Gardening Basics

Gardening on the Cheap

Use inexpensive solutions in the garden for discarded odds and ends.

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Wheelbarrow Flower Planter

Having a productive garden isn't cheap, but look at these cool tips to keep both your landscape and wallet green:

"In my yard, old things have new uses," says "Farmer Fred" Hoffman, a radio show host in Herald, Calif. For example, an ordinary plastic bucket is a dungeon of doom for the squash bugs devouring Hoffman's pumpkin plants. Squash bugs rob plants of their nutrients by sucking the juices from their leaves. Using chemicals to exterminate squash bugs may also harm beneficial bugs. To alleviate the problem, Hoffman fills half the bucket with water. Then, early in the morning when the squash bugs are most active, he shakes the leaves over the bucket, capturing the bugs in the water. The total cost of this pest control project is zero because he rescued the bucket from the trash can.

Hoffman has a similar method for dealing with fruit beetles, using an old jar, a discarded piece of window screen, and duct tape. To assemble the fruit beetle trap, secure the screen in a funnel shape with a piece of duct tape. Dilute fig juice with water in the jar, and place the screen in the mouth of the jar so that the bottom of the funnel rests just above the mixture. The beetles get in but can't get out. And the cost of this homemade trap is next to nothing.

Another cost-effective tip is to start your garden using cuttings from easy-to-grow plants like roses, salvia or geraniums. Hoffman suggests saving those old plant identifications tabs, too. Use a marker to cross out the former plant name, and label the new plant.

To get your plants growing right, create your own protective structure with some plastic containers, a large window screen and a few medium-sized rocks placed in the corners.

Hoffman recommends saving old PVC pipes to create an inexpensive drip irrigation system. You need an on/off valve, a couple of pieces of garden hose with the female ends attached, a joiner, a male PVC adapter with a female 1/2-inch slip thread, a length of 1/2-inch PVC pipe, and a screw-on end cap to make the system. Drill holes halfway through the PVC pipe about 12 to 18 inches apart for clay soil, and 9 to 12 inches apart for sandy soil.

Connect the hose parts to the source of water. Next, join the PVC male adapter to the slip thread end of the 1/2 inch pipe, and screw on the end cap. Hoffman says there's no need to glue anything because this is a low-pressure system. Turn on the water just a little bit, and adjust the stream of the pipe as desired. The total cost of this project is around $5.

Also, don't throw away those old nursery planter pots. Some nurseries pay you to return the 1-, 5- and 10-gallon plastic containers. With the money you receive, Hoffman suggests purchasing some concrete wire to make your own tomato cages. Pre-made tomato cages are typically four feet tall, which is insufficient for most tomato plants. And you're lucky if they last one season.

Build your own tomato cage that will last a lifetime from a sheet of 12-gauge, 6-inch mesh wire. Secure the exposed wires into the soil, and use wire cutters to trim off the top edge. "There are a lot of good cutting tools available, but I like my barbed wire cutters the best," Hoffman says. Expose one side of the tomato cage by removing the joining wires, and secure the two sides together by bending the wires over the other side. Place the cage on its side and push down gently to create a cylindrical shape. This inexpensive, custom-made cage is the perfect size for reaching in and grabbing ripe tomatoes.

Other practical uses for discarded odds and ends include using a window screen over a bed of onions to reduce sun scalding. An old pitchfork serves as a rustic trellis for climbing vines, and a broken wheelbarrow makes a handy planter. In addition, chopped up branches and leaves make free mulch.

"So before you throw anything away," suggests Hoffman, "consider a use for it in the garden."

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