Garden Lifestyle

The 30-Mile Gardening Rule

Landscape designer, horticulturist and author Maureen Gilmer encourages gardeners to embrace their inner tightwad in her new book, “The Small Budget Gardener: All the Dirt on Saving Money in Your Garden.

You’ll never toss away another stick after reading “The Small Budget Gardener.” Here sticks are used to create a free tepee as a trellis for vining vegetables.
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

Maureen Gilmer wouldn’t need to do any arm twisting around here when it comes to gardening on the cheap. I’ve always looked for the least expensive way to garden ever since I started.

But even I learned a few frugal tricks in her new book, “The Small Budget Gardener: All the Dirt on Saving Money in Your Garden.” This book is loaded with ideas for finding inexpensive or free alternatives for soil amendments, tools, seeds, plants and garden structures.

It’s only fitting the book is budget priced at $16.95.

The landscape designer and horticulturist writes from her own experience for pinching pennies and recommends that all gardeners pretend they live 30 miles from town, as she once did. That means every trip to the store is carefully considered before hopping in the car and driving to the store.

“Think of budget gardening as a giant scavenger hunt where you can discover hidden treasures in the least likely places,” she writes.

Gardeners can repair before replacing, repurpose before purchasing or use their imagination to create a suitable alternative from a pile of branches, twigs and sticks. The goal is to spend as little money as possible.

I like Maureen’s approach and the fact she cheerfully announces she’s a gardening tightwad. She starts with a list of basic hand tools and gives guidelines for buying them and ideas for how to find tool treasure at estate sales. Discarded metal tools are turned into garden art.

She has frugal or free options for fertilizers and cheap options for making homemade pesticides and weed killers.

I think it would be fun to go with her on a manure safari to find free sources of bulk manure. I’d take my bucket into dairies and stockyards, farms, ranches, horse stables, fairs, agricultural colleges, rooftop pigeon coops and petting zoos.

The book includes a good section on soil solutions and one of the most concise instructions I’ve read on how to make compost and leaf mulch. Another excellent section for veggie gardeners on propagating free plants makes seed sowing sound simple, especially for beginning gardeners.

“The key to a low-cost veggie or kitchen garden is to avoid falling for all the smaller products for sale everywhere from the grocery store to the garden center.”

Instead of an expensive tool locker, use an old ice chest. Plant fingerling potatoes in a durable woven plastic bag that once held animal feed. Create support structures for climbing plants from long sticks collected from prunings. Recycle a Christmas tree into a conical pea tower. Tap school cafeterias for heavy-duty plastic jugs, restaurant-size cans or other reusable containers to use in the garden.

Maureen understands how easy it is for gardeners to make the mistake of spending more on growing food than they would if they just bought it. All of her tightwad gardening tips and small budget buys are aimed at helping gardeners eat for free or at least on a reduced budget.

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