Gardener: A tightwad's tips for equipping a garden
Until recently, I've never really considered how much of what you need to start and maintain a garden can be acquired for free or nearly free. But a few years back I challenged myself to see if I could create an organic garden from scratch on a total budget of $25 or less. The premise was that I was acting as a brand-new gardener, with absolutely no gardening-related equipment in my possession. I was pleasantly surprised to discover just how far you can stretch that almighty dollar when you put your mind to it.
Take starting seeds, for example. Rather than buying expensive commercial products, I learned to improvise using common household items, like reusing pizza boxes as seed-starting trays. So in celebration of another fast-approaching season of playing in the dirt, here is a partial list of ideas to get you started and keep you on track to your most frugal garden yet.
Repurpose or recycle: When you start thinking creatively, you'll be amazed at the amount of things you discover that can be used in place of store-bought items. For example, I just returned from two grocery stores. Both donated large clear plastic cake domes with a base. These make perfect mini-greenhouses (to fit over those pizza-box seed-starting trays), and they'll last for years. If I purchased the real thing, I'd spend about $5 each.
Social media: Facebook and, especially, Twitter have been a gold mine for me in sourcing goods for my $25 garden. I've tapped into a vast network of talented, giving people who want to help you succeed (or seed, in my case). I've had an outpouring of offers from seeds to supplies. One new Twitter friend even provided free hand-painted plant markers! I treasure them still.
Craigslist.org and Freecycle.org: These are the coolest online ways to find exactly what you need. Craigslist is like a giant virtual garage sale where you can find just about anything you need, right near where you live. Some things are free but most are for sale at good prices. Freecycle, on the other hand, is all free. It's all based on the idea of keeping things out of the landfill. You post online to give things away and look there for what you need that others are giving away. I have friends who have equipped their entire garden via Freecycle, from hoses and soil to bricks, seeds and plants.
Garage sales: Just in case you're not a fan of the online world, consider neighborhood garage sales. As much as you need a grow light or nice shovel, someone in your neighborhood is ready to make a deal.
Local government: Many city, county or other municipalities offer free compost for the taking. Some offer rain barrels and helpful seminars on gardening. These services are almost always free or well within even a cheapskate's budget.
Organize your own swap: Local events provide the ideal opportunity to swap seeds, tools, plants and supplies. Schools, churches and civic groups are great places to organize these events. Not only are you able to trade for free, you'll meet some wonderful people and recycle many of those items you're ready to part with.
Online seed swaps: There are many organizations and groups across the country that facilitate seed-swapping. The National Gardening Association (garden.org) has a free online service for this, and hyperlocavore.com is a worthy grass-roots effort that exemplifies the spirit of giving and sharing as it continues to build a network of members. Search online for "seed swaps" for more options.
Agricultural bulletins and classifieds by state: Many regions or states have an online and/or printed version of their agricultural news. It includes a classified section that lists people willing to mail you seeds, merely for the price of a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). The offerings are amazing. Search online using the term "agricultural bulletins by state."
So little space, but so many more ideas to share. What are ways you save money in the garden? Please email me at email@example.com and let me know. We can continue this conversation soon.
Joe Lamp'l, host of "Growing a Greener World" on PBS, is a master gardener and author. For more information visit www.joegardener.com. For more stories, visit shns.com.