Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frugal Living - I've got the gardening blues!

It's that time of year again - when the seed catalogs arrive in the mailbox, stirring memories of the aroma of freshly turned earth, seedlings erupting through the soil and mouthwatering fresh veggies.

Last year, for the first time in many years, I had a small garden. It whet my appetite for an even larger garden this year; partly because it's a frugal thing to do, but mostly because I just enjoyed planting it, caring for it and especially eating it. But planting a larger garden presents a problem - with the arthritis in my knees, I can't kneel down to plant the rows, especially the tiny seeds like carrots, lettuce and spinach.

Last year my back ached from bending down to try to get the seeds into neat, narrow rows. I ended up with 1 spinach plant in the 7 foot long row and about 5 mystery plants in the area between rows. I lost about 3/4 of my romaine crop to the birds because I didn't put them in right. My 2 small rows of carrots grew so close together, even after they were thinned out, I still harvested many tiny deformed tubers.

My failures haven't dampened my enthusiasm for trying again this year, but I did learn from my mistakes. So this year I decided to make my life a little easier. I remembered hearing about seed tapes - strips of biodegradable paper with seeds attached at the proper intervals. You just dig your furrow, unroll your seed tape and cover. Voila! Painless, neat rows of veggies.

The problem is the price of such modern gardening marvels. Two 7 foot rows of seed tape cost an average of $4.95 as opposed to a seed packet which would make several times that many plants. And not all seeds are available as seed tapes.

But thankfully, the Information Super Highway (a.k.a. the Internet) had an alternative answer - make my own seed tapes! With my seed packets, a roll of toilet paper and a little flour and water "glue" I can use these long snowy pre-Spring days to create my own seed tapes and be ready for the April gardening start date. For a FRACTION of the price.

Here's how to make your own tapes: Mix a thick flour water paste - you'll probably have to measure out 1/4 cup of flour and add water slowly until it gets to be a pasty consistency - not too thick, but not runny. (One gardener I saw recommended using Elmer's glue instead of the flour paste, but I think I prefer the flour).

Tear off a three foot length of toilet tissue and cut it into one inch wide strips. Lay the strips on a flat surface next to a yardstick. Follow the directions on the seed packet for spacing and place a small dot of the flour/water glue at the proper intervals. Dip a toothpick into the "glue" and pick up a seed, placing it on the glue dot on the toilet tissue. Allow the strip to dry thoroughly before rolling the tape. Store in an envelope until ready to plant.

After the danger of frost is past, just dig the furrow, unroll the strip and cover with the proper amount of soil. The flour paste and paper will degrade, leaving the seeds to germinate in beautiful properly spaced, even rows.

Not only is this a money saving solution, it will save my knees and back a lot of agony. Let's see - I think I'll make some tapes of beans, carrots, peas, lettuce.....


Betsy Markman said...

Are you familiar with "Square Foot Gardening?" I bought the book years ago in the hopes of becoming a gardener, and it looked like a really promising way to get the most out of a small plot. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to make me actually willing to do gardening. It just isn't my cup of tea.

You might want to check it out!

Patricia said...

Bonnie, this is a great tip post!! May I use your directions on my resource blog for my gardening column? I will provide a direct link to your blog.

Thyme for the Garden:
Column: Take Root and Write:Thyme for the Garden
Resource Blog: Thyme for the Garden