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: http://www.seedsavers.org/. 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.