stores like christmas tree shop here in the northeast will have seeds at 50% off retail pricing at big box stores like home depot or lowes.

Pine Tree seeds in Maine is a great cheap source for seeds, they really are pretty reasonable vs others.

Im a fan of yukun golds , so I just save a couple when its time..

There isnt much better thing in the universe then a fresh dug potatoe, grilled with some fresh dug garlic cloves and some butter...

After pricing what wood would cost me at Home depot to make some raised beds (near 300 a year ago) This spring I made my own beds with fallen wood and cut down trees I was going to cut down anyways.. worked out fairly well and it was free.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 2:26PM
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Purple, the glue is water soluble, will dissolve in the ground as will the paper towels. No problem with hurting the plant or hindering the growth. This is the Elmer's glue they let kids use in school and is safe. If using the glue still bothers you, you can make a paste of flour and water to use. So far I have all my radish, beet and carrot seed mats done. Will be doing others tonight, like lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips and swiss chard.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 7:01PM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Loving this thread. So many great ideas! Anyone care to share a DIY project they thought would be time/$$ saver that turned out to be a nightmare? (or even just plain silly??)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 12:44PM
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singleton165(z5 NH Seacoast)

Great thread!
Purple, if you don't layer the grass too thickly for mulch, it doesn't mat up and repel water. I use a thin layer many times throughout the summer and it works fine for me.

I plan on making newspaper pots this spring to transplant seedlings before they're ready for the garden. Looks easy enough, and cheap.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 12:17AM
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I mix flour with water and fish fertilizer to use a glue for making seed tapes.

Use gutters to grow seedlings:
add soil, plant seeds (you can do it on potting bench), take care of them and when they big enough just slide soil with seedling in your veggie bed.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:24PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Now that we are approaching 2014 planting time, I like to think about seedlings protection. Here are the things I have read and like. And definitely I will use them myself.

Cut off the top neck part of 2 liter clear water/soda bottles to protect you seedlings in cool weather in early spring, by inverting over them. You can make a few hole at the bottom (now top, when inverted) to breathe. Gallon or 1/2 gal. milk jugs can be used similarly, by cutting off the bottom.
They are also used (uncut) as wall-O-water.

How about using the clear plastic domes on the cake containers ? They can keep the sowed seeds warmer until they germinate.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 10:27PM
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One good tip I learned (from trial & error, then much research) is to plant and harvest things at the proper time for your growing zone- even in places like california where people might tell you "oh you can grow anything there all year round"... not true! some plants are warm season, some are cool season, some like to overwinter, some are annual, some are perennial, some are biennial, etc. Research each plant, and also don't assume plants that seem similar will have the same needs, for example peas and beans both come in bush and vining varieties and grow in pods, but peas like cool weather while beans like it hot- except for a few certain beans that actually do prefer it cool... Also, potatoes can tolerate cool weather while sweet potatoes don't. Kale & lettuces grow best in cool weather while chard seems to do fine in hot or cool. You get the idea. If you plant things at the wrong time you'll be wasting your time and the seeds- I tried lettuce when it was too late to be planting it and in the heat of summer it went straight to bolt. I've planted zucchini and tomatoes when it was too cold for them and they grew poorly and didn't produce fruit. Harvest times are just as important as planting times- I planted radishes once and they didn't seem to get big enough by harvesting time so I thought I could just let them keep growing for a while longer- but found out that if you leave them in the ground too long they get tough and too spicy and shrivel up instead of getting bigger! Also it may be tempting to let a zucchini get huge, thinking it will just provide more food when you let a fruit get 2 feet long... No! Harvest them young & tender and about the size they sell them in the grocery store (or smaller), any larger and you get a hard shell, lots of seeds, and very little (and quite tasteless) flesh.

Moral of these stories is to research each fruit or veggie you want to grow & follow the "directions", it will mean the difference between success & failure!

Also- healthy soil is #1 important thing for plants - no chemical fertilizer! Compost is your best friend. Mulch is your other best friend- use what is available & free- leaves & pine needles are what I use.

Good luck!!!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 1:21AM
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purple1701(5B Chicago)

Hi all! Gearing up for this year’s (my second woohoo!) attempt at vegetable gardening.
Last year went pretty well, although I took on a bit too much so am scaling back a bit. I just checked up on this post and saw some new tips, so I wanted to say thank you for your input!

Brier �" I used gutters to grow leaf lettuce last year, they worked great!
Seysonn �" given that I am going to be growing some tomatoes from seeds I saved out of last year’s crop, I feel like I’ll be a bit more emotionally attached to them and really appreciate the inverted bottle tip! We have had such crazy weather so far, I’m sure it will come in handy.

I know I'll be referring back to this post a lot, there are some great tips here :-)

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 4:11PM
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My family built me raised beds from free or cheap used concrete blocks. The growth was amazing our 1st year. I posted some photos last spring on the accessibility forum after I broke my ankle.

Check out the winter sowing forum for an easy way to start your seeds because indoor lights & watering is a pain. Milk cartons or cake trays are easy & free!

Here is a link that might be useful: concrete raised beds

    Bookmark   December 26, 2014 at 2:55PM
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karoliberty OKC zone 7a

just had a great time reading all of these tips on this old thread and wondering if OP purple made the transition to houzz? how was 2014?

    Bookmark   last Monday at 4:48PM
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