Cuttings? Seed? Manure? Farm yer back pasture fer ya?
Being a single, unemployed mother with four children and ten (or at times up to thirty) cats to feed, my Number one RULE in life has been to spend ALL my free cash on rent, utilities and cat food and to go without EVERYTHING else.
As I have so many babies, whiskered and plain, it has always been required of me to rent homes with big, safe gardens. When you're NOT an apartment dweller, kids and cats are automatically safe from other apartment dwellers. I'd pay ANYTHING for that!
Being a woman alone is troublesome. Temptations abound. You already have too much time on your hands. Looking out at this big, empty, children and pet filled yard, one is tempted to get into gardening. This can be a really bad idea. Why? Because one will instantly find that a plant in the retail world costs anywhere from a dollar to 20$ which puts it way above nylon stockings and chocolate bars in wartime. Precious and you'd better forget about it unless you know a generous Yankee Soldier. And what single mother of a LOT of children does?
Worse, over and above plant costs, the soil to plant that single plant will cost two to four dollars. PER PLANT. As I had better places to spend money than to gratuitously DUMP dollar bills onto the ground, it was necessary for me to either LEAVE THE YARD ALONE or learn to GARDEN at NO COST WHATSOEVER. I am not the type to leave anything alone so I began my career in gardening with the caveat that I micky-mouse everything I built and secure what was to be built by hook or crook, by begging or borrowing.
It has taken me thirty years to perfect my stroke, eliminate methods criminal and immoral and refine all other methods in my bag of tricks until they were, in the main, good tricks and mostly quite honest......at which point I realized, why not share them? To inspire others to have some bigtime FUN! So, here they are:
RULE NUMBER ONE. GARDEN .The alternative an apartment is just too pricey. If you are not able to grow food, you will spend an additional 200$ a month on feeding your family so you aren't really reckoning what your rent at an apartment is costing you. OR HOW LITTLE the rent at an ancient fixer upper home really turns out to be!
RULE NUMBER TWO. EVERYTHING MUST BE FREE. DIG the YARD by YOURSELF. Digging is easy. Lifting barrels of gravel is hard but they have those little appliance mover wheelie things that makes it do-able. Even an old woman with a dicey heart like me can dig. In California, we have street corner Mexicans, (Outside Home Depot) A Mexican expects 10$ an hour which seems reasonable until you realize that 8 hours will be 80$ and he'll beg for a tip. Exercise is good for you. So go without the Mexican and SAVE 80$ a day.
NEXT, why pay 40$ a month for a gym? THE YARD is your gym. Save the 40$ and use it to get basic cable so you can watch House And Garden Channel and relax after a hard day digging. NEXT, forgo monthly or weekly Korean gardeners. You save $30 to 60 a month. We just saved you 400$ a week for the parking lot garden helper and 100$ for gym and weekly mow and blow, you have just made 500$ which you can spend on bags of peat. Those big 50 pound bags. Or a truckload of mushroom soil the spoor they use which they must throw away every few weeks. 150$ an entire truck of it. So that’s what you buy. And you start seeking broken concrete pieces I alleys, Construction sites. And logs to do edging of beds.
Next, at garage sales, get a rotary lawn mower for FRONT yard. Nah, can that action. Who needs a lawn? Tear out lawn, create a compost pile with it, create raised beds
and grow veggies, vines, berry bushes and fruit trees. Again, we saved ourselves some money. Get a pointed shovel for the back yard. Dig everything by yourself. Next, as later, when garden is up, we will water daily, both front and back, get hoses. I see three hoses a week on people’s trash pile or hanging out of trash cans. Cull through them for the best. There are cheap kits to restore the hardware on the end or join two hoses together. Grow your family's food, eat only home grown with no pesticides which cause Parkinson’s, Cancer and voila, right there you've saved yourself several hundred dollars a month, maybe even a hundred thousand you'd have spent on doctors, certainly enough to afford to rent a really big house and yard and never darken an apartment's door again.
What do you do when you have your rented garden? Well, the first step as a No Cost Gardener is a brutal one but you've got to take the bull by the horns. DE-SOD the entire back lawn. Stack these poker chips of grass that weigh five lbs each upside down against a shady, southern wall. Some people like to TARP their compost pile. Or keep it in the sun, but keep it wet, pitchfork it around weekly. Add manure and your neighbors' trash barrels of dead leaves to it. The pile will turn into great mulch in two months, and into a light, fragrant Devil's Food Cake humus in six months.
THIS IS COMPOST. It is stuff devoutly to be desired. We must mulch our plants all the time. No need to dig it in, cuz you just cut up your worms and they're the good guys. No, just cover plants' feet with humus mulch regularly. Now, there are tons of stuff you can add to it to the compost pile to make it better. Fire ashes, (your pals have chimneys?) hair from brushes and animals. Fish waste from fish markets, scales, bones, guts. Bird waste with the newspapers attached, (bird cage liners). Do not use cat waste at all but after waste is removed, you can use the litter material as it fluffs the soil well, but use cat litter only IF a pregnant woman will not be gardening in your soil. (Toxiplasmosis virus !) So this is menopausal 'witch' gardening tip. Last, use all kitchen garbage and put it in a container on sink, and once a day throw it on a compost pile right on the ground, somewhere near the kitchen back door, Never use meat or fat. Unless it's fish, it doesn't compost.
FREEBIES- GET many of YOUR plants out of the super market. Every pumpkin and some are the exotic CALABAZA DE CASTILLA......is full of seeds. BUY one, share seeds with chums, worm your cat, toast them and worm yourself.
There are bunches of cilantro and spinach with some root attached. Take the outer fronds, leaving central bud fronds, plant immediately. You will need SUPER SOIL and a very perfect moist weather to do it. NO HEAT. There are tangerines, lemons, oranges whose fruit is true to the seed. Nuts, are true to seed, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc. Unfortunately that's not true of avocados, plums or peaches, but you'll get edible fruit, so it's worth trying. I love my green peach tree. It's grown from a stone. The peaches are pale green and almost ripen to chartreuse and have a wonderful lively flavor that beats all super market cellulose peaches.
There's a tart, aromatic yellow guava called the PINK GUAVA. That fruit is true to seed but its seed won't make you a bush of this treat. You have to air layer the branches. THEN you get a lot of little baby trees, a treasure to share. So it's no good just finding a GUAVA or two in the super market. At 4$ a pound. Though you should buy it and make a pound of jam. Best jam ever. Of course you can try: As you eat flesh, sift out seeds, dry. Nick some, others just set in pots, they are slow germinating, but you’ll get trees. It'll work. (Notch only half the seed though. Notching is for hard seeds like morninglory.)
The Purple Passion Fruit vine (Maui passionfruit) with a hundred seeds in each fruit gives l00 vines! Every super market has ginger roots. Ask produce manager to save the ones that are sprouting for you. Ginger is delicious in cooking Asian food but it also has an incredibly fragrant Hawaiian flower, called pikake. Buy a chayote squash. (With chayotes, you have to go thru a thousand to find one with a sprout coming out of its butt because they KEEP those for planting back at the chayote factory). Get yellow husk cherry tomatoes, and clean the seed out, then make salsa with the meat. Soak seed overnight to free it from mucilage. Strain and dry. The chayote's a vine that will cover a tree or garage and give you hundreds of green delicious squash. Passionfruit also will go up a tree or cover a garage and purple eggs tastier than peaches fall roll off and fall on the ground. Their purple fruit is at every market these days for a buck each. Often seeds of deciduous trees (i.e. those which lose their leaves in winter,) require chilling, which you can do in your fridge. Read a master gardener on stratification.
Other grocery market freebies? Chinese lichee fruit? Sprouts into a big tree! You’ll be giving extras away. TOMATILLOS? SUPER EASY! You've seen those small green paper covered tomatoes? They make salsa verde which makes savory dishes incredibly tasty, or goes with your Mexican fried beans. Well the ripe, yellow tomatillos are fine for seed. Peel one and see if it's starting to get yellowish ripe, not the usual pale green. Maybe ask the produce manager for the half rotten yellow ones. RED tomatoes yield seeds.. Squish the seed into a glass of water, leave overnight. Just cuz the juice is gone doesn't mean you don't use the tomato flesh in your salad!Sprout seeds ofall kinds of peppers, hot and bell peppers. Seek out the chayotes that have a vine peeking out of their crack. Buy spinach and cilantro with root attached, even a ½ inch/Use the outer leaves, leave an inner sprout and plant it on its root.
NUTS-Every nut is a seed. You can grow every kind of tree. My Neighbors had one huge ENGLISH WALNUT a tree which is not grown commercially. Squirrels brought me l00 baby trees. One grew 40 feet high. I get 400 nuts a year but hard to husk, stains hands, and HARDER shells than cement though squirrels love them. SO this tree is only for your varmints. Not for you. A bowl of REAL CALIFORNIA WALNUTS a few raisins and dates is a great meal. Cost 5$ a pound and in SO CAL they're plagued so why try?
Mangoes, lichees, papayas, cherimoyas and sapotes yield seeds. My lichee trees were planted spring 2004, they’re now reaching the roof but I only use branches for flower vases. I find that one has to graft hybrid fruit producing branches on to them. Grown from seed, they produce no fruit. So forget about that one.
ON THE OTHER HAND my peaches are terrific. They give a sweeter juicer fruit than super market has but not as pretty. I trade as many 4' high babies as you want for 1 bag of POTTING SOIL. Plus the gardener got a dozen smaller plants free.
OTHER fruits make great trees. APRICOTS are true to the parent, but many super market pits grow to require a pollenizer opp sex parent. FIGURE that out and you should go into PHYSICS. Just buy a parent that flowers early, mid season or late hoping you get the marriage right. TRUE TO PARENT is not always true of peaches.
Possible Lists of free seeds are longer than my memory. I just found tamarind pods at my Super market. The Seeds are like agate or rubies. In 8 years I'll have pod-bearing trees for candy and soft drinks. Pineapple tops are NOT easy to root. Potatoes always root. Yams take a real MANUAL, go online for that. Raw peanuts as well. Cilantro seed is sold as a spice on the rack where Mexican spices are found in generous inexpensive bags. Indian markets sell them in bulk. They grow into the green parsley used for Mexican and Asian cooking. CARROT TOPS planted give a plant with seed. Take first inch, bury it in spring, they will grow tops but not the bottom carrot part but youget the seed
Berries by the thousand are thrown in the dumpster outside market, all summer long. Squish them with your hands say in a half quart of water, pour this soup over a fertile flat. That’s how you plant em. Strawberries take a few months but they germinate. Black berries are fast. Every time I eat a mulberry I take the seeds out of my mouth and plant them. Baby berry plants and trees get traded for potting soil bags, truckloads of mulch.A few boxes of slightly overripe berries produces hundreds of vines! Again, I trade them for Bags of potting soil. In Calif, our soil is alkaline clay, so I need the stuff. If you root around under pine trees, you can find acid compost. Pine trees are scarse here, but I keep my eye peeled.
Street Freebies, cuttings from anything hanging over a fence.I adore PURSLANE which is the most preferred green vegetable of Mexicans and Egyptians. In San Miguel de Allende, my maids would bring it in from the mountains when they came to work in the morning. Cook it up for lunch. This ‘weed’ refuses to grow in most fine gardens, instead grows by the curb in cracks in the cement. My children, observing me pick and bag it on the sidewalk by curb and serve it up in tomato sauce asked in a horrified tone, “Mom, are we this poor? Dogs peed on that stuff!”I’d explain that I learned to eat it in Mexico where it is considered a seasonal delicacy. That went right by them.
If you click on file above, PURSLANE, you can buy seed from a dealer. HOW TO COOK? Simmer 2 minutes, throw out the water, then set steamed purslane in tomato/garlic/onion sauce, often with a few eggs scrambled in. The seed is all over the leaf tips as Autumn comes, finer than ground coffee particles almost like face powder. All summer I cut leaves off this curb purslane but in autumn, I wrap my bounty in a newspaper, get home and shake the plants leaves onto a piece of paper. Right now my flats are on a table with many baby plants which I set out, in spaces in beds around the garden hoping these weeds will take to the ‘good life.’ And forget about the joys of the sidewalk crack!
Another thing I got from my produce manager was fertilizer! Yes, in corn season, he had a plastic bag as tall as I was of corn husks, rich in nitrogen and fast to decompose and your market has this bag several times a day in summertime! (though probably not organic.)I composted the entire bag. Buried it in chicken waste and leaves. See, another thing I got from the market was the address of the chicken farm which was on the box of cage-free eggs. Rancher lived a few blocks from me. I bought 3 enormous buckets of chicken manure from him for a dollar each. Smells really bad so don’t do this if you have close neighbors. But imagine, you can even get your compost at the market!
Making compost requires a friendly smile. Go to the fish market and get all the fish guts and scales. Make the fish monger a deal. You leave your barrels, or 5 gallon buckets in the morning and come back at night. These fish wastes are absolute plant dynamite. Caveat: When you get home with those bones, scales, guts and skins and even carcasses, bury them well. Cats will try to dig themout. Your compost piles should be really big, and several of them. Strip dig a ditch a half foot deep minimum, lay wastes along this line you’ve dug, then cover well. Run out of space? Dig in a bit under a tree or perennial. Or next year’s bed, where before you put the seed in the ground, you MINE the entire place with fish guts, the way the Indians buried fishes under corn plants, I believe at time of planting seed.
As I said, Raccoons and cats may try to dig this rich fishy stuff out. You don't want that. Smell arises out of the soil, so start with small barrels. You want the compost to heat up which destroys the bacteria so you might trap it between two layers of something hot like grass. Green grass composts in a very hot manner. Wood chips take a year to break down, so use them in a special pile of its own, as until it breaks down, it TAKES NITROGEN out of the soil. If in your regular soil, add nitrogen powder!
Now, how do we get plants? Obviously, pals will give you the babies their own plants produce. You can also get a 'twig' of an attractive plant, (called a 'cutting' ) from your friend's garden and stick it under a glass jar in the shade and it will root. Or you can get a cutting from Home Depot or other plant nurseries (don't destroy the plant's look though). Just use your fingernail to break off a twig below a joint. Your smock should have a large, loose pocket? In it goes. If you have a lanai or glass or lath house, you can root things even in summer. Or do it in semi-shade in spring or autumn when heat in air won't destroy clippings. Have a glass jar collection ready for cutting the second you come in the door. (We make a house for the plant right on the soil.)
I plant all kinds of trees that people want. Let them get a few inches or feet high, then put a FREE TREE AD in Craigs list in my city. I have been giving out free trees but only in exchange for a big bag of potting soil. To fill the hole the tree leaves. My ad reads: "Free Lichee fruit trees, loquat trees, black walnut, peach, citrus, bring some bags of soil to fill the hole." I get 20 answers a day. 19 will actually bring soil. One will back out. It is tree time. Come on over and take all that I can give you. Then go to home depot and get bare root trees. they will be there, in January, big ole trees and l9$ a tree for a bareroot works. Make a list: GET PLUMS, Santa Rosa. Get nectarines, not the early one. Why i say that is we have too much freeze and rain early in the year...so the bees don't come fertilize it or something, The damn EARLY nectarine blooms then and goodbye crop! LATE nectarine does much better. And tastes better, also!
Get a good apple. The apple has to be calibrated for our NO FREEZE area. Very few work here. Get an avocado. I have baby avocados Get a Haas if you can, I don't believe that my from-seed avocados are going to be Haas. Though logic tells me that the GROVE had thousands of HAAS trees only, how could they have any other characteristics? It could be that my baby cado trees are generic smooth skinned, though when I imagine all those thousands of Haas trees at the Hass factory, I know they’re only pollenating Haas characteristics so I’m not very worried.
Get a Eureka lemon, a lime, a Valencia and plain juice orange, some ugli fruit, (a grapefruit with tangerine similar orange flesh) They may offer pamplemousse a sweet grapefruit. Get that if you can! Orange has diff types you know, get both juice orange, and Valencia. (eating orange) . A BOOK FOR GROWERS told me that CITRUS SEEDS must be planted while wet. Do not dry them out! Send to a pal with wet peat around it, overnight mail.
GET NUTS, almonds but if you get the regular walnut, you may have to spray that tree as there is a plague in our California valley, ask around about that. ENGLISH WALNUT or black walnut does not get that plague. But you need to run over them with a tractor to get shells open. Ask an expert about that and if you get nuts? YOU are GOING TO NEED SQUIRREL PATROL! Kids slingshotting squirrels off property cats who go after the little rascals. ALSO, there is a squirrel guard for trunk of tree. facing down tin fence. GET IT for all trees. POSSOMS will destroy an orange crop. So that guard works on them, too.
MAKE CUTTINGS OUT OF EVERYTHING that you see, even branches hanging over from your neighbors' yards. But in the case of FIGS you want scions cut from the bottom of the tree, or lower branches. Stick them deep in the rooting soil in pot or field.Whole Rose bushes can be duplicated with twigs. Go to MARTHA Stewart's website and learn how. Glass jar over the clipping. Don't pay 5$ for rooting hormone, use homemade, freebie rooting hormone! How? WILLOW or SYCAMORE WATER! Mash a bundle of sycamore or willow tree twigs (not leaves, twig part) in water, leave them soaking overnight, then remove branches, keep in FRIDGE. Do this weekly. Let cutting soak in willow water for a few min, then plant. Toss willow mash out weekly as it rots. There is a miraculous rooting hormone in willow twigs! So now that you know the secret of rooting, GET CLIPPINGS from your neighbors' plants. Plumeria trees give fingers for cuttings. Frangipangi they call the flowers. Root them in Feb/March or Sept/Oct. Not too hot, not too cold. Carnations give cuttings. All aloes and cactii can be snapped off, dried for a few days, then rooted. Many house plants root in water, like Creeping Charlies. I use CC as ground cover in Calif as our freeze is neglible and it races across the banana palms in a un-invasive manner. And the last cutting resource is HOME DEPOT. Pick and sniff.
Get your EQUIPMENT from garage sales and families who move from homes (probably back into apartments, or condos which is why they leave tools.)Get seeds, cuttings out of NATURE, back ALLEYS or by TRASHING- Many of my garden features came out of the dumpster. My wood edging (for raised beds) came as throw away lumber, from alleys. One of the best edgings was a drawer where the front and side were so firmly joined I had to use it as a corner. A very neat corner, and a very strong one.
My mower, shovels, trowels, clippers, wheelbarrow are mostly from families who moved out, left 'em in front of house on top of a dumpster or in boxes. When families move, catch them at their garage sale, or as they're packing. Ask what they're selling. They usually give old, rusty tools to you. So always ask vendor, are you moving? Sell your plants/ Garden tools? They will always say ' Go in the garden and help yourself.' IF THEY ARE MOVING. If you fall in love with plants, they'll even give them to you, as you have this pathetic sweet face that promises to give them a good home. So when you hit the garage sales do it with a shovel in the car and a lot of plastic bags! Old lawn mowers, tools of every sort, stones, bricks are often things families do not carry with them on a move. Boulders and saplings may be sold to you from a moving family's garden, or you can find them on week-end drives to the countryside.
BORDERLINE TACTICS: Old Bricks are frequently left out on curb after a patio job is finished. Broken up concrete is on the dumpster. Logs are piled by the curb. You knock on door, ask if they're throwing them away. Drag them home in the car trunk, Wet them, chisel off any extra cement.Many neighbors leave logs, out in front, thinking it’s firewood. ANY LOG like the calf of a leg, or thigh, is useful for rustic bed edging! Grab it! The routes you take to market each day are your friend.
My best find was back when the city was doing sewer pipes. These pipes are terracotta things that can be knee or thigh high. Nearly a foot in diameter, made of baked red terra cotta clay. The workers cut lengths to their needs and give you the pieces leftover! Or you can drive over at 8 pm and pick the ‘half cuts’ up and throw them in your trunk! Fill them with cement, stick a pole in them, 5" diameter, mound the cement for water drainoff in wet weather or pole will rot. Six of those and you have footings for poles for your lanai. Or put a table top on one, or terra cotta fountain basin! Or bird watering station!
In nature you find many rocks, plants, wildflowers with pods of seeds on them. Walk your dogs at night, you'll see cuttings and seed pods galore. My neighbor had a dozen calendula plants that went to seed. Billions of seeds total. I take huge crunchy bag fulls and send them to internet pals when they pay the postage. I have a SEED LIST you can pick from so write me.
ONE FIG TREE gives you a dozen babies. Pruning shears take off branches coming out of base of tree in WINTER when the entire tree is dormant. Plant them deep in a pot of good soil. You’ll have buds by spring. If you’re an expert, try to get OTHER DECIDUOUS hybrid branches from hybrid trees with a pruner. I grow a lot of mutt peaches from seed but one can graft in the branches of your pals' hybrid peaches, plums, cherries, apples. Ever seen a five varieties tree? Those are all grafts.
Gardeners will give you their prunings in autumn or spring when you can graft branches. They'll give you seeds and cuttings. My pal just mailed me three currant cuttings from England. They rooted. You stick an inch of it under the soil, the other few inches sticking out. If you're on the Internet, any garden, homesteaders, self-sufficiency or frugality list or posting board will make you friends. You'll get four dozen daily email letters which were posted to the board. You get the entire bulletin board daily. Soon you'll not only have dozens of friends, you'll have seeds and cuttings coming daily in the mail.
FREE INFORMATION. If you need information on any of the above. GOOGLE it, trying combinations of words Go to small, private nurseries online, or in your city and ask questions. Also,the internet has boards, chat groups, websites. Always volunteer to trade plants for info. Tell nursery men or internet pals that you have some wonderful Amazonian daturas, would they like one for their kindness? Ask them to stop by your garden and pick it up. Daturas are easy to root from clippings, so you can always have a dozen on hand. It's something I wouldn't want to plant more than ONE of in the ground. A hallucinogenic tree with a huge showy trumpet flower. Or get a chorus line of Pride of Madeiras, cuttings and seeds. Exotic stuff to share.
START COLLECTING (and TRADING) YOU OWN SEED. Never deadhead (destroy bolux) ALL the flowers! Pluck some, but not all! I am currently PUTTING MY SEEDLIST ONLINE, & mailing broccoli seeds, ultramarine blue morninglories, zinnias and calla lillies, canna lillies, ugli tree, guava tree, calabaza castilla,all seed picked here. Ask for my LA Riots mix, canna lilly seed abroad. I let my calla lillies go to seed, a beautiful process. Cut away the wilted white flower, leaving the yellow pistil which develops a bunch of huge green grape-like seeds, which turn bright red. They are just as pretty as the flowers. PRETTIER. And lavendar cuttings are available everywhere.
If any pal has rhubarb, he can dig out one section of the root and hand it to you. Root cuttings work. So google the technique for making same. Ditto mint. That will go in a wet napkin thru the mail! Just got one today! My Oriental market has gorgeous pots of mint in the parking lot. I snap off a dozen tips, 3” long, they grow instantly. Spearmint, peppermint. Great in zucchini dishes in tomato sauce.
EVERY kind of cutting is everywhere. Get exotic stuff and trade it for info. The best source of all is the local gardener from your newspaper. These people are encyclopedic and will trot to a new garden at the drop of a glove. Let marigolds go to seed, zinnias. I have those florists' sunflowers which have many medium flowers on a Xmas tree shaped tree. Each year take seed heads from the best colors, before the birds finish 'em. I notice even finches can eat those seeds! I grow decorative gourds. I use good carnuba furniture wax on them so they last for years. Week before Thanksgiving, people in supermarket parking lot buy them all in an hour! (A reason to save plastic bags!) Every year pick the best gourds and don't wax, just dry them, to get seed for the coming Spring.
FREE GARDENING MAGAZINES (in a way,) at the mag stand. Read for an hour. Requires photographic memory. The important things DO stick. Or take notes on your cuff. That is where I learned that brick pieces no bigger than 3 x 4 were useful, that now the country look has flagstone walks with one flat flagstone or cement square surrounded by dozens of those brick pieces, embedded to be level. It's a great look. WHO KNEW? So many building sites throw those away, now I waltz up with the bags I always carry in car and a big smile.
FREE POTTED PLANTS.- FLORISTS and NURSERIES have huge steel dumpsters behind their back door full of treasures. Florists have orchids, ferns, ivies, hydrangeas, holly, Spring bulbs, chrysthanthemums, pots of soil with dried up plants, yards of tulle, ribbons and organza from weddings, baskets, spray paint cans, all this costly treasure stuffed in their trash dumpsters Sunday night. You create a shade lath or tent or shade cloth covered area to revive them, a year later they're primo once again and in bloom. Why pay 59$ for a roll of shade cloth? Try wedding tulle! In summer, I hang six yards of tulle over my back door so I can leave it open and cats can go in and out and flies can't.
Half the battle in gardening is to tolerate NO WASTE. Pouring money on a garden is not necessary, so that's the primary waste most gardeners do. But also consider space as a resource. There should be NO WASTED SPACE. Lawn is wasted space. If you use it sit or walk on, leave yourself a 6 foot square piece somewhere, put a chair or two on it. That's all the lawn anyone reasonably needs. If the kids want to play baseball, send 'em to local park. Cheaper on the windows. If the dog wants to run, take him to the Bark Park or run him at night when you do cuttings patrol. YOU ARE GOING TO GROW GROCERIES on what was your lawn. Serious business. Lawn is frivolous. And any bare corners you haven't gotten to yet, just is laziness. Get busy on those bare corners. Even in summer, we can soak the soil deep one day, let it drain the next, then dig at dawn or dusk, when you won't risk a stroke. Add your amendments. Move in those seedlings from the lanai, that are big enough to not be vulnerable to the heat, and stretch shade cloth over entire garden. Young plants cannot tolerate summer. Even summer plants like tomato or zinnia need a little lath when they're under three inches tall.
LAWN CLIPPINGS in your neighbors' green trash cans are an abomination. They can be rotted down into new plants or soil, so why let the city use them to make compost so they can sell your own garbage back to you? LAWN CLIPPINGS is your new religion. It is predicated on preventing HELL happening. If you've ever seen the exhausted, thin, parched soil under an old lawn, you'd know what HELL we're talking about. To prevent your neighbors sinning and driving fine SOIL to Hell pick up their green trash can's contents, compost it along with your own yard clippings. The resulting mulch will be spread thickly on your new garden. Maybe you can't save the soil under their lawn, but since they so badly want to export their tilth, take it!
FREE SEED VS. WASTED SEED. Didn't the bible say 'Spill it not??' Most people have jars, cans and bottles and baskets full of seeds from last year. Also, their garden gave them unmanageable amounts of seed. These all surprisingly will plant up just fine. Forget the concept of hybrid varieties that can't replicate. As only the SPECIAL zinnia was in their yard, it's likely that the children are SPECIALS, too. As for outdated seed packages....They tell you that the germination rate of 2 year old seed is slightly less than fresh but if 9 out of l0 is now 8 out of ten, it's not a deal breaker. Won't put your nose out of joint. Ask pals neighbors and internet garden club chums to do seed exchanges with you. GOOGLE up some gardening lists and join my own. Write me.
YOUR KITCHEN WASTE is the best SOIL AMENDMENT. Why pay 4 or 5$ a bag for compost? Kitchen garbage goes in special pail in the house. Cut up big rinds, watermelon, grapefruit as you clean the kitchen. Crush eggshells. Save Coffee grinds or use them directly on plants as mulch for roses and seedlings. Whole Teabags go in the bin. Cover with a newspaper page, soy inks won't hurt compost. No color inks. A few times a week, trot pail out to the compost pile, dig it in. Suddenly every worm in the neighborhood has your address. By radar they come to your compost pile where they turn muck to fluff. No more shoveling in there, don't want to hurt the little fellers. Pitchfork the compost around once a week. My piles are ready to mulch with in two months. I let the raw mulch finish the job of rotting down en situ. The soil turns from hard as teacup clay to soft without even digging. Outside kitchen door that pile has worms. No matter how I amend the rest of the garden, worms don't form as much as they do in the fruit peel/vegie garbage pile! There, the worms are in HongKong crowds. I cannot spade that area, too many worms. I have to carefully use a shovel on the edges to lift some out to put in other parts of the garden. I lay the wormy amended soil on top of the beds. I do not trowel it in as that motion would cut up worms. I note that fully rotted mulch will sink in to deeper levels. The tilth works its way down. Soil isn't DUMB! When handling your compost piles use a long, thin tine pitchfork, the light kind and toss the pile frequently and hose it down daily. There's less chance of nailing one of these roaming compost manufacturers with thin tines.
The Valley to the north of LA,where I live is an immense BLACK CLAY BOG, very good drainage, (was once a river bottom, before that, an ocean bottom) but the soil has one peculiarity. It is sticky gummy clay. In fact, the exact consistency of a GUMMY BEAR when wet and hard as a teacup when DRY. This soil is fertile, but it is the wrong texture. Bigtime. Good for one thing. ADOBE BRICKS. However a turnip can not BULGE into a BULB in this soil. It can't push against STEEL.
PEAT, GYPSUM, manure, sand and old fashioned cat litter (no turds!) as well as fine compost are all required to amend clay into friable loam. If you can't create your own compost pile of leaves, manure, and bricks of upturned lawn, you will have to get these amendments at (lengthy shudder) stores. A scientist told me that all that old plaster thrown away in trash cans, or lath board, dry wall, could be melted down into the soil for gypsum. That it would work. I haven't tried it. Let me know if you can and it works.
MUSHROOM SPAWN- Want a single truckload of best soil every 3 weeks, free? Go to your local super market, find the address of the mushroom factory (ours is fifty miles west in Ventura area,) then Search the yellow pages in that city, phone them up. “I can bring a truck to take your spawn …when can I come. They give it away free as it’s only good for 3 weeks. It is the best soil you can imagine. FREE!
Fresh Manure from the farm, the cheapest of soil fluffers, causes a grand crop of alfalfa to grow everywhere, in your beds, and on paths, if any falls there. EVEN THE SO CALLED COMPOSTED VARIETIES of manure at store sometimes have weed seeds. No problem, Let weed get as tall as it wants, as it is mostly alfalfa whose roots are longer than any other plant's, going 75 feet deep. Just as it's going to flower, SPADE IT IN, TURN IT OVER ORPULL it. Lay it down to rot, cover with soil. It brings minerals up from way down. Now you have two choices. I weed with a pail or box, throw weeds in there. Then I throw it on compost pile. OR, I get say, a dozen weeds, I bury them right where I plucked them, roots skyward. In a week, it's history. Either way, you get the mineral content from 75 feet below.
The problem with manure is that nowadays they allow bio-solids in it. Human waste. And when you use it, your yard smells like a urinal for a week after, and you get sore throat glands. They aren't able to hot compost it well enough to get rid of the dangerous germs in it. It takes a very hot compost pile, meaning a lot of green leaves, green grass, and these manure factories don't have it down yet.
But compost is the answer. If you eat vegies grown on such deep mineral compost, you can reverse schizophrenia, depression or other mineral deficiency diseases (like old age). Using your own weeds will work better for you than store bought manure that is toxic. The whole idea is, you get everybody and everything working for you for free, the trash man, the grocery vendor, the other gardener, the neighbors who throw away trash and the plants themselves. Gardening is a big, friendly COLLUSION.
When you start this garden adventure, you will need to buy some amendments like peat, cow manure, but 6 months after you start work, you will have taken out the entire front and back LAWN and turned it into good humus soil and using that to MULCH your plants, but at the start, while that lawn is rotting, you have to go OUT and buy amendments. I like acidic PEAT best. l0$ a 4 cubic foot bag, (Get the biggest size PEAT they've got as it ends up being cheaper,) and I like real Manure at 57c to 67c for a 1 cubic foot bag, but avoid brands that use bio-solids. You hear wonderful things about gypsum, which fluffs the soil, l00 lbs for the average yard. WET the PEAT IN WHEELBARROW or bucket before you apply to ground. There is very little else that is acidic, and a soil conditioner and works NOW although ammonium sulfate or epsom salts is said to acidify our alkaline, western soils. For rhodies and azaleas, just use as near to pure peat as you can, although compost is acidic. So mix the two, and add sharp silica sand for drainage. Now it's true, beach sand is free, but it's salty. If you want to load your truck with it, throw a tarp, take it home, wash it on a sheet. But if you have a truck, why not go to builders' supply where 8$ will fill your truckbed! SAND IS CHEAP there. At Home Depot, it's $1.55 a 50 pound bag. COSTLY! Hazel my garden pal in Barbados goes to the sugar factory for waste which makes wonderful compost. There's a chicken farm near me that charges $1.00 a 5 gallon bucket of coop-poop, when you dig it yourself. I take all the cat poop out and put it in trashcan but the urine soaked sand goes right into the compost pile. It gives the soil friability..
DRY LEAVES are the ingredient for great compost in six months time but you can't use them TODAY. You have to rot them down in a compost pile first. SO those neighbors with twenty bags of leaves? I brake for them, load up!
The longest journey starts with one step. Today, inform your neighbors that you'll be taking the contents of their green recycling barrel every trash night. My neighbors hear me wheeling their barrel to my driveway which has a 5' x30' food strip I use as my pile. I don't return barrel to curb, I take it up their drivway for them and they love it! In AUTUMN you'll do this BIGTIME as people leave out huge, light weight plastic bags of leaves on trash night. Ask each neighbor, did you spray with poisons, malathion or anything? (If you're fussy about chemicals.) Not fussy? Don't worry. 99% of them did not.
When you get their bags of leaves home, take a layer of leaves, cover it with a few inches of the half rotten stuff in your compost pile, or with SOIL, spread some manure, say a half inch layer then another layer of your half composted lawn on top, then keep going. Layer after layer. Wet it and pitchfork this fudge layer cake around every week.
LET IT SIT, those leaves, manure and that upside down lawn. Six months later the weeds, crabgrass roots and seeds, the lawn stems have all rotted or rooted. If a little piece of something TRIES to root, destroy it by starting a NEW compost pile with it. The rest is FREE COMPOST, all you could ever need. Hundreds of bags. At 6$ a bag, you saved six hundred dollars, didn't you? So now, buy a half dozen bare root fruit trees at Home Depot. You can't use fruit trees that sprout from seeds on a delicious peach you ate, because the seedling will not be true to its parent. Well, what kid is? I use them. I like the pale green sweet peach that was the mother of them all. But I also find hybrids and 9$ a swack isn't bad for bare root fruit trees. Get one of each kind. Nectarine, apple, fig, orange, lemon, grapefruit, peach, plum. If your Home Depot or Home Base has it, it will probably work in your locale. If not, go to store's bookshelf, examine the SUNSET GARDENING IN THE WEST book which they all sell. Look up that variety that's on sale in the patio. It will tell you how well it does in your area of the valley. North of Ventura Blvd., where I live --is a colder zone being in the valley bottom, than the hills South of the Blvd. They can grow fuschias and orchids. I can't unless I keep them indoors in winter. Know your ZONE.
By now, your yard is a vast brown plain. Walk out the paths. Do it without thinking. Just say I think I'd like to walk down a path right here and get to that part of garden over there. That's the basic thought, but then, be chic and sophisticated. ALWAYS make it a curving path so you cannot see straight to your goal, WENDING, WANDERING, WINDING MEANDERING path. Sinuous ellipses, generous curves. Not fast curves, long sinuous ones. Mark these out with a stick or with your heel. Or draw the lines with a can of white spray paint. Or some pebbles, or if you're Hansel and Gretel, use bread crumbs. Now, on right side of the path, plan a bed with many lower height bushes in it. And on the left, plant trees and higher things. The variation in heights is interesting and the rest is laws of Feng Shui. You know, big dramatic items at the eight points of the compass. Keep the beds they're in no more than 4 feet wide, small enough to be hand cultivated from any side. You don't want to walk on beds, that is why you raise them, so they stay eternally fluffy. That is the secret of getting happy plants. Now, let's RAISE those beds. That's next.
BOARDS IS HOW. ALLEY LUMBER! SIMPLE!You can use odd bits of brick, rocks, boulders or flagstone turned on end or stones or scout up all the lumber you can find in alleys. Lay it down on your lines. I have no nail gun so I use stakes to hold it up, plus I do not have LONG BOARDS. I have dozens of smaller, mismatched pieces of Trashed up Wood. That is actually useful as I like curved beds. Sinuous curving parts you use shorter pieces and make them follow the curves. Stakes are required so go into the discarded prunings of neighbors, break off dead branches, use them as stakes, to prop up the lumber. (Stakes are a quarter each at Home Depot).
Now, excavate the soil OUT OF the path, shoveling it INTO the lumber encircled part so the weight of the soil holds up the lumber walls on one side. Your SPIKE or stake holds the other side. You have sunken the paths and raised the beds. REMEMBER, those spikes can hurt people. If you drink and walk in the garden, no stakes. If geriatrics walk in your garden, no stakes. My pal's friend died on a stake. (ski fencing,) It pierced her heart. Ask me about it. YOU CAN DRIVE a stake down in the ground to the height of the lumber though. That wouldn't kill anyone. To not use spikes, you have to carpenter join the lumber with nails. HARD! BUT SAFE! AND, YOU HAVE SAVED SO MUCH money on soil, compost, plants, seed, Mexican day laborers and the gymnasium that now you can afford to go to Home Depot, el cheapo of the world. BUY semi-dwarf or dwarf bareroot fruit trees at 9$ a pop and the bareroot roses at 2$ (in Winter and early Spring only as that's when they can pull these plants out of the ground without SOIL and the plant won't notice because it is asleep, and as they have no dirt or pots, just burlap, the plant is cheap for them to move around. They stack and move easy.). Dig holes all around the garden, inside the raised beds. Plant the new arrivals, always putting a good chunk of compost beneath any perennial you're not going to move.
Do something special to the paths. I like to buy the EL NINO sand bags (we have to build fences of sandbags everywhere cuz rain is so heavy in parts of Calif.) when the rains are over, 45c a bag. (Often Merchants will give them to you ---just haul them away please). They are filled with a wonderful gravel which is great on paths and silvery in the moonlight. One can find enough bricks, flagstone, pebbles and smooth beach rocks to also do cobbled walks, or cemented paths. Save broken crockery, pot shards from all your earthquakes, and use broken glass shards set in cement, then cover sharp edges in tile grout. Or hand pour cement rounds and set the shards in the cement.
DISCARDS - Be aware of neighbors moving. Those dumpsters outside their homes after they leave will be full of fertilizer, soil, plants. I once found a hundred bucks worth of cactuses breathing their last there. In terra cotta pots. Revived them all with the bone meal, fish emulsion which that neighbor had also left behind.
In early spring, get all the black plastic flats you can find thrown away in alleys or beg them at nurseries or trade plants for them. Line with a rag so soil doesn't erode out. I do that to pots also. Or use apple boxes lined with screening. (Every container requires a few holes so soil won't ferment on you.) Fill flat to the brim with light soil. (You'll quickly learn to mix compost with sand to get a good light soil.) Sprinkle seed on it, raise it up from snails on benches you build out of discarded lumber and over-turned 5 gallon pots.
Grow annuals, perennials and bi-ennials from scratch. You get better quality plants. Never buy flower or vegie plants in those stunted, pot-bound, 2$six-packs for idiots. But we do buy a few initial roses and bare root trees. Actually, when you get a few roses into your clutches, and get good at gardening, you can copy any rose in the neighborhood from a cutting without hurting your neighbors' roses. You help them dead -head or remove their petal-dropping roses by taking these cuttings. And when you're really good, you can graft branches of hybrid fruit trees onto root stock you do from super market fruit using a razor blade and some scotch tape . You can top off a mutt tree with pedigree branches from your friends' gardens.
BUGS I HAVE KNOWN- Don't waste money on slug /snail poison. For the SNAILS, let possums live and feed all chicken bones and chicken skin and and watermelon rinds and dumpster apples. They will be your best ever snail patrol. I also give mine cat kibble. Or you can do it. Take a flashlight, plastic grocery bag on your wrist, go outside at night, bag your own snails. It helps to have watered at 3pm so things are damp. The little critters come out. Using two fingers, pluck them off leaves, into bag. When you have two lbs, go walking down street until you find a garden that’s grass and nothing more. Tell them ‘guys, eat grass.’ And dump bag on that lawn. To capture SLUGS, lay wet newspapers on the ground at night, pick them up next a.m. with slugs and earwigs attached. Besides being costly, using SNAROL you might poison your pets. The cat would eat it, chicken surely would!
MY MOST HATED BUG- The JUNE BUG or fig beetle. Same thing. This monster eats every fig on the tree. These are emerald shiny beetles, big as an apricot, they buzz noisily when they fly, they can eat all the fruit off a fig tree and they attack us flying around our head if we disturb them. You gotta get them in the larvae stage when they’re in your soil. They leave blowholes so you’ll know where to dig. Spade around, find them, put in a box lid, go out to street, give to crows. Call ‘caw caw’ and crows will come. There is a poison to nail them in the soil but I don’t feature a quarter acre of poisoned soil! I tried another way: Put on rubber gloves. Tried to Pick them off figs and drop into a vat of water Put lid on and drive them to another county. (What I’d like to do to my possums!) But I utterly failed. They can see. They fly in your face sounding like a motorboat and hitting you like a small bird. YUK! Back to plan 1. Spade out larvae! I poke a foot long stick down the hole and jab.
FRIPPERIES A GIRL NEEDS: For entertaining, you will need an outdoor room, called a ‘lanai’ for houseplants that don't want summer sun beating down on them.. This space would be right off the home, near one of its back doors, the one that faces the garden. If you have all soil outside, use saplings sunk in a big poured ball of concrete. If you have cement outside back door, get some 2 foot lengths of sewer pipe (terracotta) pour concrete in there, set pole inside. I used to leave a ten inch hole around the pole, which I could fill with soil, plant the sewer pipe top with morninglories, train them up the poles. But the damp earth there rots the pole, so now I fill cement to the top and contour cement surface downwards and outwards so rainwater runs off the pole insertion. Can't find sewer pipe? Use a large flower pot. Fill with concrete, set the sapling inside, NO TILT! No saplings? Then use the redwood poles that cost 2$ each at Home Depot. (5" diameter.) My frame has six poles. Four corners have poles but also two extra poles in the middle. A rectangle.
FRAME: For the two sides, a 1 x 4' goes from pole top to pole top a 15 foot distance. For other rafters, Use the 1x2" square poles you find for 85c each at lumberyard. 10 feet long. You'll be cutting those down to about 8 feet. I have an old screw shooter I traded for astrology readings. Shoot the screws in standing on a ladder. Even a mechanically compromised dolt and a female dolt at that, can do it if someone else on another ladder holds the other end of the rafter up in the air.
LANAI ROOF: Buy two of those bamboo reed fencing rolls, they're 6 x 15 feet each. After frame is built, (so that the end near house is higher, tucked right under your house's eaves, and so that the end out in the garden is lower, and the beams of the frame slant down ) --- staple or wire the bamboo rolls up there, on top. Whole lanai ends up being the size of two bamboo rolls, 16 x 30 or large enough for your redwood patio table, six chairs, PLUS many other patio tables loaded with your house plants or shade plant collections, hanging orchids. A lanai will generally protect these plants from a mild freeze.I used 1”x 1” beams and the cats weighed them down and it collapsed. So if you have cats, build stronger beams. And always do braces on the diagonal. Wind can blow it down if it’s all verticals without diagonal braces at top. That happened to me one Windy November, too.
It’s very beautiful to stare out back of the house toward the garden only there’s this lanai area framing the garden. Its arches are hung with curtains that have been swagged, tied, its eaves have stapled on Xmas tree lights, the table has flickering candles, kerosene lanterns, a bright table spread with flowered fabric, barbecue coals lit, chicken broiling, a pitcher of Sangria, a summer dinner for the family and friends out there, crickets harping in a verdant fragrant jungle just outside the circle of light. My lanai sparkles like heaven and all of it was free. Garage sale fabrics become swagged drapeds, strands of Xmas tree lights are half price to 90% off on December 26th. Or I find airy draperies made of slubby semi-see thru linen, the kind you find at thrift shops, and staple them to beams, tie them to poles. Use them at each corner, swagged. And I build a trellis of branches on ONE side wall, filling in the space between two poles with a grid of bamboo or other branches, from floor to ceiling, useful for growing grapes, wisteria , morninglories or gourds. And I put big pots planted with morninglories at each corner to go up the sides. I also hang pots in slings from the two 1 x 4 rafters and lighter weighing pots from the 1x2 rafters. There are a million reasons, ways, a million tricks, all of them fun so, give low cost, low waste high aesthetic, organic, healthy living a try. Not only do you get all your food for free, but you live on a property that looks like Indonesia, year round! So START A FREEBIE GARDEN! And count on me for seeds of the plants I mail out free, four o’clocks, calabaza de castilla, Melia trees, Artichokes, ultramarine blue morninglories, calendulas, etc. To see them go to THE SEED PAGE.
Anita Sands Hernandez, astrology @ earthlink.net
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