No matter what the temperature is outside, spring IS here, and the time is ripe (pun intended) to unleash your inner gardener and see what you’re capable of. Not only could you save big money and enjoy exotic foods that you otherwise might not be able to regularly afford (asparagus, anyone?), but you might surprise yourself by summer’s end with how much you were able to create! I’ve connected with people who in only the last few years decided to give it a try, and whether they flexed their new gardening muscles with flowers, fruits, vegetables, berry patches or herbs, they found it to be a fabulously frugal opportunity to add to their list of hobbies.
Now, some of you out there are gardening gurus, complete with monogrammed matching pruning shears / trowel set. You know who you are. Some of you are at the other end of the gardening spectrum (like me), delighted just to see anything green in the yard. Is it grass, is it weeds? It’s irrelevant, is what it is… it’s green, ergo, I’m a happy camper. Most of the wanna-be gardening population is somewhere in between. These five tips are for you!
If you’re brand new to gardening, keep it super simple year one with some fabulous herbs. Not only will they grow like crazy with minimal care, they also make fantastic additions to your cooking and baking. Have you seen what these fresh herbs cost in the supermarkets? We’re talking Charlie Sheen-crazy prices here, who needs that? When planning your herb garden, stick with the basics: parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, dill and thyme. Note: Humming Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”( for good gardening karma) are highly recommended. Some people love adding mint to their gardens as well; by the time the Kentucky Derby comes round in May, the bragging factor inherent in using mint from your own garden for juleps is off the charts. I’m hearing great stories of how people gave lovely bunches of fresh herbs (retail about $50 in local supermarkets) as holiday gifts last year to their foodie friends, to rave reviews. A Herbal Heads up: The advice I’m getting is overwhelmingly in favor of acquiring ready-started seedlings at your local nursery, rather than tackling growing it from seeds yourself. Honestly, I’ve done herbs from seeds and it worked rather well, and if I can do it, anybody can. Your call.
Frugal Fertilizer – If you’re gardening outdoors, you’re going to want to use fertilizer to get top results from your plants. I’ve spoken to amazing, avid gardeners who swear by a combination of eggshell and coffee grounds. Others lean towards bonemeal and six-month-old homemade compost. By the time they’ve spent two minutes patiently explaining how they apply it in measured spoonfuls at one week intervals, it’s all running together in my head. “Wait, eggmeal and what? Whose bones?! What are you saying?” If you’d care to keep it super-simple, hit your local home store and get a reputable name fertilizer to add to your plants. A good one I hear mentioned time and again is Miracle Gro Organic Choice.
Don’t forget the neighbors. If your next door neighbor stopped by last year with countless zucchini the size of baseball bats, chances are excellent you’ll be able to batter up again come July. Take them off your gardening list. Instead, connect with your neighbor, see what they’re growing this year, pick their brains a bit as to what’s worked well (and not so well) for them in years past, and save yourself some trouble. If their educated attempts at squash met with disaster year after year, chances are excellent yours will meet the same fate. A bit of gardening shop talk will have you both enjoying amazing produce throughout the summer.
Plan for winter. I know, nobody wants to hear the “W” word, not as we’re finally putting away the snow boots. But let us not forget the teeth-gritting irritation thanks to produce prices this past winter. Some grocery stores reported increases of up to 75% on some of their basic produce compared to the year before! All indicators point to a similar rise next winter as well. For this summer’s garden, be sure to plant a row or two of vegetables that will freeze beautifully. If you have any experience in canning (or know somebody who cans as a hobby), plant a few rows of vegetables that will freeze and/or can easily, saving you big cash through the winter months. Best bets (as per my gardening friends): corn, carrots, peas, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini and peppers.
Don’t forget the flowers. I know, I know, it’s not a huge factor in any frugalista’s budget nowadays, so it’s not like you’re saving big bucks by planting a few of these. After all, who buys flowers for themselves on a regular basis? You can’t toss them into a salad, you can’t can them for a winter stew. Do yourself a favor anyway, and plant some gorgeous hardy flowers to enjoy while you’re outdoors. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself bringing them to friends, cutting a bouquet for a family event, and just enjoying them at the dinner table. Because let’s face it, sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses. Frugal On!