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Want to start a garden but don't have much money

 
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Hi. I've wanted to start a garden for so long but I am not sure where/am scared to start. There's just so many ways, so many of them unaffordable, and so many ways I could fail, and I can't make my mind up what to do. I have some ideas. I have a book with some really neat plans that I really like and I've watched some videos on no till and lasagna/layered gardens but getting together all the layers seems daunting or expensive. I've got some leaves in my yard but I'm not sure if it's enough to do anything with. I've got plenty of cardboard from my job and end rolls from the newspaper. Tree limbs and sticks. Didn't mow much last year and the back has grown up into brush and tall grass. Not sure where to get other materials except buying which will be expensive. I thought about straw bale gardening but not sure about the cost, or covering the ground with cardboard, then straw, then making holes in the cardboard for planting and filling the hole in with compost to save on buying a whole layer of compost but the compost would probably just wash out through the straw. The soil here is wet. We are on a downward slope right next to a small creek/ditch. The top few inches are really nice except some rocks and glass? Underneath is orange clay with some sand. It will break apart a little bit but is still clumpy. Any ideas what I can do with very little money? I am already slightly late with planting cool season vegetables but could still get some in but definitely want to have something going soon. I am in zone 7b.
 
gardener
Posts: 2312
Location: Southern Illinois
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Amber,

I am going to suggest starting small, as in very small.  My suggestion is to get a planter or even just a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with a garden bedding mix.

Gardening is pretty forgiving and since you are a bit ambivalent about what exactly you want to do, I suggest just starting with something in a pot or bucket.  

You can still make a compost Heap for use later when you decide where you want to actually make the bed.  I will give you a hint— if you find a place that you want to garden, put the compost right there.  The compost breaking down will do wonders for the soil beneath.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy at least something home grown.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask,

Eric
 
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GO GIRL GO, Just do anything.  Just begin.  It doesn't matter.  Mistakes are constantly made in gardening.  That is how we learn.
If you lose money at first there is always lessons to be learned.
Pick one way and Go.

Blessings
 
pollinator
Posts: 128
Location: Wisconsin, Zone 4b
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I agree with Eric about starting small. And definitely grow what you'll eat. Another thing you can do is try and connect with gardeners in your area who will know all the best places to source materials, and may be willing to share what they have and aren't using. If you're on Facebook, see if there's a gardening-based group. Look into Square Foot Gardening, if you can only do one square foot to start with, it's still something. Container gardening is another good way to start.

If you're getting straw, or manure, be careful about the source. I can't remember the name of it, but there's an herbicide being used now that can harm/kill garden plants. David the Good wrote about it. He's on here sometimes.

For cool weather plants, consider planting for fall if you end up missing the window on spring crops. And don't be afraid to plant a little late. My potatoes didn't go in until early August last year, and the crop was puny but it was still a crop.
 
Posts: 59
Location: Saskatchewan
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When I began gardening I just did what my grandparents did and that is dig up a space that you want to turn into a garden, get rid of the grass clods by hand and then just plant your seeds, no need to do anything extravagant. Adding leaves or grass as mulch would be beneficial but there is no need to bring resources in from off sight if you dont have to.
 
Posts: 479
Location: Southern Illinois
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It sounds like you funds are pretty limited.  I would go with Eric and start small.  Straw bale gardening can be expensive, but I do like it.  It is pretty hard to mess up.  Of course, many yard materials can take the place of straw.  I suppose the main thing is to take the plunge.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1343
Location: Victoria BC
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Welcome to permies!

Simple is good.

Clear out the grass with hand tools. I used a stout 50 cent kitchen knife from the thrift store to remove really tough sod for a 4x40ft bed once in a rental. It worked... the neighbors probably thought I was nuts but they didn't say anything to the crazy man with a knife!

Start a pile to the side with this for composting.

Plant some stuff you would like to eat, that is in theory more or less OK for your climate zone. Don't worry about much beyond watering them and minimal weeding, some composted manure wouldn't hurt.

See what is happy. Expect some failures. Save seeds.

Add complications gradually over the years, as your knowledge and comfort level grow.
 
pollinator
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Location: Southern Oregon
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You've already gotten some great advice. I'd like to add, you don't have to only try one method. On my new property, I have multiple areas that I'm trying different things. So while I agree, starting small is good. Successes will move you forward. Don't feel like you have to be committed to one way of doing things. Experiment, every climate is different, every property is different, and one can have different approaches based on level of intervention. Good luck, and above all, enjoy yourself.
 
pollinator
Posts: 511
Location: France, Burgundy, parc naturel Morvan
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Hi Amber, welcome to Permies. Salads don't require a lot of great soil or skill. Select a four season one if you can afford the seeds. If you let a few go to seed, you'll have a hundred times the amount of seeds you started with for next year. If you get those to go you won't have to buy salads from the store any more, that's saving money and getting healthy.
There are seed exchanges you can go to and people normally will give you some. Or more than you like. Try it and save the seeds yourselves, return in a year , you'll have barter.
Nature itself is providing a lot of seeds. If you see a flower, on way to school/work/shopping parking lot take a picture, put it on a forum, or see online if you can identify it. It will make you remember the flower and pick it when the seeds are ripe, bring it home put it in the garden.
There are lots of trees you can take cuttings from in autumn, like willows and elderberries. You can plant those at the creek.
Speak to people about it, plant people like to give, cause we've got too much plants.
Cardboard will kill grass and plants you don't want, dump rocks on it so it won't blow away. It will keep the soil moist under it, worms will come under and live and breed while transforming the rotting carton, they eat it because they like the bacteria in it, their poop will feed the soil, there work will loosen up the soil.
You can dump your food left overs on a big pile at a spot where worms like to live, make a small wall around it out of sight in a shady bit, close enough to the house, make your own compost. Keep piling and adding, till it around at times, put carton on top if it's too sunny on it it will keep it moist and worms happy.
You can take some small plants with roots and all from forests, better wait till autumn for small trees you want to grow, collect acorns and all sorts of seeds. You'll need a garden trowel and a shovel, get ones that have long thin blades, they're easier to use.
Get beans started, they have something on the roots called nodules, bacteria live in them that make nitrogen which they give to the plant in exchange for sugar the plant makes in it's leaves. It will make the soil richer in these kind of bacteria. Clovers of all sorts do the same, recognize clovers and bring those seeds to your place and disperse them.
Invite plants, they will flower and invite insects, insects will eat flowers and invite birds, birds will drop seeds and droppings will fertilize your soil. Plants fertilize your soil given the chance.
Digging a pond fed by rainwater will do so much as well, but that's a big job and costs some money, but a total game changer.
It all takes time, just give it what you got. Nature is free entertainment forever. Enjoy and learn, ideas will come. Write and read on Permies, the good and the bad, people will help.
 
Amber Mays
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Thanks for all the advice. I think I might try doing different types of gardening and seeing what works. At least something should live that way. About cutting away the sod with a knife I can totally see myself doing something crazy like that. How do you do that? Will that work if my soil is wet? Would I need to to add something to the soil or add more soil for drainage? Could I just mix some leaves into the soil? Grass? Sticks? Or leave it as is? I'm worried about it being wet but we've had a lot of rain too. How can I improve the clay for cheap if possible? I'm having a really hard time trying to talk myself into going small but maybe if I can just talk myself into starting one bed at a time I will be fine and it will be more manageable. How do I start a compost pile? So many questions.
 
Eric Hanson
gardener
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Location: Southern Illinois
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Amber,

Can you afford a load of woodchips?  If so then just dump them on the ground or if you can collect some cardboard, lay down cardboard where you want your garden and dump chips on top of that.  In doing so you will smother the grass and help condition the soil beneath.  It is quick and simple.  I use this as my preference method.  Before you know it you won’t be able to tell where chips stop and soil begins.  The technique is that good.  In the meantime, plant in containers, or if you feel really ambitious, grow plants in fertile holes in the chips.  I have use this and it does wonders.

Good Luck.  My best advice to you is to just start something, observe and keep at it.  You CAN do it.

Eric
 
pollinator
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STOP!
You're thinking too much. Buy a spade if you don't have one. Then decide how large a bit you want to grow in your first year, do not make it large since if you ran out of time to mow you're certainly going to be short on time for everything else.

Mow the area you want to grow on, say 12ft by 10ft or something then take the spade and use it to cut squares the size of the spade, leaver them out and flip them over burying the grass, now you have an area of clear earth to start with, put in any seeds you feel like. If after doing that you feel you will have more time, then take some of your cardboard, wet it well place it over another area, and pin it down with some of your rocks, then cover in all the leaves and the lawn mowings. You could plant large plants like squash through this if you like or you can just leave it and next year you will have a lovely place to plant with nearly zero effort.
 
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I agree with Skandi. Pick an area 10'x12' or 4'x8' or 2'x12' and start digging. I would first cover the area I planned to dig with the leafs you have or the grass you mow to get the clippings. If you have a bagging mower use that and empty the bagger on the area you picked out. If you don't have a bagger mow an area in a circle or a racetrack pattern. Keep pushing the clippings toward the middle as you mow. Once you have the clippings in the middle rake them up and dump them in your new garden space and start digging. You could rake them with your hands if you don't have a rake. If your clay is dry it'll be hard as a rock, so it'll be worth your while to water the spot or wait for a good rain.

I mark off my area with sticks or pipes that I push or hammer into the ground. Then I eyeball a line and dig a straight line with the spade. I'll dig a line on 3 sides. Then I'll reverse my position and start the digging. Don't take off too big a bite, maybe two inches on the first bite. Then flip it over trying to get the sod side down. I work across, and then work my way back. After I dig at least 6 inches I try when I flip over the clod to lay it on top off the previous digging with the green side facing me. On my next pass when I dig out a new shovel full the clod will slide into the trench  sod side down.
You don't have to dig up the whole patch at once. You can dig up some and plant seeds the same day.

I would get some leaf crops, lettuce and or spinach, radishes, onions from sets, and peas in the ground first. Peas are tall so should be on the north of your plot. These crops can take cold weather and do well grown in the spring.

Another suggestion I want to make is to consider manure. It's always available, somewhere, especially this time of year. You can grow anything in it and it will grow wonderful crops. However I wouldn't grow leafy or root crops in it when it's fresh; so I suggested you use the leafs and clippings first to get those early crops into your garden and growing. To find manure google "horse boarding"and add your community name in the search. You'll find somewhere even in NY city. I have rented a truck and I have hauled some on top of my car. I have a roof rack and tied plastic bag fulls down. This stuff is heavy so maybe you don't want the bags full. While your looking for the right horse facility gauge how easy it is to get out of and the quality of the material. The difference will be age and what was used for bedding. You want it black and without wood chips.  Brown horse manure is fresh and grey manure means it's composting. Black manure is fully composted and is what you want to add to your garden. Two inches of manure over the entire garden is a good start, four inches is too much.

You want the leaves, clippings and or manure to loosen up your soil, make it easy to work and for your plants roots to grow in. They will also add some nitrogen and other nutrients which will make your crops healthy. If you use the manure don't buy any fertilizer you won't need it! Have a great growing season.
 
pollinator
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Hey Amber welcome to the wonderful world of mucking around in the garden!!

What region/climate are you in?

I would go with the "keep it simple" and don't sweat the small stuff.  Plants have been growing with and without human interference for a long time.  Maybe ask other people in your area what grows well - if it wants to grow you won't have to work so hard to get a crop.  There is so many things you can do and almost nothing is flat out wrong.  Just with time you will notice some techniques will work better for your context.  So ya, maybe mulch, maybe compost, maybe dig -maybe not, maybe woodchips, maybe just stir up the dirt and shove something in.

If you see some seeds or seedlings on sale for cheap give something a whirl.  Each time you try you will learn!
 
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Location: Western Oregon (Willamette Valley), 8a/8b
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Hi Amber! Welcome to Permies and congrats on getting started with gardening!

You asked how to make compost - you'll find endless discussion of that topic here and elsewhere (with a wealth of information) but the basics are pretty simple.

You need carbon (aka "browns" like dead leaves, twigs, cardboard, etc.) and nitrogen (aka "greens" like grass clippings, weeds, coffee grounds, etc.). Different ratios are preferred for different methods but generally try to err on the side of more carbon/browns. Then you need air, moisture, micro-organisms and time. It can take a couple months or a couple of years - more nitrogen/greens will speed it up and make for a "hotter" compost - when it's dark and rich, it's ready. You can turn it if/when you like to accelerate its progress, and wet it thoroughly if it becomes dry, though if it's very wet where you are you might want to cover it. As far as micro-organisms, if you build it they will come, especially if you build it directly on the ground. You can supercharge your compost by adding various things (beneficial microbes, fungi, teas or plant extracts to name a few...) You can build your compost in a pile, or dig it directly into your soil and cover it with soil or mulch.

Cardboard is a great beginning for a garden bed. You can lay it directly on top of grass (or dig the grass out first if it is the kind that likes to invade and you have the time and energy) and layer it with whatever you can get (compost, coffee grounds, wood chips, old straw or leaves...) and then dig holes through it and pop your seedlings/seeds in. Worms and other creatures will work all that stuff in with time and create a lovely, soft soil over time. Just laying on heavy mulch over an area you'd like to garden in future seasons will help to improve the soil there and smother grass and weeds.

You can get a lot of stuff for cheap or free if you look around. And you can find a lot of uses for things you have around already. Old milk jugs and bottles can be mini-greenhouses for starting seeds outdoors. Sticks as trellising or fencing. Wood chips from local arborists. See what you've got in your community and what you can get for cheap/free. That goes for plants, too! Seeds are cheaper than starts, and you can grow and learn a lot by messing around with seeds from produce and bulk grocery bins. Kidney beans, 12-bean soup, live herbs, and more can be planted. I've grown peppers from the seeds that came in a packet of red pepper flakes, and flowers grown from seed collected from parks, road verges and yards. There are seed swaps here and elsewhere, and often people will be glad to help you get started (send me a message if you'd like an envelope of seeds) If you start looking you'll soon find more than you can possibly grow.

Most of all, just don't be afraid to dive in and grow something! Just start somewhere and then, keep going as you like. I wish I had messed around more with growing things before we moved to our house where I could have a "real" garden, but I worried about not doing it right or having to grow in pots or not being able to do enough that it would be worth it. But honestly, as long as you're learning, there's no failure! Ask what you can learn and move on. Try something else, or come back at that thing from a new angle. Try a few different things, watch youtube videos, read book on a topic, whatever appeals to your learning style, but mostly just get out there and try something. Don't worry about getting too overly specific or what someone else says is the right or wrong way to do things. Plants are resilient, they will surprise you - and if they do kick the bucket, toss them in the compost and use the bucket for something new. You'll learn more as you go and find what works best for you and your location and style - and you'll find so many little joys along the way. There's nothing better than seeing flowers you planted bloom or tasting fresh things you grew yourself, finding some new edible or ally.

Once again welcome, and I wish you the best of luck with all your gardening efforts!
 
Amber Mays
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Thank you guys so much. I think I'm just gonna go at it money or not and throw some seeds in the ground and see what happens. And next month or so when it's time for tomatoes and stuff, if I've got more money give that a go with some amendments or something but if not I'll still just stick some plants in the ground and see what happens. I'm pretty sure I remember planting tomato seeds straight into some tilled ground at my husband's dad's a long time ago and not really caring for them much and still getting and okay amount of tomatoes so yeah. I'm worrying too much. I have some really old seeds and I think I'll just make a see what happens patch. Thank you for giving me ideas and setting my mind at ease.
 
pollinator
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Location: Southern Germany
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Amber Mays wrote:Thank you guys so much. I think I'm just gonna go at it money or not and throw some seeds in the ground and see what happens.


That sounds good!
As you write about your clay/sand soil, you could try to sow some sunflowers in a patch that will not have tomatos or veggies this year.
They break up the soil, add organic matter, attract pollinators and cheer you up.
This is a cheap option, the only problem could be slugs (here they love to feed on young sunflower seedlings).

As far I remember, Sepp Holzer also works with sunflowers on new ground.


ETA: Although this gardener is probably working in a quite different climate zones, I enjoy watching the videos of Huw Richards. This one is about free gardening hacks. Enjoy!
 
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Location: Upstate SC
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Look up the Ruth Stout method, I would stay small this year in containers and concentrate on making your garden bed for next spring. Ask in the nearest township or a tree cutting company about free wood chips and leaves this fall from a township.
I would start a compost heap ASAP though! If you live near pines the needles are great for gardens, as long as they are brown they won’t make your soil acidic.
If there are any horse farms nearby you might get manure for free or shovel all you want! Composted horse poop is great stuff.
Good luck!
 
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Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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if you soil is wet you're better off growing in mounds . if theres a coffee shop nearby ask them to collect the grounds for you in a pail you provide. place rings of it around your seedings and then cover with leaves. this will feed your plants and keep out weeds. over time this will break down and improve your soil. good luck!
 
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Amber Mays wrote:I am not sure where/am scared to start.



Hi,
if you don't know where to start, start with the soil.
Plant radishes and other tubers all over the place to build up organic matter in the soil.
Plant some nitrogen-fixers, either from seeds or take cuttings from exisiting plants.

Usuallly the earthworks is what should be done first, but this requires a worked
out plan of what will go where. So just build up the soil while you research on the rest.
 
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