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Getting started on a tight budget

 
gardener
Posts: 665
Location: PNW
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Acadia, welcome!!

How would you suggest a brand new gardener get started if they're on a tight budget? When I lived in an apartment, I loved the idea of growing my own food but it seemed I made mistakes and ended up spending money with no food to show for it. I have more land now but still a tight budget...
 
Posts: 56
Location: East Tennessee
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I plant lots of beans and peas from the 1 pound bags at the grocery stores. The key is to get the shiny beans and peas they are the newest. I've planted Black Beans,  Butter Beans, Black Eyed Peas and many others straight from the bag into dirt. No fertilizer or really much tilling. I used a shovel to break the soil a bit and just plant them about half an inch down.

They are a great staple, I set them in a paper bowl till they dry and store them in Mason Jars. Plant them next year!

 
Posts: 63
Location: Near Libby, MT
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Can you connect with other local gardeners? Everyone I know has seeds left over from last year and are probably willing to share, along with lots of advice.

Your own compost takes a long time to develop, and it's never enough no matter when you start. I have finally given up and I just toss it all into the beds, ready or not. We have chicken straw mixed with kitchen scraps that are both old and new. It all gets buried anyway. I call it guerrilla composting.

Depending on what your neighbors will tolerate you can easily plant in such things as bathtubs from recycle yards, like ReStore. I plant tomatoes in stacks of tires I removed from the landfill before the powers that be put a stop to it. I painted them green, which turned out to be wasted effort because we then had to circle them with metal sheeting to keep the ground squirrels out. All of this saves my aging back as well as money.

You do have to find reasonably good dirt to fill your tubs but I am also doing a little heugaculture by piling wood scraps (untreated) and broken limbs in the bottoms along with not so good dirt and then straw, chicken straw if you can find someone cleaning out a coop. So, less added dirt in the long run.

Starting a few tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, etc. indoors saves having to buy sets. Our challenge here is protecting them from the cats. Some years are better than others. And my last piece of money saving advice is to stay out of  commercial green houses for as long as you can stand it.
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pollinator
Posts: 260
Location: Southern Germany
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I like the gardening videos of Huw Richards. One of his videos features free gardening hacks:
Huw Richards gardening hacks

...but there is a lot to learn from his other videos as well.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1074
Location: Denmark 57N
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Don't read to much on the internet!
If you clear a bit of ground and put some seeds in you will almost certainly get a plant, you don't NEED compost or fertiliser, and you certainly don't need the latest preparation  or miracle amendment, sure you will not get the biggest or best plant in any old dirt you scrape up, but so long as you keep it watered and kept away from to many pests you will get something to eat. ,
It sounds like you have a garden now, so get a couple of tomato plants and a squash plant or two and perhaps a packet of lettuce seeds. cover the ground with some cardboard/newspaper and lawn clippings (or anything to hand up to and including old bricks!) to hold it down plant the tomato and squash in holes you make in that. and then clear a bit of ground and plant some lettuce seed, follow the directions on the packet. Plants want to grow and will manage it in amazingly bad conditions, so just start small and spend very little, as you get experience you can decide what tools etc you want to buy, but to start with I would suggest a spade, fork, and a hand trowel. you can manage without the fork but it is better than a spade for many things.
 
Posts: 36
Location: South Carolina
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Most years, my garden supplies are under $100. The lowest I've gone is $12. My family and friends know I keep an organic garden, so they think of me when they have things to get rid of. And my holiday wishlists always include garden items.
As others said, you basically need seeds/plants, soil, and water. Think critically about how to get those for free or inexpensively.

Seeds -- Utilize swaps/trades or other gardeners with extra to share. If you're in the US, I've had good luck with the NextDoor app. Many libraries are starting to have a section for free seeds, too. Otherwise, Facebook groups, GardenWeb, or other gardening forums have spots for trading.

Soil - To start new ground, I prefer smothering sod with cardboard and piling mulch on top for a season. You could also ask around if anyone has a tiller you could borrow, or just use a shovel to flip clumps of sod over in a small spot. For soil amendments and mulch, friends have offered me various animal manure, fish scraps, bags of leaves, etc. I see over and over again that it helps to be vocal about what I could use (though not obnoxiously so). I also compost in place (bury food scraps directly into the garden).

Water - I was blessed with multiple rain barrels by friends who knew I was on the lookout. Before that, I had a few 5 gallon buckets placed at the downspouts of my roof and saved some indoor water (like from cooking). I got buckets for free from a grocery store bakery (former frosting containers). Depending on your rainfall, hugel beds and mulch can be super helpful.  My mulch is whatever I can get for free, including corn husks, peanut shells, and past-their-prime leafy greens.

I hope your garden is productive!
 
Anita Martin
pollinator
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Location: Southern Germany
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Plants want to grow and will manage it in amazingly bad conditions, so just start small and spend very little, as you get experience you can decide what tools etc you want to buy, but to start with I would suggest a spade, fork, and a hand trowel. you can manage without the fork but it is better than a spade for many things.


Skandi is making a very good point: You don't need to buy garden soil, amendments or expensive transplants. But you do need a set of tools. Little is more frustrating than crappy tools, tools that do not do the job or that are so cheap that the shovel bends or breaks.
The tools I most often use is a "Lady's spade" like this (because I am 5.2' and weigh 99 lbs), a pointed hand trowel like this and a regular hand trowel.

For cutting, I have small pruning shears for almost everything and bigger long-handled pruning loppers (word?).

For turning the compost I also have a fork but I use it less often.
Depending on your soil you might also find a rake convenient (my soil is too heavy).

Don't feel tempted to buy a "starter set" for gardeners for little money because it will be wasted money.
Buy once, buy quality.

 
pollinator
Posts: 324
Location: Ontario - Gardening in zone 3b, 4b, or 6b, depending on the day
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My budget for this year (second year gardening here) is about $500, including seeds, manure, rototilling a new bed, potting soil for seed starting, etc. Not really "budget" gardening, but not as extravagant as I could be if  i thought i was living here long term. So far I have spent about $350, trying to figure out where I will get the most for my remaining money.  Last year was a bit more, but we bought a lot of wood chip mulch and tools. A butternut squash is about $8 in the local store right now, potatos are more than $1/lb, so although that sounds like a lot, we will get far more in produce than we put in.

Save seeds. Each year I grow from my own saved seeds, things seem to produce better. I think it has as much to do with epigenetics as genetics. A package of heirloom tomato seeds or a few starts might be $5. If I save the seed, the next year, I can grow that plant again basically for free and use the money for something else. I didn't buy any tomato seeds this year and my only commercial pepper seeds were gifts. I bought no new pepo squash or melon seeds, did add new cucumbers and maxima squash.  I  havent reduced the amount of money I spend on seeds yet, but have increased how much I can grow with the same budget! If I was on a tighter budget, I could have grown fewer varieties of each thing, but I am still trialing to find things that work. You dont have to buy fancy seed starting cells either. I use a lot of egg cartons, cream cartons, plastic trays, and other things scavenged from the recycling bin. Also- although i love the heirlooms and unique varieties, for things like carrots and onions, you can get 1000s of typical variety seeds for a few cents more than a few hundred heirloom seeds at some of the big seed companies, enough to last a few years for me.

Mulch. Depending on your climate, mulch might make your gardening far easier! Water, and my willingness to water things is a bigger factor for me than soil fertility. Mulch doesn't have to be expensive. The best mulch I ever got was free used mushroom compost from a local mushroom farm- carried home in buckets and more wrapped up in a tarp in the back of my car. It kept the soil moister, was weed free, and provided nutrients. But I also like wood chips and straw, both of which can be cheap. Manure can be picked up for free on local buy and sell sites. I have an alert set right now until one pops up that's close enough. A truck would help, but my small car works fine. Also- I have been surprised to discover posting wanted ads works! Just got my garden rototiller from placing an ad, picked up other stuff the same way . This year I have a large bed mulched almost entirely with yard waste from the neighbors and waste cardboard collected over the winter. Completely free, unless I decide to add manure to break it down further.

Like Anita said,  get good quality tools- I prefer heavy steel heads, not flimsy modern stuff. But that doesn't have to cost too much. All but my garden rake and scuffle hoe came from my grandmother or garage/estate sales  and cost $5 or less-  and my grandmother is after me to get a "better garden rake" as the best one I could find in the local stores ($40) has too heavy a handle and she considers it worthless. She thinks the same about my scuffle hoe! For me, a nice spade, a trowel, a garden rake, a leaf rake, a digging fork, a large and a small hoe/scuffle hoe are probably the minimum, but we do have more than that, and some duplicates. I will be looking at mail order $100 + tools to replace anything that breaks if I can't garage sale it, but my used tools work just fine.
 
Sonja Draven
gardener
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Thanks everyone! You're giving me some great ideas!

I mostly have been blessed with great tools already, but I appreciate all the suggestions because they can benefit anyone on a tight budget who's just getting started.

And the comments about not needing perfect soil are helpful too. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed reading about all the wonderful amendments people have that aren't an option for me since I live in a small town, different land parameters, etc. (I signed up for chip drop equivalent almost a year ago and haven't received any). BUT I have some ideas for investigating now. :)

Thank you!
 
Posts: 231
Location: Vermont, USA
33
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I didn’t get any results from Chipdrop but finally called a couple of local tree services. Now there’s a tree guy who lives less than a mile from me and will give me all the wood chips I can accept. Now I use them for mulch, the chicken run, the paths in the garden, occasionally for carbon in the compost heap, an amendment to some intensely clay soil we have, and fill for a ditch that doesn’t belong here.

I love my wood chips. The garden path chips filled half of one of my raised beds this year.

Local farmers often have excess manure. I love manure too!  Coffee shops will give you nitrogen, I mean spent coffee grounds, which can give the soil a boost. And an old bale or two of hay can mulch the garden and break down faster than wood chips. Straw is even better (supposedly no seeds).  
 
Author
Posts: 6
Location: Maine
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I like to start new garden beds with what I find around my neighborhood. I use cardboard and wood chips to cover the turf. The cardboard I save from amazon packages and the wood chips come from my local utility company when they clear the lines. Look in your local phone book for companies and give them a call. They usually have to pay to get rid of them so if you're on their way home they are happy to make a drop!

For soil, I compost in place or sheet mulch with grass clippings, leaves, food scraps and old straw that I stash away throughout the year. I plant directly into this mound after a little top dress of compost. Before you know it the heap decomposes into nice soil.

For plants, I ask neighbors for volunteers that they don't want. This year I managed to score 200 strawberry plants found on the side of the road! And the year before that 10 blueberry bushes! I also buy seeds with a friend to cut costs. If you're only planting a small space purchasing a whole seed packet, of lets say lettuce, can be over kill.

For water, you can save big in the long run by investing in a rain water barrel. It costs money upfront but over time it will pay for itself, especially if you live in areas with high water costs.
 
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