Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dirt Cheap Gardening

Dirt Cheap Gardening. Rhonda Massingham Hart. Recommended.

From the title alone, I knew this book was right up my alley. The combination of gardening and frugality is a winning combination in my view. Like any hobby, gardening can become quite a money sink. Despite the best of intentions, an activity that is begun to help the family finances may end up taking more resources than it produces. This book will help you avoid such pitfalls and perhaps make the experience both more productive and enjoyable. While I have begun gardening again to learn new skills rather than completely sustain my family, I do not necessarily think that I will necessarily be making large amounts of money. That being said, whenever possible, I prefer to not squander resources.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each with its own set of tips for saving time and/or cash. I think it is an important point to remember that time is a precious resource as well, many times much more valuable than money.

1. The Absolutes
This chapter is the anchor of the book, describing the basics of gardening. All of the initial decisions you make will affect the results of your garden. Site selection is key, as well as correctly choosing plants for each site. Obviously, putting plants that require full sun into a shady spot will only cause you frustration and end up wasting resources. So working with what you have is an important point. If you are short on space, perhaps containers would be the most effective solution.
Soil quality (a recurring theme in most gardening books I have read) is very important. Compost is a cheap way to increase the productivity of your soil, and this book has several ideas on where and how to get other cheap soil amendments. Testing for nutrients and pH is also covered. Another key point (that I have had to relearn on several occasions) is water. Setting up a system that provides the correct amount of water (either manual or automatic) will save your plants from certain doom. There is no better way to waste a lot of time and money than to let all your plants die when you go away on vacation. My automatic irrigation system should pay for itself quite quickly.

2. Tools vs. Toys
Gardening obviously requires a certain set of tools, but there are a plethora of choices. Many of these are quite expensive and have limited utility. The author attempts to sort the wheat from the chaff. Depending on one’s unique needs, certain tools may be quite necessary, while for others they would only be an expensive toy. It is up to you decide, but this chapter will help you navigate the many choices.

3. Priceless Plants
The plants you (or your neighbors/friends/family) already own have the amazing capability to reproduce and regenerate into new, free plants. This chapter covers the techniques that make this possible. Seed recovery, cuttings, layering, and dividing/transplanting are all examined. Many of these techniques seem to require a large amount of patience and experience, so they may not be very cost effective right away, but considering the costs of plants from the nursery they can be well worth the effort. These skills are very intriguing to me, considering if/when TSHTF, they may be very necessary.

4. Winning Varieties
Picking the correct varieties of plants will save lots of trouble. Native plants are always a good idea, since they have been naturally selected to thrive. Tolerance to your particular climate; temperature, water and specific pests/diseases, will save much time and money. There are many varieties (sometimes thousands) of each type of plant, and some may fair much better than others in your particular area, so a little research can pay large dividends. Another consideration is the value of the crops the plants produce. Berries are very expensive, and thus provide a lot of value in a small area. However, even the most valuable and prolific crops are not worth the effort if you do not like them. Unless you are growing for sale, only grow fruits and vegetables that you like to eat and flowers that you find attractive.

5. Save From the Start
When planning your garden, you can save money by using seeds vice purchased transplants. Starting you own seed takes a bit of planning and expertise, so you must take that into account. I plan on attempting to start seeds for next year’s garden, as I think it will be a valuable skill to learn. If you start a small greenhouse, you can make a side business of selling extra seedlings to friends and neighbors.

6. Plant Wellness Pays
Keeping plants healthy is important to maintain your investment. Proper fertilization is key, remember that more is not always better. Over fertilizing is wasteful, and can be detrimental to the environment. Remember that compost is a cheap and easy way to provide your plants with nutrients. Pest control and crop rotation is also covered in this chapter.

7. Cheap Skills
I’ll just list the skills that the author suggests will improve your gardening: recordkeeping, mulching, raised beds, training/trellising, pruning and pinching. Nothing really earth shattering, but each will definitely save you time and money.

8. Landscape for Less
The next chapter provides some tips for lowering your landscaping bills, while still maintaining the beauty of your yard.

9. Longer Life for your Plant Dollars
Extending the growing season has many advantages, providing for much more productivity. You can harvest both earlier and later, allowing you to maximize your garden’s potential. The author suggests several techniques to achieve this such as hotcaps, row covers, and inexpensive homemade cold frames.

10. Reap Bountiful Harvests
Once you have maximized your output, you must not let it go to waste. If you put all that time and effort into the garden, allowing the vegetables to rot on the vine seems to be very counterproductive. The book provides tips on determination of when to harvest many varieties of plants. Also, if you are blessed with a bumper crop, allowing it to rot in your fridge or countertop is not ideal either. The usual suspects of preservation techniques are covered, as well as giving your harvest away as gifts. For more information on this topic, I recommend Ball’s Blue Book of Food Preservation.

Many of the tips and ideas in this book are common sense or are found in many other gardening texts. There are some unique aspects to it, however, and it provides the information in a concise and easy to read format. I would recommend it for any gardener’s library. You’ll notice in my Amazon widget on the left hand portion of the page that it is a very inexpensive book, so you really don’t have much to lose. I think it will pay for itself in no time at all.


Kathleen McDade said...

I'll be putting this on my Goodreads list -- thanks!

Chief said...

Make sure to come back and check out all my other book reviews. Thanks for the visit.