Frugal gardening 101: It’s time to plant outdoors!

This weekend it is finally time to plant those plants you started indoors in early spring, or purchased from a store. We’re talking tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more. The risk of nighttime frost is very low past the second weekend in June, so it’s more or less known as the safe time to transplant.

More Canadians are turning to growing their own food as store prices skyrocket. With PEI topping the charts for inflation month after month, more Islanders are trying their hand at gardening, and horticulturalist Heidi Wood has been sharing her tips for doing it on a budget.

Wood plants vegetables both in her garden plot at Stratford community gardens and in containers on her sunny deck.

“I wouldn’t put any more than two tomatoes in a 24-inch pot, only two pepper plants per 18-inch pot, otherwise they won’t grow as well,” she instructs. “If you space like this you get better fruit set and healthier plants.”

Wood suggests planting basil and tomatoes together in containers. (Heidi Wood)

When transplanting into containers, plant tomatoes with basil as a companion planting — they pair well together with cooking too, she points out — and peppers in a smaller container with marjoram.

She said the herbs marjoram and basil will repel all kinds of harmful insects, even mosquitoes, “so it’s good to keep this planting on your deck and further maximize the space in your garden for other veggies.”

Wood uses cute felt grow bags, which range in price from about $4 each and up in stores and online. She uses them season after season, since they’re reusable and permeable, allowing for ideal drainage.

You can of course plant tomatoes in the ground too.

Heidi Wood and her father Robert Wood put tomato plants in the ground that were started indoors. ‘He taught me all I know hands on to this day!’ Heidi says. (Joyce Wood)

“I have a recycled (free) water bottle to surround the newly planted tomato plant to keep it protected from wind and cooler temperatures,” she said.

She grew her transplants from seeds in late April under grow lights and they are late blight-resistant.

Knowledge is free

Part of frugal gardening is stocking up on know-how: what could be less expensive? If you get it right the first time, you will save money on not having to do it over.

For instance, did you know about companion planting?

One example of companion planting is called the “three sisters” of corn, beans and cucumbers.

Wood demonstrates what’s known as companion planting. ‘On the inside of the stakes I planted corn, surrounded by yellow pole beans and then surrounded by cucumbers,’ she says. (Heidi Wood)

“These three plants form a symbiotic relationship,” Wood explains.

“Corn and cukes are heavy feeders, but beans replace the soil with nitrogen, minimizing the amount of fertility needed for corn and cukes,” she said. The beans and cukes will climb up the trellis and form a protection around the corn from predators like raccoons, and all three benefit from the support of the trellis and minimize the amount of garden space with the vertical growing concept.

More examples of companion plantings: carrots next to onions, as the pest that attacks carrots doesn’t like the aroma from onion.

Wood surrounds the edge of her garden plot with marigolds and nasturtium as they deter many pests including aphids, cabbage moths and many other damaging insects, but also attract beneficial insects. Nasturtium flowers are edible too, with a pleasing peppery taste.

Heidi Wood’s garden plot at Stratford’s community garden illustrates an ideal small garden layout. (Heidi Wood)

Beans for days

You can start out your bean planting with transplants and then as the season goes on, you can direct seed them, Wood said.

“I do this three times a season,” she said, pointing out she really loves beans and freezes them to eat all winter.

Early bean planting can sometimes have issues with the infamous cutworm, Wood said. To combat cutworms, she suggests planting later if you don’t need early beans. Cutworms are generally just an issue for the first planting of beans, she noted, so you shouldn’t have to use eggshells or collars with your second or third planting.

Use toilet or paper towel rolls to create a collar around your bean seeds, to keep pests at bay. (Heidi Wood)

“If you’re growing a small plot of beans, use crushed eggshells (free) to surround your bean planting, or create your own bean collars from recycled paper/toilet tissue rolls that are biodegradable. These collars are just enough of a barrier that will protect from cutworm as well as other pests,” she said. The crushed eggshells have sharp edges that will cut and kills pests such as slugs seeking a midnight snack.

Remember to read the back of your seed packages for spacing and depth directions, she reminds.

What’s next for thrifty gardeners? Watering generously, weeding and keeping pests at bay will be frequent tasks for the next couple of months till it’s time to harvest.

Wood plants marigold, bottom, and onions, top, to help keep pests out of other plants including radishes, middle row. (Heidi Wood)

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