I started gardening when I met my husband. As a kid, he had a copy of the Square Foot Gardening book covered with a brown paper bag so he could read it in class. I’m so lucky I had him to share his knowledge.

Twenty years and TONS of mistakes later, I have a little bit of my own experience to share with anyone who wants to grow food “as close to Mother Nature as possible” - that’s how we describe the best way to eat. Organically!

My first, best tip if you’re attempting to grow anything…is Pinterest. Be careful, you can lose hours!

Often there is SOMETHING in my garden that I grow for nature. Usually, it’s dill. For whatever reason, it always seems that the caterpillars (monarch’s love dill) move in and mow it down. That’s my contribution to the ecosystem. One year it was my kale. I just couldn’t win. But by letting the snails have it, everything else thrived.

The truth in gardening is the moment you think you’ve figured it out, Mother Nature will throw you a curve ball!

Here are a few of my favorite organic gardening tips.

Upcycle as much as possible

Frugality has called me to reuse as many things as possible in my garden efforts. When we first started gardening, my hubs and I picked up election signs (after the election) to reuse the wooden stakes (before the fancy metal legs we have now) for our tomatoes!

Today, you shouldn’t have to buy a pot - plastic, terra cotta or ceramic. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace is a great place to find them for free. For plastic pots, I use 4” to start my seedlings, stop by your local garden store. They often have a stack for free. And when you’re done with yours, you can donate them for someone else to use.

I start LOADS of seeds, so I’m often pulling a yogurt container out of my recycling bins to use as the seedlings grow.

Vinegar for Pests & Weeds

If you haven’t started using white vinegar for everything, the garden is a great place to begin. It’s a very effective weed killer. You can put it in a spray bottle or just pour it from the container. For even faster results, cover the weeds with a pot or piece of plastic and they will be done for.

Vinegar is also effective at relocating ants. Note that it doesn’t kill them, just encourages them to move out. Sometimes they move to another part of your garden. Usually after a couple of trys, they get the message and move on!

I also use vinegar for cleaning counter tops and making my own dryer sheets. Pinterest will show you how!

Rosemary Water for Pests

Rosemary - with its strong scent and sticky oil deters many pests. Even deer won’t eat it! To make a natural spray to deter pests, fill a pot with rosemary and cover it with water. Boil for 30 minutes. Remove the rosemary. Cool. Pour into a spray bottle and spary plants. I used this on my young kale plants when some pesky worm decided they were brunch. If you’re not growing your own rosemary - check landscaping nearby. It’s usually prolific and those who have it don’t mind sharing!

Got Snails? Stale Beer Traps

A few seasons ago, I was plagued with snails. The most effective method I found for dealing with them were beer traps. Really. I mean it. Find a small container that you can bury up to its rim in the affected area. Fill it with beer and check it the next day. The snails crawl in and enjoy the party but don’t leave.

Wood Ash or Eggshells for Slugs & Snails

Another great organic option for slugs or snails is ground eggshells or wood ash. If you have a fireplace or fire pit, just scoop the cooled ash out and sprinkle it around the plant that is being pestered. Note that if you water or it rains, you’ll need to reapply.

Another option is to save and dry your eggshells. Crush them in a bowl with a wooden spoon (or in a grinder) and sprinkle around the plant, same as above. This method will also add calcium to your soil.

Natural Allies > Praying Mantis & Ladybugs

If you see either of these in your garden, thank them for their service. They eat aphids and a range of other problematic pests. If you don’t see them but need them, check your local garden store.

Companion Planting

There are lots of plants that LOVE to live together and some that naturally deter pests. I have a rosemary plant in each of my bed and that provides one level of protection. Marigolds and mint prevent flies. Lemongrass repels mosquitos.

Cayenne Pepper

Before I learned about vinegar and rosemary water, I regularly sprinkled cayenne pepper around plants that were being bothered by an unknown foe.

Happy gardening!

If you’d like to learn more Whole Kids Foundation and Nona’s journey to becoming the frugal gardener, check out this podcast from The Organic Gardener.