Tight times require some creativity and common sense. There are dozens of ways to pinch pennies around the house, starting with simple things like turning off the lights when you leave a room (all those watts add up) or dialing down the thermostat. In the garden, conservation pays dividends threefold in saving money, water and time. It makes the fruit of your efforts that much sweeter. Here are 12 more ways to save.
1. Plant vegetables: Under optimum conditions, one $1.99 packet of tomato seeds can produce 750 pounds of tomatoes. A half-ounce of lettuce seeds is enough to grow 12,000 heads; a typical $2 packet may contain 1,000 seeds. That’s a lot of green for not much coin.
2. Make-it-yourself containers: You can make your own growing pots for seedlings out of newspaper. This will help to get those veggies growing early. As an alternative to expensive peat pots or plastic containers, try this idea courtesy of the California Garden Clubs’ Kids Growing Strong program.
You need a page of black-and-white newspaper, a half-liter plastic water bottle and tape (cellophane or masking work is fine). Cut a 5-inch strip of newspaper lengthwise (that’s about 22 inches long).
Use the bottle as a mold. Place the bottle sideways on the sheet with about 1-1/2 inches of paper extending past the bottom of the bottle. Roll the newsprint around the bottle into a cylinder. Secure the end with a little tape.
Fold the edge over the bottle bottom and secure with tape. Slide the newspaper off the bottle and you have a 3-1/2-inch-tall pot. Fill with potting mix and plant a seed. Place pot in a tray or saucer and add water.
When ready to transplant in the garden, you can put the whole pot in the ground; the newspaper will dissolve, just like the peat pot.
3. Compost: Talk about turning trash to treasure. Composting recycles garden rubbish and kitchen scraps into nurturing fertilizer.
4. Be fertilizer-savvy: Your plants aren’t fickle about brand names; they’ll grow with the cheap stuff. When shopping for fertilizers, look at the numbers (the nutrients, not the price) on the side of the box. A typical balanced fertilizer will have a “grade” such as 10-10-10 (denoting the percentages of available nitrogen, phosphate and potash, respectively; the major nutrients needed for plant growth and development). Buy by the grade.
5. Coffee-ground mulch: Used coffee grounds make great mulch for roses and other blooming plants, especially those that love acid soils such as camellias or azaleas. Ask your favorite barista for used grounds in quantity at your neighborhood coffee place.
6. Newspaper mulch: Recycled newspaper is another effective mulch in the vegetable and flower garden. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recommends using a quarter-inch-thick layer of newspapers around plants. Use primarily black-and-white pages; color inks may harm sensitive plants. A layer of newspaper — which may take several months to break down — helps regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture; that saves water and time weeding.
7. Caulk: That’s money slipping through those cracks in your home. By properly sealing your home from the elements, you stop heat loss. That means lower energy bills. Look at the weather-stripping around windows and doors, too. According to experts, up to 20 percent of your home’s heat is lost through unopened windows.
8. Cold-water treatment: Wash your clothes in cold water. You’ll save energy and money every load.
9. Bottle your own water: Instead of buying bottled water at $1 or more per gallon, refrigerate tap water in a glass bottle or non-PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic container. Filter the water first if you prefer.
10. White vinegar: Grandma was right: vinegar makes a great cleaner. At under $2 a quart, it’s cheaper and safer to use than many commercial cleaners. For glass cleaning, combine one part vinegar to three parts water and put it in a mister. Vinegar is very effective in removing rust and lime deposits. It brightens aluminum and (when mixed with salt in a paste) can remove tarnish from copper. Soak showerheads and sink aerators in a half-cup of vinegar mixed with a quart of water to unclog holes and improve water flow. (But keep vinegar away from bleach; the combination can create noxious fumes.)
11. Baking soda: Another natural wonder that removes odors as well as grime. Dissolve four tablespoons (a quarter-cup) of baking soda in one quart of water for a general household cleaner. It’s very good for floors and counters in the kitchen or bath. Mixed with salt, use it to clean enamel, ceramic or glass baking dishes, or to remove coffee stains from cups and countertops. It also works well on removing soap scum.
12. Turn down the thermostat: For every 2 degrees lower in winter, you’ll save an estimated 10 percent on your heating bill. Put on a sweater and add a blanket to the bed.