The garden blossomed while we were gone and the sunflowers are almost big enough for a toddler to hide behind now! I could scarcely believe my eyes.
We had fresh salad to accompany dinner the past few nights and it looks like before long the squash will attempt to take over the entire the kitchen. Today Rosalind tried her first taste of fresh mint and begged for more of the “candy.”
Even if gardening didn’t save money it would be worth it. Playing in the dirt is fun, but the teaching opportunity is invaluable. Food doesn’t magically appear on the shelves in Wal-mart, but starts as little seeds and with water and sunshine and the blessing of God grows into tomatoes and mint and spinach. Eating salad from seeds you’ve planted and tended helps dispel the divorcement of food from its source that is so easy to fall prey to.
But most of us garden to save money. Building a beautiful garden on next to nothing is definitely possible, especially if you work with others and “scrounge.” In addition to the small garden behind our house, a couple neighbors and I started a community garden by the apartment complexes.
It is beautiful and thriving and cost very little to start.
Soil: If my limited gardening experience (and failures) has taught me anything it is that soil is key.
Good soil equals a good garden.
But improving the soil doesn’t have to cost much. Borrow a roto-tiller from a friend or “rent” one on Craigslist.
Make your own compost or if local colleges have an agriculture department chances are they have a source for inexpensive compost. We were able to get rich compost for $10 a truckload from the University.
Farmers or owners of horses often have aged manure you can pick up for free.
Plants: When at all possible, plant from seeds. Rare Seeds sells heirloom seeds for a reasonable price and if you just want a couple plants, many hardware stores let you purchase individual seeds for a few pennies.
Although it’s too late to start many of the summer vegetables from seed, quick growing plants like cucumbers and squash could still be started from seed and it will soon be time to plant seeds indoors for a fall garden.
Established gardeners often are willing to give you starts of herbs (and lots of helpful advice!) if you ask.
Weed control: An appealing weed-free garden doesn’t have to cost a dime or take hours of work. Discarded bricks scrounged from construction sites and friends work perfectly to divide the plants from walking areas and form pretty beds.
Pine needles, straw or grass clippings are free (or very cheap) and work well to keep the weeds at bay in the walking areas. Depending on the type of plant, they can also be used in the beds to check the growth of weeds, retain moisture and keep the soil from eroding.
Pest Control: Thankfully we haven’t had to deal with many pests yet this year. Companion planting, or the strategic planting of certain herbs, flowers and vegetables next to each other, helps repel many bugs. Some of the most common are garlic and marigolds. Wikipedia has a very cool table of companion plants.
If (or rather when) the bugs arrive, we plan to use a homemade bug spray made of garlic and cayenne pepper. I’ve heard it works great.