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Thrifty Alternatives to Expensive Gardening Products

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The dizzying array of gardening products required to maintain a garden can be overwhelming….

After adding up the cost of purchasing fertilizers, pH soil adjusters, and pest control products you might find it cheaper to convert to fake flowers and just get your produce at the grocery store. Worse yet, a large number of the gardening products sold in stores are harmful for the environment and make our produce toxic to consume.

Fortunately you can make your own gardening products using non-toxic ingredients already found in your home. Many of these ingredients can be obtained at little or no cost, Here’s How …


Some plants such as Azaleas, Rhododendrons, foxgloves, bleeding hearts, and blueberry bushes grow best in acidic soil. A lower pH makes minerals soluble and allows the plant to absorb vital nutrients. If you have a Rhododendron that won’t bloom it could be that your soil pH is too high. This can be easily remedied by using a variety of substances already found in your home, many of which regularly end up in the trash.

Products that lower Soil pH

  • Coffee grounds,

  • Left over coffee

  • Expired orange, pineapple, or grapefruit juice

  • Vinegar

  • Pine needles

My favorite flower, Peonies, along with lilacs, sage, poppies, and sunflowers, grow best in alkaline soils. Flower and leaf discolorations and plant deformities can be an indication that your soil pH is too low.

Products that Raise pH

  • Wood Ash

Spread ash around alkaline loving plants, bushes, and trees. Use no more than 4 cups of ash per plant annually. Since ash contains concentrated levels of salt it can create a toxic environment for plants if too much is used.) Only use ash on well established plants, never on seedlings. Ash also contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, and 10 other nutrients essential for plant growth.

  • Egg Shells

Like egg shells, sea shells must also be ground into a fine powder. Save your clam and oyster shells from meals or collect some shells on your next family trip to the beach. Grind shells using a food processor, blender, coffee grinder, or nut mill.

Other than looking for tell tale signs of soil pH imbalances, gardeners can also check soil pH by using an inexpensive hand-held pH meter. There are tests you can perform to determine soil pH by using household substances.
For instance if you boil red cabbage the broth left behind can be used to determine soil pH. If your soil is highly acidic the broth will remain red when the soil is added. The color of the broth will turn darker as soil pH levels increase. However this method only gives you a general idea of soil pH, while a meter provides a more accurate reading.
There are many widely available books which provide information on the optimal pH of various types of plants, along with other vital information such as plant’s light and nutrient needs, growing habits, and hardiness zoning.

Comprehensive List of Optimal Plant pH levels.pdf


There’s no scourge more dreaded than that of the slug. I’ve seen them decimate whole gardens. They thoroughly enjoyed my strawberries the first year that I tried to grow a garden. Not only do they leave a thick trail of slime everywhere they go, they also leave gaping holes in your fruits and vegetables. Here’s how you can stop slugs dead in their tracks!

Sea weed
Grab some on your next trip to the ocean and place it around the base of your plants. Its salt content will send slugs packing and provide valuable nutrients for your plants.

Egg shells or sea shells coarsely ground will provide a slug barrier for your plants. Spread it around the base of plants. The jagged edges of the shells will cut into their delicate skin.

Beer, it’s not just essential for game night! Place beer traps around plants. Slugs are attracted to the fermented yeast in beer. Leave a quarter to half of the beer in a can; bury beer cans at an angle close to the plants you most want to protect. Make a rain cover by wrapping aluminum foil around the top of the can so that beer doesn’t become diluted by rain. Replace traps when they become full.

If want a chance to eat what you grow before the bugs do, the use of pesticides in inevitable. On the positive side you don’t have to buy costly toxic chemicals because it’s likely that you already have what you need to make your own natural pesticides right in your kitchen. Use a spray bottle to apply the following pesticides

Home-Made Pesticides

  • Mix #1 (Lemon juice and powdered Cayenne pepper)

  • Mix # 2 (Boil one cup of minced garlic and one cup of minced onions in four cups of water. Strain using pantyhose or cheese cloth. Keep the broth and discard the solid material. Next add one tablespoon of cayenne pepper and one tablespoon of liquid soap to the mix. Use within 1week

  • Mix #3 (Chrysanthemum flowers contain a powerful pesticide called pyrethrum. This substance invades the nervous system of insects rendering them immobile. Grow Chrysanthemums in your garden. Dry the flowers and then boil them in water for twenty minutes. Strain using cheese cloth or pantyhose. Spray can be stored for up to two months.

If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain it can be difficult to keep up with re-applying pesticides. An easier alternative is to add plants that are natural pest deterrents to your garden. Many of these plants have a strong odor or a bitter taste which can create a sort of fence around your more tasty plants.

Natural Pest Deterrents

A: Artemisia
B: basil, borage
C: castor bean, catnip, chamomile, chives, chrysanthemums, citronella grass, citrosa,
clovers, common lantana, coriander, cosmos
D: dahlias, dill
E: eucalyptus
F: fennel, four o’clocks
G: garlic, geraniums
H: hyssop
L: larkspurs, lavender, leeks, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lime basil
M: Marigolds, myrrh,
N: narcissus, nasturtiums,
O: onions, oregano
P: parsley, peppermint, petunias
R: Rosemary, radish, rue
S: spearmint, spiny amaranth, stone root
T: tansy, thyme, tobacco, tomatoes

Most plants need nutrient rich soils to flourish. You can add nutrients to your soil by making a compost tea. Save your food waste scraps and if you go fishing bring your catch home even if it’s too small to eat or is a fish that is not edible. (Please note, we do not mean fish that are Not of Legal Size- we mean fish that you might not normally eat such as sunfish).
Place your scraps in an old pair of panty hose or an old cotton t-shirt that maybe your kids outgrew. You can often get t-shirts at yard sales for a quarter. Tie off the openings of the shirt with string or rubber-bands. Fill the shirt or panty hose with your scraps. You can use almost any type of fabric that is porous. You will also need a cheap aquarium pump in order to make this tea.

Step 1: Fill a 5 gallon bucket ¾ of the way with rain water; do not use chlorinated tap water.
Step 2: Completely tie off the scrap container you are using.
Step 3: Immerse the scrap bag in the water
Step 4:Add 1 cup of molasses to the mixture and stir well.
Step 5:Insert plastic tubing from the aquarium pump into the five gallon bucket and turn on.
Step 6: Let sit for 2-3 days
Step 7: Stir and apply tea to your garden with a watering can.

Note: the molasses and aquarium pump are needed in order for the bacteria to break down nutrients.

Lastly, plants require an abundant source of nitrogen in order to grow. As gross as it may sound urine is an excellent source of nitrogen and it’s actually a sterile substance assuming that you don’t have a urinary infection.
The truth is much of the nitrogen your plants already receive comes from the urine of wild animals, and the runoff from animals on farms, as well as septic systems. Because urine also contains salt, urine must be diluted before being used to water plants. Water the base of the plant and not the plant itself. A woman named Carol Steinfield actually wrote a book on the subject of using urine for gardening. The book is entitled Liquid Gold.

Nitrogen Solution

Add one cup of urine to a gallon jug and fill it up the rest of the way with water.

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