Charley’s Garden “Nothing to lose and everything to gain”

tree-planting-stufferBY CHARLEY UNDERWOOD

It has gone out of fashion lately, but people used to say, “The best things in life are free.” Now the assumption seems to be the opposite, that you aren’t having fun unless you pay for it, and even that spending more money will give you more happiness than spending less. What BS!
If we need proof that money doesn’t solve much, we have the entire world of plants. It is all free, essentially. The plant takes sunlight, water and a little nutrition from the soil and that generous green creature turns it into everything we eat, directly or indirectly. Yeah, I can hear the physicists talking now, saying that we could measure the whole process in joules and compare it to gasoline or my furnace or me peddling my bike. And it costs some effort to put seeds in the ground, then weed and water and harvest. But my point is that it doesn’t cost money. You don’t have to have a job to grow food. You don’t have to pay war taxes or stadium taxes on that effort. It is all a gift and it is all free, and our only taxes on it are the thanks we give to whatever deity we recognize as our benefactor. If you doubt me, eat some money for dinner (yum!).
So this month, I want to focus on stuff that is free or almost free.
Let’s start with conferences. Over the past few years, I have spent the second weekend of January at the Minnesota Organic Conference in St. Cloud, the third weekend of January at the Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (also in St. Cloud), and the second Saturday of February at the Sustainable Farmers Association in St. Joseph. All of these were free in consideration for a little time volunteering at the conferences. And the granddaddy of them all, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service conference in late February in La Crosse, only cost me $40 for the whole weekend, including a couple of meals per day, just for volunteering and supporting an organization I treasure.
There is also a lot of stuff that gardeners and home food-growers can pick up nearly free.
I have talked before about the City of Minneapolis’ remarkable spring tree program, which sells wonderful fruit trees from 6 to 8 feet tall, all for the amazingly subsidized price of $25. This year, the fruit trees include Honeycrisp apple, Autumn Brilliance serviceberry, the Evan’s Bali cherry, the North Star cherry, and the Amur cherry. The Honeycrisp is arguably the best all-round Minnesota apple you can get. The three cherry trees produce pie cherries, not sweet for popping them in your mouth, but great in pies, cobbler and the like. The serviceberries are almost my favorite; they find a way onto my morning cereal nearly every day. The apple and cherry trees need full sun, but that wonderful little serviceberry will produce delicious fruit, even mostly in the shade of a house or another tree. If you live in Minneapolis and want one of these trees, you had better move fast. They go on sale March 17 at 8 a.m. and some of them will be sold out before the day ends. Go to for more information, or call the talented Karen Zumach at 952-767-3886.
Then there is the Gardening Matters Food Hubs program which you can join at different levels for different amounts of seeds and seedlings. Small for $15 will get you 10 packets of seeds and 12 seedlings (a retail value of $45); medium for $30 gets you 20 packets of seeds and 24 seedlings (an $85 value); large for $90 gets you 40 packets of seeds and 72 seedlings (a $225 value). There are even scholarships available, though the biggest benefit may be joining a vibrant community of gardeners. Seed distributions will be in March and April, while plants will be distributed on May 17. Details to follow, available at or 612-821-2358.
Last, you might consider checking out the Friends School Plant Sale, held every Mothers’ Day weekend at the State Fairgrounds. This monster plant sale has become a Rite of Spring for Twin Cities gardeners, featuring the largest collection of plants in the state. The plant quality is universally great and the prices better than fair but, as usual, the best deals go to volunteers. As a volunteer, you are able to get a special pass to buy plants on Thursday evening before the sale even opens. But even better, in my opinion, volunteers get first dibs on the leftover plants after the sale ends on Sunday afternoon. There are no guarantees that any particular plant won’t be sold out and the plants aren’t free to volunteers, but the discount is so steep that it is worth taking the risk, if you are flexible. You can sign up online at or by calling 651-621-8930.
Free things are almost unlimited. You can volunteer and see plays for free at Mixed Blood, Heart of the Beast, the Pillsbury, the Jungle, Park Square, the Children’s Theater and even the Guthrie. You can hear some of the best music in the world by volunteering at the Cedar Cultural Center. You can sing in the shower or in a church choir or on the front steps for free. You can see movies for $3 at the Riverview ($2 seniors). Over 62 years old, you can take classes at the University for $10 a credit, and audit for free. You can have some of the best talk shows by merely speaking to the person across the breakfast table or walking next to you on the sidewalk.
The deeper point here is that Money Can’t Buy You Love. Life should not be cheapened by subjecting joy to the unnatural metric of money. Live it fully. Volunteer your time with groups you like. Give things away. You will be amazed how much you have.
Now for the calendar:

Monday, March 3, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “New Varieties,” Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or

Tuesday, March 4, 6 to 8 p.m. $18, RSVP required. “Growing herbs and microgreens,” Jefferson High, 1200 W. 26th St., Mpls. 612-668-2740 or

Tuesday, March 4, 6 to 8 p.m. $20, RSVP required. “Soil basics for fruit trees,” CEAP Food Shelf, 7051 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center. 651-789-3321 or

Friday and Saturday, March 7 & 8. Donation only. Gardening Matters Food Hubs Spring Resource Fair, Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St., Mpls. Details at or 612-821-2358.

Monday, March 10, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Permaculture for the urban gardener,” Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or

Wednesday, March 12, 6 to 8 p.m. $18. “Vegetables and herbs,” Roosevelt High, 4029 28th Ave. S., Mpls. 612-668-4828 or

Monday, March 17, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Beginning veggie gardening,” Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or

Saturday, March 22, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. $80, RSVP required. “Fruit tree grafting seminar” (includes 4 take-home grafts), Afton Apple Orchard, 144421 90th St. S., Hastings. 952-240-5066 or [email protected]

Wednesday, March 19, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Shoots and microgreens,” Mother Earth Gardens N.E. location, 2318 Lowry Ave. N.E. at Stinson Blvd, Mpls. 612-789-0796 or

Monday, March 24, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Tasks and tools” so you don’t get overwhelmed, Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or

Tuesday, March 25, 6 to 8 p.m. $18. “Growing vertically, veggies and flowers,” Jefferson High, 1200 W. 26th St., Mpls. 612-668-2740 or

Saturday, March 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $35, RSVP required. “Fruit tree pruning,” Dodge Nature Center, 1701 Charles St., West St. Paul. 651-789-3321 or

March/April: Gardening Matters Food Hubs seed distribution. Details TBD at or 612-821-2358.

Wednesday, April 2, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Herbs,” Mother Earth Gardens N.E. location, 2318 Lowry Ave. N.E. at Stinson Blvd, Mpls. 612-789-0796 or

Saturday, May 17, time and location TBD. Gardening Matters Food Hubs plant distribution. Details at or 612-821-2358.

Comments are closed.