The Frugal Garden?


September 12, 2010 by Leah

Before we were dating, I asked Aaron what he thought about lawns. We were hiking Flattop at the time, and he didn’t even pause before saying something like, “they’re pointless wastes of space and resources.” (One of many little signs that he was The One.) I tend to agree. Yet here we are with a giant lawn and a $90-per-month portion of our rent that goes to lawn care. Obviously, we needed a garden.

It took us a couple of months of talking about a garden before we actually got moving on the project. The first big step was building a compost bin, although that was motivated more by a wish to stop contributing so much to landfills than by a wish for compost. Aaron built us a bin one Sunday afternoon about three weeks ago.

Building the compost bin.

Building the compost bin.

The next big step was doing some reading. I was inspired by an article in Mother Earth News about growing $700 worth of food in 100 square feet, but it wasn’t a how-to manual. While I successfully managed my mother’s garden when I was a senior in high school and taking AP Biology, since then all I’ve done is grow some peas, beets, and herbs in containers on my (north-facing) porch (in Alaska). For an actual garden in a new area, I needed some advice.

Enter my shiny new library card. I took it for a spin and discovered two books on the “new arrivals” shelf, both about growing food in small spaces. The books were really interesting and very different. One thought “small” was nine square feet, the other felt small was anywhere from 750 to 3000 square feet. The authors ran very different types of gardens – one was all about neatness and order (he’s a New Englander) and the other took a more relaxed approach (she’s a Dutch-born Australian). Both included garden plans and good information about what crops grow well together and helpful advice (for instance, I’m not growing potatoes because – even though I love them – we are starting very small and somewhat late). I checked the average frost and frost-free dates in our area, just to make sure planting now wouldn’t be totally ridiculous, and I was surprised to find that it does indeed frost around here. Usually on about December 12th, and leaving around February 11th. So I have three months.

While I was reading and hemming and hawing, Aaron had been working on tearing out a patch of lawn. He decided 50 square feet was a good area to start with, which was just fine with me when I dug down and installed all the edging by hand yesterday. I also made a garden plan yesterday, and to my pleased surprised I found seeds for everything I wanted on the shelves at our local garden center (Armstrong’s – it’s a great local chain).

Garden plan

Garden plan

Aaron came along and found organic vegetable food and organic planting compost to shore up our rather clayey and dry soil, and by yesterday afternoon we had seeds soaking and the soil was ready to go. We spent about $90 on five bags of soil, fertilizer, seeds, and a new (longer) hose. We also spent probably $35 on a shovel and a hoe previously.

Thanks to the aforementioned lawn care (his name is Jay and he is quite supportive of this garden experiment) we now have a heavier-duty shovel, rake, and some other things on permanent loan from the landscaping department. He also provided the edging I installed. (Somehow Aaron neglected to get a picture of me sawing it to pieces while wearing a safety mask.) Depending on the dog and presence of pests, we may have to install some kind of fence, but I kind of doubt the coyotes will be interested in our vegetables, and they definitely keep the place free of rabbits and the like. So our initial outlay was $125 and a lot of hard labor. Will it pay off? I have no idea. If all our vegetables grow according to the plan, it will pay off big time (monetarily and in other ways), but there’s always the possibility the entire venture will collapse. After all, who plants in September?

Future garden!


3 thoughts on “The Frugal Garden?

  1. Kim_F says:

    Who plants in September??

    People who live in climates where the frost is still three months off, that’s who! (That means you! And me now, actually too! Although I can’t dig up the yard at all, so I’m devising a massive container garden scheme for our massive deck. 🙂

    3 months is more than enough time, especially with what you’re planting and the amount of sun and warmth those veggies will be getting. It’s like planting in Anchorage on Memorial Day, really. I’ve planted everything you’re planting straight into the ground btw/ Memorial Day- June 7th on many occasions over the last several years and have started harvesting by mid-July with the end of August and beginning of September turning into a mad dash to harvest and process everything the first frost will kill…

    I’m betting that though your days are shorter than an Alaskan summers your fall veggies will do just as well since you’ll have more days of sun…

    The one thing that might surprise you is how much water it’s going to take to keep it going…especially in Southern Ca’s climate. So the sun is a great thing, but it’ll definitely increase your need for water. If you pay for your water it would be interesting to figure the amount you spend in water into the total final analysis I’m sure you’re likely to do. 🙂

    Then again…I’m sure you were watering that lawn anyway, so it’ll balance out some at least…with the added benefit of giving you stuff to eat!

    Oh. And once last thing! When you’re done with this harvest…invest in some visqueen and plant a winter garden…you totally live in the right place to do it!! 🙂 If you start some seedlings indoors a month or so before you want them to go into the ground, even better.

    Ok. I’m done being overly enthusiastic on your blog….(man! I used! a lot! of exclamation points! on this comment!)

  2. Kim_F says:


    I’m totally envious of that compost bin.

  3. leahkathlyn says:

    Aaron is gratified by your envy. Also, I will look into this winter garden thing of which you speak. I’m already feeling like we could tear up another patch of lawn… Once my blisters heal.

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