By Barbara Damrosch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 11, 2008
When money is tight, Christmas shopping is a challenge, so here's a new approach. Give an economic stimulus package in holiday wrapping. By that I mean a gift that is small in monetary value but pays off in savings (as well as pleasure) through the year. If someone on your list is a gardener, or even a would-be gardener, this strategy is a natural one, because it follows the simple lesson of Gardening Economics 101: Plant one seed, harvest many tomatoes. Can't beat that.
Seeds are a good place to start. Wrap up your favorite seed catalogue with a gift certificate. Just $25 worth of seeds will produce months of fresh salads. For beginners, sketch out a simple plot plan as well.
Teach someone how to harvest seeds from their garden and save them for spring. Once they've collected their favorite open-pollinated varieties (whose seeds grow true to type, unlike many hybrids), they'll rarely have to buy new seeds again. Give them Suzanne Ashworth's book, "Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners" (Seed Savers Exchange, http://www.seedsavers.org, $24.95), an excellent introduction to seed saving.
For someone without a yard but with a yen to delve, find them a community garden. Go to the American Community Gardening Association's Web site, http://www.communitygarden.org, or get in touch with your local park and recreation authority to locate one nearby. Then rent them their own plot for the season. The experience will pay off not only in fresh produce but also in good fellowship. Where gardeners congregate, advice is passed over the fence.
I love gifts that prevent the need for future purchases. A soil blocker, which is a gadget that forms planting cubes from potting mix, not only produces the healthiest vegetable seedlings, it also keeps you from ever buying peat pots or plastic plug trays again. The blockers form soil cubes to start seeds and come in different sizes to accommodate the seedlings as they grow. All are available from Fedco Seeds (http://www.fedcoseeds.com) and Johnny's Selected Seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com).
A gift of homemade compost, "black gold," is one worthy of the Magi, but it would take a lot of Christmas spirit to get most gardeners to part with any. Instead, treat a loved one to 16 hay or straw bales, enough to form a first-rate compost bin, stacked like building blocks, two bales high, like a kid's fort.
To help a gardener prolong the harvest, buy a box of canning jars, or better yet, a hand-crank strainer for tomatoes and other veggies and fruits. The plastic Victorio and the more expensive metal Squeezo are both good brands.
Remember Mother Earth News? The old back-to-the-land magazine has a modern feel now but is no less authoritative, and its gardening articles are among the best (http://www.motherearthnews.com). It generously posts its archives online, but for a $10 gift subscription, you'll put life empowerment into someone's hands bimonthly. Next year you can give them a flock of chickens.