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Gardening On The Cheap


It’s garden time again, woohoo!

My brother is building some really nice raised beds for mom and fam. Well, given that I just finished turning over some ground to plant peas, those raised beds looked awful nice to me. Immediately, I began devising a way we could do something similar.

Let’s see… We can get rough-sawn reject boards down at the sawmill for a buck each… Maybe mix some half composted manure from the sale barn with dirt from the woods…

It wasn’t long before I had to come back to the real world though. A buck a board plus a little diesel for hauling them and the manure may not sound like much, and I guess it’s not, but as someone who only owns three pairs of socks right now, well, it’s more than I want to spend.

After reading a few gardening articles, and looking at some of the books we have, I realized that a lot of money goes in to putting a garden together.

This is a huge deterrent as I think most of us get in to vegetable gardening to save money – not spend it.

So what are some ways we can make this garden thing work without investing a fortune?
Most yard dirt is pretty terrible. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Most yard dirt that I’ve seen is pretty terrible.
You can plow it, and plant it, but without a bunch Of amendments, good luck getting anything to grow.

Here are a few ideas, some of which I’ll be employing myself.


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  • Forest dirt. I actually took a wheel barrow into the woods and filled I up with dirt twice today. It’s a lot of work for sure, but he dirt from years of composting leaves is much better than dirt in the open that’s been stripped of all nutrients. My technique is to brush back most of the leaves on top, and any twigs, and take a shallow angle with my shovel in order to miss most of the shallow roots.
  • Horse barns. If you live near a rural area, you may be able to find a barn willing to let you take home some of their manure in exchange for some stall cleaning. It’s not as gross as it might seem. Most barns keep their stalls filled with wood shavings, and all you have to do us pick up the relatively dry horse apples with a pitchfork or rake. Sometimes horse owners will even advertise their manure on Craigslist.
  • Sale barns. Most of them have a manure pile out back, some of it might even be composted already. You can often load it by hand anytime you want, or find out when they can load your pick-up or trailer for you (with a tractor). Id you don’t have a truck, think about using feed sacks, Rubbermaid totes, or something of that nature to haul it in your trunk.


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I’m in love with mulch. The initial work of laying it down is more than paid for by not having to do nearly as much weeding or watering, not to mention that it’s decomposition enriches the soil.

  • Yard clippings – most of us have a yard to mow, right? Gabriel and I waffle back and forth about whether it’s easier to use the mower bag, or just take the clippings into piles and haul them out with a wheel barrow.
  • County maintenance – have you ever wondered what happens to all the branches you see going through the chipper when county crews are cleaning up around power lines? I remember as a kid going with mom out to the piles behind county hall and filling containers in out trunk with wood chips. Last year, Gabriel was passing a chipping crew on the highway and stopped to ask if they’d dump the load out at our place. They did! Hey, it can never hurt to ask.
  • Leaves – take a rake and wheel barrow out to the woods. The fluffy, crispy, dry leaves that tend to be under individual trees in fairly open areas are usually too light for mulching – the wind blows them right away – but the soggy, half decomposed stuff in the woods is great!
  • Old hay – have you ever gone by a hay field and seen years-old bales out there just rotting away? It can’t hurt to find the owner and ask if they’d like the old hay cleaned up! One not of caution about hay; Gabriel doesn’t like to use it because of the potential for seed heads. I like hay as mulch personally, and feel the risk is worth while since hay is the most efficient way to bring mulch in.

In the interest of keeping costs down, one of the methods we’re using in the garden this year is to cover an area with mulch, and depending on the ground underneath, the mulch will be spread over some sort of weed barrier such as newspaper, or cardboard. Where we want to plant, we’ll pull back some of the hay, and make a small pile, or row (depending on the vegetable) or dirt and/or compost, and plant in that. It’s similar to Lasagna Gardening.

I hope you found some of these ideas helpful and inspiring. If you have plans to garden this year, Feel free to share in the comment section!

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