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The Good-Enough Cheapskate Garden

by Hugh James Latimer, Survival Blog:

Easiest, Cheapest, and Quickest Gardening Option
You have some garden options that include a “good-enough cheapskate garden”. You could buy a bunch of stuff, get special ground covering, and mark it every two inches. Then you could buy poles, and notch then five feet up, and then prepare your soil by double digging. (Make sure to plant at the setting sun, and on and on.) Even if I had the time, money, strength, and patience for all the instructions I have read over the years, I’m just rebel enough to try the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get it in the ground and get it growing.

My Experience
I’ve spent years gardening in hot sunny areas, super cold snowy locations, and now somewhere in the middle. It is possible to grow in any of these locales with a minimum of work and money.

I know there are some people who are genuinely unable to garden due to limitations. And I am truly sorry for that and know a little of how that feels. I had my time recently where I thought that’s the way it was to be for me too. And my husband has been that way for many years. I am not writing this to tell those folks that they should somehow be doing what I’m doing. But my hope is they will find something in what I write that will help them too. Many of my easy methods were discovered while I was going through chemo and recovering from lung surgery.

If you like spending all your time pampering your plants, you may want to look away. If you like to garden but can’t or don’t want to make it your life’s work, maybe I can help a little. I’ve gardened while working full time, with little kids, with a family run business, and lately while going through a few years of chemotherapy and surgery for cancers. There have been times where it was sink or swim for the plants. Yet they’ve always come through. But we all know we can’t make anything grow on our own. I can put a seed in the ground and water it, but I can’t make it grow. God is ultimately the Giver of Life, and He has certainly blessed my garden.

Short Cuts
So what are some of the short cuts that have worked for me? Oh boy. Where to start?

Seed Saving
One of my favorites is saving seeds. I save seeds from my own garden, from any particularly good plant. I save seeds from anything I may receive from a friend, get at the grocery, or eat at a potluck or restaurant. We don’t always know that they are heirloom and organic, but usually they are. If a few don’t sprout, it’s really no big deal. It’s then time to try another. I don’t ever test seed sprouting ability or see what percentage will sprout.

Tomato Seeds
I rinse as best I can and dry them in a saucer. That’s it. Put them in an envelope and label when they’re good and dry. I don’t bother with fermenting and do nothing extra, same as I do that with any seed. I save seeds from a mature fruit or veggie that is particularly good by my standards, such as early fruiting, good taste, long lasting, long keeping, or whatever is important.

Bean Seeds
Bean seeds for planting are dry beans from the pantry, store bought, or saved from the garden. To plant them, I scrape the ground, toss the beans around, and shovel some dirt over them. They sprout just the same as if I measured rows and spent hours on them. They don’t care and I don’t either.

Potatoes
The first year I planted potatoes I used potatoes that were sprouting in the pantry. I cut them in a few pieces and let them dry a few days. Then, I dug some holes and tossed them in, covered them up, and called it good. I do toss more dirt on them as they grow up. When I harvest them there are always some little ones hiding in the dirt. I just leave them where they are and they become the next spring’s crop. There is no more planting after that first year. I just harvest and leave the little ones to sprout in the spring. Even this last winter’s freezing temperatures didn’t deter them.

Onions
After dealing with onion seed and onion sets, I’ve come to a good compromise– walking onions. They self-perpetuate. They grow a little multi-bulb plant on the end of a spike. It falls down, takes root, and becomes a new plant. They can stay all year in the garden as freezing temperatures don’t bother them. When I had them in the frozen north, they became huge at their base with multiple bulbs of a few inches across each. I have brought them into the pantry over the winter, and they have done fine. Now I just leave them in the garden. You can spread them out as they multiply once every year or two. You can cut chives off them continually, dig up the onions as needed, and give them to friends without ever running low. If you are ever in my area, I’d love to share some with you.

Kale
Kale will reseed itself once planted and just keeps on producing. What a powerhouse!

Squash
Winter squash is another easy one. Different varieties of squash keep for differing lengths of time in the pantry over the winter. Many I’ve successfully kept through the following May or June. If I notice a squash in the pantry that is going south around April, maybe even becoming moldy, I go dig a hole in the garden. I gather up the squash in a grocery bag, with a shovel, or in whatever way keeps it off my hands. I take the squash out to the garden, dump it into the hole, break it up a little with the shovel, and cover it with dirt. That’s it. Usually within a week or two lots of leaves start showing. I can thin it out, share some of the plants with other gardeners, or spread them out over the garden.

Sweet Potatoes
Did you ever stick a sweet potato with toothpicks in water and watch it grow in the window? I remember doing that way back in the 60’s when I was a city kid. It never occurred to me the potential that plant had! Well, that’s the start of a very nice sweet potato patch. Start them in the window over the winter. Break off the sprouts that each have their own roots and plant when the weather warms up. I plant them in the planters in the front of the house.

They just look like ivy. I read an article about a village during WWII that had planted them this way. The enemy came thru and took all the food the villagers had and destroyed their gardens, except for the sweet potatoes. The enemies did not recognize what the potatoes in the ornamental planters were. The villagers lived on those overlooked sweet taters all winter.

So don’t become discouraged by thinking that you don’t have the time or strength to have a garden. Just do what you can where you are. Just fill whatever space you have and expand as you can. I guarantee you that you will be so encouraged with your success that your garden will quickly grow.

Gardening is an adventure, a constant science experiment. I like trying out things just to see if they work. It’s just amazing.

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3 comments to The Good-Enough Cheapskate Garden

  • Boyo

    I just received some sunchokes. Look like potatoes from an eight foot flower. Many say invasive and tough as nails, never kill ’em types. Sounds like a perfect survival plant. I can’t wait for first harvest.

    • Craig Escaped Detroit

      @Boyo,
      Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes (partly because you can slice and oven roast them, and they taste a bit like artichokes.)
      The plant is a type of sunflower, but the blossoms are no bigger than smaller daisies. Fuzzy leaves prevent most pests from enjoying them. The roots fatten up as the daylight hours decrease, ready for harvesting when the stalks turn brown & ready to fall over. The roots grow out sideways, and often upward, so you can plant them 3-5″ deep. Those tubers are expensive on Amazon, often about $5-8 per pound.
      They grow from the gulf coast, up to southern Canada, and in good ground, they will spread.

      Two types out there, smooth and bumpy (the bumpy ones remind me of Ginger roots). You don’t even peel them (very thin skins), just brush em off under running water, cook or eat raw as you please. (Raw…they remind me of the crunchiness of water chestnuts), boiled, with butter and salt, I think they taste 90-98% like regular potatoes.
      They are supposed to be extremely good at regulating blood sugar for diabetics (adjusting amounts for each person), often eating a boiled one and next day, eat one raw. Some diabetics need only a couple each week, or 2-3 each day.
      ————

      Loved the “Cheapskate Garden topic”.
      Don’t forget the LAZY gardener way of more things, such as piling a bunch of mulch around your plants to prevent (or slow down) all the weeds. You can use old newspapers and other things as mulch cover also. Wet it down so it won’t blow away.
      ———-

      Collect grass clippings, yard waste, leaves, etc. put into a black plastic bag (or plastic garbage can?), add some water, close the end, (just fold it over), lay in the hot sun, and after about 2-4 weeks, you’ve got instant horse manure without the horse pathogens. Really, I’ve done this, and when you lift the bag and let the contents out, close your eyes and smell the joy? Smells just like a big old horse dumped a pile onto your shoes. Stinks so good, and just right for your garden soil.
      ———

      Wood ashes make soil more alkaline, adds potassium and other minerals, can repel slugs and other stuff.
      Buy a big bag of “wetable sulfur”, it a fungus fighter and also will make soil more acidic as the soil bacteria consumes the sulfur and turns it into sulfuric acid. If your soil needs an instant acid boost, just buy that sulfuric acid drain clearer in the plumbing isle. Read the labels to find the right stuff, mix a BIT with water, dispense from watering can or sprayer, DON’T try to change anymore than 1 point faster than a week or two. Water it into the dirt to prevent burning things. (Yes, sulfuric acid is the RIGHT soil treatment, as well as other things.)

      Pick up a bag of Epsom salts (Magnesium Sulfate) to add Magnesium (this will NOT change the pH as the sulfur is chemically bound with the magnesium)
      Have a bag of Gypsum & or Calcium (limestone) to be able to add calcium if and when needed. (eggshells also do the same.)
      ———-
      Have a bag of iron granules too, as soils, plants, etc, need bits of this at times.

      Diatomaceous Earth is VERY good stuff.. READ about it. Helps soils, improves digestion, and kills hard bodied insects without chemicals (it’s the mechanical abrasive quality that rubs em and damages their moisture protective coating in their leg joints, and they dry out & die.)
      Never the “swimming pool filter type” as it’s the wrong style, always use either the agricultural or food grade stuff.

      You can dust your carpets and pets with this stuff, and it will start to kill fleas, ticks, bedbugs, crickets, hornets, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, etc. (No harm to soft bodied bugs or worms.)
      ———-
      And yes, I highly recommend the “Walking onions” (I’ve got some myself) as well as planing a permanent patch of Lisbon white bunching onions (scallions-green onions).
      Happy gardening!!!

  • Boyo

    Craig, some great info as always.

    I love me my diatomaceous earth. Will be using on soil around gooseberries. An army showed up overnight to strip the plants of leaves…
    The dogs love the DE for parasites.

    Rock on.

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