Save money with winter gardening chores

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sun, Dec 9, 2012 - 11:53pm

It's winter in the northern hemisphere. Time to get out your saved seeds, garden catalogs, a sheet or two of paper, and plan next year's garden.

Here are some thoughts on how to plan to cost-effectively grow your own vegetables and fruits, and even (eventually) save money at it.

Some money-saving basics.

  1. The very first thing you should consider is starting or adding to your compost pile. This means your all-natural fertilizer is free. We're planning on adding things free horse manure and free shredded leaves this winter.
  2. Seed saving. Certain things are really easy for beginners to save the seeds from: basil, cilantro (the seeds are coriander – same plant!), green and hot peppers, lima beans, sunflowers…lots of things have easy seeds. You can move up a level and save seeds from tomatoes (they actually do better if you let them rot a little and then dry them), or carrots (you have to keep a plant two years to get its seed). Make sure they are dry, and keep a silica packet (left over from vitamins or whatever) in the jar/bag. Important tip: always buy heirloom seeds. Saved seeds from hybrid plants will not sprout.
  3. Plant what you'll eat so you'll eat what you grow. This sounds obvious, but it's not; not when the seed catalogs sing their siren songs. Keep your experimentation to a minimum: plant most of your garden with things you are sure to use. Staples like lettuce, peas, green beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes should get a lot more space than "trying" kohlrabi or chocolate-flavored peppers. You can go broke buying seeds for things that sound "interesting." 
  4. Try for multi-use plants. Our grapes also produce grape leaves that we can cook with (and vines I can do crafts with). Our "mangetout" snow peas have edible pods, and edible leaves we use in salads. Basil is not just a seasoning, its leaves are great in salads, and so are nasturtium leaves and flowers (a companion plant that keeps bugs off tomatoes). Carrot tops can be diced into soups – they taste like parsley. Beets also provide beet greens when thinning the rows. Don’t just grow parsley, grow celeriac –  a parsley with an edible root. And if you have citrus you can dry and grind the peels to make orange or lemon zest seasoning.
  5. Plant fast-germinating annuals in waves. Put several plantings of lettuces in, since you will use them all year. I put new seed lettuce in every couple of weeks: green and red leaf lettuce.  Ditto on things like radishes and green pencil (Lisbon bunching) onions.
  6. Perennials are budget and time savers. In my opinion, anything that comes back year after year, and I don’t have to fuss with it much, is a gardening win. This category does not only include herbs like lavender (great for flavoring, not just soap and sachets), bee balm, and purple cone flower (aka echinacea, a medicinal plant); it includes trees, vines and bushes. My blueberry bushes, grape vines and raspberry canes produce every year. Our apple, fig, mulberry and peach trees are no muss/no fuss. And I can't wait until our hazelnuts, orange and olives start producing.
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