The Dirt Cheap Green Thumb – great tips for stretching your gardening dollars

August 5, 2021

We frequently write about ways to save money for retirement. But when you finally get over that wall between work and non-work, things change – the concern becomes saving money in retirement.

That’s why The Dirt Cheap Green Thumb, by Rhonda Massingham Hart, is ideally suited for those of us who did NOT garden for a living prior to becoming retired. This well-organized little volume covers off a ton of valuable time and money-saving tips.

Hart starts by explaining that since no two lawns are alike, it’s important to know the “microclimate” of your own yard. Find out things like average rainfall, first and last frost dates, and even the pH balance of your soil (one way to figure this out is by checking the leaves of your tomato plants – who knew). The book explains how to test the soil drainage of your yard, as well.

Knowing these details makes it far easier to plan what, and where, to grow, the book explains. There are lists of plants that like sun, plants that are hardy in cold weather, and even plants that “can tolerate less than ideal growing conditions,” such as polluted urban settings.

For those who can’t master the existing yard conditions, Hart suggests growing in containers, and gives the ideal soil, peat moss, sand and compost ingredients.

There’s advice on using “do it yourself” plant growth boosting – such as adding “a tablespoon of Epsom salts… in the planting hole of tomato and pepper” plants.

For those of us living in drought-prone areas, using a “soaker hose” may be a far cheaper way, water-wise, to irrigate the roots of your lawn and garden than a conventional sprinkler. “Using a lawn sprinkler or an overhead watering system on hot, windy days wastes a lot of water,” notes Hart. Ah. Now we see. She points out how a rain barrel can shave down the water bill while providing a free water supply for gardening.

She goes over a handy list of ideal “people-powered tools” for the garden – a fork, a spade, a shovel, hoes, and rakes. Get decent tools, she advises. “Cheap tools will cost you, in either repairs or replacement costs. Well-made tools last longer and require fewer repairs.”

She talks about how you can make your own mulch from old branches lying around the yard via a chipper. Again, this is turning yard waste into yard upgrades!

Other topics covered – what to look for when buying plants on sale, the most “cost effective herbs” to grow, tips on the correct way to mow the lawn, “edible ornamentals,” how to make a low-cost greenhouse for cold-weather gardening, and how best to prepare the produce you grow at home for the freezer.

This is a perfect book for a novice or johnny/jane come lately gardener who didn’t learn any of these tips at mom or dad’s knee. It’s very accessible, it’s very clear, there are helpful illustrations, and the overall tone of the book is very encouraging – you can do this! Recommended for any new retiree who has always wanted to take up gardening, or a pre-retiree keen on saving on lawn and garden costs.

Saving is pretty much always a good thing. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has been helping people save for retirement for more than 35 years. If you don’t have a pension at work, and aren’t interested in finding out about the investment climate and best conditions for growing your income, check out SPP and leave the financial planting and harvesting to them!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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