Thursday, October 01, 2009

Frugal & Free Gardening Tips

Original posting:
Saturday, July 25, 2009

With the current state of our economy and the unemployment rate, we're seeing a lot of new gardeners this year. Growing your own produce is satisfying and can save you lots of money on your grocery bill.

I started gardening quite a few years ago when my son was a small child. The idea then was to have cheap organic fresh produce because money was tight. Along the way I've learned a few little tricks that I'd like to share.

One thing to note is that even if a seed packet seems a little high priced, it's potential value in harvestable food is enormous. I try to buy seeds of varieties that are known to do well in my local area. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a unique growing season and Ed Hume specializes in seeds for this area. So that $1.89 packet of seeds can produce upwards of $50 in lettuce. A great thing to remember when growing greens like lettuce is to plant in sucession so that all of your produce doesn't come ripe all at the same time. Also I try to choose seed packets with multiple varieties like this lettuce mix to get more bang for my buck.

For years I've been buying green onions for my salads and homemade salsas. I realized one day that I was throwing away a free source of food. I tend to only use the green part of the scallion and was composting the bottom bulb end. What a waste! You can actually use your green onion, leave about 1" of green growth above the bulb and plant them in clusters in your garden. Give it about a month and you can harvest the greens again and again! Then just before first frost, pull up those small bulbs and use them as you would use tiny onions in stews, soups or even can them for coctail onions! So the initial cost of your green onions at the grocery store will be somewhere around $1 and you'll have multiple harvests throughout the season. You can use this tip in the winter as well, just pot those scallions and place in a sunny south facing window indoors and harvest the greens throughout the cold season. Try this with any of the plants in the onion family like leeks too!

Another kitchen plant I've had exceptional luck with is garlic. I use fresh garlic all year long for cooking. Sometimes the inner circle of cloves are so tiny that I don't want to deal with cleaning them. Instead I save these small cloves in a basket and when the time is right (spring through fall in my area) I plant them out in the garden. Because the cloves are so small, it takes them 3 seasons to mature into usable heads, so by summers end I have loads of garlic to harvest and dry for the following year. My local grocer runs 3 for $1 specials on garlic heads throughout the year and so with that $1 investment I grow lots of fresh pungent organic garlic from the wasted cloves. You can do the same with Elephant Garlic varieties as well!

Another more exotic one to try is growing a fresh pineapple plant. Cut the leafy top off your pineapple leaving about 3/4" of pineapple attached. Allow this to dry out for several days to 1 week, then plant in a pot up to the first row of leaves. It takes some time, but the top will root. Water sparingly until roots appear. This plant, once established is even capable of growing some pineapples. Once your plant matures try this....... place a ripe apple along with the plant in a plastic tent. You can form this from plastic bag or saran wrap or even a recycled milk container. Leave the plant with tent in a sunny window. After some time you may notice a pineapple growing up from your leaves! It'll be small, but how fun!

Don't forget to save some seeds too! If your garden has heirloom varieties of veggies, you can save this years seeds for next years garden! Just be sure the seeds are thouroughly dry before you close them up in airtight containers. Also be careful not to save seeds from hybrid veggies as these will not grow true to the parent plant.

Here's the free garlic I planted in late winter and harvested today:

As you can see, with a little imagination and very little investment you can grow fresh organic produce for your family. The quality is unbeatable and the price is right too!

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