Until now, I’ve never really considered how much of what you need to start and maintain a garden can be acquired for free or nearly free. But in my quest for the twenty-five dollar organic victory garden, I’m discovering just how far you can stretch that almighty dollar when you put your mind to it.
Take starting seeds for example. Rather than buying expensive commercial products, I’ve learned to improvise using common household items. Through this blog and online with Twitter, many readers have responded with clever ideas of their own when it comes to frugal gardening.
Here are 10 easy ways to equip your garden for free or nearly free:
- Repurpose or recycle: When you look around any house and yard, you’ll be amazed at the amount of things you discover that can be used in place of the ‘store bought’ model. For example, I just returned from two local groceries stores. They both donated large clear plastic cake domes with base. These make perfect mini greenhouses and they’ll last for years. If I purchased the real thing, I’d spend about five dollars each. My total investment in the cake domes; about a minute with the store manager.
- Social Media: Twitter has been a gold mine for me in the quest of my Twenty-Five Dollar Organic Victory Garden. In addition to making great new friends I’ve tapped into a vast network of talented, giving people that want to help you succeed, (or seed in my case). I’ve had an outpouring of offers for seeds and supplies. One twitter friend I met today is even making hand-painted markers for my garden! Facebook is another great option. For my twenty-five dollar victory garden, we’ve set up a group page and invite people to share ideas, seed swap or barter for plants, tools, etc. Come join us here.
- Garage Sales: Many people have written me to say how much success they’ve had finding just about everything they need here. As much as you need that grow light or nice shovel, someone in your neighborhood is ready to make a deal.
- Freecycle.org: This is the coolest online way to give away things you don’t need and find things you do need. And it’s all free. There are groups all over the country. Check out their website, sign up for a group in your area, and get ready. I have friends that have equipped their entire garden on Freecycle, from hoses and soil to bricks, seeds and plants.
- Master Gardeners / Cooperative Extension offices: As a Master Gardener myself, I can attest to our passion for gardening, helping others and sharing the bounty. Master Gardener volunteers work under the guidance of local cooperative extension offices–an outreach of the state university system. They are there to help and do they ever. You can find the office closest to you by clicking here.
- Local government: Many city, county or municipalities offer free compost for the taking. Some offer rain barrels and helpful seminars on gardening and environmentally responsible practices. These services are almost always free.
- Organize Your Own Swap: Local events provide the ideal opportunity to swap seeds, tools, plants and supplies. Schools, churches, and civic groups are great places to organize these events. Not only are you able to trade for free, you’ll meet some wonderful people and recycle many of those items you’re ready to part with.
- Online Seed Swaps: There are many organizations and groups across the country that facilitates seed swapping. The National Gardening Association has a free online service for this. Emilycompost has a free seed swap page. And The Great Let's Get Growing Seed Share at hyperlocavore.com is just about to get underway.
- Local Market Bulletins and classified ads: Many regions or states have an online and/or printed version of their agricultural news. It includes a classified section that lists many people willing to mail you seeds, merely for the price of a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). The offerings are amazing. Georgia’s State Department of Agriculture has an outstanding example of this.
- Think Outside the Pot: Think of places that have what you need, but they use it for a different reason. My cake dome is one example. The rain barrel in this picture is another. It was free. Well almost anyway. It’s a food grade barrel that is readily available when you start looking around. For the cost of a paddle bit, brass spigot, a couple of rubber washers, and a mesh screen on top, this barrel was ready to harvest and dispense water for a grand total of about ten bucks!
How about some other ideas? It’s going to be a long growing season.
Tomorrow, I’ll have guest blogger, Vanessa Richins, (@treesandshrubs on Twitter), founder of a Freecycle chapter in her area, which now has 6286 members. She’ll tell more about Freecycle and how she furnished her own garden this way. (By the way, she uses five-gallon buckets with a hole cut out of the bottom to grow her upside down tomatoes…now that's my kinda girl!)