The Good-Enough Cheapskate Garden, by J.D.

Easiest, Cheapest, and Quickest Gardening Option

You have some garden options that include a “good-enough cheapskate garden”. You could buy a bunch of stuff, get special ground covering, and mark it every two inches. Then you could buy poles, and notch then five feet up, and then prepare your soil by double digging. (Make sure to plant at the setting sun, and on and on.) Even if I had the time, money, strength, and patience for all the instructions I have read over the years, I’m just rebel enough to try the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get it in the ground and get it growing.

My Experience

I’ve spent years gardening in hot sunny areas, super cold snowy locations, and now somewhere in the middle. It is possible to grow in any of these locales with a minimum of work and money.

I know there are some people who are genuinely unable to garden due to limitations. And I am truly sorry for that and know a little of how that feels. I had my time recently where I thought that’s the way it was to be for me too. And my husband has been that way for many years. I am not writing this to tell those folks that they should somehow be doing what I’m doing. But my hope is they will find something in what I write that will help them too. Many of my easy methods were discovered while I was going through chemo and recovering from lung surgery.

If you like spending all your time pampering your plants, you may want to look away. If you like to garden but can’t or don’t want to make it your life’s work, maybe I can help a little. I’ve gardened while working full time, with little kids, with a family run business, and lately while going through a few years of chemotherapy and surgery for cancers. There have been times where it was sink or swim for the plants. Yet they’ve always come through. But we all know we can’t make anything grow on our own. I can put a seed in the ground and water it, but I can’t make it grow. God is ultimately the Giver of Life, and He has certainly blessed my garden.

Short Cuts

So what are some of the short cuts that have worked for me? Oh boy. Where to start?

Seed Saving

One of my favorites is saving seeds. I save seeds from my own garden, from any particularly good plant. I save seeds from anything I may receive from a friend, get at the grocery, or eat at a potluck or restaurant. We don’t always know that they are heirloom and organic, but usually they are. If a few don’t sprout, it’s really no big deal. It’s then time to try another. I don’t ever test seed sprouting ability or see what percentage will sprout.

Tomato Seeds

I rinse as best I can and dry them in a saucer. That’s it. Put them in an envelope and label when they’re good and dry. I don’t bother with fermenting and do nothing extra, same as I do that with any seed. I save seeds from a mature fruit or veggie that is particularly good by my standards, such as early fruiting, good taste, long lasting, long keeping, or whatever is important.

Bean Seeds

Bean seeds for planting are dry beans from the pantry, store bought, or saved from the garden. To plant them, I scrape the ground, toss the beans around, and shovel some dirt over them. They sprout just the same as if I measured rows and spent hours on them. They don’t care and I don’t either.


The first year I planted potatoes I used potatoes that were sprouting in the pantry. I cut them in a few pieces and let them dry a few days. Then, I dug some holes and tossed them in, covered them up, and called it good. I do toss more dirt on them as they grow up. When I harvest them there are always some little ones hiding in the dirt. I just leave them where they are and they become the next spring’s crop. There is no more planting after that first year. I just harvest and leave the little ones to sprout in the spring. Even this last winter’s freezing temperatures didn’t deter them.


After dealing with onion seed and onion sets, I’ve come to a good compromise– walking onions. They self-perpetuate. They grow a little multi-bulb plant on the end of a spike. It falls down, takes root, and becomes a new plant. They can stay all year in the garden as freezing temperatures don’t bother them. When I had them in the frozen north, they became huge at their base with multiple bulbs of a few inches across each. I have brought them into the pantry over the winter, and they have done fine. Now I just leave them in the garden. You can spread them out as they multiply once every year or two. You can cut chives off them continually, dig up the onions as needed, and give them to friends without ever running low. If you are ever in my area, I’d love to share some with you.


Kale will reseed itself once planted and just keeps on producing. What a powerhouse!


Winter squash is another easy one. Different varieties of squash keep for differing lengths of time in the pantry over the winter. Many I’ve successfully kept through the following May or June. If I notice a squash in the pantry that is going south around April, maybe even becoming moldy, I go dig a hole in the garden. I gather up the squash in a grocery bag, with a shovel, or in whatever way keeps it off my hands. I take the squash out to the garden, dump it into the hole, break it up a little with the shovel, and cover it with dirt. That’s it. Usually within a week or two lots of leaves start showing. I can thin it out, share some of the plants with other gardeners, or spread them out over the garden.

Sweet Potatoes

Did you ever stick a sweet potato with toothpicks in water and watch it grow in the window? I remember doing that way back in the 60’s when I was a city kid. It never occurred to me the potential that plant had! Well, that’s the start of a very nice sweet potato patch. Start them in the window over the winter. Break off the sprouts that each have their own roots and plant when the weather warms up. I plant them in the planters in the front of the house.

They just look like ivy. I read an article about a village during WWII that had planted them this way. The enemy came thru and took all the food the villagers had and destroyed their gardens, except for the sweet potatoes. The enemies did not recognize what the potatoes in the ornamental planters were. The villagers lived on those overlooked sweet taters all winter.

So don’t become discouraged by thinking that you don’t have the time or strength to have a garden. Just do what you can where you are. Just fill whatever space you have and expand as you can. I guarantee you that you will be so encouraged with your success that your garden will quickly grow.

Gardening is an adventure, a constant science experiment. I like trying out things just to see if they work. It’s just amazing.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 71 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

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  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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Round 71 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Lots of really good advice. My Wife has been a Gardner all her life. I just started after I retired from the Army. Your method uses the “kiss” rule (keep it simple stupid). Just do it!

  2. I’m even lazier with the tomato seeds. I dry them on paper towels and save them until planting time. Then I just cut the paper towel sheets into squares and plant them directly in the dirt. Thin later.

    1. toc, most tomato failures I’ve saw came from people fussing with them. They aren’t the delicate plants folks think they are. The best looking plants I ever saw were growing in a wastewater plant settling pond! Maters the size of your fist! :0

    1. Thanks for the interest. these ideas have worked equally well in the Palouse area of Washington, the blazing heat of central California and the frozen north (except for the sweet potatoes which need the heat). Jd

  3. Yep,

    I’m with you, brother. A friend once visited my bountiful garden and called it the “richest urban homestead” he had ever seen. Glad to see testimony from others who step away from the conventional gardening ways.

  4. Tried companion planting(things that like to grow together)and use grassclippings as mulch(cuts down on watering and weeding and composes into the soil)

  5. I gotta tell u,I find your ideas GREAT!!
    I am going to put them to work in my tiny little garden!
    I have one spot only that grows “fist-sized” tomtoes,Outstanding!

    The rest of my backyard is devoted to flowers.
    I would like to put out an above ground area to grow strawberrys ’cause my own are the only ones I like.
    Gotta go,

  6. Love the article!! I see one thing i’ve never done, i’ve never started squash like that before but you can bet your bottom dollar i’m gonna try it!! I’ve been gardening since gardening been gardening and I absolutely love it! I have the Earthboxes, I just recently builded 2 4×8 planters, I plant in those big pots that horse feed come in! I have given up the ground due to back surgery!! Next year I will add 10 5 gallon buckets painted in every color of the rainbow! I’m growing Okra, squash, Zucinni, Bell peppers, cayenne peppers,jalapeno, Anaheim,sweet and hot banana peppers, Tomatoes, I even did a pot called “Fries and Ketchup”..A betterboy tomatoe with whit potatoes around the tomatoe! Neat huh? Egg plants, sweet potatoes, peas, greenbeans and last but not least, Sugar baby watermelons!!

  7. Late November of 2015 I was given some squashes my sister had used to decorate her Thanksgiving table. I cut them up and fed them to our horses. Several months later, in the middle of the 2016 drought where we could not keep grass (or anything else) growing in our pasture, I noticed a huge squash plant growing right out of a manure pile. I just let it be and did not touch it. And then harvested a bunch of beautiful squashes–no rain, no grass, but plenty of squashes.

  8. Thanks for your helpful ideas. As I’m aging, I need your shortcuts to keep gardening. Please continue with your series. I am interested in your ideas for soil fertility, herbs, “decorative” front yard plantings, and so on. Please keep writing!

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