Local lifestyle columnists

Starting your vegetable garden for pennies

By From page C4 | April 13, 2014

Did you know you can start your vegetable garden for little or no cost?

Yes, you can choose to spend significant money finding unique varieties of vegetable plants, the perfect starting medium and the perfect starter pots.  But if you want to grow vegetables to enjoy their fresh taste and save money on your grocery bill, a few simple strategies can help you get started while saving money in the process.

Grow your vegetables from seed

The first strategy is to grow your vegetables from seed, instead of purchasing plants. The cost of a single vegetable plant can often cost more than a packet of seeds. Many vegetables, such as squash, melons, beans and corn, are very easy to grow from seed.

Get free and low-cost seeds

Although a packet of seeds is relatively inexpensive, you can also look for free seed sources. One source is the Seed Lending Library at the Springstowne Branch Library in Vallejo, where any Solano County resident can borrow seeds for free from their collection. Another source is the annual Master Gardeners’ Public Plant Exchange. It is held every fall, and in addition to plants, individuals can also pick up free seeds at the event.

If you do decide to purchase seeds, consider how many seeds you really need. You can always find packets of seeds for only a quarter for commonly grown vegetables at stores boasting prices of a dollar or less. The packets sold at these outlets usually contain a smaller number of seeds than those sold in the nursery section of big box retailers, but you may not want to grow a lot of the specific vegetable. But if you do decide to buy a large packet of seeds with more than you intend to plant this year, make sure the seeds are viable for planting in subsequent year so they won’t go to waste.

Some seeds, such as onions, spinach and parsley, are only viable for one year. While other seeds, cucumber, squash, melons and tomatoes, are viable for four or more years.

Make your own pots 

You can easily make your own seedling pots from black-and-white newspapers (do not use the glossy coated ads). Take a sheet of newspaper, lay it on a flat surface and fold it in half lengthwise twice. Take a glass and roll the newspaper around the glass leaving half the paper overlapping the top of the glass. Once rolled, push the newspaper into the open glass then pull the glass out. Push the bottom of the glass into the rolled pot to squish the extra paper down flat, forming the bottom of the pot. If you want, you can also fold the paper at the top of the pot into the pot about ¼ inch to reinforce the shape of the top rim.

Note you can use a can instead of a glass and just fold over the overlapping paper across the bottom of the can and flatten it to form the bottom. If desired, you can also mix a little water with flour to create a paste to help keep the paper at the bottom stuck together. Once your seedlings grow, you can plant the pot directly into the ground.

Make your own potting soil

You can also make your own potting soil. You can opt to spend money to obtain the ingredients for making perfect potting soil for your needs.  But again, you don’t need to spend any money to make a basic potting soil. You simply need to heat up some compost to kill any fungus or any bacteria in it, then mix it with soil.

Consider constructing a simple outdoor solar cooker to heat up the compost instead of heating it up in your house oven. You can find information on how to make your basic potting soil, plus the temperature requirements at various sites on the web.

If you don’t compost, but live in Vacaville, you can get free compost from Recology. For more information, go to www.recologyvacavillesolano.com/residentialYardWaste.htm.

Starting a vegetable garden is easy and inexpensive.  Plus it saves you money. And who can resist the flavor of a tomato picked right off the vine in your own backyard?

Kathy Low is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.

Kathy Low


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