Gardening is becoming the thing to do these days and with good reason; it gets us more in touch with what we are eating, it is an easy way to ensure what we eat is safe, and it cuts down on our food costs. As a gardener myself, I’ve learned lots of little tricks of the trade to keep myself in fresh produce for virtual nothing. Here are thrifty gardening tips that might just have those GMO and chemical companies on edge and shelved for good:

Shop for Secondhand Seeds

Sure, Monsanto doesn’t let farmers keep their own seeds, but that’s not the way the gardening world really works. I save seeds from nearly every fruit and vegetable I buy or eat. Why not? I’ve managed to grow fruit trees (papaya, grapefruit, star fruit, lime, avocado, etc.) and garden vegetables (squash, eggplant, pumpkin, cucumber, peppers, etc.) from my regular grocery shopping.  I also just grab a few seeds from bags of any kind of dried legume. Once the seeds are going, well, not only have I saved money on groceries, but I’ve also eliminated having to buy seeds.So, if something has a seed, don’t throw it away; plant it and see what happens.

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Grow From What You’ve Got

Fresh herbs are one of my favorites, and buying them costs a bundle. While the seeds are not too expensive, they aren’t at all necessary. Once an herb garden is growing, it is easy to expand by simply using cuttings to multiply the plants. Every day, when I use basil, oregano, tarragon or whatever else from my herb bed, I leave a couple small leaves on the stem and stick it in some water. Within a week, new roots will begin to form, and it becomes another plant in my garden. This works for lots of plants, but particularly (and more easily) for things with herbaceous stems. Don’t buy new seeds for plants that are already in the garden. Try propagating new ones by using cuttings (or the seeds it produces).

Make Your Own Fertile Soil

Potting soil, even store-bought organic compost, just seems all-wrong. Firstly, it generally comes in a plastic bag, which is utterly ridiculous for farmers trying to help the world. Secondly, why on earth would someone buy something that can be made from trash and excrement? Seriously, thrifty gardeners—all good gardeners, I’d proclaim very loudly—should be making their own fertile soil constantly. There are loads of different ways to do it, from laborious quick fixes to letting a pile of leaves and twigs sit around in the backyard all summer. If no soil is available right now, dig a hole somewhere and mix it with some leaves and ash. Get a compost (several composts actually) going. Learn how to use what’s around to produce good soil, and always choose a little shovel work over a plastic bag with a price tag.

Upcycle Your Own Plant Pots

Plastic bottles, jugs, and containers of all sizes are all over the place, from the neighbors garbage can to the side of the road. Find them, cut off the top, and use them to start seedlings or grow plants. Hang onto the tops, and when and if said plant goes into the soil, the tops can go over it for a little added protection until it gets big and strong. This may not always be the most attractive pot, but then again, there are any assortment of paint, markers, stickers and whatever else sitting around to decorate them. It’s a win-win-win: Less plastic being consumed, a new use for the plastic already consumed and a few dollars saved in garden supplies.

  • Use (safe) plastic bottles and old containers as seedling pots or planters and reuse the tops for protecting new seedlings in the ground.

Forage

Plants are actually so much more versatile than we give them credit for, even us vegans. Living in the tropics, where I can’t grow lettuce or cabbage, I’ve learned that other leaves — hibiscus, okra, sweet potato, beans, etc. — can make great salads. Often unused parts of plants, such as papaya leaves, are great for medicinal teas, and some things can be eaten as sprouts, roots, leaves, fruit and stems. Go online and find out just how much food the plants in the garden, or even yard (lots of common weeds are edible) are providing. Get to know what is actually edible around you and make sure to include it in your diet. Make the most of what “crops” are already growing.

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Image source: liz west/Wikimedia

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