As January turned to February, my seed collection suddenly started jumping out of their storage site and just started screaming at my like my toddler “time to plant, time to plant, time to plant”. I have my seeds organized by month to plant which is evidently a mistake because all I want to do as soon as the calendar says it’s the first of the month, I want to get them rolling.
Now, obviously, February is too early to be planting outdoors, even in zone 8a, but there’s plenty of seeds that I was able to start indoors, and some that I maybe should have waited to start, but where’s the fun in that?
Below is a diagram of what I have cooking up in my window, getting ready to be planted outdoors
A – Holly Hock B – Homegrown banana pepper C – Homegrown jalapeno D – Guajillo pepper E – Bell pepper F – Jalapeno G – Red hot cherry peppers
H – Habanero peppers I – Mixed hot peppers J – Cherry bomb peppers K – Tomatillo L – Peanuts M – Rosemary N – Red cabbage
O – Green cabbage P – Beefsteak tomato Q – Black eyed Susans (vine) R – Romaine lettuce Sm – San marzano tomato T – Sweet aroma tomato
I soaked all my seeds before planting (excluding the peanuts) and I am itching to get them outside, mostly because Cecilia (daughter-person) keeps trying to play in the dirt that’s inside and very clearly out for her to play in.
I tend to these babies daily (in order to do so, I have to move a couch, set a curtain aside, and turn a bookshelf, but whatever I need to do to protect them from my kid) and am counting down in my calendar for when I can start hardening them off.
Slowly exposing seedlings that were raised in controlled conditions (such as indoors without wind and with constant temps) through visits outdoors before planting them in the garden.
I’m also learning so much from my propagation class. Too much. It makes my plans get crazier and crazier. But at least for now, the outdoor gardens are pretty quiet. I have kale and radishes planted in my raised bed, cilantro in my new 3 sisters plot (later in the year, when everything is warmer and after my troves of cilantro is harvested for cilantro relish, the plot will belong to beans, corn, and squash), I just got my first ever batch of potatoes in the ground, of course I have my garlic planted and growing from November, with some spinach planted among it, and my perennial everbearing strawberries are just starting to perk up again. The garden is starting to see a lot of action and I’m dreaming of when my plots will be teeming with new life.
YAY! You’re getting a bonus post this week because I am participating in a 7 day challenge! You’ll be able to read more on that soon, but for now, enjoy this.
I don’t know about you, but when I can avoid spending money, I AVOID it. But that doesn’t mean that my poor garden has to suffer as a result. Here are some of my favourite frugal garden hacks to keep your garden on budget but looking great.
Seeds and Plants
Seeds are fairly cheap… until you’ve got 20 packs in your basket and you have no idea where everything will be planted, but you want them anyway. There are a lot of ways to save yourself some money when it comes to your little green babies.
23. Seed saving – when I first started looking at seed saving, it was a little daunting and honestly, I didn’t think I could do it. It’s actually a super easy thing to do, depending on the plant which you want to go to seed. From my first year of gardening I managed to collect seeds from my squash, some peppers, cilantro, and oh my goodness, radishes! I’ve given away a lot of my seeds (because there’s no way that I could possibly use all of the seeds I managed to save) and that brings me to my next frugal point…
22. Seed swap groups – there used to be events when we could actually see each other in person and trade our seeds. I never went to one, but I dreamt of it. This past Christmas, one of my local gardening groups did a seed swap where I sent seeds to 6 other people and in return, those 6 sent me seeds. I ended up with such a crazy array of seeds I probably wouldn’t have purchased but I can’t wait to plant (except the ones I’ve already planted; those ones I can’t wait to eat). All those seeds cost me was about $6 in postage, a few of the seeds I won’t be able to use, and the price of an envelope.
21. Ask for them – is there a plant that you love that someone you know has? Ask them for a cutting or division, or seeds. They may not always say yes, but a lot of the time, a plant needs to be pruned anyway, or they need to make the plant a little smaller and would be happy to give you a division when they do that!
20. Seed libraries – much like seed swaps, these give you the opportunity to get seeds for free in exchange for contributing seeds to the library in the fall. Find a BC seed library here! Unfortunately, COVID has slowed a number of these libaries, but here’s hoping they start functioning again soon!
19. Purchase seeds at the end of the season – Most places can’t sell all their seeds before the end of the year, but seed packs do have a “sell before” date (this is not an expiry date!) which means they go on sale! I’ve gotten oodles of seeds for literally pennies because stores are just trying to get rid of their stock.
Tools can be a big expense when you’re building a garden or adding features. For the most part, the only tools you really need to have a garden is a shovel, maybe a rake, a pair of clippers, and your own two hands. While it’s nice to have more tools on hand (I love my eletric drill and my table saw!) it’s not always a need. Instead here are a few tool hacks for you to save money on things to get the job done. Note, for these selections, I include any tool, including things like soil and fertilizer.
18. Ask for what you need – there’s an increase of interest in a sharing economy lately and if you need something, oftentimes you need just ask and you can access the things you need. You can pose your need on your public social media page, or hit up some of Facebook’s groups, like your local buy nothing group, or a local gardening group. Your social network can lead to a number of the things you might need.
17. Tool library – another library! A tool library is much like a regular library, except there’s often a membership fee involved. Still, paying a membership fee is often far less than purchasing and upkeeping all the tools you may need one off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need an auger; except for that one post that I want to put into my yard. Tool library.
16. Egg shells – Egg shells are a mighty tool, even if they are fragile. I use them for decomposable seed starting pots, for protection against slugs and snails in my raised bed, and just a regular amendment I add crushed to my garden bed. Eggs are full of calcium and other good things. Just make sure to wash the shells and bake them before using to ensure they’re not an attractant for pests. See more about how to use egg shells in your garden here.
15. Milk jugs – turning everyday waste into useful items! That’s what I’m talking about, boi! 1 gallon milk jugs are a great tool for winter seed sowing. Learn how to use milk jugs in your garden here.
14. News papers – I don’t get the news paper, but my in-laws do and I recently asked them to save a few for me. What I got was a tower of news papers that I was not prepared for. But they’re awesome for so many reasons. I’ve made little compostable pots out of them, I’ve used them for cleaning, and I’ve used them in my compost as brown matter. Learn more about using newspapers for your garden at this link.
13. Clear plastic food containers – You know, the ones that your rotisserie chicken comes in or your delicious baked goods? Use those for starting seeds! The clear top helps to keep the atmosphere inside humid for seeds getting going.
12. Sour cream containers – or yogurt containers. Or any opaque container. I cut them down into little stakes and write on them with black sharpie so I can keep track of what’s planted where.
11. Egg cartons – another favourite for a decomposable seed starter; in fact, I used one last year for starting my corn! and I have another couple dozen cells in use now for starting my peppers. Just be sure that if you’re not removing the seedling from the cell before planting in the ground that you tear the bottom off a little so that the roots don’t have to work as hard to get through.
Form and function
This is where we can have the most fun (in my opinion) and get really creative with what we use to make our gardens fruitful (pun 100% intended). Almost anything can become a planter if you try enough!
10. Bed frames for trellises – I just picked up an old twin bed’s head and foot boards and they make for the perfect climbing structure for your vining plants. Put the call out in your Buy Nothing group or scroll endlessly in Facebook marketplace to find some.
9. Used bricks for garden boarders – I have a marketplace alert for anytime someone local to me posts about bricks. Not only can you avoid bricks going to waste, you can build a border or any kind of structure using them, and you can often get them for free!
8. Side of the road treasures as planters – I picked up these scrapped drums from a neighbor up the street who was just throwing away the drums. They are now my cut flower planters. Your vehicle is a shopping cart; keep your eyes open as you drive around your city of other sweet finds like this.
7. Collected shells for features – I like to do walks on the beach and lately I’ve been collecting all the shells I can get my hands on. These can be used in cement for decoration, or you can crush them and use them for “gravel” or you can leave them hole and use them instead of rocks for a feature piece.
6. Offcuts from other projects for planters – we recently rebuilt our deck, which resulted in a number of offcuts. Instead of taking them to the dump, I used them to make new planters. I also used offcuts of some plywood for a new potato box.
5. Cracking coffee cups for little planters – I started collecting animal shaped coffee mugs a few years ago and they are absolutely my go to for every cup of tea I made (and with COVID, I’m stuck at home and often making 3 cups a day). But with as much use as I give them, they don’t always have a long life. Some of my favourite mugs are now cracked and no good fold holding in tea. But they do hold in soil. And plants. So while this isn’t a garden hack; it is definitely a plant hack!
4. Cement – am I the only one getting cement DIYs videos pushed to them on Facebook? Because I keep seeing cement DIYs and I am longing for my next cement project. While they aren’t always easy to do, they are fairly cheap and perfect when you’re trying to make a very specific planter. I am using cement and rocks for my herb spiral!
3. Use the library – thistime I’m talking about the old fashioned book library. There’s a whole little section for gardening. While I am not normally one for reading non-fiction, there’s so much you can learn to make your garden better through books you find at your library. All it costs you is a library card.
2. Ask for help – it is important to hire a professional when you need a professional’s work done, but it is totally possible to reach out to your local But Nothing group and ask for anyone who might be able to teach you how to do the task you need to get done.
1. Trade work for food. This is my number one, top tip. If you need help getting stuff done in your garden, ask for help. Ask your friends, or family, or just put it out there in your local Buy Nothing group. If they’re friends and family, offer them lunch or dinner in exchange for helping, or maybe some of your garden bounty. Offer some bounty to your Buy Nothing group too. It never hurts to share food!
I got started on my 2020 garden plans a bit before the pandemic hit; I had no idea that it would be the thing that would help me cope with, well, a frickin pandemic. When we purchased our house in September 2018, we got pregnant right away and while I wanted to grow a few small things like rhubarb and maybe strawberries, I didn’t have a lot of energy available to put into a 2019 garden. I bought some strawberry roots, a rhubarb crown, then some romaine and why not buy that jalapeno plant too? 2019, the year where I was emotionally and physically unable to do so much, was the year I decided I needed to grow more.
My husband’s parents had a few raised beds at this point and I thought that maybe putting a raised bed in our yard would be a good idea as I had a corner that was poorly landscaped and I was looking to get rid of it. So we started plans for our 8’x10′ raised bed and I started looking into more gardening techniques, primarily through Facebook groups. We had planned for my in-laws to help us with building this raised plot over a weekend as we had to put a bit of structure to it and there was no way that we could get everything built over 2 days that Jim (husband man) had off AND ensure Cecilia (daughter person) was well cared for. This happened 1 week before our province went into lock-down.
If you know me already you know that I’m a planner. It’s not just my job, it’s my life. I plan out most things I will be doing, and I plan it meticulously. In part that’s why I started Basil Bee, to share this with people, my techniques, my process, my craziness.
Anyway, I’m not going to delve too much into the building of the plot, mostly because it was nearly a year ago but also it’s a bit dry to reflect on. What I will dive into is my plans for the completed plot and how they evolved and why. My plan started off as this drawing.
Well, mostly. First I made a list of what I might want to grow (the things to make my famous salsa mostly) and looked into different kinds of gardens and settled on a square foot garden, as that’s what made the most sense to me. The biggest mistake I made in my first year of actual gardening is not considering what I wanted to grow in the future. I’ll dive into crop rotation in a future post, but my garden didn’t allow for much flexibility if I wanted to ensure I kept a healthy crop rotation, which I now realize is pretty important.
When I sketched up my 8×10 plot, carefully outlining every square foot, I added in only two paths which I now know wasn’t wise. The layout I ended up with was so far different than this, I’ve sketched it up in excel for your enjoyment. Because this was my first real year gardening I learned so much about what I can and shouldn’t do in my garden, figured out what works well and what doesn’t, and most importantly, I realized no matter how much space I have set aside for my new-found green thumb, I will never have enough space.
So just by looking at the two layouts, it’s pretty obvious what my first mistake was; the paths. When you’re installing a new garden or even just planning out a garden bed, it’s important to know that if you need to get in there with the goods, you must be able to get in there without trampling over your other goods. For 2021, my garden plan is evolving significantly and in part that’s due to the paths. I want to be able to reach all my yums simply.
Another mistake I made was my intended use for the “trellis” backing I had against the 10′ side (to the left, which is also north on these drawings). My thought process for it originally was to train the blackberries I have growing wildly behind the plot in and among the trellis so that I can harvest the blackberries as I harvest my other goodies. Nope, does not work well, do not try it. I ended up with black berries trying to creep up into my garden. It was probably early June when I went out behind my garden and pulled up and cut and dug up all the blackberries I could muster.
My pea placement was also problematic. See, along the east side (or top) of the garden I have two 8′ uprights with a beam across them, which I strung a net I made for my peas to climb up. This itself was a great idea, but the fact that I placed the peas, a climbing, tall plant on the south side of my plot affected how much sun some of the adjacent squares got, and ultimately made it so my dill and sweet pepper crops weren’t anything, like at all. So this next year, the peas will grow on the north side of the plot
Finally, my worst failure of all was timing. I should have started a lot of my seeds earlier. While my Habaneros look like they were doing great, the first flowers only bloomed just a few weeks before the first frost. I got nothing from those like 8 habaneros I had planted. My tomatoes I had a similar problem. But lesson learned, for sure.
Things done well!
Cucumber support! From scraps of wood I had laying around, I made a little “support” for my cucumbers to grow up through so that they could be lifted off the ground. It was about a foot high, and man, was it useful. When harvesting my cukes (which admittedly, I planted far too many of!) I was able to get in under the foliage and pick off the dangling babies. Next year I will be using this again, in conjunction with some sort of tall climbing apparatus. A happy accident was I placed my cukes adjacent to my trellis, originally intended for those blackberries, so they had something else to climb, and because I cleared out so many brambles I managed to get in behind the plot and harvest on either side.
I also was a rock star with pruning my jalapenos (which helped me get significantly bushier plants!) and propagating my cuttings. So I used the jalapeno cuttings, some basil cuttings (oh man, did I over-do the basil!), and tomato cuttings. I did not have enough containers or space to properly contain all my propagations!
While there is so much more I learned from my 2020 garden, I think a reflection may not be the right place to share everything, so look out for “lessons learned” in future posts about my 2021 garden!