Tuesday, June 14, 2011

on staking tomatoes

Building a garden for the first time in a new place gets expensive quickly. Of course, it would have helped if I had started everything from seed in a more timely fashion. Or if everything I had started from seed indoors under a grow light didn't just wilt and die (someone help!? I'm horrible at this!). Or if I had remembered to bring the tomato stakes and garden hoses that Corey and I bought last year for the garden we grew in his old backyard. But, regardless of all of this, we just had to make the best of things. We did build the beds from scratch, using untreated wood. This was easy and financially rewarding, and will last awhile.

We opted to buy some of the seedlings. One way to save on this is to shop around at local nurseries to see who is offering a) locally grown seedlings and b) packs of seedlings vs. individual plants. I prefer locally grown seedlings because they are more likely to do well in my area vs. seedlings grown far away that are meant for many people in many zones to buy (Think of it this way: we used to have thousands of apple varieties in North America, but the average American now knows only around six, and it's the same six across the country. That is because those six can be grown in a variety of zones and are hardy, not because they taste the best. Do you want to say the same for the plants in your very own garden?). Plus they are healthier because they have only been carted around a few miles vs. hundreds or thousands, and that lack of transportation often takes off a little of the cost as well. As for tip B, you can save a lot of money by getting packs of seedlings early on in the season versus one fairly large plant at a time later. This will also make you feel better about having to buy the plants since you'll still raise them up from a small seedling. Additionally, the larger ones are often already flowering if you get them too late, and typically you don't want to purchase these, as their flowering is a sign of stress from being in a small pot, and they're likely not to get any larger once you transplant them. Some of the plants I got in seedling packs were a 6-variety-pack of tomatoes, 6 red cabbage plants, and 9 spinach plants. Each pack was only from $1.50 for cabbage and spinach to $5 for the tomatoes.

And then it came time to stake the tomato plants. They were falling over, they had grown so large! 10 of them, total. Six from that pack, one from a friend, one from a farmers' market, one from a giveaway at school, and one purchased individually. So we managed to get 10 tomato plants for under $10, but staking them always turns out to be a completely different story. Cages were out from the beginning, as the garden is of the square foot variety and there would be no room. Cages are also very expensive, $3-$7 each. Dowel rods from the craft shop seemed affordable at 50 cents apiece (I built the pea trellis from 2 + string) but too slippery, and a little on the short side. Plastic stakes made for tomatoes are incredibly expensive at around $3 a stick. Wooden stakes made for tomatoes were around $2 each, a little expensive but considered briefly due to lack of other options. Finally, I found what I was looking for all along, a package of bamboo rods, $3 for a dozen! This has been the best option two years in a row. They can be reused next year since I won't be moving anywhere and forget to take them. I have heard that bamboo is a good renewable resource since it grows quickly. It's definitely more ecologically friendly than plastic. How do you stake your plants without spending a fortune? How else do you save money when gardening?


natalie said...

we usually do start everything from seed which is a HUGE savings. of course, this year was a different story because we just recently moved. we did go ahead & buy cages, knowing we would use them for years to come. look into finding a farmer's co-op in your area- they typically have really inexpensive local seeds & gardening supplies. happy gardening!

onelonelyapricot said...

That is a great idea! I don't know of a farmer's co-op here but I will try to find out if there is one. I'm surprised no one here has mentioned that idea to me, since I know a lot of gardeners.

I let myself get too busy this year and didn't plan far enough ahead to start everything from seeds. I don't know what I'm doing wrong but the ones I did start from seed both last year and this year didn't grow strong enough to get big and healthy once transplanted. I like that you built a hot box for yours, so I might try that for my fall garden. I am going to try to do everything from seed for fall! I hope it turns out to be a success.

The cages definitely seem like a good investment. Your beds are a lot larger than mine so they make better sense. I just hope the bamboo poles can hold them up--they are getting huge! I love the bamboo trellises you guys made, by the way. I was just reading about and admiring them on Tend. :) Happy gardening to you as well!!