Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pinching Pennies

Are you one of millions of Americans getting squeezed by rising bills and a shrinking paycheck? Losing your job a daily fear? Trying to meet the mortgage payments and BARELY doing that each month? By thinking outside of the box that the box comes in, we can cultivate frugality plus our favorite plants, beautify our yards, feed our families while freeing up cash to pay down debt with. I’ve been a tightwad for decades, using recycling and creative cheapness to make pennies scream.
Can’t get your gas lawn mower to start? Before charging a new one on pleading plastic and sweating the payback, buy a $2 "one pull" spark plug for your model at a hardware store, fill the tank once with high test gas and you may well breathe new life into that "broken" mower. Or help your budget and the environment by buying a used electric mower on Craigs List.

A $3 dollar jar of "rooting hormone powder" from a garden shop will let you root right in the garden where you want them FREE flowering perennials and shrubs during the summer rainy season easily, even if you have never done it before. Just snip 6" long sections of stem from Pentas, Hibiscus, Mock Orange, Roses, Salvias, Coleus, Plumerias, Geraniums and more from favorites in your or a friend’s garden. Strip off the lower leaves, dip the cut tip lightly in the rooting powder, and place it in a 4 inch deep hole in the mulched garden where you want it to grow and water it in. Just 2 inches of the cutting will protrude, but soon roots will form down deep and presto, a new free plant. A great way to make a whole hedge of forsythia, hibiscus or roses for pennies!

Going broke feeding wild birds? Buy cheap 50 pound sacks of black oil sunflower seed at feed stores or Big Lots.. Or choose an open mulched area in a landscape bed (to prevent sneak attacks by cats) and scatter starchy kitchens scraps preferred by many birds like leftover pasta dishes, stale cereal, pet food sneered at by your picky companions, or old baked goods your grocery store baker may give you if asked. I scrounge pizza from a local pizza buffet dumpster and even get ibises in my yard (they love the cheese!). In that same spirit I feed my six chickens primarily the scraps I get from that dumpster plus the Chinese buffet dumpster nearby....people comment how robustly healthy my "girls" look compared to those fed dry boring chicken scratch. Some times I ask my feathered friends how many chickens in this world feast on snow peas, broccoli, Chinese noodles, pizza, shrimp, eggrolls, crawfish, fried rice, beef and pork shish kabobs, plus salmon and tilapia, but they are too busy scratching and clucking and eating to answer. And my friends adore the FREE thick-shelled brown eggs they make!

Your molded plastic lawn chairs faded? Wipe them well with an old towel and ammonia and water, set each one on a flattened cardboard box, and spray paint them the matching color, be it gloss white or Hunter’s green. A $2 can of spray paint will freshen up one chair with paint left over to start the next.

Is your tired looking landscape begging for fresh mulch? Skip the perky pricey red bagged stuff that does little to help the soil and call a tree trimming service and ask for a free load of chipped tree branches to be dumped in your driveway. Spread 6 inches thick it will spruce up your beds pronto, and as it decays will feed your soil and keep it moist. Oak and cedar are the prettiest free mulches by far, and both exude a lovely woodlands aroma.

Soil famished and sandy? Call local horse stables in your yellow pages and most are desperate to get rid of VAST amounts of horse poop...some even deliver! Poop-to-go is hard to beat. Just spread it two inches thick over your lawn and gardens then water deeply. The "barn yard" aroma will fade in a few days and your landscape will savor the sudden infusion of free nutrients. Hunter Oaks Stables in south Tampa will deliver over quite a broad range...and no charge!

Don’t have $2,000 laying around for a sprinkler system? Buy a $12 hose end "oscillating sprinkler", the kind with a long tube with a row of holes in it that fans back and forth. Set on "Full" it will water a very large area and over a 3-4 hour period will give each spot the deep watering needed weekly during the spring drought. To be sure you are not wasting water, set 6 soup cans of the same size in the spray pattern area, run the sprinkler for one hour, pour five of the cans’ water into the sixth, measure the depth with a ruler, and divide figure that by six. The resulting number is the hourly watering rate of that particular sprinkler model. By duplicating natural rain fall, an oscillating sprinkler will rinse off spider mites and dust from leaves.

Fresh pesto is delish on pasta dishes, but both it and fresh basil to make your own are pricey. So each spring and summer plant easy-to-grow basil seeds 1/4 inch deep in empty spots in flower gardens, or in patio planters, or as a border around a veggie garden for an endless supply of really fresh pesto you can freeze in used yogurt tubs. I’m too cheap to buy the pine nuts so I use walnuts from Big Lots instead, plus basil leaves, parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil (17 oz. bottle of extra virgin just $3.50 at Big Lots) in my blender and buzz away and freeze in small tubs for future use. And be sure to try using fresh arugula to make pesto.....sounds weird but is delicious.

Pesticides for bugs and fungi are expensive and toxic so just copy our great grandmothers and buy an 80 cent bar of Kirk’s Castile soap, drop it into a wide mouth one gallon jar and fill with HOT water and let it dissolve one week. That one gallon of concentrate will store for ages. Mix one cup of it in 1 gallon of water and pour that solution into your spray bottle or garden spray tank to cheaply and safely control aphids and mites and white fly, plus black spot and powdery mildew fungi on foliage. Got scale or mealy bugs? Pour 2 cups of soybean or canola oil into that 1 gallon of solution, shake very well, then spray them...the soap will penetrate their protective coverings and the vegetable oil will suffocate the little buggers.

A florist’s bouquet adds class to supper but dies quickly and can cost as much as the meal. Treat yourself to some needed "down time" and wander through your landscape with a water-filled vase and scissors and make an informal "country style" bouquet using whatever happens to be in bloom in your yard. Your creative eyes will surprise you with the beauty you bless the dinner table with. Even the humble flowers on ligustrum and photinia hedges can make for a charming centerpiece.

Life rarely let’s us have our cake and eat it too, but our produce markets can dazzle us with a wealth of chances to do just that. Buy a sweet exotic Crenshaw or Canary Island melon, savor the flavor, save the seeds and rinse them in a colander. Dried on newspaper for a week then stored in a small envelope in your fridge (not freezer) all winter long, those seeds from those high-priced hybrids will produce very similar fruits next if planted in spring in rich sunny soil. The same goes for those exotic looking baking squash, like the Turk’s Cap and Kabocha and Butternut, each one an Alladin’s lamp granting you the wishes of fine eating, free seeds, and the joy of growing their beautiful rampant vines. Save the seeds from Passion Fruits and papayas and save a fortune as young plants of both will bust many purple passion fruit vine bears hundreds of fruits annually that are $3 each in the produce section. Just be sure to label each envelope and keep them cool....I use my meat drawer in my fridge.(I’d plant the papaya and passion fruit seeds right away as they sprout best when fresh).

Got kids? Buy a few ears of dried, multi-color "Indian Corn", strip off the seeds with two hands in a twisting motion, and next spring let them plant and grow decorations for Thanksgiving. Pick the plump ears just as the silks turn brown and cook them up boiled or roasted for a colorful variation of corn-on-the-cob. Not sweet but wonderfully hearty.

Live up north where horseradish thrives? Buy a small piece of fresh root in the produce department and plant that vs. buying an expensive mail order plant.

Hey, no Florida child should grow up without his or her own sugar cane plant...keep your eyes peeled for fresh sections of the bamboo-like canes at roadside stands, plant them horizontally in a 4 inch deep trench in a full sun spot and very soon the grassy shoots will emerge. Each winter you can cut off and peel a natural sweet treat with surprisingly rich flavor plus the vitamins and minerals stripped away from refined sugar. The plant itself is gracefully beautiful.

Live up north? Bring home 6-8 "Jerusalem Artichokes" (Sunchokes), eat a couple raw (they taste like a crunchy blend of almond and coconut and have no carbohydrates, just inulin, so diabetics can munch away) and plant the rest 6 inches deep in rich soil in a sunny area.....6 months later you’ll have OODLES of those tasty sin-free tubers produced easily by lovely 6 foot tall perennial sunflowers.

Autumn produce markets will also boast the richly-flavored heirloom garlics; buy a bulb, break it up into cloves and plant them for tasty leaves and a harvest of bulbs a few months later when the tops die back. Buy a few of those "blue potatoes" and plant them....winter frosts may zap them back but the next spring, as the vines wither, you’ll dig up many many of them that make amazing purple-blue mashed potatoes. (Sold as "seed potatoes" in mail order catalogs they are several dollars a pound!). Same with raw peanuts; purchased for planting they are pricey; buy a quarter pound for eating and instead plant them for the miracle of seeing planted pods erupt into lush plants whose blooms literally burrow into the ground to become the freshest fresh peanuts you have ever eaten!

Us gardening tightwads have imaginations when it comes to squeezing money out of living piggy a whole green coconut and plant it. Save the seeds from those charming "grape tomatoes" and grow them. Key Limes are easy from seeds unlike most and grow them. Don’t throw out those sprouted potatoes.....plant them each winter and spring for home grown, thin-skinned "new potatoes" that are a pricey gourmet item. Munching on a yummy guava? Save and plant those seeds.

Don’t you just love it when the best solutions in life and gardening are easy, even free? Those of us who grow tomatoes, pole beans, plus climbing roses, grapes and tropical flowering vines have bought expensive plant twist ties that are often cumbersome to use and then later on strangle the plant’s stems as they grow. But once again, creative recycling comes to the rescue.
Your women friends may at first think you’re a bit kinky when you ask them to save for you their panty hose with runs until they see you can make 20 or more very effective plant ties from each one! Heck, they may start to keep them for themselves!

Gather the rump section into a wad in one hand, then ust use a sharp pair of scissors to cut off the waist band so that it ends up a ring; snip it once to make a long, strong, flexible band perfect for training stiff-stemmed grapes and climbing roses and cherry tomatoes. Depending on what plant you are training, you may be able to cut it in two.

Then cut off each leg, snip off each toe end and discard that, then cut each leg into 10 equal lengths. Slip those rings over one hand and use the other to stretch them several times till they curl themselves up into little tubes. Snip that handful of nylon loops and voila! You’ve got a nice bundle of long plant ties perfect for training vines to a trellis or chain link fence. Need shorter ones? Cut the bundle in half again and double the number of plant ties. Cut the rump section remaining into about 3 rings and snip those once for medium strength plant ties perfect for patio tomatoes or flowering vines like mandevilla or allamanda.
Using them is way-easy; just loop a nylon tie around a stem once, then tie it to the fence or trellis using a double knot. In no time you’ll train vines all over that formerly ugly chain link fence. I use them to train my climbing and rambling roses up 10 foot lengths of construction rebar pounded 3 feet into the ground to create lovely English-style "rose pillars" in my garden and that of my clients. Resistant to UV and rain, these nylon ties stretch as stems grow, preventing strangulation.

An entire panty hose leg can be used where great strength is needed, such as on mature grapes, climbing and rambling roses, wisterias, and bougainvillas. Unsightly at first, they are soon consumed and hidden by new growth.

Hey, life is short, and money can’t buy happiness...but a lack of it sure is stressful. So fight back with frugal fun.


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