Gardening on a Budget
We live in an apartment-style condominium with a sunny balcony and we decided to grow a bunch of herbs and vegetables this year to save money. Instead of buying pots at $2 to $3 each, I asked my coworkers to bring me empty gallon milk jugs and two-liter bottles that I could cut in half. We also planted seeds early to avoid the high cost of transplants. I was surprised, however, to see that one big bag of quality potting soil with compost was $6, so I did some research and found a local supplier who will sell a pound of red wiggler worms for $15. I shredded some newspaper, added non-meat and non-dairy food waste, and the worms are turning the trash into new soil for free! They don't take up much room either. We live in a one-bedroom apartment and they're in our kitchen in an old Rubbermaid container. We no longer need expensive bags of dirt and we're helping the environment at the same time!
James in Colorado
For seed starting containers, use egg cartons for small seedlings, yogurt cups, styrofoam coffee cups or paper cups, cardboard boxes with plastic stretched over them and a few drainage holes poked in, etc. Aluminum pie tins also work great, as do old lasagna pans. Some of my best containers were dumpster-dived from the garbage can at work. Once your plants have attained two true leaves (as opposed to those initial two that come up), then repot to a larger container. For the soil in these, I generally use a mix of seed starter as well as cheap potting soil. You can always use your own compost, but I've never done that. We start around 800 seedlings per year and getting that much compost seems a daunting task.
I've learned that large seeds are easier and quicker to sprout than smaller seeds. For instance, corn and peas have large seeds. Smaller seeds that take longer to sprout (thus requiring more heat and water and all-around TLC for a longer time) include tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and carrots.
I make seed pots out of newspaper. First, I take one page of newspaper and cut it into fourths. Second, depending on what size seed pot I want to make, I will get a can of tomato paste (little) or soup (medium to large). I wrap my newspaper pieces loosely around the can and tape the newspaper with just a little bit of tape. Then I form the bottom of the pot around the bottom of the can, and secure it with another piece of tape. Third, I slide the can out of the newspaper cup. I have a little seed cup that I can fill with soil and seeds. I use a garden marker to write what I planted on each newspaper cup. What's great about these is that they absorb water like peat cups, so you can water from underneath. This is more gentle than watering from above.
When preserving or using tomatoes save the seeds and put them in a sheltered place in your garden and you will soon be rewarded with all the tomato plants you can use.
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