9 Garden Items You Can Make Yourself or Scavenge For Free

Saturday, February 26, 2011

frigal gardening

Mankind has been growing their own food for thousands of years without all the fancy, expensive gadgets that we see on the market today. Why waste your money when you can make your own garden supplies with materials you probably already have on hand or can scavenge locally.

Our 9 homemade garden goodies will get you growing without dwindling your pocketbook.

Seed Starter Soil –

Commercially made seed starting soils are easy to be sure, but they are also costly, several dollars for a small bag that will only fill a few pots. Mixing your own may be a bit more time consuming, but it is much more cost effective and worth the effort. To make your own seed starting soil, mix equal parts of good, well rotted compost, good garden soil, peat moss and clean sand. Use a hand trowel to mix the ingredients well. I normally make a batch using a 5-gallon bucket with a lid. That way I can snap the lid on and roll the bucket around to incorporate the mixture well.

When making your own soil, it is important to sterilize it to kill any diseases that may harm your young plants. There are a few simple ways to do this that won’t cost a thing. One is to wet the mixture slightly then place it in a dark container and cover the lid with plastic. Set it out in the sun so the sun can beat down on it and heat it up. The heating process will sterilize the soil. Another way is to spread the mix out on a tarp or wheel barrow in the full sun and let it dry out completely.

Pea & Bean Fences –

Vining peas and beans will grow on just about anything. Their little tendrils latch on and they reach for the skies, usually growing taller than the seed package indicates. To make your own inexpensive “fence” take a scrap 2” x4” and cut it in half lengthwise. You’ll want at least 6-feet in length for peas and 7 or 8-feet for beans. You can really use any lumber that can be cut to make a 2” x 2” stake. Determine what kind of garden twine, string or wire you have to work with and its diameter. Drill holes, through each stake about every 4 to 5 inches down the length of each stake. At this point it will be easier to finish your fence with them in the ground. So, using a hammer or mallet, pound the stakes into the ground where the peas are growing. Now, feed your twine or wire through the top hole and tie it off securely, then, moving from side to side, lace the twine or wire through every other hole – like lacing up a shoe – when you reach the bottom, cross over to the other side and lace up the other half, using the vacant holes in your stakes. When you reach the top, tie off the string or wire. This will give you a rugged crisscross pattern that the peas and beans will love.

Seed Starting Trays –

When planting seeds you’ll want to keep like kinds together, to make planting out in the garden easier and faster. I use the black plastic flats from garden centers or nurseries as seed trays to organize my newly planted seeds and line them with a thick layer of newspaper to help absorb moisture. You can also collect and use plastic “to-go” containers. I like the ones with lids the best because they act like little greenhouses.

For more permanent seed trays, you can make your own out of wood and store them when not in use. Use thin scrap wood, like ¼” plywood, for the bottom and sides. The bottom can be made any size you want, but the sides should be about 2” high. Cut and nail or glue the sides to the bottom.

Seed Starter Pots –

There’s no need to buy expensive starter pots or seed pellets when you can make your own for practically nothing. Yogurt cups, milk carton bottoms, even juice boxes make sturdy, useable seed starter pots when drain holes are punched into their bottoms. For pots that you can plant whole and will decompose into the soil use egg cartons, toilet paper or paper towel tubes or newspaper.

Egg carton sections can be used whole or cut apart and planted individually. For toilet paper rolls, simply cut vertically along one end about every ¼ to ½”. Fold the cut sections towards the middle and press down to secure. When using paper towel tubes, cut the tube into 3” to 4” sections and follow the directions for the toilet paper tube. Once the tubes are filled with damp soil the bottoms will hold securely.

Plant Markers –

Once your seeds are planted you’ll want to label them so they can be planted in the garden in order or with like kinds together. There’s nothing worse than having a plant grow and not know what it is. Purchased labels can be very expensive for what you get, so why not make your own using what you have on hand.

Materials that make the best labels are hard plastic packaging, the kind that electronics come in. Also, thin wood like popsicle sticks, tongue depressors (not use though), lath or shim pieces make long lasting labels. If you’re using plastic, cut it into ½” x 4” sections with a point at the end. Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors do not need to be cut, but lath or shim pieces will. Once they are cut, use a Sharpie or permanent marker to write the vegetable variety and planting date on the label.

Weed Barrier –

Weeds in garden pathways or open areas can be a nuisances and a pain with constant pulling. For inexpensive or free weed barriers try using salvaged cardboard or newspaper. Cardboard can be laid down in a single layer while newspaper will need to be thicker. Even empty feed bags can be unstitched on the bottom and cut on one side to make a great multi-layer weed barrier.

Mulch –

Mulching is a great way to help your soil retain moisture in warmer months, but purchasing from home improvements stores or garden centers can be costly. Even soil amendment companies, where you buy in bulk can set you back a few hundreds dollars.

Most cities are now chipping their tree trimmings and composting debris from parkways and municipal landscaping. Many offer “free” mulch as a way to lighten their load. Contact your city or parks district to see if they offer mulch free for the taking. Also check out local tree trimming services and ask how they dispose of their chipped wood.

Liquid Fertilizer –

Keep your garden green without spending a lot of green. Homemade fertilizer teas are an easy and effective way to keep your plants thriving without spending a dime.

Using a 5-gallon bucket, pour in about 1-gallon worth of dried chicken manure mixed with the bedding. Fill the bucket with water and let sit or “steep” for three days. Any longer and the tea will begin to ferment which can harm your plants. Give the mixture a good stir once a day. By the third day all the nutrients will have oozed out of the manure and into the liquid. When the tea is ready, strain out the solids (add to your compost) and fill an easy to use container with a ratio of one-part tea to one-part water to dilute.

Grass clippings or alfalfa also make excellent fertilizer teas. Using the same process as above, fill a 5-gallon bucket 2/3’s full with grass clippings or alfalfa (leftover from a hay manger is fine also). Fill the bucket with water and steep. After the third day dilute the tea at a ratio of one-part tea to one-part water.

Liquid teas don’t have a long life and should be used all at once or within a few days of diluting. Plants can be fertilized using your tea every few weeks without harm. No matter what tea you make, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to make and how much your plants will thrive.

Slow Drip Watering Bucket –

When gardens are laid out with irrigations lines we sometimes don’t take into account the watering needs of each individual crop. Some require more water than others, but with a single watering system it is impossible to regulate. Larger crops like squash, pumpkins and melons may not be getting enough water to produce an optimal crop. And, the fact that these crops are planted farther apart may mean you are watering more bare ground than actual plant.

To put more water where I want it, I came up with the idea of a watering bucket. A 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled near the bottom that would slowly release water in the direction I wanted. Here’s how to make your own.
Use a well cleaned, undamaged 5-gallon bucket. Drill 1/8-inch holes about 2-inches apart around the side of the bucket, near the bottom, and sand off any drilling shards. It’s that simple.

Now, place the bucket between a row of large plants like squash or pumpkins and fill with water. The weight of the water will push it out of the holes, but at a slow rate because the holes are small. It may take some time for all the water to be used, but the slower rate allows water to be absorbed rather than running off.

If you want to direct the water more specifically, determine how you will use the watering bucket and drill the holes only where the water will be directed toward a specific plant.

The watering bucket is a simple way to give your larger plants the water they need – and a great way to use collected rainwater as well.

Creative Commons License photo credit: eakspeasy

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