Putting in a family garden has been a long-standing family tradition and is something I love doing. During World War II, the family garden was called a victory garden because it allowed more of the country’s resources to be devoted to feeding and outfitting those in the military. Not only is the family garden a tradition, it is a very frugal way to provide healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables for the family. There are many different philosophies about gardening. My garden philosophy has become “plant it and it will grow.” Plants generally don’t care what type of container they are growing in, as long as it’s big enough for their roots and full of good soil. This is how to make an inexpensive upcycled family garden.
I have tried to sow seeds directly into the ground. I end up feeding the birds, feeding the ants, or not watering the seeds enough for them to germinate. I have also learned that the plants I want usually take much longer than my growing season to produce their fruits. Buying starts from a nursery is great, but for the size of garden I usually put in – it can be very expensive. I have found a great way to start seeds indoors – thus saving money by not buying the starts from the nursery, and keeping the ants and birds from looking for a free meal in my garden. Overall, my garden startup costs are kept to about $50. Here’s how I do it . . .
Start by collecting plastic containers and egg cartons.
First, a month or two before I want to start seeds, I start collecting egg cartons, yogurt containers and sour cream containers. The yogurt and sour cream containers and egg cartons make great seed starters when placed in a sunny window.
Purchase or repurpose disposable casserole tins — be sure they have plastic lids.
And the casserole tins (with the lids) make fabulous little hot houses for those seeds that like things warm when placed in a sunny window.
Plant seeds about two months before the last frost in the area
When it’s time to plant seeds, I gather all these materials together, and I start working on my garden. I use potting soil as my growing medium. My children love to help with this part. We plant the tomatoes, peppers, and other temperamental seeds in the “hot houses”. This year, every one of the cucumber seeds we started in one of our hot houses germinated. I really didn’t want 36 cucumber plants –so we gave half away. The hot house just worked so well at helping the plants get started.
We plant the larger, vine plants – zucchini, summer squash, and winter squash in the yogurt and sour cream containers. This gives them the space they need for their roots to develop without interference. This also minimizes the transplant shock many plants experience after being moved into the garden.
And, after some slight modifications, we use the egg cartons to hold seeds that do better alone – like marigolds and snapdragons.
Turning an egg carton into a seed tray
- Take the top off of the egg carton
- Line the inside of the top of the egg carton with tinfoil
- Place the foil lined top of the egg carton under the other half of the carton as a water barrier
- Fill with soil and plant the seeds
The neat thing about using an egg carton is that once the seedlings are large enough to plant in the garden, the sections can just be cut apart and buried in the garden. This minimizes the transplantation shock plants normally experience when they move to the garden.
Keep the soil evenly moist and warm for the first two weeks
After I’ve filled all the seed trays and hot houses with soil, and added the seeds, it’s time to water. The nice thing about the hot houses is that as long as the plastic trays stays on top of the tins, no additional waterings are needed. (This is a good thing in my house. It prevents both the over and under watering of the seeds.) The other containers will need to be kept evenly moist for the two weeks after planting – but that is something fun for the children to do. Of course, once the seedling have at least three leaves, it’s time to start hardening them off to being outside full time. This usually takes two weeks. But by then, it’s about time for them to go into the garden anyway.
Place in a warm sunny window.
My east and north facing windowsills are lined with my upcycled garden. It is a lot of fun to check on the little plants every day. My children are always amazed at the miracle the seeds undergo. The fact that something they planted turns into something we can eat is an amazing lesson and an important skill to learn. And besides, a family garden (for 7 people) for less than $50 is a great deal.