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Penny-pinching spring gardening tips

By Jennifer Fishburn,
University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator

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[March 29, 2012]  Gardening is a great hobby that can range in cost from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. In these difficult economic times, gardening is receiving newfound interest, especially vegetable gardens. So how can we enjoy gardening without exceeding our budget?

My mother and grandmother were able to garden on a shoestring budget while providing an abundance of food. Of course, I learned some of these thrifty gardening practices. There are too many to list in just one article, so let's begin with a few cost-saving tips for spring gardening.

This year many home gardeners are looking for ways to stretch food dollars by growing a vegetable garden. A packet of vegetable seed may have 10 to 200 seeds in a packet. Are you really going to grow 200 broccoli plants? If not, share a packet of seeds with a fellow gardener.

As perennial plants emerge in our gardens, some of us begin to realize that it's time to divide. Share your wealth of plant material by having a neighborhood plant swap. For each container of plants people bring, they can take a different container home.

Another inexpensive way to get plants is to purchase them at a local plant sale.

Share the rental cost of a rototiller. Several businesses prorate the rental of a rototiller and other equipment. The more hours you rent the equipment, the lower the price per hour.

An inexpensive weed barrier is newspaper. First lay six or more layers of black and white newspaper -- about one section -- on the bare ground. (Do not use glossy colored paper.) Overlap the sections by about 1 inch. To keep the newspaper from blowing away, dampen the paper and then cover it with chopped leaves, dried grass clippings or mulch. The newspaper will keep weed seeds from germinating and help conserve soil moisture. The paper will eventually break down and add organic matter to the soil.

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Good gardens begin with good soil. Composting is a great way to generate a rich amendment for the soil. Start a compost pile any time of the year. It's easy to turn yard waste materials into a resource that can be reapplied to a garden or yard area. Turn leaves, lawn clippings, shredded twigs, and vegetable and food waste into something that can be reapplied to the landscape.

A compost pile should be contained in some type of structure. Compost bin structures come in many shapes and sizes. A basic handmade compost bin is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, but it can be as large as 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet. This type of a bin can be made out of wood pallets, lumber, hardware cloth and concrete blocks. One of the cheapest bins to make is to tie together four old wood pallets.

Organic matter, such as compost, aids in creating a soil structure that allows good water retention and root penetration. When added to the soil, the nutrients present in compost are released slowly, so they are less likely to leach out of the root zone, as compared with using regular fertilizer.

Gardening should be a fun activity that provides relaxation and exercise without being expensive.

[By JENNIFER FISHBURN, University of Illinois Extension, Logan-Menard-Sangamon]

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