5 - 2009

The scavenged garden makes gardening free

Gardening season is getting underway around the United States — from those in the South getting summer plants rolling, to those in the North finally able to stick a shovel in the ground. But with President Obama promoting “victory gardens” where Americans grow some of their own food (to promote thrift, food safety and a do-it-yourself ethic), it’s all too easy to join many other “green” trends where “green” refers to environmentally friendly solutions, but also to laying out a lot of money for something people used to just do.

Wise Bread blogged about this recently in “How Many Will Lose Money This Year on Those ‘Frugal’ Gardens?” In that post, blogger Carrie Kirby mentions the returns from some home gardens (J.D. at Get Rich Slowly, she notes, has earned the equivalent of $20 an hour on his garden), but also notes the risks (from hail to squirrels) and temptations to spend.

If you’re looking for cheap inspiration, I received this message recently from Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson, the authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto, the new handbook for the scavenging movement”:

We’re cheap … like you — and we’ve just made a vow: To grow at least half our food this year in a garden that costs exactly nothing to maintain. To achieve this seemingly impossible goal, we’re proposing a revolutionary new concept: “No-Cost Gardening” — that is, creating and nurturing a vegetable plot using totally free scavenged seeds and supplies.

Not only are we doing this ourselves, but we’ve also produced a guide for anyone who wants to try it: This post on the Scavenging blog documents the No-Cost Gardening Project and provides a handy manual for readers who want to become no-cost gardeners.

This is the perfect time to help would-be gardeners (and even practiced gardeners) save lots of money while lowering their carbon footprints by saving themselves all those trips back and forth to grocery stores. While home gardening is being heavily promoted as a way to save money and eat locally, with even the Obamas planting a White House “victory garden” for inspiration, in fact gardening has evolved into a fairly upscale high-end hobby, like golf or sailing. Gardening, the way most people do it, is actually expensive. The average packet of seeds now costs $3 or $4, and growing a wide variety of produce requires dozens of packets. Pre-sprouted starter plants cost even more. Tools and gardening implements can be pricey. Fertilizer, soil treatments, gloves, stakes, trellises, wheelbarrows, sprinklers — when you add it all up, it becomes painfully obvious that growing your own produce can cost more than just buying it at the store. Many people resist gardening not because the idea hasn’t occurred to them, but because they assume that growing vegetables is a time-consuming and exorbitant pursuit.

We’ve overturned this assumption by inventing a new kind of gardening that costs essentially nothing at all, and which really can help the average person save money during economic hard times. We’ve posted a step-by-step crash course in no-cost gardening — from scoring free seeds to crafting tools and equipment out of scrap. Anyone with even a teensy swatch of soil can follow our tips and start their own free garden. Those without yards can even grow their food guerrilla-style on abandoned public land. With more ideas for how to get fertilizer, stakes and everything else you’ll need in the garden for free (or almost free), the no-cost gardening project is a new idea for a new era.

We’re full-time scavengers. We’ve made a lifestyle out of getting stuff (legally) without spending a cent. And we pledge to grow in this no-cost garden at least half of what we’ll eat for the next year. At this point, it looks like we’ll be gorging on arugula, heirloom tomatoes, exotic beans, peppers, zucchini, endive, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, cucumbers, collard greens, radishes, bok choy, lettuce, tomatillos and tangerines — to name just a few. Let’s eat!

(sorry about the font & spacing here … apparently, I am not clever enough to fix whatever the problem might be!)

The scavenged garden also benefits from its Bay Area seed library, which is a fabulous idea. Often, all seeds in a packet aren’t used. A similar thing could be achieved with neighbors, via craigslist or through the mail.

At the Cheap house, we will be gardening a bit lazily this year, with our ambitions focused on what we can grow and our energy directed toward some yard improvements. We might buy a few seed packs (we love to find seeds for exotic-to-us greens at ethnic markets), but we save seed packets year after year. If you wonder if seeds are still viable, you can place the seeds between two pieces of dampened paper towel for several days to see how many germinate (I have also used this pre-germination successfully for squash and cucumbers).

How about you? Do you save money by gardening? Are there areas where you splurge? A best-kept secret you’re willing to share?

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