Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beyond Frugal

Okay I admit it...I’m a perennial lifelong tightwad who dives at pennies in parking lots, scrounges treasures on curb sides and in dumpsters, and who shops mainly at Big Lots and Dollar Tree.... IF I spend money. A lifetime of creative frugality has left me debt and mortgage free, growing most of my food in my yard so as to have greater freedom in life while saving up a rainy day nest egg. Here are some favorite ways I garden and landscape for free or close to it.
Ten foot lengths of white vinyl rain gutters cost about $6 each and make very attractive edgings for flower gardens, their cheery new whiteness accenting the colors of the flowers growing behind them. They are easy to cut to desired lengths with a hack saw, and placed upside down on the ground make a stable and long lasting edger perfect for holding back mulch while delineating a garden.
White exterior latex paint, cheap by the gallon as a "mistint" at paint stores, is a frugal and easy way to bring fresh "newness" to tired old concrete fountains and bird baths, plus wooden fences and patio furniture. Spray white gloss enamel, just $1-$2 per can, will spruce up a bird feeder, mail box and other features in your landscape. I get my paint for free dumpster diving at hardware stores, or when neighbors set out cans of it on garbage day.
Trying to transition to organic bug and fungus control, but are shocked by the price of brand name safe soap sprays? Southern gardeners have been making their own version for pennies for a century now. Just buy a bar of the old fashioned soap "Kirk’s Castile" for about $1, rub it against a cheese grater, and mix three tablespoons of the flakes in a gallon of hot water. Let it sit overnight. Sprayed onto plants afflicted with aphids, spider mites, the non-toxic soapy solution quickly suffocates and desiccates them. It is also useful for foliar fungi, such as powdery mildew on squash and roses, or black spot on roses. Got a big yard and want to make a large batch? Drop a bar into a wide mouth one gallon jar, fill with hot water, and let sit a week, perhaps buzzing it once with a handheld blender to eliminate any lumps. This one gallon of soap gel is your base concentrate and will "keep" for years in a sealed container. Try mixing one cup to ten cups water for a strong batch for tough-bodied pests like stink bugs, or one cup per gallon of water in your pump sprayer for aphids and mites and fungi. Each gallon of spray will cost just pennies, do wonders to control pests into this new century, while being safe for kids, pets, and the environment at large.
Want a goldfish pond but freak at the cost of a black pond shell? Buy a 6 foot diameter blue plastic kiddie wading pool, lower it into a hole two inches shallower than it so the rim is above the soil line, use a carpenter’s level to position it, pour in an inch of rinsed pea gravel, then fill with well water or city water (recycled water can be very high in sodium and chlorine). Let it age for 3 days. Sprinkle in one cup of dolomitic lime for the health of the fish, water plants and goldfish, one cup of ‘Pondzyme’ bacteria and enzymes to help keep the water clear and healthy, and one cup of Sunniland Palm 8-6-6 to provide nutrients for the water plants that will purify and oxygenate the water. A few days later drop into the water a few bundles of the aquatic plants CRUCIAL to keeping the water clear. In mild climates like here in Florida, use "Hot Water Cabomba" and a dozen ordinary small brown pond snails to scavenge wastes......DON’T buy "apple snails" as they will decimate your water plants. In cold climates use the aquatic plant "Hornwort" as I did in Denver for my own and my clients' ponds. In about a week, when you see green algae colonizing the pond sides to become the main filter and oxygenator plus food source for the fish, add about one dozen "feeder goldfish" (not koi...they will also decimate your plants) that are about 15 cents each at pet supply stores. Once a week ONLY, toss in 3 dry dog food nuggets to act as a supplement to their main diet of algae and mosquito larvae. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they grow, and at how soon your pond’s ecology has stabilized, all without expensive pumps or filters and chemicals. Cost of your all-natural pond should be between $20 and $30 total, depending on the cost of the kiddie pool. If you mulch around the pond then cover the blue pond lip with flat stones, the "look" can be quite natural.
Garden hose has a leak? Don’t buy a new one when a $2 hose splicer kit will do the trick. Cut the hose with an old steak knife and discard the leaky portion, slip the repair collars over each end, then plunge each cut end in a saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute. This makes the hose cut ends expand and become pliable enough to insert the splicer tube. Pull the collars together and tighten the screws. Voila’ ! Fixed hose!
Bulk vegetable and flower seeds divied up between gardening friends can save a lot of money. Applewood Seeds in Golden, Colorado will sell and ship to personal gardeners......two years ago I got a POUND of nasturtium seeds for $14! A POUND of white sweet alyssum, about 1.2 MILLION seeds as I recall, was $16! Their number is: 303-431-7333...tell them I sent you. Locally, Shell’s Feed in north Tampa (813- 932-9775) sells VERY generous packs of veggies seeds, often with thousands of seeds per packet, for about $1.25! Aimed at farmers, these bulk seeds packets can be a great reward for pooling seeds purchases with friends. Shell’s also sells farmer size bags of BT (Dipel aka Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillar control that will treat a few ACRES and remain viable for years if stored in the fridge. A four pound bag is just $5.49!

Being cheap, ahem, I mean "frugal", can do wonders for your budget while being a fun yet practical way to tap into your native creativity. Take the ball and run with it...hey, there’s a penny on the ground!

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