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Wednesday, April 8, 2009 10:01 pm

Pinch pennies and grow carrots at the same time

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Gardening can be a low-cost activity or an expensive hobby. In these difficult economic times gardening is receiving newfound interest. So how can we enjoy gardening without breaking the bank?

My mother and grandmother were able to garden on a shoestring while providing an abundance of food. Of course I learned some of these thrifty gardening practices. There are too many to list them all, so let’s begin with a few cost-saving tips for springtime.

A packet of vegetable seed may have 10 to 200 seeds in a packet. Are you really going to grow 200 broccoli plants? Share a packet of seeds with a fellow gardener.

As perennial plants begin to emerge in our gardens, some of us begin to realize that it’s time to divide. Share your wealth of plant material by holding a neighborhood plant swap. For each container of plants a person brings, they can take a different container home. Another inexpensive way to get plants is to purchase them at a local garden club’s plant sale.

Share the rental cost of a rototiller. Several businesses prorate the rental of a rototiller and other equipment. The more hours you rent the equipment, the lower the price is per hour.

An inexpensive weed barrier is newspaper. First lay six or more layers (about one section) of black and white newspaper on the bare ground. (Do not use glossy colored paper.) Overlap the sections by about one inch. To keep the newspaper from blowing away, dampen the paper and then cover it with chopped leaves, dried grass clippings or mulch. The newspaper will keep weed seeds from germinating and help conserve soil moisture. The paper will eventually break down and add organic matter to the soil.

Use fertilizer at the proper rate and time of year. Test the soil to find out the amounts and availability of nutrients in the soil. Use the results to determine how much and what type of fertilizer to apply. In flower and vegetable gardens consider using compost, aged cow manure, or horse manure as fertilizers. If you plan to water your lawn during the summer, apply a full application of fertilizer during the middle of May. A full application of fertilizer for lawns is about one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

There are several garden uses for 60-inch, 6-inch by 6-inch concrete reinforcement wire mesh. This makes great tomato cages, trellises and fences for vegetable plants. Use a 5-foot or 6-foot section of wire to make a tomato cage. While there is the expense of purchasing concrete reinforcement wire, benefits include a durable cage that will last for many years.

Good gardens begin with good soil. Composting is a great way to generate a rich amendment for the soil. Start a compost pile any time of the year. It’s easy to turn yard waste materials into a resource that can be reapplied to a garden or yard area. Turn leaves, lawn clippings, shredded twigs, and vegetable and food waste into something that can be reapplied to the landscape.

A compost pile should be contained in some type of structure. (The City of Springfield requires that compost piles be contained.) Compost bin structures come in many shapes and sizes. A basic handmade compost bin is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet but can be as large as 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet. This type of a bin can be made out of wood pallets, lumber, hardware cloth and concrete blocks. One of the cheapest bins to make is to tie together four old wood pallets. Organic matter, such as compost, aids in creating a soil structure that allows good water retention and root penetration. When added to the soil, the nutrients present in compost are released slowly, so they are less likely to leach out of the root zone, as compared to regular fertilizer.

Gardening should be a fun activity that provides relaxation and exercise without being expensive.

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