Wednesday, April 27, 2016


When I took early retirement a decade ago I knew that I was giving up income for the freedom of time.  That being so, I determined that the garden needed to pay for its self.  Freedom of time meant that I could now put time and energy into my garden that I was too tired to do when working.  I now enjoy growing herbs and greens in a container garden near the kitchen as well as having a small nursery area between the side of the house and the fence.  The soil is very sandy around my home so container gardening works for me.

Container gardening can be very costly but I have been able to do it on the cheap for many years with very little expense beyond fertilizer, water and a few packets of seeds.   I expect some would say fertilizer could be done away with too but the reality is that plants in containers do so much better with fertilizer and I will go with it.

Another reality about container gardens is that the containers need to be big.  Small pots do not work.  They dry out way too fast and the plant gets stressed out.  I have bought a few big containers at garage sales over the years but mostly I am always on the look out for big plastic drums that are being thrown out that can be cut down .  A 55 gallon drum can be cut in half and drainage holes made.  Curbside household rubbish waiting for pickup has also given me some treasures over the years too such as old galvanized wash tubs.

In the nursery area I use lots of small 4",6" and one gallon size pots.  There are many gardeners out there that have stacks of these sized plastic pots in their shed that they never use use but were unwilling to throw away because they are useful.  I let everybody know that I am happy to take those pots off their hands whenever they are next cleaning out the shed and every few months I seem to have a box of pots showing up on my doorstep.  Thank you.  I am thrilled to be able to reuse them.  If your community has a local Free Stuff Facebook site this is a good place to find used pots.  I am also on the look out for large plastic containers that were once used for yogurt and cottage cheese etc. and there are family members and friends who save theirs for me too.  Another source of especially 6" plastic pots is the the trash bins at our local small town graveyard.  Lots of dead plants getting thrown out there!  If I am lucky the potting mix will still be in the pot and I can use that too.  Much better than it all going off to a landfill.  A great substitute for 4" pots is those red cups that are popular for parties.  I am always happy to re-purpose those after the party.


More pots

Did you notice this guy in the photo above?
Little Red Cups!

Potting mix is just too expensive for my budget.  I have a few compost heaps in the garden that I use to boost the vegetables and herbs. The main basis for my media mix in the containers and nursery is composted tree trimming chips.  I have free access to some well rotted wood chip piles and this I mix with a bit of used  potting mix from the graveyard trash can finds and maybe a bit of soil.  To label my seedlings and plants I cut up plastic gallon milk bottles for the markers.

In the actual nursery/propagation area I just started with a few old laundry soap buckets for the potting mix and just sat the potted plants on the ground.  Now I like to have old carpet under the pots on the ground to stop the weed growth and many of the pots are now up on large plastic trays perched on upturned plastic crates.  Those plastic fish trays and crates come as gifts from the ocean as they float into our beach during storms.  I am happy to find and use them but it is sad to see how much plastic trash there is out there in the Pacific Ocean from the fishing industry.  An old abandoned wood work bench has become my potting table.

As for the actual plant material: much of what I grow is from cuttings of plants in my garden and some gathered seeds.  My tools are simple and old.  My most used tool in the garden is an old kitchen knife that fits my hand comfortably.  As I said earlier, I do buy fertilizer and another bought item is a bottle of rooting hormone.

So I guess the point of all this is to say that most of what I use in propagating and growing container plants is Free Stuff!  I am always amazed at what some people will pay for all the tools, equipment and plants in their garden.  My advice to those seeking to be frugal gardeners is to not be drawn in by all those fabulous pictures in Home and Garden magazines.  (And if you are frugal you will be looking at them at the library.)  We do not need to be so consumer driven.  Make your garden heroes the old eccentric and frugal gardener down the road..... you know the one.....or the new immigrant family next door who is growing all those exotic vegetables in their back yard.

By being frugal in the garden I keep the cost down of having a garden.  That way, when I sell a few plants, or some of the extra fruit from the garden, it covers the cost of fertilizer and water plus a few extras like new garden chairs or a new grafted fruit tree.  I know some backyard propagators who hold plant sales a few times a year to cover their garden costs.  I have heard of one old guy who planted extra lemon trees in his yard and had a steady extra income from selling lemons during his retirement.  Another guy dug up his front lawn to grow rows of green onions to supply a restaurant for extra income.  It is rather fun thinking of ways to be frugal and make the garden pay for its self.  Especially if you can have fun in the garden at the same time.