The Accidental and Thrifty Garden: Spring 2014 Master Gardener Newsletter

The shady beginning.
The shady beginning.

The Shady Beginning: As a full-time employee, part-time student, apartment-dweller with responsibilities at home, I didn’t think I had the time, space or funds for gardening. But this growing season, I proved myself wrong. I didn’t set out to; it sort of happened by accident. It all began when I found a large, tan, waterproof canvas shade tarp at Saver’s Thrift Store ($4.99).

Using six steel hook-and-eye turnbuckles ($11.58) and six steel screw hooks ($7.26), my husband and I hung this shade tarp over our back patio and suddenly found that we liked being outside. I relocated two plastic chairs from the garage to the deck for us to just sit there in the shade.

Free Isn’t Always Free: Not long after the tarp install, I was offered leftover plants from our Master Gardener Plant Faire Extravaganza and the Mariposa School Garden Plant Sale. Next thing I knew, several tomato plants, various herbs and even some flowers decorated the unshaded portion of my back patio ($0). In their 4” pots, they dried out quickly. I carried water to them several times a day using a glass kitchen pitcher. As the plants got used to being outside, a process known as hardening off, and as I got attached to them, I knew I was going to have to buy them larger containers and soil if they were going to survive.

I purchased two blue plastic storage totes with lids and two blue plastic tubs with rope handles from the Goodwill and SPCA Thrift Stores ($18.97). I also picked up four Frost Protek Plant Covers ($11.96) while at the SPCA Thrift Store for use later in the growing season. I drilled holes in the bottom of the plastic containers for drainage. Then, I bought what has turned out to be the most expensive garden item this growing season: soil. I elected to grow my plants in Sta-Green Flower and Vegetable Garden soil purchased at Lowe’s ($31.04). Armed with pots and soil, I began planting!

Planting: I read on the back of the soil bag that I should plant my tomatoes sideways and I knew Wendy passed out a handout at the Master Gardener Plant Sale that said the same thing, so I began stripping my tomato plants of leaves except for the tops. Then, I buried their stems up to their leafy little tops in soil and prayed I was doing it right. Once everything was potted up, I then started to arrange the plants to look pretty, maximize sun exposure and minimize dog damage danger.

Scrounging broken furniture, I came up with a planting stand made from the pieces of a desk and bookshelf to hold all of my herbs and flowers, and provide storage for plant covers, extra soil, etc. I put the tomato tub most in the shade up onto an old chair to give it those few extra minutes of sunlight. My shabby chic, thrift-store-priced garden was looking good. I crossed my fingers it would grow well and purchased a few accessories to help it (and me) to survive.

Garden Upgrades: The first post-planting purchase was tomato cages ($5.14) and plant twist ties ($1.99). This got the plants out of the dirt and supported, and made watering easier. But, watering with a glass kitchen pitcher was heavy, clumsy and time-consuming work. As the plants grew larger and the temperatures hotter, I was making several trips in and out morning and night, so I sprung for an indoor tap garden hose connector set by Gardena ($21.65).

Hooked up to an old hose found in the garage, the connector enabled me to run water from my kitchen, out of my sliding glass door and into the patio garden in one quick and easy step, making watering less of a chore for me. I purchased a Sunshade Deluxe Hose Hangout from the SPCA Thrift Store to tidy up the hose between uses ($3). The connector set and hose-hanger made a big difference in the amount of labor I was performing in the hot sun, but the sun was still hot! The over 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures were preventing me from fully enjoying my garden and patio and brought about my next post-planting purchase.

This purchase was another like the shade cloth, the plants probably don’t care that I have it, but I sure do! Like the shade cloth, it also lowers the temperatures making it easier for me to enjoy my patio garden, even in our hot and dry Nevada summers. And, like the shade cloth, the Lasko 7050 Misto Outdoor Misting Fan also came from the thrift store, this time from Goodwill ($14.99).

What’s Next? This growing season, my patio garden became a fun, cool place to relax and put out delicious, red, juicy tomatoes through mid-November! This experience showed me that growing food is fun and affordable. So what’s next on my garden adventure? I’m thinking peppers, and the seed catalogs rolling in are filling my head with grandiose ideas.