HOW TO HAVE A NO COST OR LOW COST GARDEN.
Being a single, unemployed mother with four children, large rent and a lot of cats to feed, my Number one RULE in life has been to spend ALL my free cash on rent, utilities and food and to go without EVERYTHING else. As I have so many babies, whiskered and plain, it has always been required of me to rent homes with big, safe gardens. When you're NOT an apartment dweller, kids and cats are automatically safe from other apartment dwellers. I'd pay ANYTHING for that!
Being a woman alone is troublesome. Temptations abound. You already have too much time on your hands. Looking out at this big, empty, children and pet filled yard, one is tempted to get into gardening. This can be a really bad idea. Why? Because one will instantly find that a plant in the retail world costs anywhere from a dollar to 20$ which puts it way above nylon stockings and chocolate bars in wartime. Precious and you'd better forget about it unless you know a generous Yankee Soldier. And what single mother of a LOT of children does?
Worse, over and above plant costs, the soil to plant that single plant will cost two to four dollars. PER PLANT. As I had better places to spend money than to gratuitously DUMP dollar bills onto the ground, it was necessary for me to either LEAVE THE YARD ALONE or learn to GARDEN at NO COST WHATSOEVER. I am not the type to leave anything alone so I began my career in gardening with the caveat that I micky-mouse everything I built and secure what was to be built by hook or crook.
It has taken me thirty years to perfect my stroke, eliminate methods criminal and immoral and refine all other methods in my bag of tricks until they were, in the main, good tricks and mostly quite honest......at which point I realized, why not share them? To inspire others to have some bigtime FUN! So, here they are:
RULE NUMBER ONE. GARDEN. RULE NUMBER TWO. EVERYTHING MUST BE FREE.
a. DIG YARD YOURSELF. A Mexican expects 5$ an hour which seems reasonable until you realize that 8 hours will be 40$ and he'll beg for a tip. Exercise is good for you. So go without the Mexican and SAVE 40$ a day.
NEXT, why pay 40$ a month for a gym? THE YARD is your gym. Save the 40$ and get basic cable so you can relax after a hard day digging. NEXT, HIRE NO monthly gardeners. Get a rotary lawn mower for FRONT yard. Get a shovel for the back yard. Mow by yourself. And water daily, both front and back. I see three hoses a week on the trash pile. Cull through them for the best. There are cheap kits to restore the hardware on the end or join two hoses together. Voila, right there you've saved yourself several thousand dollars a month, enough to rent a really big house and yard.
What do you do when you have one? Well, the first step as a No Cost Gardener is a brutal one but you've got to take the bull by the horns. DE-SOD the entire back lawn. Stack it upside down against a shady, southern wall, keep it wet, pitchfork it around weekly. Add manure and your neighbors' trash barrels of dead leaves to it. The pile will turn into a light, fragrant Devil's Food Cake if you wait long enough. THIS IS COMPOST. It is stuff devoutly to be desired. And there are tons of stuff you can add to it to make it better. Wood ashes, (your pals have chimneys?) hair from brushes and animals. Fish waste from fish markets, scales, bones, guts. Bird waste with the newspapers attached, (bird cage liners) but not cat waste or litter material. All kitchen garbage but not red meat or fat. Remove cat waste from sand litter, (not clumping) and pour it,urine and all in a compost pile. It makes clay soil friable. Urine is just like the fertilizer urea you buy for 10$ a bag.
b. GET ALL YOUR plants and EQUIPMENT OUT OF super markets, NATURE, back ALLEYS OR AT GARAGE SALES. My wood edging (for raised beds) came as throw away lumber, from alleys. My mower, shovels, trowels, clippers, wheelbarrow are ALL from YARD SALES. Boulders and saplings are straight from the countryside. Bricks are frequently left out on curb. You knock on door, ask if they're throwing them away. Drag them home in the trunk, Wet them, chisel off cement. In nature you find many rocks, plants, wildflowers. Walk dogs at night, you'll see cuttings and seed pods galore. Other gardeners will give you seeds and cuttings. If you're on the Internet, any garden, homesteaders, self-sufficiency or frugality list or posting board will make you friends. You'll get four dozen daily email letters which were posted to the board. You get the entire bulletin board daily. Soon you'll not only have dozens of friends, you'll have seeds and cuttings coming daily in the mail. Last, the super market has ginger, passion fruit and chayotes (With chayotes, you have to go thru a thousand to find one with a sprout coming out of its butt because they KEEP those for planting back at the chayote factory). Ditto Ginger. Ask produce manager to give you sprouted ones at half cost. But chayotes with tails and ginger with sprouts WILL do glorious thing sin your garden. Ginger is an incredibly fragrant Hawaiian flower, called frangipangi, and chayotes a vine that will cover a tree or garage and give you hundreds of green delicious squash. Passionfruit also will go up a tree or cover a garage and purple eggs tastier than peaches fall roll off and fall on the ground. Their purple fruit is at every market these days. Other grocery market freebies? The ripe, yellow tomatillos and tomatos yield seeds. Mangoes, papayas. Possible Lists are longer than my memory. I just found tamarind pods at my Super. Seeds are like agate or rubies. In 8 years I'll have pod-bearing trees for candy and soft drinks.
c.) FREE INFORMATION. If you need information on any of the above. Go to small, private nurseries to ask questions. Also,the internet has boards, chat groups, websites. Always volunteer to trade plants for info. Tell nursery men or internet pals that you have some wonderful Amazonian daturas, would they like one for their kindness? Ask them to stop by your garden and pick it up. Daturas are easy to root from clippings, so you can always have a dozen on hand. It's something I wouldn't want to plant more than ONE of in the ground. A hallucinogenic tree with a huge showy trumpet flower. Or get a chorus line of Pride of Madeiras, cuttings and seeds. Exotic stuff to share. A friend of mine has a tart, aromatic yellow guava tree. That seed is a treasure to share. Ditto the Purple Passion Fruit vine with a hundred seeds in each fruit. Plumeria trees give fingers for cuttings. I am currently mailing eugenia seeds and canna lilly seed abroad. I also let my calla lillies go to seed, a beautiful process. Cut away the wilted white flour, leaving the yellow pistil which develops huge green grape like seeds, which turn bright red. They are just as pretty as the flowers. PRETTIER. And lavendar cuttings are everywhere. EVERY kind of cutting is everywhere. Get exotic stuff and trade it for info. The best source of all is the local gardener from your newspaper. These people are encyclopaedic and will trot to a new garden at the drop of a glove.
d. FREE GARDENING MAGAZINES at mag stand. Read for an hour. Requires photographic memory. The important things DO stick. Or take notes on your cuff. That is where I learned that brick pieces no bigger than 3 x 4 were useful, that now the country look has flagstone walks with one flat surrounded by dozens of those brick pieces, embedded to be level. It's a great look.
e. FREE POTTED PLANTS. Bev Hills Nurseries have dumpsters behind their back door full of orchids, hydrangas, holly, Spring bulbs, chrysthanthemums, pots of soil with dried up plants, yards of tulle, ribbons and organza from weddings, baskets, spray paint, all this costly treasure stuffed in their trash dumpsters Sunday night. Ferns, ivies. You create a shade lath or tent or shade cloth covered area to revive them, a year later they're primo once again and in bloom. Why pay 59$ for a roll of shade cloth? Try wedding tulle!
RULE # II. is NO WASTE.
a. NO WASTED SPACE. Lawn is wasted space. If you use it sit or walk on, leave yourself a 6 foot square piece somewhere, put a chair or two on it. That's all the lawn anyone reasonably needs. If the kids want to play baseball, send 'em to local park. Cheaper on the windows. If the dog wants to run, take him to the Bark Park or run him at night when you do cuttings patrol. YOU ARE GOING TO GROW GROCERIES on what was your lawn. Serious business. Lawn is frivolous.
b. LAWN CLIPPINGS in the green trash can are an abomination.They can be rotted down into new plants or soil, so why let the city use them to make compost so they can sell your own garbage back to you? LAWN CLIPPINGS is your new religion. It is predicated on preventing HELL happening. If you've ever seen the exhausted, thin, parched soil under an old lawn, you'd know what HELL we're talking about. To prevent your neighbors sinning and driving fine SOIL to Hell pick up their green trash can's contents, compost it along with your own yard clippings. The resulting mulch will be spread thickly on your new garden. Maybe you can't save the soil under their lawn, but since they so badly want to export their tilth, take it!
C. FREE SEED VS. WASTED SEED. Didn't the bible say 'Spill it not??' Most people have jars, cans and bottles and baskets full of seeds from last year. Also, their garden gave them unmanageable amounts of seed. These all surprisingly will plant up just fine. Forget the concept of hybrid varieties that can't replicate. As only the SPECIAL zinnia was in their yard, it's likely that the children are SPECIALS, too. As for outdated seed packages....They tell you that the germination rate of 2 year old seed is slightly less than fresh but if 9 out of l0 is now 8 out of ten, it's not a deal breaker. Won't put your nose out of joint. Ask pals neighbors and internet garden club chums to do seed exchanges with you. Surf over to Liszt.com and pick some gardening lists.
d. SOIL AMENDMENTS. Why pay 4 or 5$ a bag for compost? Kitchen garbage goes in special pail in the house. Cut up big rinds, watermelon, grapefruit as you clean the kitchen.Crush eggshells. Coffee grinds or use them directly as mulch for roses and seedlings. Whole Teabags go in the bin. Cover with a newspaper page, soy inks won't hurt compost. No color inks. A few times a week, trot pail out to the compost pile, dig it in. Suddenly every worm in the neighborhood has your address. By radar they come to your compost pile where they turn muck to fluff. No more shoveling in there, don't want to hurt the little fellers. Pitchfork the compost around once a week. With small tines, there's less chance of nailing one of these roaming compost manufacturers.
The Valley where I live is an immense CLAY BOG, very good drainage, was once an ocean bottom but the soil has one peculiarity. It is sticky gummy clay. In fact, the exact consistency of a GUMMY BEAR. This soil is fertile, but it is the wrong texture. Bigtime. A turnip can not BULGE into a BULB in this soil. It can't push against STEEL.
PEAT, GYPSUM, manure, sand and compost are required to amend clay into friable loam. if you can't create your own compost pile of leaves, manure, and the upturned lawn, you will have to get these amendments at, (lengthy shudder) stores. Manure, the cheapest of soil fluffers, causes a grand crop of alfalfa to grow everywhere, in your beds, and on paths, if any falls there. EVEN THE SO CALLED COMPOSTED VARIETIES of manure have weed seeds. No problem, Let weed get as tall as it wants, as it is mostly alfalfa whose roots are longer than any other plant's, going 75 feet deep. Just as it's going to flower, PULL it, throw it on compost pile, you get the mineral content from 75 feet below. Eat vegies grown on such deep mineral compost, you can reverse schizophrenia, depression or other mineral deficiency diseases (like old age). The weed will work for you. The whole idea is, you get everybody and everything working for you for free, the trash man, the grocery vendor, the other gardener, the neighbors who throw away trash and the plants themselves. Gardening is a big, friendly COLLUSION.
When you start this garden adventure, you will need to buy amendments but 6 months after you start work, you will have the entire front and back LAWN COMPOSTED DOWN into good soil mulch and fertilizer. You will be using that to MULCH your plants, but at the start, while that lawn is rotting, you have to go OUT to buy amendments. I like acidic PEAT. l0$ a 4 cubic foot bag, (Get the biggest size PEAT they've got as it ends up being cheaper,) and Manure at 67c for a 1 cubic foot bag. You hear wonderful things about gypsum, which fluffs the soil, l00 lbs for the average yard. Four bags. WET the PEAT IN WHEELBARROW or bucket before you apply to ground. There is very little else that is acidic, and a soil conditioner and works NOW although ammonium sulfate or epsom salts is said to acidify our alkaline, western soils. For rhodies and azaleas, just use pure peat.
DRY LEAVES are the ingredient for great compost in six months time but you can't use them TODAY. You have to rot them down in a compost pile first. The longest journey starts with one step. Today, inform your neighbors that you'll be taking the contents of their green recycling barrel every trash night. In AUTUMN you'll do this BIGTIME as people leave out huge, light weight plastic bags of leaves on trash night. Ask each neighbor, did you spray with poisons, malathion or anything? (If you're fussy about chemicals.) Not fussy? Don't worry. 99% of them did not. When you get their bags of leaves home, take a layer of leaves, cover it with a few inches of the half rotten stuff in your compost pile, or with SOIL, spread some manure, say a half inch layer then another layer of your half composted lawn on top, then keep going. Layer after layer. Wet it and pitchfork this fudge layer cake around every week. I salt it with urine soaked cat litter. Not the clumping kind. Original formula.
LET IT SIT, those leaves, manure and that upside down lawn. Six months later the weeds, crabgrass roots and seeds, the lawn stems have all rotted or rooted. If a little piece of something TRIES to root, destroy it by starting a NEW compost pile with it. The rest is FREE COMPOST, all you could ever need. Hundreds of bags. At 4$ a bag, you saved four hundred dollars, didn't you? So now, buy a half dozen bare root fruit trees at Home Depot. You can't use fruit trees that sprout from seeds on a delicious peach you ate, because the seedling will not be true to its parent. Well, what kid is? I'll tell you which kid. CITRUS. all are true to the parent. Plant when damp and fresh, don't let them dry out.
9$ a swack isn't bad for bareroot fruit trees. Get one of each kind. Persimmon, Nectarine, apple, fig, orange, lemon, grapefruit, peach, plum. If your Home Depot or Home Base has it, it will probably work in the Valley. If not, go to store's bookshelf, examine the SUNSET GARDENING IN THE WEST book which they all sell. Look up that variety that's on sale in the patio. It will tell you how well it does in your area of the valley. North of Ventura Blvd., where I live --is a colder zone being in the valley bottom, than the hills South of the Blvd. They can grow orchids. I can't unless I keep them indoors in winter. Know your ZONE.
By now, your yard is a vast brown plain. Walk out the paths. Do it without thinking, just say I think I'd like to walk down a path right here. Mark it with your heel. Or Draw it with a spray can of white paint. Or some sticks. Keep beds small enough to be hand cultivated from any side. You don't want to walk on beds, that is why you raise them, so they stay eternally fluffy. That is the secret of getting happy plants. Now, you are GOING TO RAISE those beds. That's next.
How? Scout up all the lumber you can find in alleys. Lay it down on your lines. Break some of the thiner pieces into stakes, to prop up the lumber. Now, excavate the soil OUT OF the path, shoveling it INTO the lumber encircled part so the weight of the soil holds up the lumber walls on one side. Your SPIKE holds the other side. You have sunken the paths and raised the beds AND, YOU HAVE SAVED SO MUCH money on soil, compost, plants, seed, Mexican day laborers and the gymnasium that now you can afford to go to Home Depot, el cheapo of the world. BUY semi-dwarf or dwarf bareroot fruit trees at 9$ a pop and the bareroot roses at 2$ (in Winter and early Spring only as that's when they can pull these plants out of the ground without SOIL and the plant won't notice because it is asleep, and as they have no dirt or pots, just burlap, the plant is cheap for them to move around. They stack and move easy.). Dig holes all around the garden, inside the raised beds. Plant the new arrivals, always putting a good chunk of compost beneath any perennial you're not going to move .
Do something special to the paths. I like to buy the EL NINO sand bags when the rains are over, 45c a bag. (Often Merchants will give them to you ---just haul them away please). They are filled with a wonderful gravel which is great on paths and silvery in the moonlight. One can find enough bricks, flagstone, pebbles and smooth beach rocks to also do cobbled walks, or cemented paths. Save broken crockery, pot shards from all your earthquakes, and use broken glass shards set in cement, then cover sharp edges in tile grout. Or hand pour cement rounds and set the shards in the cement.
FREE PLANTS: Be aware of neighbors moving. Those dumpsters outside their homes after they leave will be full of fertilizer, soil, plants. I once found a hundred bucks worth of cactuses breathing their last there. In terra cotta pots. Revived them all with the bone meal, fish emulsion that neighbor had also left behind.
IN early spring, get all the black plastic flats you can find thrown away in alleys or beg them at nurseries or trade plants for them. Or use apple boxes with plastic. (Puncture a few holes so soil won't ferment on you.) Fill flat to the brim with light soil. (You'll quickly learn to mix compost with sand to get a good light soil.) Sprinkle seed on it, raise it up from snails on benches you build out of discarded lumber and over-turned 5 gallon pots.
Grow annuals, perennials and bi-ennials from scratch. You get better quality plants. Never buy flower or vegie plants in those stunted, pot-bound, six-packs for idiots. But we do buy a few initial roses and bare root trees. Actually, when you get a few roses into your clutches, and get good at gardening, you can copy any rose in the neighborhood from a cutting without hurting your neighbors' roses. You help them dead -head or remove their petal-dropping roses by taking these cuttings. And when you're really good, you can graft branches of hybrid fruit trees onto root stock you do from super market fruit using a razor blade and some scotch tape . TOPPING off a mutt tree with pedigree branches from your friends' gardens.
There are a million ways, a million tricks, all of them fun so, give low cost, low waste living a try. START A FREEBIE GARDEN!
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