Gardening for Cheap

by Patricia Fish

What other hobby known to humankind offers so much return for labor and dollar than gardening? Like any other hobby, it can be taken to extremes. Like no other hobby, gardening is actually MORE productive when the cheapest and free materials are used in the pursuit.

Of course, the gardener has the advantage to pursue a leisure activity where most of the rules and supplies have already pretty much been defined by Mother Nature and she didn't have a whole lot of capital to work with.

Seeds and plants? No need for fancy nurseries. Seeds can easily be pulled off any existing plant and saved o'er the winter for the next summer's gardens. Plants lend themselves quite well to propagation and there is a plethora of books to explain. Established gardeners will all but jump over the fence at any request for a cutting to so offer. Indeed, many perennial plants demand that they be pulled from the ground, split at the roots and re- planted as separate, now multiple, plantings.

Planting medium? Well since most of us already pay some sort of rent or mortgage there is no additional charge to actually plant something in the earth of the surround. But the plants do perform better in a plot of land that most suits their needs. Fortunately for the gardener's pocketbook, such soil amendments are absolutely free and use only that which we throw out anyway.

There's leaves. Yes those things that fall from the trees requiring rakes and huge plastic lawn bags and all manner of manmade tools to shred, blow and gather. Then you could find a small plot of land over in that corner and build a compost pile.

Compost piles can be made using all manner of objects, or even nothing but a piece of land partly surrounded by some sort of containment fence. The fancy garden catalogs would have the gardener buying fancy tumblers with knurled handles and fancy rakes. An old trash can will do just as well.

Gather up the leaves to the compost spot or container. Be sure to have a spot that gets sun and rain...again all free. Now go get those potato peels. And egg shells. And coffee grounds. And leftover pie from the holidays. Even used napkins and paper plates. Let the miracle begin.

Add this garbage to the leaf pile, use a stick, pole or rake and mix it up well. Leave it alone. Within a week, the garbage is gone. Many of the leaves will have turned black and began to rot. Now go get some more garbage. Repeat the process. After a season, the leaves and garbage will have formed a sweet-smelling dirt-like mixture that, when spooned on the gardens will cause all plantings to spurt like fools in their happiness. No need for any purchased chemicals or manufactured soil amendments.

What other hobby offers beauty from garbage and leaves? Whatever you do, don't throw out that old kettle drum charcoal grill! Nor that rusty wheelbarrow or those old tea kettles. Hang on to any and all trash that can hold some dirt.

The ugliest we have to offer will be instantly beautified by the addition of some jeweled impatiens and colorful coleus. Consider some vinca vine to drape down the sides for effect.

"But what about bugs? Won't I need pesticide?" Perish the thought and once again Mom Nature has taken care of this. She's been doing this way longer than any of us. Find a local agriculture co-op and purchase a fifty pound bag of birdseed. Costs about ten bucks and will last the whole year within contained feeders. Don't need to spend any money on birdfeeders, either. The birds won't complain a whit if an old 2-litre soda bottle is drilled for perches and seed ports and hung upside down on a handy tree. For the cost of the seeds, the birds will take care of all the bugs. Grasshoppers are especially tasty treats for the birds. They love grubs, spiders and crickets as well.

As an added bonus and for no additional charge, a robin might hop along with you while doing garden chores, assisting with worm disposal, though this is normally not a big problem for a gardener. To further encourage the birds to hang around, put up some birdhouses. They may not thank you personally but they'll take you up on your offer and move their family right in. And don't go spending any large amounts of money on bird houses either! Most any rain tight container with a perch and hole for access will do. Again, there are many books on the subject, also for free if you frequent your local library.

So there you have it. Free plants, seeds, fertilizer, plant containers and pest control. Plenty of free information to make it all come together. Name me one other hobby that offers all this?

Then a handsome landscape adds to the value of your home so now we must consider that we have now made money from our essentially free activity.

The labor? Ah, that must be provided by the humans. Still, it's cheaper than membership in a health club.

Pat Fish wore flowers in her hair in the tumultuous sixties, but chooses to grow them in her garden in her more sober middle years. Her writing genre includes humor, mystery, gardens, birds and animals. She has written four novels, all currently being marketed. After a 20 year career in accounting, Pat resigned from her job in March of 1996 and has been writing since.

"A Pocketful of Musings" at the Moondance Webzine

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