Archives For Gardening

       Looking for a cheap, natural way to kill weeds? Here are 6 recipes you can use.

1. Boiling Water

       No recipe here. Simply pour boiling water over the offending weed and it will die. Be careful though. Boiling water can’t tell the difference between a good plant and an evil weed, so pour with discretion. This can be the cheapest weed killer by far if you use boiling water left over from cooking. (If you need to drain the food, simply catch the hot water in another pot.)

2. Vinegar

       Vinegar mixed with a bit of liquid soap is quite effective as a weed killer. The general ratio is one ounce of soap (a good squirt) to one gallon of vinegar. If you’re mixing up a smaller batch, just use less soap. The vinegar is made of acetic acid, which will remove the moisture from the plant. The soap just helps the vinegar stick to the plant’s leaves. Vinegar that’s 5% acidity will work OK, but 10% or 20% acidity is better. You can find the stronger vinegar at garden supply stores.

       This solution works best on a hot, sunny, dry day. You’ll kill anything you spray, so be careful around the plants you want to keep. Vinegar as weed killer will only kill the foliage of the plant – not the root. So repeat applications may be necessary for success. But hey, it’s cheap so it won’t cost much to do it a few times.

       Finally, don’t add salt to the solution. Some recipes tell you to do so, but you’ll make the ground unsuitable for just about any growing thing for quite some time. You don’t need it to successfully kill the weeds. (Although salt would be great if you never want anything to grow there again for a while. Cracks in the sidewalk or your driveway come to mind.)

3. Bleach

       Personally, I wouldn’t use this because it’s toxic and not best for the groundwater. (That matters to me because we get our water from a well.) But you won’t be using much, so I’m not sure it’s that big of a deal. Simply put some bleach in a spray bottle with a little soap and mist your weeds. Again, it’ll kill everything so aim carefully. (On second thought, this doesn’t qualify as natural or organic but it’s cheap and homemade.)

4. Rubbing Alcohol

       Rubbing alcohol will also draw out moisture from weeds. Mix about one tablespoon of rubbing alcohol for every cup of water in your spray bottle. Apply just like the vinegar or bleach solutions above.

5. Corn Meal

       Corn meal isn’t really a weed killer, but it can be used to keep weed seeds from sprouting. Actually, it’ll keep any seed from sprouting. Technically, you want corn gluten meal but that can be expensive if you get it from a garden supply store. Here’s a hint: go to an animal feed store. You can get corn gluten meal much cheaper there.

       You can use cornmeal that you buy at the store as well, but it won’t be quite as effective. On a different note, regular cornmeal is also useful as a fungicide. You can get regular cornmeal much cheaper (and in bulk) if you buy agricultural grade cornmeal. Just don’t eat it.

6. Elbow Grease

       OK, so this one doesn’t really count but it works. You don’t have to buy anything, and you don’t have to worry about harmful side effects on the environment, your kids, your pets, or yourself. Plus, it’ll help you get some exercise and relieve stress (maybe…). You’ll have to spend your time pulling the weeds, but if you get the roots you’ll be very effective.

How to Garden: When to Plant

Corey —  April 14, 2010

       Knowing when to plant is one of the keys to having a successful garden. However, it’s not an exact science. But with a combination of knowing your average last spring frost date and general guidelines for each plant you can get a good idea of when it’s best to plant your vegetables and fruits.

Average Last Spring Frost Date

       Your average last spring frost date tells when when you can be fairly certain the chance of frost is low. This is important because some plants can’t handle frost and will die if exposed to those low temperatures. You can find out the average last spring frost date in your area by calling your local Cooperative Extension office, which you can find on the USDA’s website.

       However, I found the average last spring frost date for my area quite easily on the National Climatic Data Center’s website. Their charts will also show you the average first fall frost dates as well.

       In finding the average spring frost date, pick your state and then a city near you. Look at the 32 degree row and then find the corresponding date under the 50% probability column and the 10% probability column. Using the 50% probability date there’s only a 50% chance it will frost after that date. If you want to play it safe, go for the 10% probability date (meaning only a 10% chance of frost after that date). These dates are based on information gathered from 1971 to 2000.

When to Plant What

       After you know the average last spring frost date for your area, you simply need to know which plants like it cold and which ones don’t. Here’s a summary of when to plant what:

Very Early Spring (4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date)

  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Onions (sets)
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes
  • Chives

Early Spring (2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date)

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Dill

Mid-Spring (at or just after the last frost date)

  • Green Beans
  • Corn

Late Spring (2 to 4 weeks after the last frost date)

  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupe/Muskmelon
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet & Hot Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Summer Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Eggplant

       Finally, if you’d like more information about specific plants I recommend Harvest to Table’s articles on “how to grow…” and their archives. Obviously there’s more to gardening than choosing a general method and knowing when to plant, so you can use Harvest to Table as a resource for your more specific questions. I’ll continue to add more articles about gardening, but since we’re already into the season this year I wanted to give you a more comprehensive resource. Happy gardening!

How to Garden: Your Options

Corey —  April 9, 2010

       When it comes to gardening, you have several options to choose from. Your choice will depend on how much space you have, how much money you want to spend, and how much time you want to dedicate to gardening.


container garden on the patio by thomas pix on Flickr       Container gardening is a great choice if you have limited space or limited desire to garden. It doesn’t take much time and you don’t have to worry about weeds. But you still get to enjoy the vegetables of your labor. You can use just about any container you can get your hands on (as long as it won’t leach poisonous chemicals into the soil). It doesn’t even need to be very deep – you can grow quite a bit of stuff in just six inches of soil. (I know. I’ve done it!) You’ll just need a few holes in the bottom for drainage. You can find cheap options for containers by looking creatively around your house, going to yard sales, or stopping by your local thrift store.

       If you decide to go the container route, you’ll need to realize that you won’t be able to produce very much unless you have tons of containers. You’ll also need a source for soil. If you’re going to dig it up out of your yard (or somewhere else), then you’ll probably need to add compost or other soil amendments to get good results. Otherwise, you can just buy potting soil and mix it with compost.

       If you’ve never gardened before, start small with container gardening. This way you can see how much you’ll enjoy gardening before making any big investments.

Raised Beds

Square Foot Garden Bed by mlwhitt on Flickr       Raised beds are just a variant of container gardening. Put a few boards together with screws, cover the ground with landscaping cloth (to reduce weeds), and throw in some soil. Now you’ve got one giant container for your garden. It should be at least six inches deep, and you’ll need somewhere to put it. Full sun is best, but you can grow all sorts of vegetables in partial shade. If you find you need to grow more stuff but don’t want to rip up your yard, you can just build another raised bed. Easy expansion!

       Raised beds require a bit of work the first year, but they’re pretty easy to maintain after that. If you start with a good soil mix, it’ll be easy to pull any weeds that sprout and to harvest your vegetables. A great book for getting started on this is Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!. It’s how I learned about it and I still use some of his techniques despite having gone to a regular old patch of ground.

       Another interesting concept that I haven’t tried yet is column or vertical gardening. I was first introduced to the idea at Journey to Forever’s article on Growing Columns. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to! It’d be a great way to get a lot of growing area in very little ground space. Journey to Forever also has lots of information on square foot gardening as well.

Garden Patch

Vegetable Garden by Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr       This is the typical image that comes to mind when we talk about gardening – a rectangular piece of ground that’s been tilled up and is ready to plant. This option can require the most work and/or money. You don’t have to buy the soil, but you’ll probably need to add something to it and you’ll have to work it. Oh, and you’ll need the space and willingness (or permission) to tear up a patch of your yard!

       Compost is a cheap way to fix soil, but that takes time. A gas-powered tiller makes quick work of most small gardens, but then you’re looking at a large up-front cost or rental fees. There are other methods to work the ground but they’ll break your spirit and back if you’re not ready for them.

       As I mentioned before, we have a typical garden but I don’t use the row method. You know – long rows with three foot wide aisles between each row. Instead, I’ve taken the concepts of square foot gardening and applied them to what looks like a typical garden. There’s less wasted space and less weeds to pull this way.

A Final Word

       I’ll talk more about the specifics of gardening in later posts, so make sure you sign up for free updates to Provident Planning if you’re interested. But if you’re considering starting a garden because you think it’ll save you tons of money you need to proceed with caution. Gardening can save you some money but probably not as much as you think. This is especially true if you don’t have a big freezer and take time to preserve your harvest.

       You should garden because you enjoy it or because you want the convenience of fresh vegetables just outside your door. It is a hobby that can pay for itself. But once you factor in your time you’re not really “saving” a ton of money. Like most other things, if you’re only in it for the money you’ll burn out fast. So if that’s you, start small and see if you like gardening. Then you can go bigger. Just be careful or you’ll find that gardening is costing you money instead of saving it!