How to Take $40 and Turn it Into $160

We all like to save money and we like our investments to pay off. In gardening, it's pretty much a given...a little money results in great rewards.

Last year, we spent about $10 on seed. We also (as in the case of the chiles and tomatoes) harvest seed from something we really liked to eat and want to grow. Add in another $20 of water and fertilizer and $7 for our seed starting greenhouse tray. About $40. What did we get for that?

Below is a rounded off tally of our harvest. The first price is what it would cost us in the supermarket to buy it, the second number is the value of our harvest using those prices.

Tomatoes ($2.99/lb.) - 20 pounds ($60)
Zucchini and squash ($.99/pound) - 50 pounds ($50)
Carrots ($1.00/pound) - 5 pounds ($5)
Onions ($1.00/pound) - 2 pounds ($2)
Corn (3 for $1.00) - 9 ears ($3)
Chiles ($3.99/pound - 2 pounds ($6)
Bell Peppers (3 for $1.00) - 30 ($30)

Total - $156, or around $160

So, as you can see, we got a 400% return on our original investment.  

How did your investments do last year?

Next time, we'll show you what we plan on growing this year and how to start your garden.


Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

The Poor Man's Sprinkler System

At some time, every serious gardener gets to the point where there are so many plants that watering becomes a dreaded chore.  I'm not one to want to spend all my precious time watering my plants. I'm the Cheapskate and time is money, after all.

To alleviate this, I installed my own custom and low-cost automatic sprinkler system. Here, I present to you, the Poor Man's Automatic Sprinkler system, customizable for any garden.

What I use is a drip irrigation system. It has the benefit of being used as sprinklers or drip and is very stingy with water use. In fact, many jurisdictions (my included) exempt drip irrigation systems from water rationing laws.

I have two distinct growing zones in my backyard and another one in the front yard. In the back, I have a sunny zone (Zone 1) and a shady zone (Zone 2)

This creates a quandary because each zone requires it's own watering schedule. I resolve this with a dual-zone water timer that is attached to the fawcett.

With this, I set a more frequent schedule for the sunny side and a little less for the shady side. I might water for 15 minutes every other day on the sunny side and for 10 minutes every three days on the shady side. I'm able to adjust the schedule very easily when seasons change. There's also a manual button that gives me an immediate 10 minutes of water with one push, and a separate hose connection on the end for manual hose use.

Most of my plants are fine with the sprinkler heads. You can get these in a variety of spray patterns, from 45 degress to 360 degrees. Most of mine are 180 degree (half circle), though I do have some 90 degree heads for corners.

For some of our trees and our hanging baskets, I use drip emitters. You can also get these in a variety of flavors, from half a gallon per hour up to 5 gallons per hour.

There are specialized hoses that you can get for this but I find that a cheap garden hose works just as well. I buy one on sale, use the hole-poking tool that you get with the drip kit, poke a hole in the hose, and insert either the sprinkler or emitter. You can also see that you can get stakes to hold your watering devices into the spot you want.

In the front rose garden, I use this old Melnor rotary timer. Does everything the other one does but you use a dial to set it instead. It is very sturdy and reliable...of course, that means they don't make them anymore.

Maintaining the system is a piece of cake. Watch occasionally for blocked sprinkler or emitters, clear them out with a nail or needle if they do get blocked. About two times a year, I need to change the batteries in the timers. Total cost of my system, including timers, about $70. So far, it has lasted a decade and I never worry about watering my plants again.

UPDATE: I forgot to put in a link to the drip irrigation starter kit, click below for an easy-to-set-up system to start with.


Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

A Rose by Any Other Name is Still a Chore

I love roses. They take very little work...just an occasional deadheading and some fertilizer...and provide a rich bounty of beauty.

Still, there is one big chore I must do each year for the roses. That's pruning.


I'm an early pruner, even here in Southern California, but January is when I have time to do it, and it's just late enough that it doesn't seem to have any impact on the plants.

Above is my front yard rose garden which has been sitting pretty much untouched since September. That is when I deadhead and feed them for the last time of the year. Then, I just let them sit and develop their own inner food to get them through the winter.

Now, it's time to get to work. I usually break this up into two days. One for the front yard, the other for the backyard. Today, I start on the front.

You'll need some loppers, hand shears, and...since roses have some really nasty thorns...a good pair of leather gloves. That last one is the most necessary of the tools.

I practice what I call the "bare root plus" style of pruning. That is my roses will look like I just planted a bare root rose that I bought at the nursery when I'm done, plus a few leaves that I leave on for some basic photosynthesis.  I cut the big canes down to the first set of leaves...just above that leaf.

Next, I want to remove the dead stems from the center and the spindly stems from the entire plant.

When I'm done, a plant that starts out looking like this...

...ends up looking like this. Notice how the center is cleared out. I kind of shape it like a bowl and that it looks a lot like a newly planted bare-root rose.

Once I've got all the plants pruned and cleaned up, it's time to prep the soil. I pour a layer of mulch over the entire garden.

Then, I sprinkle on some bone meal to help feed. Last year, I also had a mildew problem in this garden, so I'm sprinkling in a layer of sulfur dust, a natural fungicide, to help combat that problem. After that, I put another layer of mulch on top, 4 cubic feet of mulch altogether.

When done, I water in.

The rose garden is done and already to grow spectacularly for another year. It won't be long before I'm posting the pictures of the first blooms of the year.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

All Thatched Up!

This is my next door neighbor's lawn. I'm showing it because she has an excellent sprinkler system and gardeners to take car of it. It's the same kind of grass as mine, St. Augustine, and as you can see in the wintertime, it's not a real lush green. In fact it goes kind of dormant. Still, this shows what a perfect St. Augustine lawn should look like at this time of the year.

I don't have a sprinkler system and I'm the gardener. My lawn is far from perfect. St. Augustine has some built-in problems that have to be dealt with on a regular basis. It goes dormant in winter (a plus for me since that means around 2 months I don't have to mow) and the hot, midsummer sun scorches it, so in the height of summer, it looks pretty much like it does in winter.

In fact, there only about 3 or 4 months of the year when it looks really the spring.

Another problem that it has is thatching. St. Augustine puts out many rhizomes, runners to some people, that creep along the surface, taking root as it grows. Great, the lawn spread itself, I hear you thinking. 

Not so much but it does tangle up in itself, creating a dense mat that eventually chokes out everything underneath it...including itself. Above, you can see a significant patch of my lawn that has very thick thatching. Below is a close up of that mat...probably about 2 inches thick including the root layer.

Every now and again, it becomes necessary to break up that thatch. I've tried wearing golf shoes, buying special de-thatching tools that tend to fall apart as soon as you stretch them, and even attacked it with a hoe to varying degrees of success...mostly not too successful.

This year I'm going to try something different.  I'm taking my heavy duty gardening fork, sticking it in the ground, and pushing it forward so that it rips up four holes of thatching and roots, thereby not only breaking the thatch but also aerating the lawn, letting water and nutrients down to the roots below.

Here is what it looks like after I do one.

Now, repeat around 300 times to cover this patch of lawn and then the finished project looks something like this.

I mow to get rid of the raggedness and then we'll wait for spring to see how this idea worked.

Stay tuned!

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

More Visitors to the Garden

While I fight off the last of this cold, let's look at some more of the Cheapskate's visitors...

Cedar Waxwings...

Red Tail Hawk...

House Finch...

Hooded Oriole...


Faking a Tropical Paradise

People in Southern California have been trying to delude themselves for over a century. Palm trees, sandy beaches, tropical flowers, lush lawns...the dirty truth is that we're not tropical, we're almost desert.

The area only looks a lush as it does because we import tons of water and splash it all over our yards in a desperate attempt to fool ourselves we're in Hawaii or some other island paradise.

In the summer, we get hot. Very hot. Our thermometer peaked at 117 last summer and regularly flirts, or goes steady, with 110. 

In the winter, we get cold and the temps can dip below freezing. 

One key factor in my garden plan is to keep plants that can tolerate a little cold so, other than our house plants and our lone phalaenopsis orchid, the tropical plants in my backyard can tolerate a day or two down to 28 degrees. Longer than that and they start dropping like flies.

It's not to say that they like it down there. Lately, the temps have been dipping into the low 30s. Our lowest temp so far is 32. I keep a thermometer in the backyard that I can see through our kitchen window. Each morning I check it to see how cold it god and then watch the weather forecast to see if its' supposed to get cooler.

The plants still react. At the top of the page is our plumeria at the height of its summer glory. The next picture down shows what it looks like during a cold spell (with a rogue Mr. Lincoln bloom poking fun at it). The leaves will all be off soon and the trees will go dormant for awhile.

Our bouganvillea looks a little ragged in the cold, as does some of the euphorbia and the guava tree leaves react with a purple hue.

The grape vine is just about to drop the last of its leaves.

If I see that we hit the magic number of 28, and it looks like colder weather will be coming, the potted plants (mostly cymbidium orchids) are moved to the garage until it's passed.

I'm watching those cymbidiums closely, there's too many buds waiting to open to ignore.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tea for the Tillerman

...actually I could use a beer after this.  First chore day of the New year...

First, a trip to Lowe's to pick up some mulch and soil amendment.

I also picked up a couple of bags of medium river rock.

This makes for a quick and cheap camouflage for the root barrier that I installed between the lawn and rose garden a couple of weeks ago.

I had hoped that when I cut the tomatoes, this one would make a comeback by Christmas but it's just in the way. Time to yank it out.

Now, on to the hard part.

Here are the tools needed, a shovel and fork.

Easy in theory, just stick the shovel head in as far as it will go and turn over the dirt.  Break up the clods with the fork.  Sounds ok, but it's pretty back-breaking labor.  Thankfully, I don't have a big plot to do.

It's always a good sign when you turn the dirt and see these guys.

Job done. I'll add some mulch and soil amendment later before planting. Now, it's time for a nice cool drink.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved 

The Dragon Slayer!

UPDATE! See "The Rest of the Story," below

See that beautiful, luscious, and delicious fruit above? No, we didn't grow it but  we're trying. It's called a dragon fruit and my wife took that picture at the incredible Viktulienmarkt in Munich.

It's similar to a prickly pear or pitaya in that it grows on a cactus.  Imagine my wife's surprised  pleasure when she found some plants on sale at our local farmers market.

We grow them in a lonely corner of our backyard, just behind the gate, where they get some water from a nearby sprinkler head.  They grown like crazy and get very top heavy, necessitating the tomato cages and stakes that you see.

After a couple of years of lots of growth, we finally got a bloom. Beautiful white flowers that last about half a day.

Unfortunately, we only got the one flower so there was no partner to pollinate it. There are a couple of buds on the plant now, we're crossing our fingers that we'll get fruit in the next few months.

January, 2013 - ...and now, "The Rest of the Story..."

Well, one of the extra blooms opened and, surprise, it pollinated.  Soon, it was obvious that a fruit was developing and started to turn pink.

We kept an eye on it, our one and only...and first...dragon fruit.  At Christmas, it seemed like it could ripen no more so we picked it along with some of our citrus.

Tonight, we cut it open and tasted it. The good news is that if you don't like your fruit really sweet, this just has a very light sweetness to it. The bad news is that if you DO like your fruit really we do...then it tastes nice and clean but a little bland.

Oh well, we'll keep the plants and see how they taste next year.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Dutch Oven Beef Stew

It can still get a little chilly at night here in Northern California. A hearty stew is just the thing to take the chill off. This reci...