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Expert Gardener Potting Mix is just as good as Miracle Grow and costs a lot less

By Mike Thayer

Expert Gardner Potting MIxEverybody loves good looking plants and a lush look be it container plants indoors, containers outside on a patio or deck or even a full fledged backyard garden. 

Enter Expert Gardener Potting Mix

I do a lot of container gardening with a mix of flowers and veggies.  I like container gardening because it's so portable, I can easily transfer containers from one spot to another, enhancing the look of one living space, or creating another.

My preferred potting soil is Expert Gardener Potting Mix, available at Walmart for just $4.74 for an eight quart bag.  This mix provides all the nutrients plants need to get a great start in whatever planting vessel you choose.  Good for both indoor and outdoor plantings, this soil is light and won't weigh down your pots and containers.  And don't throw away the packaging, which includes tips and charts on repotting, transplanting and how much soil you need.

Tomato planted in Exper Gardener Potting Mix
A happy tomato!

Why pay $5.99 for a bag of Miracle Grow potting mix, which I used to use, when you can get the Expert Gardener brand for $4.74?  Save yourself $1 + a bag for essentially the same thing.  I've used this stuff for two seasons now and see no difference in plant growth.  Expert Gardener does the same job as Miracle Grow and it's cheaper.

Expert Gardener Potting Mix is great for indoor containers, outdoor containers and as a nutrient rich top dressing for full fledged backyard gardens.  I'm giving it 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It's a repeat buy!

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

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Creating a "Salad Bar" with an old coffee table

Shade Garden
Apartment patio

By Mike Thayer

Two years ago, I turned an old coffee table into a shade garden for my apartment patio.

What do you do with an old coffee table that had a tile or slate top and a bunch of those pieces got broken rendering it unusable?  OH NO, a topless table!  And don't ask what happened to make the table topless, I'm not telling.

And sure, you could TRY to save the table by going to the Big Box store and hope to find tiles or slate that matches what you had - good luck with that.....   Or you could buy all new tiles or slate and hope the store has all the right sizes for your coffee table to make it like new again - good luck with that too......

So screw that headache, I say repurpose that topless coffee table and make it a planter!

But I've since moved from that apartment, to a house and a lot less shade.

So what used to be a shade garden, is now a "Salad Bar" - it's repurposing a coffee table x2!

The back patio of my house gets a lot of sun, so it was pretty much a no brainer converting this table from a shade garden containing coleus, begonias, and caladiums into a "Salad Bar" containing a variety of lettuces, onions, cucumber and radishes!

20220329_165438(1)Come harvest time, it won't get any fresher than that!  Just step onto my back patio and pick what I need for a salad or side dish!

YUM!

The beauty of having a repurposed item like this is the mobility.  It's light, so I can transport this table to just about any space in my yard I want.  And it's flexible.  I could leave this in the shade if I wanted to and have that shade garden, very visually appealing, but that sunny space on the back patio was calling me out, "Create a salad bar!"

This project didn't really cost me anything other than a bag of fresh potting soil, as I already had the table on hand and set up for plants.  But check out the original article on "how to":

Related: Repurposing an old coffee table into a shade garden for the patio

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Using a plastic drawer set as a cold frame for the garden

Plastic Drawer Set
Use this in your garden

By Mike Thayer

I live in Kansas, so the temps vary big time.  In the spring months it could be 70 degrees one day and 32 degrees the next until Mother's Day, the last day on the Farmer's Almanac Calendar of when the danger of frost has passed.

Creating a cold frame can be intimidating though, the construction of wood frames, the use of plastics, perhaps an old storm window.  And the downside to building a cold frame such as this is it's set in a certain place in the yard.  Having a cold frame in an apartment or patio setting is not an easy thing to do.  Or is it...

Enter a cheat, the plastic drawer Cold Frame

Inexpensive Cold Frame
Seeds you start indoors can easily be hardened outside

Do you have one of those plastic drawer set on wheels that you no longer use?  Turn it into a cold frame.  Even if you don't have one of those on hand, they are inexpensive.  I picked one up today at Walmart for $20 for the sole purpose of using it as a cold frame, no construction required!   I've put all my starter pots that I started from seed indoors in it.  The drawers can be opened up during the day for ventilation and getting the starter plants acclimated to the great outdoors, then I can easily shut the drawers at night if there is a frost warning.  The top of the drawer set serves as a work surface.  On wheels, the 'cold frame' is mobile.  I can move it around to maximize sun exposure, or protect it from stormy weather (plus shutting the drawers).

Instant Cold Frame
Open the drawers by day, close at night

I could NOT have built a cold frame this mobile and easy to use for $20.  I've been able to house tomatoes, brussel sprouts, cucumbers and a variety of flowers in this easy peasy cold frame.  The three drawers provide ample space for all the seeds I've started indoors and will provide great protection from any frost warning, all I have to do is shut the drawers.

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Easy Peasy Cold Frame
Ample storage

In planning the veggie garden, think carb friendly

By Mike Thayer

When it comes to growing veggies that are carb friendly, think salad.

Most veggies that you would put on a salad are on the lower side of the carb-count chart.

RadishesSo if you're wondering what to grow in your garden that won't bust your carb-count for the day, what you like on your salad is for the most part a safe bet.  Lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a few radishes, slices of cucumber, some chopped up celery for crunch will make for a nice side salad and only cost you about 9 grams in carbs.  That's Bachelor on the Cheap carb friendly!  And not only is a salad refreshing as well as a nice change of pace, these good carbs give your body the fiber that it needs.  Fiber is a must to help your body operate efficiently.

Veggies you might love on your salad but come at a high carb price are:  Avacados, carrots, onions and peppers.  If you're serious about watching carb intake, these are sadly, kind of a no-no if you want to stay under 60 grams of carbs a day.

I love to garden and this spring I'll be planting a lot of carb friendly salad garden veggies.   In the garden plan are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, lettuce (of course), radish and tomato.  Bonus: Having a low maintenance garden helps save money at the grocery store too.

Non-salad veggies to consider growing in your garden include garlic, zucchini and other varieties of squash.  And something I love on a salad but can't grow in the garden, fresh white button mushrooms, they too are a low carb veggie.

Have some fun by growing a salad garden and reduce your grocery bill.  You'll enjoy eating the harvest even more!

Carb-Count - Veggies

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Planting potatoes using ANPHSIN 10 Gallon Garden Potato Grow Bags

By Mike Thayer

ANPHSIN 10 Gallong Garden Potato Grow Bags
Talk about making it EASY to grow potatoes!

It's late March, about 60 degrees out and I've got spring fever bad!

To deal with that 'fever' today I'm planting potatoes!

I've grown potatoes before, in a traditional garden plot direct in the ground and in raised beds.  It's not difficult to grow potatoes and I enjoyed some very tasty spud harvests, but potatoes do take up a lot of space in the garden, especially in raised beds.  So with space considerations in mind, I haven't grown potatoes in my gardens for a very long time.

Enter the ANPHSIN 10 Gallon Garden Potato Grow Bags

This is the first time I've used grow bags and what a great concept!  Ordering a 4 pack of these bags on Amazon, these things are made of a heavy duty aeration fabric, come with a Velcro flap to harvest the potatoes and sturdy handles make the bags easily mobile.

Planting the potatoes was easy peasy.  I filled the bag about half full with potting mix, put four certified seed potatoes - Kennebec Russets - in the bag eyes up and covered them with about 4 inches of the potting mix.  Once the vines break through that top layer of soil and start reaching for the sun, I'll add more potting mix to fill the bag as the vines grow.   Kennebec Russets are a great all purpose potato, good for baking, roasting and mashing.  But their flavor really comes out in frying.

Potato Grow Bags
3 to 4 tubers to a bag

Harvesting the potatoes will be even easier!  Back in the day when I used to grow potatoes and it came time to harvest - after the tops of the vines died back - I would reach for my trusty potato fork.  Potato forks are great because there's a lot less damage done to the potatoes vs. using a regular shovel, which would tend to slice a lot of spuds.  But even with the potato fork and careful digging, you still might spear a spud or two and then there was always a spud or two that got missed, left behind in the dig.   There's no digging necessary with these bags!  That flap allows for super easy access to potatoes ready for eating, just reach in and grab!  And there's no way to miss harvesting any potatoes because you can just empty the bag when tossing the dead vines in the compost prior to storing some potatoes and the bag you grew them in at the end of the season.

Potato Grow Bags
Mobile and space saving

Costing me $20 on Amazon for a 4 pack of bags, I'm giving ANPHSIN 10 Gallon Garden Potato Grow Bags 5 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  They're very reasonably priced, durable, mobile, easy to use and will be easy to store.  Bonus:  You can grow other veggies such as onions, peppers and tomatoes and given the nice, tidy soil environment, garden pests that like to live in the soil should be marginalized.

5 stars

$pend Wisely My Friends...

TKUCC


Lowe's vs. Home Depot vs. Menard's vs. Sutherland's

By Mike Thayer

FH12APR_527_51_165I recently wrote about a project I'm about to undertake, the construction of some self watering raised bed garden planters!

In doing some shopping homework online before going out and purchasing materials for the project, I checked out pricing at Lowe's, Home Depot, Menard's and Sutherland's.

Here's the materials list:

  • Six 12' 2x6s
  • Three 12' deck boards
  • Two 10' 2x4s
  • One 8' 2x4
  • Four 8' 2x2s
  • 24' of 4" diameter perforated drain pipe with sleeve
  • Pond liner
  • Exterior screws
  • Soiless potting mix
  • 1/2' vinyl tubing for drainage
  • 1" CPVC (fill tube)
  • 4 heavy duty casters
Lumber and other materials
Lumber & other materials/supplies for the planter project

I must admit, Lowe's, although a big box store is one of my favorites.  I always seem to walk out of there having bought more than what was on my list...  Funny how that works huh?  I could spend hours in that place, but if I did, projects wouldn't get done.  But I digress.  Knowing this is going to be a pricey project - have you seen the price of lumber these days? - I looked at all the lumberyards in my neck of the woods to see who would be the least expensive to purchase all the necessary materials from.  Other considerations are availability and product quality.  I know from projects I've done in the past for example, that the quality of wood from Menard's isn't as good as Lowe's or Home Depot.  You really have to pick through the boards to find the good ones.  I've never shopped at a Sutherland's before, so I don't know about the product quality or customer service (Lowe's can be lacking at times in that area) but they're on the radar because they are a much smaller chain than the others, based in Kansas City with just 49 stores mostly in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma - so it's kind of a 'buy regional' thing. As a matter of perspective, Georgia based Home Depot has over 2,300 stores nationwide, North Carolina based Lowe's has 2,000+ stores nationwide and Wisconsin based Menard's trails with 335 stores concentrated in the Midwest.

Back to that materials list, here's the per planter price breakdown:

Coming in the cheapest was Menard's at $397.05, all materials needed were available.

Coming in second in terms of lowest price, Lowe's at $413.08 with all materials needed, available.  I will say however they have the worst online shop, not user friendly and it kept freezing up.  I had to make several attempts - and on different days even! - to finally 'fill' my cart.

Coming in third in terms of lowest price, Home Depot at $421.52, with all materials available.  Home Depot's website provided the best/easiest online shopping experience.

The most expensive store, was the smallest lumberyard chain of the four - Sutherland's.  The project price came in at $432.61 and they did not have the pond liner needed for the project in stock, nor could I order one to have it shipped.

I went shopping with Cindy C - the motivator of this project - earlier this week and we started at Sutherland's and buying regional in mind.  Some of those materials for putting together that first planter (1 of 5 planters to be built, 3 for her, 2 for me) are pictured above.  And while Sutherland's stores their lumber indoors like Home Depot and Lowe's do, we did have to really pick through a lot of boards to get the good ones and they didn't have any decent treated 2x2's to speak of.  We did have to ask for assistance in trying to find a few items which was hit and miss.  One associate pointed us in the right direction, another took us directly to where we needed to go, another gave us entirely wrong information.  The lady at the checkout was kind of rude, as in, she'd rather not be there kind of rude.  Cindy and I walked out of Sutherland's a bit disappointed in both product availability and customer service.  The experience didn't exactly make one eager to keep dollars regional on the next trip.

After picking up a few things, we then ventured to Lowe's to get what remained on the materials list.  We also did some dream shopping in the power tools section...  Cindy has a mitre saw which will come in handy on this project, but she wants a table saw.  I had my eyes on a new drill press.  We found the 12' 2x6's we needed without having to really pick through boards at all and the 2x2's were plentiful.  TIP:  I made the mistake of going for the lumber first, taking the cart and that 12' lumber through a number of aisles and the power tools section presented a challenge at times, avoiding people, displays and other obstacles.  If it were a game and hitting things earned points, I would have scored high.

I'll keep you posted with how the project is going once the building begins.  To sum up the shopping experience, Menard's may be the cheapest but past experience puts product quality in question.  Sutherland's, while initially the preferred lumberyard to shop at, is the most expensive, with the product quality, availability and the customer service a mixed bag of good and bad.  Lowe's, a personal favorite, remains a repeat store to use, a Bachelor on the Cheap recommendation.  Home Depot, not visited on this occasion due to location, becomes a plan B.

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Related: Building a self watering raised planter bed on wheels

Raised beds on the apartment patio
I love the cedar and corrugated metal look

Related:  What I built for my apartment patio a few years back

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Building a self watering raised planter bed on wheels

By Mike Thayer

FH12APR_527_51_165I love to garden and I've got a new place to create one this season having moved from an apartment to a house.  I inherited an established yard and there are plenty of existing plantings - evergreens, ornamental grasses, ivy - along the perimeter of the yard, but the middle of the back yard is a blank canvas, ample room to get creative in developing a vegetable garden, with space to put in some flower beds to boot.

Enter a raised bed garden, no digging required and self watering!

Why break ground, till, clear grass and work to amend the soil when I can put together a couple raised bed gardens instead?  Besides, harvesting veggies and cutting flowers from a raised garden is MUCH easier on the knees and I love the concept of adding a self watering feature to the raised beds!

Here's the materials list:

  • Six 12' 2x6s
  • Three 12' deck boards
  • Two 10' 2x4s
  • One 8' 2x4
  • Four 8' 2x2s
  • 24' of 4" diameter perforated drain pipe with sleeve
  • Pond liner
  • Exterior screws
  • Soiless potting mix
  • 1/2' vinyl tubing for drainage
  • 1" CPVC (fill tube)
  • 4 heavy duty casters

This project should take me two, maybe three days to assemble, position and plant the raised beds.  A couple of nice benefits to having the raised beds will be the ability to easily cover the bed with an old fitted sheet if there is a frost warning in the forecast and having the beds on wheels will allow me to move and/or reposition the beds if desired.

Stay tuned, cost breakdown and project pics coming soon!

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Raised beds on the apartment patio
I love the cedar and corrugated metal look

Related:  What I built for my apartment patio a few years back


Getting ready for spring planting 2022

By Mike Thayer

Starting seeds indoors
Starting seeds indoors helps relieve the symptoms of Spring Fever

The first official day of spring, March 20th, is right around the corner.  Closer yet, is Daylight Savings Time, we lose an hour of sleep, a.k.a., "Spring Forward," in moving the clocks up an hour on March 13.  For many folks, that means it's time to start playing outside in the dirt!

I'm one of those playing-in-the-dirt loving people.  Gardening is a simple pleasure for me, from creating veggie or flower beds, to planting, to weeding, to the harvest, from start to finish it's all good. And it doesn't get any fresher than going out to the backyard, patio or balcony and picking fresh produce for dinner.

It's a little early though to go crazy planting all kinds of things outside, frost is a danger through late April in my neck of the woods.  In lieu of that and with spring fever in mind, I've been busy planting seeds and creating my own starter plants indoors.  Growing plants from seed rather than buying starter plants at a big box store is less expensive and will allow you to plant more variety in your garden.  I'll be able to start planting cold tolerant veggies direct in the soil outside such as peas and onions outdoors here in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, I've got all kinds of NOT cold tolerant veggies started indoors such as a variety of tomatoes, squash, cucumber and peppers.

Seed starting greenhouse
These little green houses help speed up germination time

A former apartment dweller, I'm in a new place this year, that's right I'm now a house dweller with a yard!  Yahoo! What I haven't figured out yet however, is where exactly to place my veggie garden.  I plan to go with raised garden beds - stay tuned for that project blog post - but with a few trees in the backyard, I need to determine the best spot for maximum sun exposure.  I've been keeping an eye on the shade patterns as they develop and fade sunrise to sundown, keeping in mind that the winter sun patterns won't be the same as the summer sun.  The best placement for my raised beds will be finalized a couple of weeks before Mother's Day, May 8th.  

Related:  Spring Planting Time

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Stay tuned for "Project Raised Bed", I'll be putting together some raised garden beds with wheels!


Garden Hack: Use coffee filters to line container drainage holes

By Mike Thayer

Weed barrier fabric
Don't use this to line your containers with...

Weed barrier fabric, a.k.a., landscaping fabric is a great product, preventing weed growth so your veggies and flowers can thrive.  It's great to line pathways with, keeping your mulch, stone or brick pathway clear of weeds.  Allowing water, air and nutrients to pass through it, weed barrier fabric also has another great use - you can line the inside bottom of your containers with it, allowing for drainage without losing soil through the hole(s). 

Starting at $12 for a small roll of thinner, lower quality fabric, you can pay up to $200 for the premium stuff, which is thicker, made of better material and comes in a bigger roll.

Coffee Filters
Use coffee filters instead!

But I say, don't even pay the $12 for the cheap roll if you're a container gardener, besides, there's way too much cutting involved to 'customize' the fabric to fit your container size.  Weed barrier fabric is good stuff, but coffee filters do the very same job and WAY cheaper!

Like the weed fabric, coffee filters allow for drainage at the bottom of your pot, without losing soil through the hole.  You just need one filter for larger pots, and you can get away with halving and quartering coffee filters down to size for smaller pots.  Here's the best part, you can get a package of coffee filters on the cheap!  A package of 100 filters cost me $1 at Dollar Tree.  That's enough "fabric" to do more than 100 pots! 

Get the weed barrier fabric for large jobs, use coffee filters for your containers!

$pend Wisely My Friends.....