Install water reservoirs.
A water reservoir is a great way to keep your plants moist enough even if you forget to water them. You can purchase an expensive soaker hose or drip irrigation system, or you can just recycle your plastic bottles.
To make your own water reservoirs, clean out old milk jugs and water bottles and keep the caps. Poke a few small holes in the bottom of each container and bury them in the ground between your plants at least six inches deep. Cover the container with soil but leave the opening free. Fill each container with water and replace the cap. Voila! You have your own free, easy-to-make, food-safe water reservoir. Once your reservoirs are installed, recheck and refill when they become empty. Don’t forget to keep the caps on or else all your water will simply evaporate!
This method not only makes gardening easier on you, but also deep waters your plants. More water gets to the roots where it’s needed and less is wasted in evaporation and run-off.
Grow potatoes in a barrel.
Potatoes are a cheap, proliferic vegetable that’s easy to grow and store and that appeals to a variety of palates. However, digging them out of the ground can be a pain, especially if you have heavy clay or rocky soil.
To save your back when planting potatoes, find a vertical container to use – old barrels, tomato cages, and similar structures work well. Make sure your sides are enclosed and the bottom is open or has drainage holes (be creative!) Plant your potatoes in the bottom over an inch or two of good soil and let them grow up. As the plants get taller, add more dirt on top to cover all but the top two or three inches. Continue until you run out of space – the leaves and feelers on the stems will grow into new potatoes and at the end of the season, you can simply turn your potato container on its side and collect your harvest.
Make use of your kitchen scraps.
You don’t need a compost pile to make use of kitchen scraps in your garden (although compost is called “black gold” for a reason). Coffee grounds add lots of nitrogen to your soil, necessary for plants that love high-pH soil such as azaleas and tomatoes. Simply mix the grounds directly into your potting soil or sprinkle them around the base of the plant.
Plant a banana peeling under your rose bushes for a generous dose of potassium that will encourage flowering. Sprinkle crushed eggshells around your beds to deter slugs who don’t like the sharp edges. You can even regrow your food from scraps – potatoes, scallions, celery, garlic, and mushrooms are just a few of the vegetables you can regrow from the inedible scraps.
Add a layer of mulch.
Mulch is a wonderful tool to use in your garden. It helps prevent weed growth, deters pests, helps the soil retain moisture, and prevents your beds from getting too hot or too cold. You can use expensive mulch from the garden store or you can DIY it for free or cheap.
To make your own mulch, use a chipper or shredder to grind down brush, fallen leaves, dead wood, and other yard waste. You can also put an office paper shredder to good use – a thick layer of shredded or confettied paper makes great mulch. After a season or two, your homemade mulch will break down into a tillable soil amendment.
Store your tools in sand.
Save yourself time and money (and a headache) by storing your garden tools in sand. Get a large box and fill it to the brim, then store it in a dry, warm area. When you’re done with your tools, simply wipe the excess dirt/moisture away and stick the metal parts into the sand. It will draw moisture away from them, keeping your shears and other implements sharp and rust-free.
Keep slugs and toads away with beer.
Got a problem with slugs in your garden? Simply place a shallow metal tin on a flat surface near your plants (disposable pie pans work great) and fill it with beer. The fermented yeast attracts slugs like a magnet, away from your tender seedlings. The slugs will fall into the liquid and drown, which will also attract the attention of nearby toads. Who doesn’t like a quick, easy meal?
If you haven’t already, start a garden notebook. Record what works and what doesn’t, what the weather is like, and what you plant. Include pressed leaves or flowers, photos, and other tidbits that interest you. Not only is this a fun gardening activity for rainy days, but it also helps you collect information specific to your gardening sites and will be worth its weight in gold come next season.