For years I’d tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes and mostly pink strawberries—that prompted me to try.

I started with tomatoes, basil, and peppers (a salsa garden!). In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn one year.

 

But I have to be honest. My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I’ve been unable to duplicate the results.

Uniquely talented

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I can take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next!

Oh, the effort

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces something we can eat, I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

There has to be a better way

While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

True cost? Yikes!

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years.  That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.


RELATED: Grow Tomatoes at Home Even If You Don’t Have a Garden


 

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There’s nothing like a series of sunny days in late winter to awaken my inner gardener. Apparently, I’m not the only one as evidenced by my inbox these past few weeks.

Mary Hunt's garden in spring

Dear Mary:  I just moved into my first home after living in an apartment for the last 10 years. As a novice home chef, I’ve been dreaming of the day I could grow my own vegetable and herb garden and have a nice yard with grass and shrubbery as well. 

Do you have any suggestions for some basic tools I need to get started? Thanks for your help. I love your column and read it daily! Asher

Dear Asher:  I’ve got gardening on my mind, too. Currently, mine in this photo is under a few inches of snow but I have faith. I know that in a few weeks we’ll be back to temperatures in the 70s, which gives me a new appreciation for the condition known as spring fever! I’ve got it bad and can’t wait to get my hands dirty and my garden planted.

With that in mind, I came up with a list of my favorite inexpensive yard and garden gadgets and gear.

While this may look like a sizable investment, it’s not likely you will need all of these items on day one. Just hang onto this list as you begin to furnish your tool shed.

I’m confident you can rely on this list to build a collection of garden tools that will work well for many years to come. I’d rather see you spend a few more dollars on good quality tools from the start than to find yourself having to replace poor quality items every season. Been there, done that and wasn’t very happy about it.

Here for your gardening pleasure are my best inexpensive garden tools:

Gloves, trowel and weeder for the DIY gardener

1. Gloves

I tried so many until I found the gloves that work for me. Atlas Touch Gloves are awesome. Made of cotton with nitrile (similar to vinyl) coating on the palm and fingers, these gloves fit so well and are so flexible I can easily open a can, pick up a small pebble or even take a call while wearing them.

A pack of six pair comes in an assortment of pastel colors and sizes small, medium and large. These gloves are machine washable. Best garden gloves ever.

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So, you planted a garden, lucked out when your property included fruit trees, stumbled upon a produce sale you just couldn’t pass up, or joined a CSA. Good for you! Now what? What will you do with all that bounty?

Your choices are a) quickly consume your harvest before it spoils b) give it away or c) preserve it to enjoy in the future.

 

One of the best ways to preserve—the method of food preservation that is making a big comeback—is known as “canning.”

Canning is not difficult, but it is a procedure that should be followed precisely.

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Mosquitoes are nasty creatures. They bite, they transmit terrible diseases to people and pets and from what I read, have no redeeming value in the ecosystem.

Mosquitoes feasting on a human skin

 

Malaria infects some 247 million people worldwide each year, and kills nearly one million. Mosquitoes spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus and West Nile virus.

If that’s not reason enough to hate them, they can turn a beautiful backyard, deck or patio into a nightmare area not fit for humans during mosquito season. But it doesn’t have to be that way provided you are diligent to take control of your home and property.

MOSQUITO TRAP

When I discovered we’d be dealing with mosquitoes here in northern Colorado, my research knew no bounds and led to purchasing a Dynatrap.

This insect trap is engineered for 3-way protection. First, a UV fluorescent bulb generates a warm light, attracting insects.

Then a second lure, an exclusive Ti02 titanium dioxide-coated surface, produces harmless CO2, which mosquitoes find irresistible (no wonder they love you so much—you emit CO2, too).

Third, a powerful, whisper-quiet vacuum fan sucks insects into the retaining cage where they dehydrate and die.

Every few weeks I empty my mosquito morgue I mean trap. A full trap is proof-positive that this thing is very effective. Dynatrap is definitely not a bug zapper. No sizzle noises, odors or other annoyances. I give Dynatrap two thumbs up and five stars, too.

Don’t miss: Make Your Own Safe and Effective Ant Spray

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I often wonder why is it that weeds have no problem at all with drought-like conditions. They don’t require a thing—not water, fertilizer or protection from pests and predators.

Weeds don’t even need soil. They’re happy to grow in cracks in the sidewalk—even asphalt.

Weeds don’t complain, don’t need to be babied and do their best work under the worst of circumstances—the hotter the better! Weeds never give up. I wish I were more like weeds.

Still, weeds are the bane of every gardener; a problem for every homeowner. Read more

I may be more than a little bit obsessed with gardening and it’s a good thing. This summertime hobby improves both my mental and physical wellbeing.

EFFECTIVE EXERCISE. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (doesn’t everyone check with the CDC before doing anything strenuous?), just one hour of light gardening and yard work burns 330 calories—more than lifting weights for the same amount of time. I’ll take it!

BLOOD PRESSURE. Gardening scored on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s recommendation list for battling high blood pressure. I’m sure they’re thinking the physical movement aspects of gardening. But for me? Beautiful flowers and well-manicured beds calm my soul and refuel my joy like little else.

Don’t miss: Get Pesky Rabbits Out of the Garden

IMMUNE SYSTEM. It’s the sun, I’m sure of it. When I’m in my garden, I’m soaking up vitamin D which helps the body absorb calcium and in turns keeps bones strong and the immune system healthy.

GRATIFICATION. I can see the transformative results of my hard work. So many things that we spend time on have temporary results. A garden is satisfying because it builds on itself—plants and trees get bigger and healthier, and the garden gets more beautiful over time.

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Whether they come from your garden, the market or you receive them as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two, or even longer, when you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets.

The two enemies of cut flowers are bacteria and draught. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed!

cut-flowers-tulips-white-vase-white-background

Start with a clean vase

Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water. Next, add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid bleach for each quart of water. This will slow down the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water.

Remove leaves below the water line

You want to remove any leaves on the stems of cut flowers that will be below the water line. Submerged leaves will rot and promote bacteria and algae growth.

Condition the stems

Cut flowers can die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound,” preventing it from drawing water. Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a forty-five-degree angle to allow for the greatest amount of water as possible can be absorbed.

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If the heat of summer is bringing ants into your home and yard, don’t panic. You may not require toxic pest control products or a professional service to take care of the problem. In fact, chances are good you already have everything you need to do it yourself.

Here are 10 ways to get rid of ants using ordinary things from around the house or in the garage.

SOAP AND WATER. If you have ants or other bugs around the house, pour a 50/50 mixture of Blue Dawn dish soap and water into empty spray bottle and keep it handy. When you see the insects, spray them with the mixture. Provided you really saturate those little critters, the soap actually breaks down their exoskeletons, and they die almost immediately. Cheap and easy cleanup, too.

MOP AND VACUUM. To get rid of sugar ants, start by mopping the floor at least once a day. Mopping and vacuuming help to remove the ants’ pheromone trails. Cleaning and mopping will also rid your home of the food and crumbs that attract the ants. Make sure you don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink and empty the trash bin regularly.

BLACK PEPPER. To deter sugar ants, sprinkle black pepper around the home’s entry points to keep the ants from coming inside.

VINEGAR AND WATER. A 50/50 ratio of water and white vinegar can also deter ants. Spray this mixture on countertops, window sills, and high traffic areas.

WD-40. Spray any areas where ants are feeding or accessing your house with WD-40. The spray will kill ants and also serve as a deterrent from further access as long as residue from the spray remains. Not sure where they’re coming in? Spray WD-40 along the outside perimeter of the house. They will not cross it because ants hate the smell of WD-40. (So do rabbits!) Repeat as necessary.

CHALK. Keep ants at bay by drawing a line around your homes entry points using ordinary blackboard or sidewalk chalk. The ants will be repelled by the calcium carbonate in the chalk.

BOILING WATER. If fire ants plague your yard or patio and you’re tired of getting stung by those tiny attackers, a flowerpot can help you quench the problem. Place the pot upside down over the anthill. Pour boiling water through the drain hole and you’ll be burning them and their house for good.

CITRUS. You don’t need insecticides or ant traps to ant-proof your kitchen. Just give it the lemon treatment. First squirt some lemon juice on door thresholds and windowsills. Then squeeze lemon juice into any holes or cracks where the ants are getting in. Finally, scatter small slices of lemon peel around the outdoor entrance.

COFFEE. Sprinkle your used coffee grounds in the garden and around the outside of your house. Ants are repelled by the scent given off by the grounds and as a bonus coffee grounds are good for your soil and plants.

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH. Make sure you’re using food-grade diatomaceous earth, NOT swimming pool DE, which has been chemically altered. Sprinkle the food-grade DE outside around the perimeter of your home. You can also safely sprinkle it inside where you see the ants. Do not wet the DE or it will not work. Once the ants walk in the fine powder they’ll die because the DE quietly destroys  their exoskeletons.