The best things in life aren't always free, but the garden generally gives you a lot of free or nearly free return for your investment. I stop and remind myself of that after the sticker shock of realizing I've emptied my pockets of cash at the farmers market buying this year's herbs, tomatoes and hanging pots. Sure, each 60-cent tomato plant is likely to yield plenty of payback, but right now it can feel like it's just cash out the door.


Then I look around at all the stuff in my garden that's free.

Free salad: Let one mustard plant go to seed and you'll have a forest of fresh micro greens for a salad whether you wanted it or not. An arugula plant also self-sowed, so I had the start of several meals worth of tossed salad. I've got four volunteer tomato seedlings going as well, so someday it really will be a free mixed salad.

Free water: Yesterday's downpour more than filled our rain barrel, with the overflow tube still bubbling away this morning.

Free nature show: Herding the tiniest of bunnies around the yard this past week while weeding was prime entertainment, although it had its scary moments. You really needed to be careful where you brought down a hoe for fear you'd find the little fur ball huddled up in the grass you were trying to remove. With its eyes barely open, shooing it out of the way wasn't a simple task.

Free exercise: Uff da.It might not get you your 10,000 steps, but hoeing, weeding, digging and moving around big bags of weeds definitely counts for something.

Free perennials: Some ghost ferns I bought years ago defnitely won't give up the ghost. Same with the bleeding hearts, now bobbing their deep pink blooms in many places I didn't plant them. If a perennial spreads aggressively where you don't want it, pull it for the weed it is.Otherwise, dig it up and use it to fill a gap. Either way, it's free.

What's your garden given back to you this year? All it asks in return is a little attention now and then. Then sit back and do the math on your peas grown from seed. Just don't hurt yourself patting yourself on the back.