Garden Daybook 11/27/12

Gardening can save you $$$ or it can end up costing you a lot. I manage to bring home lots of free stuff and save lots of money. The trick is to become aware of alternative ways to get what you need. For instance, I have come home with lots of interesting seeds and plants from fellow gardeners by attending local plant swaps. Below I share with you three things I get for free. A little time, a little labor, and my gardens reap the benefits.


Shelly The Sheep #!%%* Lady called (no offense meant, this is the name she calls herself!). She said “Come and get it! It’s bagged and ready for pickup.” Ahhh! Great mystery of life. Manure that is. Lovely stuff – it’s fertilizer, it’s a soil amendment, and best of all it’s free.


We drive the truck over to Shelly’s and load as many bags of manure and bedding into the truck as will safely fit. Back home we empty the bags into our pallet enclosure and mix in chopped leaves (free)and kitchen garbage (free).


This mixture will percolate off and on all winter. Next spring, when we dig into the pile, we’ll find a beautiful black compost full of worms (they’re free too – they just show up! – it’s magic!). We use this lovely stuff to enrich the soil in our vegetable and fruit gardens. Some of the finished compost is mixed right into the beds and some is used as a summer side dressing for the vegetables.

Watch your newspaper for ads for free manure. I’ve seen ads for alpaca and horse manure. You might have to load it yourself so you will need to have access to a truck.

Important tip: Always compost manure before using it on your garden. WEAR GLOVES while working with manure – STAY SAFE!



Every fall our Electric Coop sends out tree trimming crews to shape trees that grow beneath power lines. Trimming branches that might come into contact with electrical wires makes it less likely that we will have winter power outages. I know the trees are being trimmed when I hear chain saws and the loud buzz of the wood chipper they drag behind their trucks. I wait until they get to the edge of our property and then I walk down the road and ask them nicely if they wouldn’t mind “dropping a load” just at the end of our drive. They have never failed me. The crew works it’s way down the road tree by tree and, when their truck is filled to capacity with chipped branches, they come back to our drive. I listen for the beep beep beep of their back up signal and the whir of the dump bed tilting. In just a few minutes there is a rather nice sized pile at the end of the drive. This year they came back twice and we have two big piles of wood chips.

Visiting friends look side-ways and ask “so – – – what do you do with all the wood chips?” Well – – we use them in the gardens – we use every last piece – down to the last crumb.

We mix some of the wood chips into the compost pile to help aerate it and feed the microorganisms. We “rechip” most of the pile with our chipper to make the pieces smaller and then spread the bulk of these smaller chips on garden paths to help suppress weed growth and make for comfortable walking during wet periods. Wet spots in the chicken yard can be spread with wood chips to cut down on mud. Some of the chips will simply stay in a pile, rot down, and then be added to compost or used for mulch around plants during the summer. Not a bad deal. It’s all free.

Check out your communities maintenance garage for possible free wood chips. You might have to load your own truck but it’s still a great deal.



Coleus (the red leaves), Lemon verbena (in the green glass), and Pineapple sage (notice the scarlet bloom) to the left are tender perennials and will not overwinter outside in our zone 5 winter conditions. Sweet potato vines (in the tea pot), being tender tropical plants, will also die after the first fall frost. I know, that with a little effort, I can help these plants make it through our harsh northern winter.

I take six inch tip cuttings before the first fall frost. I remove the lower leaves (they will rot in the water), stuff the cuttings into pretty glasses of water and watch them produce roots. The coleus, pineapple sage, and sweet potato vineroot in a few weeks.

Lemon verbena is slow to root and sometimes doesn’t root at all. I always take more Lemon verbena cuttings than I will ever need and hope to end up with at least three or four plants to nurse through the winter. I suppose I could stick the Lemon verbena in a soilless mix and erect a plastic tent over it. But – – when it’s time to take cuttings I’m also frantically canning and dehydrating the last of the garden. The kitchen is always full to overflowing with green tomatoes, winter squash, celery, the last of the beans, etc. etc. Stuffing the cuttings into water means one less thing on the to-do list.

When each cutting develops a healthy root system I pot it up in a 4 inch pot and treat it like a houseplant. I put the pots in a south or west window and keep them evenly watered. When spring temperatures warm up and all danger of frost is past I take the plants into the garden and plant them in the ground. I always root and pot up more seedlings than I can ever use because experience has shown that there will be winter losses. If you end up with too many plants than you need (good for you!) you can share with fellow gardeners at a spring plant swap.

Free is good. Keep your eyes and ears open. You just might come across great stuff. Your wallet and your garden will thank you.

As the City Cousin, I want you city folks to know that you, too, can reap the benefits of free wood chips. Like Fran says, listen for the sounds of chain saws and chippers. I spent a few seasons crewing for an arborist and we would often prefer to drop a load of chips near a job than driving 30 or more minutes to take it to a processing center. (Hey from the City, Mary Ann, the City Cousin)

Hey from the farm,

Fran The Country Cousin


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