Reblogged from: hyggehaven on Tumblr. All links are clearnet.
Can't afford to buy things for your garden?
*Re-posting, with new information
A store-bought bag of topsoil, a roll of landscaping fabric, or a bag of cedar chips doesn’t go very far if you have a large garden or a very limited budget. Here are some ways to create the materials you need for a beautiful, organic, productive garden, by both re-directing household waste, and foraging in your local area. I use a lot of these tricks in my garden to make it almost completely free for me to continue growing new things, and expanding the workable area every year!
- Save your food scraps to create a rich compost for growing veggies and amending your soil. There are numerous options for every size of dwelling and yard. Small space solutions such as Bokashi and vermicompost work indoors and don’t produce bad smells, so you can keep them underneath the sink.Worm towers, compost heaps, and outdoor compost bins are a great solution if you have more space. The more you add, the more rich, nutritious material you can make for your garden. I like composting because it means I don’t have gross smelly garbage bags to deal with, because food waste is diverted. It seems like a lot of work at first, but it actually saves time, money, and transportation.
- Seaweed or kelp is one of the best things for your garden, with over 70 essential nutrients, and acting as a weed barrier and a moisture-retentive mulch. I collect seaweed nearby on the beach with my bike trailer, or, when I go for a walk I bring a little home with me each time. It’s an absolute miracle for your soil.
There are three things that are essential for plant growth. These are nitrogen for leaves and vegetation (N), phosphorus for roots and shoots (P), and potassium for water movement, flowering, and fruiting (K). Commercial fertilisers will give the relative concentrations of each of these compounds with and “NPK” rating. Plants like tomatoes also need calcium to produce healthy fruit. You can create amendments for your garden and soil at home so that you do not have to purchase fertiliser.
- Grass clippings contain 4% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, and 2% potassium (NPK = 4-1-2).
- Human urine contains 12% nitrogen, and it’s sterile. Dilute before adding directly to plants.
- Legumes such as beans, clover, peanuts, and alfalfa fix inorganic nitrogen into the soil with mycorrhizal organisms and nodules on their root systems. Plant these crops every few years in rotation with others to renew the soil organically.
Many plants are particular about what the soil pH should be.
- To make soil more acidic: add oak leaves, pine needles, leaf mulch, urine, coffee grounds or sphagnum.
- To make soil more alkaline: add wood ash, shell, or bone.
Mulch is decomposing organic matter that adds nutrition to the soil, while simultaneously keeping out weed growth and retaining moisture. It also attracts worms, fungi and other beneficial creatures to your soil. Free sources of mulch include:
- Garden waste
- Grass clippings
- Straw (often straw bales are given away after being used for decoration in the fall. You can also plant vegetables directly in straw bales using a technique called straw bale gardening).
- Wood chips (if you can borrow a wood chipper after you’ve collected some wood you can have attractive wood mulch for free)
Straw bale garden
When mulch isn’t enough to keep the weeds down, many people opt for landscaping fabric. It can be quite expensive and inorganic-looking. Free solutions that both attract worms and can be replaced in small segments as they break down include:
- Egg cartons*
- Printer paper, looseleaf, etc. in thick layers*
*try to make sure you are using paper that has vegetable-based dyes, so you aren’t leeching toxins into the soil.
- If your soil is compacted and you have plants that require low levels of water, or excellent drainage, add sand. I don’t recommend stealing it from the beach, but ask around and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get for free. Sawdust also improves drainage. Adding organic matter and mulch encourages worms, who also till and aerate compacted soil.
- If the area still needs drainage, dig a hole and fill it with bricks or rocks to create a “dry well”
- For drainage in pots, add crushed bricks, terra cotta pot fragments, packing peanuts, small stones, marbles, orsand to the bottom under the soil layer. I find these in construction sites, on craigslist, or at flea markets.
Pots and growing containers
If you have space, raised beds are a great no-dig way to establish growing space. If you are pressed for space (like working on a balcony) there are many cheap or free options for container gardens.
- Creating raised** beds allows you to build up the soil without digging. Free ways to do this include using rocks or lumber (like my DIY “lasagna garden” made with the sheet composting technique), using the “[wattle](https://t.umblr.com/redirect?z=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D-XyfWHMUY-A&t=ZDY2MTFjZWIwYzlhZDUyMDIwOTFkOTI3ZGZlMDYyNjZiNjdjYjNmYiwxYWdFVDU3cQ%3D%3D&b=t%3AIE0U7aKoLCeGU6ROjrSfZw&p=http%3A%2F%2Fdesireasflux.tumblr.com%2Fpost%2F178980312766%2Fcant-afford-to-buy-things-for-your-garden&m=1)““) method with sticks and posts you have found, using discarded straw bales, old bricks,paving stones,cinder blocks** or really anything else you have lying around.
- Hugelkutur raised beds, which fix carbon and provide drainage, can be made by stacking sticks and untreated wood, and then piling soil or compost over it. (Thanks milos-garden)
- Rubber tire gardens retain heat in the night and allow for great drainage. They can also be painted in fun ways.
- Herb spirals (here is mine: 1, 2, 3) can be built with stones, bricks, and other found materials.
- I often use old cooking pots, barbecues, teapots, or other found objects as planters.
- Making wooden planters is easy, and scrap or salvaged wood is also easy to come by. I’m not a fan of using wooden pallets for DIY projects, but they are also a free source of lumber for things like planters.
- If you can track down peat moss, cement, and vermiculite, you can make an easy Hypertufa planter in whatever shape you would like, provided you have a form in which it can dry.
- I’ve made hanging gardens out of soda cans.
- You can build a self-watering container with a 2L pop bottle.
- Start seeds in eggshells
- Make biodegradable pots out of newspapers.
Wattle raised beds
Rubber tire gardens
An herb spiral
Hanging gardens in cans (2)
Trellises and supports
Many plants need external support, such as stakes of trellises, to thrive.
- Rebar can almost always be salvaged cheaply or free and makes a great trellis, arch, or purgola
- Build trellises and supports out of the pliable young stems of plants like willow
Living willow arch/trellis
Paving often requires a foundation of sand or another stable and well-drained substrate, and a covering of stones, bricks, or other weatherproof elements. Slowly collect stones over time, or free paving stone fragments to create a mosaic-type walkway. Often people give these things away on craigslist. I made a patio and fireplace out of free salvaged bricks, for example.
Salvaged garden walkway
Greenhouses and cold frames
Seeds and plants
- Swap seeds with other gardeners
- If you see a plant you like at someone’s house, ask for seeds or cuttings
- Save seeds every year and build a library of options. Here is a great guide to seed saving.
- Save seeds from foods you like from the grocery store: consider growing peanuts, ginger, garlic, peppers, or a walnut tree: all of these and more can be planted from store-bought produce.
- Learn to take cuttings. There is a tonne of info on the web about basic cutting propagation, layering, (like I do with rhododendrons) air layering, and numerous other techniques to take clones of plants you like. This saves going to a nursery and shelling out big bucks for all the variety you want.
- For cuttings, willow tea and honey are great rooting hormones/antiseptics/anti-fungal agents, which can save you $40 if you were thinking of buying commercial rooting hormone.
- You can root cuttings in a potato! (See my methods for rooting “borrowed” plants here)
Rooting cuttings in potatoes
I hope this helps you build your garden outside of the usual capitalist channels! It can be a cheap or free hobby if you are willing to think outside the box, and maybe put up with things that don’t look as clean or crisp as a hardware store catalogue.
If you have any further ideas, please add them! The more information the better.