• Morag McIntosh

Getting dirty

Growing your own food is like printing your own money ~ Ron Finley

Lately I have been getting the urge to plant stuff. It might be the few warm, windy days around here, or memories of my mom who was a master gardener, but my usually brown thumb is urging me to pull out peat pots and seeds and make some magic happen. I seem to get this urge every year around this time.

It got me to thinking about what to plant, based on what I know my family will eat and what I might have a hope of actually growing. It also got me thinking about what I could practically plant to lower my grocery bill this year. It seems that every trip to the store is more expensive than the last, so any money I can save on food would be welcome.

Planting enough food to last my family all summer and fall isn’t feasible. It’s a lot of work and it can be a large upfront cost if you aren’t careful. So I put together this blog post to help you with some idea’s to defray the costs of starting a garden.

Getting started…

The very first thing you need to do is come up with a plan. You need to know what is likely to grow based on where you are geographically. You need to know how much space you can devote to gardening. You need an idea of what you want to plant in terms of vegetables, fruits, and flowers and when you need to plant by in order to make sure you can harvest something before the snow flies.

Once you have all of that information it’s time to source seeds, dirt, pots and tools.

Seed sources…

There are lots of ways to get seeds for little to no money. Start with your local library. Many libraries have seed catalogs that you can use to get started. The idea is that you can take seeds out on a loan, grow them out and then harvest seeds to return to the library for the next person.

Another way to get seeds at a low cost (as well as meeting other gardeners) is to find your local Seedy Saturday meet up. You can take seeds that you don’t need and exchange them for seeds you may not have. It’s a great way to find new and often heirloom plant varieties while meeting avid local gardeners.

Also check out local gardening or trading groups on Facebook. You can exchange seeds with others, swap seedlings, find homes for plants that have been split, as well as find local guru’s that can help ask questions. The same goes for more targeted groups such as local horticultural societies and special interest groups like rose gardeners. They are a great way to share knowledge and sometimes find new plants.

If all else fails, create your own seed swap. Invite your friends, family and neighbours to participate and split the costs that way. Often times with a small space to garden in you can’t use and entire package of peas, or tomato seeds. It’s a great way to make sure they can be used while still viable and get a variety of seeds without spending a fortune.

Dirt, Pots, Fertilizers and tools….

My mom was a master at sourcing inexpensive gardening stuff. She loved to grow tomatoes and in the last few years of her life she had acquired over a hundred different varieties, ALL of which she wanted grow. She would start planting seeds around this time of the year and there would literally be hundreds and hundreds of seedlings on tables, window sills and in her cold frames. So being able to source inexpensive pots, dirt and fertilizer was a big money saver for her. Here are some of her tricks.

My mom was a huge fan of reusing and recycling plant pots. Most of her plants went through at least three pot sizes before she sold them or planted them in her garden, so that meant a huge amount of pots in various sizes. One of her favourite places to find new pots was at green houses. They often have pot recycling stations where people can bring back pots from their purchases. She would often hit up greenhouses on a weekend morning to rummage through the discard pots to add to her stock. She would carefully save them every year for the next round of seedlings ensuring that they didn’t hit landfills after only one season. For larger containers she would check in local thrift shops periodically during the year.

She was also creative in making her own pots. She had a paper pot making tool (much like this one) that my dad made for her. She would save up news print as well as clean, used paper towels to make her own starter pots. She even tried using spent tea bags as seed starting pots. At one point she was interested in making her own manure pots, but my dad put his foot down on that.

My mom was great at making connections with the people in her community for bartering. She bartered with a local farms to get fertilizer in the spring and fall and would drop off baskets of fresh tomatoes during the summer. I get that not everyone lives close enough to a farm to grab a truck full of manure, nor do most people need or want that much fertilizer for their gardens, but most municipalities do sell inexpensive compost from green bin programs in the spring. There are also various community groups that offer low cost compost as fundraisers. Another source of free of inexpensive compost is to talk to a local mushroom farmer. They often sell or give away spent mushroom compost (or substrate). Or you can try starting your own compost heap if you have the room.

It can be harder to find inexpensive tools for gardening, but if you keep a look out for garage sales and estate sales you can often find the basics for not much money. You can also keep an eye on local swap or bartering groups. For small gardens or container gardens you really don’t need too many tools to begin with. A small spade to dig with, a small hand rake, a watering can and a good pair of gloves are really all you need to get started.

I hope some of these idea’s helped motivate you to get planning. If you have any to add please let me know and I will share them.

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