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Start from seed
Buy plants at the end of the season, on sale
Recycle containers as planters
look for second hand aquarium lights
 

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Cheap is relative.

Any lamp can be turned into a grow light by using the right light bulbs. I've been using CFL bulbs I get 3/$10 at Menards in my AeroGardens for over a year now. They're labeled 'daylight' or 'full spectrum' on the package. The higher the wattage, the better when it comes to growing stuff, and you need to have the lights on 16-18 hours per day, especially if you live in a climate that's dark in the winter or if the plants aren't getting good light through a window. Here in Minnesota, we get a lot of overcast days in the winter plus the days are short. Having full-spectrum lights on all over the house with our AGs running is a mood booster for us, too, as is having green, growing things in the dead of a cold, white winter. Naturally, we burn more electricity with all those lights on, but it's not cost-prohibitive where we are due to low electric rates, and it's worth it to us.

Here are four of our AGs. They are all self-contained hydroponic units. They're sort of expensive but we enjoy them. In this picture, you can see I have some plants in dirt around the AGs. It works nicely to grow extra plants in the spillover light from the gardens, so that's a little bonus.


You can make your own hydroponic system fairly cheaply. Google for DIY hydroponic systems and you'll get lots of tutorials on the subject. If hydroponics don't interest you, then just buy a timer and plug your grow lamp(s) into it for your dirt plants.

Take a look at Shop & Save on AeroGardens, Seed Kits, Grow Bulbs | AeroGrow Official Store. Check out the seed kits they have for sale. They're expensive so you probably wouldn't want to buy them, but it'll give you an idea what things you might be able to grow indoors. Then you can figure out what seeds to try on your own, whether you want to try a hydro system or stick with dirt gardening. If you decide to go with a homemade hydro system, download one of the AG owner's manuals to get info about how to operate one. I'm sure there's other more detailed info online, too.

Check out Pinterest for ideas for different low-cost planting systems for indoor gardening. Prepare to be amazed! Every time I look at Pinterest I get the feeling I just might be the least creative person on the planet. But it's lots of fun to look and you'll get some great ideas.

Garage sales are a great source for cheap planters. And don't forget about repurposing things that were never meant to be planters. One of my favorite 'planters' is the bottom of a cookie jar I bought cheap at a garage sale. It had no lid which is why it was cheap. It's shaped like a cat. Here's a picture of it, there on the right. It currently has a large African violet in it. Use your imagination when it comes to pots. Many things can be used, especially if you're not concerned with how they look, cut-off pop bottles, coffee cans, etc.


You might want to start with herbs. Most are fairly easy to grow, and there's nothing like having fresh herbs to use in cooking.
 

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At the Dollar Tree I bought 2 rectangular planters that fit perfectly on my window ledge ($1 each), filled them with dirt from the garden, planted seeds and I had fresh cilantro, spinach and spices all winter long. Best money I ever spent. I put the planters on a window ledge on the East side of the house

One year I cut the bottom off celery I bought from the store, put it in water and once it sprouted roots I planted it in my window box and had fresh celery. Did the same thing with bok choy. If you do a little research there are other vegetables you can do this with.
 

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I tried the celery idea and it worked great for a while, but died before it got big enough to eat. Not sure what I did wrong.

I grew rosemary in dirt for a while.
 

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It's also going to depend on how much you want to grow. Turning the basement into a hydroponics garden is a lot different than growing herbs on the windowsill. I don't have a lot of luck with windowsill planting because our house faces south and gets no light. Between that and short winter days it is a struggle to keep anything alive indoors. Luckily I have some full spectrum fishtank lamps that DH outgrew.

I use too much celery to try to regrow it from the end of the stalk. I'd need to plant a bathtub full. So that's something that affects cost, how much you want to grow, and whether you are trying to feed a family off it, or just supplement regular grocery buying.

Basement hydroponics can be relatively cheap if you have the time and resources to scavenge tubs, tubing, pumps, etc. but it is still a large investment in time and money. And you may find, after doing the math, that it's still much more costly than buying food at the store.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Great idea!! Spirit Deer. I am going to try that cookie jar, I too have something like that. Hey did anyone had seen NutriTower model
wr5--1024x828.jpg . How can we renovate the tower in a cheap way? How about using wood instead of the plastic-like structure?
 

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My first thought seeing that pic is what a bad idea something that tall with such a narrow base would be in a house with pets and/or kids. I just see disaster! But yeah, I'm sure it could be replicated.

I looked at the website which raised more questions than it gave me answers, which immediately makes me suspicious. Prices are also high for seeds and accessories. And $1,050 for the system? NOOOOO! And $50 per quarter for seeds? Again, NOOOOO!

$45 for a timer? Uh-uh. Timers can be bought all over the place for about $10.

$26 for seeds is ridiculous, too.

I couldn't find anywhere they list how many of those expensive $30 bulbs that system takes and how often they need to be replaced. I have to replace bulbs in the AeroGardens at least once a year even if they still light up, because the reds in the spectrum tend to burn out before the bulbs failed. They used proprietary bulbs till I wised up and converted them all to standard bulbs which I now pay just over $3 each for and use 1, 2, or 3 depending on the garden. Previously I was paying $10 each and I think the standard ones last longer anyway. But you do have to beware of systems that use proprietary parts because they're always overpriced and you can't always switch to standard stuff instead without a lot of work. Some of my gardens can use plug-in adapters to switch to standard bulbs, but some of them have to be disassembled, modified, and rewired with standard sockets to use standard bulbs, which I've done with some of them and have some more to do.

Based on our experience, I can also pretty much promise you you're not going to get 'plenty of food' from such a system, either. We grow herbs, certain ones of which provide plenty for the two of us, in some cases too much. We grow baby romaine lettuce and get pretty good crops. We grow tomatoes which do not provide anywhere close to what we actually use. We grow peppers which don't provide as much as we need either. We love growing flowers in the AeroGardens. We live where winter is long, cold, and very white, so it's nice to have some living, growing crops in the dead of winter, and the bright daylight bulbs in the gardens provide mood-lifting lights on short dark days.

Our hydro systems don't pay for themselves with crops like tomatoes that take a long time to grow and don't produce very much at a time. The best bang for the buck would be flowers, herbs, and lettuce, crops that grow quickly and easily and will usually produce larger crops.

You can't use well water or softened water with a hydro system, and if you use tap water you have to let it sit in open containers a while. Our biggest expense has always been buying distilled water at $1/gallon. When plants are large and producing fruit like tomatoes, they use a LOT of water. We got smart last winter and started using snow melt, which cut our costs significantly. The trade-off is we now have a large plastic trash can in our bathroom, and we have to shovel snow and haul it into the house to fill the trash can every once in a while, then, when it's melted, put it in gallon jugs for storage. But it does work and it does save a lot of money.
 
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