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How to Start Your Own Garden For Almost Free

Apr 27, 2012
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(The trellises in the photo above are bed frames, railings, and other items collected from the side of the road.  Other people's trash is your free garden!)

Yes, the economy is in bad shape, I know.  But don't use that as an excuse for not gardening.  You can take the expensive route and buy everything you need to get started, or you can be resourceful and end up with something that works, for little to no money.  Here are some tips to get you started.

Contain It

The first thing you need is something to grow in.  Start with the containers your food comes in.  Asceptic boxes, plastic tubs, and plastic bottles, all of which you would otherwise just discard, can all be used as containers to start seeds in.  Add some holes for drainage, some potting mix, and you're ready to go.

You can also use newspaper pots.  Strips of newspaper wrapped around a cylinder, with the bottoms folded under, aren't sturdy enough for the long term, but they can be used to start seeds in.  When you transplant them, put the whole thing, pot and all, into the ground or larger container.

Feed It

Fertilizer can be had in the form of compost, which is basically all your waste fruit and vegetable scraps, eggs shells, and some paper.  Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, can even be done in a bin inside your house--tucked under your kitchen sink, for example.

You will reduce the amount of garbage that goes into landfills.  You will get free fertilizer.  You will give life to worms (if you vermicompost).  And you won't be forced to use chemical-filled soil mixes and fertilizers that are sold in garden and home centers, which may have a detrimental effect on our environment (not to mention your wallet).

Water It

The cheapest way to obtain water for your plants is to collect rainwater.  You can use any container you like.  (Avoid containers that have had toxic or cleaning chemicals in them.)  I'd suggest covering them with screening to prevent mosquito infestation, especially if you're in an area where mosquito-borne illnesses, such as encephalitis or Dengue Fever, can be a problem. 

You can often find discarded 5-gallon buckets from restaurants.  Be sure to clean them out thoroughly before you use them.

Reproduce It

Use what you buy from the grocery store to start more plants.  Lemongrass and green onions are easy to grow and will provide you with leaves and stalks both.  Lemongrass leaves make a delicious hot or iced tea.  Use green onions in your salads and sandwiches.

Fresh herbs are commonly sold in grocery stores these days.  Mint and sometimes basil can be started by placing a sprig in a jar of room-temperature water until roots sprout.  Change the water daily and transplant as soon as possible, to prevent rotting.

Trade It

Become a part of an online gardening forum, a local gardening club, or something similar.  Almost all of them have formal or informal seed swapping opportunities.  Trade something you have a lot of, or seeds for something you've grown but don't like, for something new.  It's also a great way to trade varieties that don't do well in your climate, for something that didn't work for someone else in theirs.

Train It

Use found objects as trellises for climbing or sprawling plants, such as pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  The back of our little garden plot is lined with bed frames and rails, metal shelving supports, and other things.  All of them were picked up from curbside, thrown out by others.  Even if the metal rusts, it will last several years before it needs to be replaced.

So you see, you can be a cheapskate if you want or need to in your gardening efforts.  But be sure to be generous with your harvest, and share it with your neighbors, friends, and others.  I've fed arugula to electric company workers, herbs to neighbors, and cholesterol spinach to practically anyone who passes (since it grows almost without any help from me in our area.)

You'll be opening their eyes to the pleasures of gardening, introducing them to new taste sensations, and maybe making them a little healthier in the process.  And that way, they might not complain about the toilet tanks, truck tires, and bed frames in your yard that you are using to grow everything with!


I added a post to my blog if you want to see how to use toilet tanks as containers for your garden.  They already come with drainage holes, they are rectangular, so you can stack them next to each other, saving space.  And they are deep, so you can grow carrots and daikon in them, too.  See using toilet tanks for container gardening at


Super post, Alina. I love your can-do spirit!
Thanks, Roger. Are you resting after all your gardening efforts?
Yes, Alina. I had just planted a garden the "hard way" removing sod with a spade. I felt very heroic, but mostly very tired. The next time I start a new garden, I'll smother the grass with compost.
another way to fertilize your garden is with gold fish. I got a large plastic container (its actually my old recycling bin) toss in some pebbles, some water and the fish.(the really cheap ones at the pet store work fine). And every week I use my large watering can to drain the water onto my vegie garden, then I simply refill the container. Fish poo water is amazing to feed plants with. You can buy the concentrate but this way you get it for the price of a sprinkle of fish food every day.
then you just pour their dirty water onto your plants weekly
You can also replant celery bottoms, and I've had good results with store-bought organic potatoes. Also, learn about "weeds" you can eat, and don't fall into hype. I had a neighbor swear up and down that 1. You can't direct seed tomatoes in our climate zone (zone 6) 2. This giant plant that I was allowing to grow was an invasive weed (it was lamb's quarters, and now my yard is full of their greens free of charge), and that adding sand to my clay soil would make concrete ( I have no idea) Needless to say he was wrong on all counts and he's been gardening for decades while I have only been active in the yard for 3 years.
I love your ideas, the left over frames from beds and such are a good idea, they will be covered with growing beautiful flowers anyway. I love free throw away things that I can use.
If you can get past the "yuk" factor you can get free fertiliser too - with urine. There is a very long history to using urine as a safe and effective fertiliser. See It is sustainable and saves polluting our waterways, some countries even have toilets to separate it out. A recent Greenhouse restaurant in Australia did this to use as fertiliser for the crops to be used in the next restaurant!
Yep, the original nitrogen fertilizer-urine. Very cheap! Mother Earth News wrote an article on this a couple of years ago and I recall the ratio to be 1 part urine to 20 parts water.
I tried 1 to 8 mix ratio and my plants in my .00099 Acre garden seem to be responding enthusiastically. My wife tells me it is the best we have done with plants. Thanks KGI for the idea!
Hello to all ,hope your all well,im new to your site,i just joined a miniute ago,id like to ask if it really possible to make a Vegatable Garden by just pouring the Compost on top of the grass,its mt first attempt of growing my own,so would appreciate any tips possible, i cant dig,so i thought id get my friend to make 2 coldframes,which i thought id just be able to put Compost in ,then put the seeds in and they would grow into beautifull vegatables, Essie
Hello again, id like to ask if anyone has an ideashowto stopthe neighbourhood cats doing their buisness in our garden,its most annoying every day,ive tried the general things you buy from the stores,but nothing has worked, a friend had put Chilli Powder straight from the packet on hers,and didnt work, which im against using such things ,ant help very much appreciated. Thankyou Essie
A number of years ago my brother was being annoyed on an ongoing basis by a dog who had chosen my brothers driveway as the perfect place to defecate. This went on until my brother had the epiphany that the situation was actually affecting the quality of his life. Way too many contaminated shoes/boots car floor mats etc. After a number of futile requests to the dog's owner my brother went to the hardware store and purchased an electric fence power supply, some springs and some steel wire. He strung the wire with springs and insulators so that he could easily drive over the network but the dog would have to touch it to get into the driveway. The dog found a new favorite place to defecate after a single lesson and the wires (without the charger) kept the dog away.
I save and dry my citrus peels; then I toss them under my plants. My biggest problem is people who walk their dogs onto my corner lot to go potty. I remove the pest waste and then apply a cayenne/ black pepper mix to their potty spot. Doing this and putting down the dried citrus peels seems to deter the potty activity in my yard. When I start seeing new pet waste, I refresh everything. I hope this helps. My cats were not allowed out their first year and they would come home to potty; and I simply never toileted my dog in anyone's yard. I carried little pickup kits for those rare accidents near the curb.
you could try a motion detector sprinkler. expensive though, about 80$ at Lee Valley
nepeta cataria, (catnip) works for me. cat likes the herb, they are like to addicted to it, and they sniff it, chew on it. the good news is, cat do not poop in their playground, so they go to the next door garden to poop, despite the garlic lined up in the vegetable bed. hope that helps. angie
Excellent article .....Sharing...
I got in trouble with my HOA for ripping my grass to grow food and recycling item to grow. Then my fruit tree's start producing and everyone lures on them. I was going to move to a land outside city but my luck I am still here calling them loosers. So we live in harmony they call me to go back to my country, backward, I call them fat, ugly, and cause of war. Thank god for the Green Fashion in my city now everyone is following my footstep. My city even gives out incentive to plant and go green :)) Alina your idea is awesome, when I move outside the city I am collecting all toilets from the garbage. ))))
I am looking for containers to start seedlings in. I was wondering if anyone has used egg cartons before?
Alina, that's my kind of garden. So much of the thrill is imagining new roles for old things!! As a permaculture designer I also have the mindset to look at the 'elements' and the 'roles'. Every element must serve multiple roles, every role must be served by multiple elements. Here in Australia, we have a lot of different wattles (acacia) and casuarinas that can spring up in gardens... or you can collect the seeds, scratch the shells or dunk in hot water (traditionally bushfires open them) and broadcast. These trees grow quickly and like legumes they have roots with nodules that fix nitrogen in the soil. But whereas the legumes lower pH, the acacias and casuarinas lift pH, which is very valuable in our tired acid soils. Most people just remove these trees as nuisances. I like to use the wattles in my garden as examples of multiple roles served by the one element. They grow very fast, every year I prune very hard. Every time I prune a comparable amount of root dies, a very deeply ploughed mass of carbon, nitrogen and more. They shade some things when they need shade (or you plant the things that need shade in the right place. I use the prunings as a high nitrogen mulch. I use the branches of the extended limbs to tie strings which go down to beans for them to climb up. Etc. I am sure people in other countries can find plants to make such use of... Some people think gardening is dumb and repetitive, but it can be a huge brain challenge (including the challenge of how to make the physical demands less, says he at age 69 :-) I described some of my scrounging for raised beds, etc, in a comment in the "phylliszoon question: What materials should we use for building our raised bed containers?" just now. The other comment I would make on your kind of scrounge garden is that it offers opportunities for art, and I think it really becomes worth doing if it has a warm sensual or aesthetic impact to wander in your garden. Of and the other other comment is that if you see a thing that looks interesting, someone's chuck-out, you don't have to know already what to do with it. You need to bring it home and it talk to the bits you've already brought home, or may bring home next week. Scrounge is a store that only stocks once! :-) Such an interesting place to discover, KGI!

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