Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Throw It - Grow It!

This time of year, my thoughts turn to gardening. Right after that, my thoughts turn to how I can save money gardening. Over the years, I've learned a few cheap tricks that I'd like to pass on to you.

Many plants can be started from discards. A sprouted piece of sweet potato grows into a pretty vine. A potato that has formed eyes can be cut into pieces and planted in a deep container, such as a trash can. Once the vine has grown and then withered, the potatoes are ready. Simply tip the trash can over to harvest. A pineapple top can be planted, and will often grow into a pretty plant, which in some cases will even produce a new pineapple! An avocado seed, poked with toothpicks and suspended in a glass of water, will grow into a new avocado tree. Just make sure the fat end points down. That's where the root grows. It will take the tree many, many years to produce fruit once it's been transplanted into the ground, but who's in a rush? If you are, you may have to spend $30 or so and buy a more mature tree.

Many fruits and veggies can be easily started from seeds. I have had good luck with grapes, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, tangerines, bell peppers, squash and melons. Some of the seeds you save from supermarket-bought produce may not sprout. They are sometimes sterile, but it doesn't hurt to try. You can save seeds from your own produce that you grow, or trade with friends and neighbors or contacts you make here: Some of these plants and trees will take many years to produce their edible offerings, but in the meantime, they are fun to grow.

In case you don't have a place for a traditional garden plot, what can you use for containers for all these plants? Some clever repurposed options I've seen include old shoes and boots, plastic kiddy pools, wagons, old leaky watering cans or fountains, cat litter tubs (these can be painted with that new plastic paint if desired), coffee or juice cans, old trash cans, barrels, tires (although I'm not sure I would plant edibles in these, toxins might leach into the soil), baskets, chairs with broken seats (line first with moss or coconut fiber), even old tubs and toilets! One of the cleverest examples I ever saw was a box spring and bed frame "flower bed" that had been planted with a variety of blooms. I have a couple of unused cat litter receptacles for one of those fancy self-scooping litter boxes, now kaput, which I intend to plant with herbs.

Whatever you use, make sure to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage. You will have to invest in some potting soil initially, but you can use the same soil year after year - just make sure to add some fertilizer. If you have any place for a compost pile, you can reuse your food scraps to make your own fertilizer. I share a compost bin with my neighbor. We both dump our scraps in the same bin, then after about six months, we divvy up the results.

I hope this has given you a few ideas to get you growing. As always, I'd welcome your tips and tricks. Please comment if you'd like to share your green-thumbed thoughts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One Small Step For You, One Giant Leap For Earth-Kind

In honor of Earth Day, let's all vow to make just one small green change in the way we live. If everyone made just one change, it would make a huge difference. Once you start doing that one thing, it will feel so easy and natural, I know you'll go on to make other changes as well.

What are some cheap and painless things you can do to help the planet?

1. Change one lightbulb in your house to a CFL bulb.

2. Turn off incandescent bulbs every time you leave a room for more than 5 minutes.

3. Recycle a can or newspaper you would ordinarily throw away.

4. Buy a battery charger and some batteries to replace your disposables.

5. Walk or bike for one errand a week that you would normally drive for.

6. Start growing at least one vegetable or herb for your table. Tomatoes are easy, so is basil.

7. Start carrying your own water in a refillable steel or glass bottle.

8. Plug your appliances with a "standby" feature into a power strip, and turn off when not in use.

9. Use rags for cleaning instead of paper towels.

10. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.

11. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissue.

12. Compost your vegetable peelings, tea and coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.

13. Bring your own mug to work, Starbucks and so forth.

14. Start paying at least some of your bills online.

15. Use tupperware, thermos and a lunchbox rather than disposables for work and school lunches.

16. Wash out glass jars from pasta sauce, etc. and reuse to store rice, beans, and so on.

17. Buy staples from bulk bins and store in recycled containers whenever possible.

18. Choose the brand with the least packaging when grocery shopping.

19. Pass magazines on to friends and eventually donate to the library when done reading.

20. Cancel your junk mail at

21. Always do full loads of laundry, and wash on cold when possible.

22. Make sure dishwasher is full before running, and turn off heat dry setting and open the door.

23. Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store.

24. Water your lawn and garden early in the morning or in the early evening to prevent evaporation and use less water.

25. Replace your expensive, toxic cleaning products with baking soda and vinegar.

Try adapting one or more of these ideas in your everyday life. I guarantee you will feel good about it, and you will be even happier with all the money you save as a result!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eggstra Cheep Easter Fun

Even though the price of everything is up, and earnings are down, your kids can have fun this Easter without you plundering your savings. First of all, who says they need a new Easter basket every year? Get a couple of thrift store baskets. You can decorate them differently every year depending on what the kids are into. Themed candy, pens, toys etc. are available at the dollar stores, or even at yard sales and thrift stores. Start collecting stuff at the sales after Easter for next year. If you do buy candy at the drugstore or grocery store, make sure you have coupons. There are a lot of buy one get one, and rebate deals going on right now for candy and basket stuffers. If you want to go lighter on the candy, try popcorn, juice boxes, fruit snacks, etc. You can save the Easter Grass too, and use it year after year. The plastic eggs that you fill and hide can be reused year after year too.

As far as coloring eggs, look for the grocery store deals for free eggs with a purchase of a certain amount. You can pick up the coloring kits for next to nothing after Easter, but if you don't have any on hand, buy them on a good sale, or you can use food coloring. Just be sure to add a little vinegar to each color, and use hot water, then add a little cold. You can save the large yogurt or cottage cheese containers to dip the eggs in, then recycle after Easter. The dye is just food coloring, it will not hurt the recycling process. You can also dye eggs naturally with vegetable and fruit colors. There is a good guide for doing this here:

A white crayon works the same as the one from the kit for coloring on the eggs before dying. Whip up some egg salad with all those dyed eggs for cheap bag lunches during the following week!

If you're having a party, here's an idea for a cute little gift to send home with each child. Use green plastic strawberry baskets. Weave ribbon in and out of the slats to decorate, and use wire or ribbon for a handle. Fill with easter grass, candy and small treats. An egg coloring contest is a fun party activity. Offer prizes for the prettiest egg, funniest egg, most unusual design, etc. Dollar-store garbage bags can be slit at the top and sides for heads and arms, and used as smocks to protect the kids' fancy easter clothing. You can vary the standard egg hunt for older kids by placing scavenger hunt clues inside the eggs, leading them to a prize at the end.

I wish you all a Happy Easter. If you have any fun, frugal Easter tips or traditions, please share!