Are you one of millions of Americans getting squeezed by rising bills and a shrinking paycheck? By thinking outside of the box that the box comes in, we can cultivate creative frugality and our most cherished plants while enjoying the simpler things in life. Hey, cheap is chique!
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. The goal is to give your landscape one inch of water weekly. And by duplicating natural rain fall, an oscillating sprinkler will rinse off spider mites and dust from leaves too.
A skimpy packet of vegetable or flower seeds can be $2, and we often garden to SAVE money. But there are two easy strategies to wipe all most of our seeds costs. One is to save the seeds from our favorite veggies and posies at the end of their growing season, storing them in envelopes in our produce or meat drawer. I will likely never again have to buy seeds of Thai basil, tree hot pepper, arugula, calabazas and kabocha squash, papalo, gandule beans, Malva sylvestris, and many more. Old time farmers grew their own seeds...we can too. Great way to avoid GMO seeds too.
The second approach is to buy veggie seeds sold to be EATEN....a seed packet of the black eye peas or lima beans that thrive in summer here has a couple of dozen seeds for easily $2. So instead buy a whole bag of them from the grocery store, plant those you need, then cook the rest! This works wonderfully with all manner of familiar dried beans like pinto and black beans, plus fava, garbanzo and mung beans, lentils, even popcorn! In that same spirit, plant the sunflowers in bird seed mixes to enjoy their towering beauty while growing FREE bird seed.
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 Craig’s List. Better yet, turn your lawn into a garden!
A $3 dollar jar of "rooting hormone powder" from a garden shop will let you root right in the garden where you want them hundreds of 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, Apple, Pear, Hibiscus, Roses, Forsythia, Lilac, 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 made in the soil with a screwdriver in the mulched garden where you want it to grow and water it in. Just 2 inches of the cutting will protrude, then invert a clay flower pot over each cutting to cut sun stress while allowing air and light to enter...having so much stem buried will help insure success as roots will form down deep. Presto, a new free plant! A great way to make a whole hedge of hibiscus or roses for pennies!
Going broke feeding wild birds? Buy cheap 50 pound sacks of black oil sunflower seed or bird seed mixes 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 of recycling wasted food 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 costly 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! Each day, lovely wild birds thankfully clean up any leftovers "the girls" miss.
Your molded plastic lawn chairs faded? Clean them well with sudsy water, wipe dry with an old towel, 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 with poor texture? Call local horse stables in your yellow pages as most are desperate to get rid of VAST amounts of horse poop...some even deliver! Free 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.
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 ($16 a pound!) so I use walnuts from Big Lots instead, plus basil leaves, parmesan cheese, sea salt, garlic and olive oil in my blender and buzz away. And be sure to try using fresh arugula to make pesto..... nummy!
Pesticides for bugs and fungi are expensive and toxic, so let’s 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 can bless the dinner table with. Even the humble flowers on spirea and ligustrum and photinia hedges can make for a charming arrangement. One branch of our native "Chickasaw Plum" (Prunus angustifolia ) in full bloom, or azalea or fragrant citrus in a simple vase makes an elegantly Zen centerpiece. Each spring I indulge in sumptuous dramatic bouquets of the amaryllis that pepper my landscape. All would cost a fortune at the florists.
Life rarely lets 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 a store bought passion fruit or papaya and save a fortune as young plants of both will bust many budgets....my purple passion fruit vine bears hundreds of fruits annually that are $3 each in the produce section, but it came from a fruit at Publix instead of my seeking out a rare $20 plant. 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). I have close to 100 papaya plants in my landscape as the green cooked fruit is a staple in my largely Asian diet...and they did not cost me one penny as the seeds came from fruits that friends bought to eat.
Got kids? Buy an ear of dried, multi-color "Indian Corn", strip off the seeds with two hands in a twisting motion, and each 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.
Hey, no Gulf Coast 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 and makes a fast growing privacy "fence".
Bring home 6-8 "Jerusalem Artichokes" (Sunchokes) from a health food store produce section, eat a couple raw (they taste like a crunchy blend of almond and coconut and have no carbohydrates, just inulin, so diabetics and dieters 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 exotic "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! Kids will love pulling up the yellowed mature plants to see the pods dangling beneath.
Us gardening tightwads have imaginations when it comes to squeezing money out of living piggy banks...buy a whole green coconut and plant it. Save the seeds from those charming "grape tomatoes" in a salad and grow them. Key Limes are easy from seeds unlike most citrus...save 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. One person’s compost scrap is another’s source of free seeds.
Hey, life is short, and money can’t buy happiness...but a lack of it sure is stressful. We don’t have to go without...just think outside of the box that the box comes in and have some frugal fun in your yard and gardens. John