Posted on 12 November 2010 by

DIY-Budget Tomato Gardening

seed-trayBy Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

Gardening in recent years has become a popular hobby and a way of stretching the food budget.

But items used for gardening sometimes can be gathered for free by reusing or re-purposing but normally they require money.

Below is some of my money saving tips that I have learned through many years of raising tomatoes.


Assorted containers are any tomato gardener’s friend. These can be as varied as buckets, hanging baskets, planters, and bags of soil to name a few. Discount stores, at the end of the season sales, and peoples’ refuse are great places to look for containers.

Another technique to save money is by creating your own Topsy Turvy planter. This type of planter requires a container with a hole in the bottom and a means to hang it with such as a handle or chain. But keep in mind whatever mechanism you choose to hang your homemade version of a Topsy Turvy make sure it will hold the weight and is long enough to accommodate the height of any thing you might plant in the tip. I recommend that anybody who plants a Topsy Turvy planter plant in the top. This simple move will help the soil from drying out.

I have made several homemade Topsy Turvy planters over the years and have not found any container that I cannot use except ones that have toxic chemicals in them. So be careful when harvesting reusable buckets. If it is not labeled do not use for gardening and if you are not sure about the safety of the chemical stored in the bucket Do Not Use.


I typically save my own seeds and make my own seed tape. But I am also on the lookout for seeds on sale. Discount stores are great o find heirloom tomato seeds. Just store packets in refrigerator or place in labeled film canisters and store in a cool, dry place.

Growing Supplies

Purchasing soil, fertilizer, and Epson salt during the off-season is another great time and money saver. Next spring the bags of soil can become their own planters for tomatoes. The fertilizer will be available when needed and the Epson salt will be around for those winter aches and pains and springtime planting.

Also replacing watering hoses, shovels or garden equipment, and irrigation equipment during the fall and will save the gardener money but will make spring planting more enjoyable. Just remember not to put the hoses, garden equipment, and/or irrigation equipment outside during the winter but instead place in a shed, barn, chest, or some type of storage facility.

You can simply miss out on that rush that happens every spring when the first day of warm weather appears and everyone gets garden fever. It never fails that something you may need to start or finish your planting is sold out. So buying off-season helps reduce the chances of a gardening surprise.

Tomato Stakes and Ties

I am always looking for scrape wood that can be turned into a tomato stake. Sometimes my best finds have been discovered along side the garbage can. But be careful and make sure that only untreated wood is used. If in doubt DO NOT USE the wood.

I have found through years of gardening that old towels and panty hose make the best tomato ties. They provide support without binding. So every fall I go through my towels and reuse the old, torn ones as tomato ties come next spring. I simply cut what I need as I need it

Panty hose are handled the same. I simple cut into strips as needed and sometimes remove the feet for a straighter strip but either way works. While this may seem strange I am very much into reusing and both of these items work as well as the green twisty ties and are free.

Seed Trays

When I taught Agriculture I used flats and seed trays to start the tomatoes but as an individual I like to use cardboard egg cartons. They are biodegradable and free. They can also be planted in with empty eggshells still in the carton. This saves time and provides calcium, which tomatoes need. Also using this type of seed tray I do not have to store after the season and add to the fertility of my soil all by just planting my tomatoes.


Mulch is one of those secret ingredients to great tomatoes but cost very little. Some mulch can only be harvested during the summer such as grass clippings while other mulch such as newspaper can be collected year round. But keep in mind only use newspaper print that is black and white. No colored photos or colored print, no magazine inserts or magazines in general. All except black ink have toxic chemical that will be transferred to the soil and taken up by the plants.

But keep in mind while gardeners can only use black and white print other agencies can use colored newsprint so when ever possible reuse and/or recycle your newspaper that can not be used for the garden.

Another creative place to look for tomato gardening supplies is on Craigslist. The free section provides a bounty of items that can be used as creative planters, watering hoses and items from long-time gardeners that are no longer needed or wanted.

Tomato gardening can be a means of survival, a way to feel more in control of what you eat, or can be an expensive hobby. But with a little year round searching tomato garden supplies can be found items or bought at reduce price during after season sales. But remember the key to foraging for gardening supplies is to keep an open mind and never close the door to possibilities of found items. There have been countless times I have turned away from something free that later had a use to me.

So until we blog again, the sun is setting on my garden tonight, and putting to winter slumber tomato blight. Next year’s garden will be full of life from creative containers to purple and yellow ties so bright. So all frugal gardeners unite and share your unwanted items with glee because another gardener’s refuse is another’s delight.

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