Only one chapter today because it’s a long one. It you want to garden, DO NOT invest a lot of money in tools…just read on to find you how you can get started for next to nothing…
So, what makes organic gardening practical? Just this. You can grow a whole lot of healthy, tasty food, literally, for pennies. What’s the trick?
Unlike traditional gardening, if you go organic, there are a lot of things you will NEVER have to buy.
For instance, you don’t have to buy chemicals or herbicides. You don’t have to have fancy sprayers or a rototiller – not even one of those small ones named after the bug that prays.
In fact, if you pay a bit of attention, you already own just about everything you might need to get started.
What you don’t own, you can usually get, free. How does this work? A little planning and a bit of forethought are all it takes!
Here’s my list of what you need to be an organic gardener:
Dirt – free.
Seeds – cheap to buy and even cheaper if you save some for next year’s garden.
A big spoon or small shovel – something to dig holes with when transplanting.
Newspaper – free if you ask your neighbors and co-workers for them. You can use it for mulch and make transplant pots with it, too.
Straw – free if you find a farmer who has old or moldy straw which works just as well as the golden yellow stuff.
Trellises – made from some found items, your cukes, tomatoes and peppers will love climbing up or grow on these.
When I say found, I mean things like this old headboard from a day bed that I found on the side of the road. I use for climbing vegetables like cucumbers.
Or how about chain link fence sections and hay bale ties for growing tomatoes or training peppers or eggplant? I got these fence sections for free, too. And I have been using them for over 20 years!
By the way, the dog isn’t free and he doesn’t do too much supporting! He can, however, pick his own tomatoes and blueberries.
And the decorative fence – my attempt to slow him down just a bit, was free, too.
Epsom salts – dirt cheap in half gallon milk shaped containers.
A bucket – free if you can get a hold of a kitty litter container or a dog food bucket.
A mug – free if you liberate it from your kitchen and use it to deliver water or fertilizer right to the roots of your plants.
Twine – free if you buy straw by the bale, save the baling twine and use it to tie up plants. You can also get tons of baling twine in any horse barn. NOTE: Do NOT use green baling twine. It has been treated with strychnine to kill mice and rats.
Old, sheer curtains, old bed sheets and even old mattress covers – free if you save yours or ask relatives and friends to give their old ones to you.
They don’t look as pretty as commercial row covers but they will keep frost off your baby plants. and, they’re free.
Access to a public library – free and there are always books and magazines about organic gardening ready for you to browse through, borrow and take notes from. Oh, and libraries have computers and internet connections. Using them is free. And online is just FULL of ideas, tips and advice on organic gardening. All you have to do is put in your search terms and hit Go.
An old 3-ring binder and some paper – can be free if you ask co-workers to save used copy paper and write on the back. NOTE: I consider this a requirement for my gardening. If I don’t write down a tip or a “lesson learned”, I can easily forget what I learned and end up repeating my mistakes again and again and again.
A bit of inventiveness, a dollop of gumption and enough courage to try, fail and try again.
Here’s what would be nice to have if you move beyond dabbling in organic and decide to grow most of your produce every spring, summer and fall. Bit of advice? Before you buy any of these items, look on http://freecycle.org or http://craigslist.org to see if you can get them for free or cheap!
Peat pots – I use 2” and 4” peat pots and hate paying the price for them. But they make transplanting easier for me and less stressful for the baby plants so I pay but I try to get them online rather than in a big box store where the price is always higher.
Raised beds – I make mine with 2 X 12s (NOT pressure treated) and plastic anchor joints from Home Depot. They are so easy to do and won’t cost you $200, just a bit of sweat equity.
A kneeling pad – you can make one of these or buy one. I’ve had my small green one for more than 15 years and it really, really saves your knees!
Gloves – I consider these nice to have because you really can dig in the dirt with your hands and suffer no ill effects.
But, in fact, I don’t use gloves because I love the feel of soil in my hands.
Two hand tools – both of mine are Fiskars because of the grip, the design and the lifetime guarantee — the big grip knife and the hand trowel.
A pitch fork – used to move the straw back from the fence sections a couple of weeks before planting so the soil can warm a bit.
A watering can – very nice to have if you want to hand water fresh transplants.
Fish fertilizer – I use Neptune’s Harvest hydrolyzed fish but am currently “brewing” my own using fish heads and bones that a friend of a friend got me for free, a 55 gallon drum and water!
Beneficial insects – there are quite a few beneficials and you can buy them.
They may seem pricey, at first, but you don’t have to buy them often and you will truly be glad you did the first time you see a tomato cut worm trussed up like Gulliver and covered with small, white egg casings of the trichogamma wasp.
I bought nematodes and wasps 2 or 3 times when first establishing my garden but no longer need to buy them. They live and work in my backyard.
A good pair of secateurs – hand held clippers that can cut through a 1” branch like it was butter. These let you trim inside the bush not hack off the outer branches.
A garden club in your neighborhood. Membership dues are usually low, ours is just $25 a year but you might enjoy some ideas and tips from your gardening neighbors. WARNING: not everyone is organic so pick and choose who you listen to and what you are going to do.
If you decide you like gardening and want to get into it, here’s are a few more items I’ve learned to keep on hand to help make my gardening go a little easier:
A good bug book – this could be one of your larger expenses but, believe me, you will be grateful for putting out the cash. Why? There are a whole lot of good bugs in the garden that will do battle with the bad ones without you lifting a finger. If you don’t know the good from the bad, you could be killing your soldiers and giving the enemy a chance to overrun the battlefield, i.e. your garden.
White vinegar and a big box of salt – it does not have to be iodized. You’re just going to mix them together and use them to kill ants or a persistent weed like poison ivy or both.
A small propane torch – the handheld kind – I use this to burn tent caterpillars off my cherry trees. It’s a bit brutal but it burns the nest and the caterpillars before they can strip my trees.
An old knife or pair of scissors nicked from the kitchen – nice to have on hand to cut baling twine and cut off produce rather than try to pull it off. Having lost several battles with eggplant and peppers, I tend to keep a knife in my garden basket and use it with malice aforethought.
As I mentioned before, there are a couple of online resources that might also make it cheap and easy to get basic gardening equipment so before you buy, you might want to visit these sites:
www.craigslist.org – people are always selling fence sections, hand tools and possible trellis material at incredibly low prices. Check the ads out before you lay down good money for a tool someone else bought but no longer wants or needs.
www.freecycle.org – I find this site painful but you will find free stuff on it so it’s almost worth it. You have to be a member to see the posts. And navigation is not just basic; it’s irritating. But you will be able to pick up a lot of the “nice to haves” on Freecycle for…free.