Frugal Gardening: Eco-Friendly Economics!

Winter. Blah!

That’s how I was feeling, at least. I am fortunate to live in Southern Arizona, so our days are mild enough. Our nights, however, are another story. It’s still way too cold to begin thinking of planting anything substantial outside just yet.

So I looked at my kitchen window, and had an epiphany: windowsill gardening! And so I began. I obtained small pots to start seeds in, the soil to plant with, and of course, the seeds themselves. For a quick pick-me-up type of hobby, this was quickly getting expensive. So I began to consider some alternatives. Here, I will show you ways to cut your cost and boost your enjoyment of this worthwhile and rewarding hobby!

Without a Pot to…Plant In? (Gotchya!)

If you find yourself with a seed to plant, and by the end of this article, you very well may, you will need a worthy receptacle. You may be surprised to discover you have several around the house right now! I can almost guarantee it.

Any plastic container will do, provided it is free of chemicals (for instance, I do not recommend growing your tomatoes in an old gas can. Yuck. You get the idea.) and has holes for drainage. Old yogurt cups, ice cream cartons (yes, corrugated paper works as well, if not better than plastic containers.), the bottom of paper milk cartons, etc. can all accommodate a small plant until it is time to transplant.

Another fun way to save money AND recycle is to make your seedling pots out of newspaper. Yup! Opt for black-and-white inked pages only, as this is most likely soy-based ink, and stay away from glossy pages and colored inks that may contain chemicals that can leach into the soil and negatively affect your plants (or in the case of edibles, the produce itself).

To fashion your own newspaper pots, you will need a few supplies:

-Black-and-White Newspaper

-A Drinking Glass (with sides tapering wider towards the mouth)

Take your supplies to an area with a flat surface. Lay a sheet of newspaper down, allowing a full-size sheet to fold over on itself to make a typical “section” of the front, back, and when opened, two interior pages. Take this sheet, now two feet long and one foot wide (approximately), and fold it in half once to make it a thinner strip, pressing the edges down firmly as you go. (For my pots, this is sufficient. You may fold it once more to make an even thinner strip, but for me, this did not produce pots as well.)

Now, lay the mouth of the glass so the newspaper is overlapping the lip by almost half. Roll the newspaper tightly around the glass, creating a mold of the glass as you go. Stuff the overlapped edge in on itself inside the mouth of the glass. Practice will yield a sturdier pot. (Attempt at least three times before throwing your hands up in utter despair, driving to the nearest Garden Center, and buying every small pot in stock.) Gently wiggle the “pot” off the glass, and use the bottom of the glass pushed inside the “pot” to stamp down the paper folds inside. Fill with dirt, and set on a plastic tray to catch drips. Now, plant your seeds!

…What?

No seeds? Hmm…

Sow Your Oats (…er, or at least your apple seeds, avocado pits, and tomato seeds!!!)

A great way to get free seeds to experiment with is by getting another use out of kitchen scraps. Notice a theme building here? Right.

So, imagine you’ve just finished an evening meal of salad, salmon with scallion sauce, veggies, and an apple tart for dessert. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Beyond delicious and nutritious, this meal can help you grow future culinary treats. Using scraps from the ingredients in this meal, I can come up with at least three different things to sow, not throw!

Your salad likely has tomatoes, which can be a fun thing to grow from seed packs, but even more interesting if grown from your own veggie scraps. Why? Most likely, the seeds that come out of your grocery store tomato will be of a hybrid variety. This means that the offspring seeds will not produce fruit that is “true”, or just like the parent fruit.

In other words, you will get a surprise! It may not be the bright red you are used to seeing, it may be bigger or smaller than you expect, and its flavor may be very appealing, or not so much. Whatever happens, it is your own “new” variety, and experimenting this way can be pretty interesting.

Another menu item that stuck out was the scallions or green onions. Simply cut the tops off just above the white section, where the green shoots intersect, and sticking the bulb-end down in a glass of water will encourage more green shoots to develop. This eliminates your need to run to the grocery store for a new batch next week, or the week after! Simply ensure the whole bulb, and at least half of the white section is immersed in water, and stick on a sunny windowsill. I do several at a time, as they begin to look rather impressive after a week, and a row is so much prettier than just one. And who uses one green onion when they cook, anyway? You can also stick your cutting in a pot of dirt, water well, and on a sunny windowsill, it will do quite well.

Lastly, planting your own apple seeds can be a fun way to do good for the Earth, and recycle our waste. Take your apple seeds, give them a rinse, and fold them inside a damp paper towel. Stick these in a plastic baggie, and tuck them away in the fridge for a few weeks. Check to see if grow-tips, or sprouts appear from the seeds, and sow these into containers. Plant on a sunny window until you get a small plant growing. Soon, you will be ready to transplant into nature, a wonderful new addition to the Earth. It may be years before it blooms and gives apples, but there’s only one way to get to that point at all: starting the seed! The best part is it can be done right from your cutting board during meal prep! Just set aside anything that might be of use, and play with it later.

These are but a few simple, virtually cost-free, and totally “green” ways to indulge in a most rewarding hobby. And who knows? Following the steps provided in this and other guides to come, you may even get that bumper crop you’ve always dreamed of!

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