People think gardening has to be expensive and lots of hard work. Those people are woefully, ignorantly, wrong. Poor, deluded fools.
Actually, I can’t blame people for believing this. Research gardening online and you will be inundated with advertisements for products, projects that cost thousands of dollars, and articles with a long shopping list of stuff to buy. Go to the local garden shop and get dizzy trying to figure out what all that expensive crap is for. Mulch, topsoil, potting soil, cactus mix, roundup, plant food, fertilizer, weed killer, bug spray, hoses and the billions of attachments and convenience gadgets.
Well forget all that. Pretty much anything you need for gardening you can find free or disgustingly cheap. And you don’t have to work long and hard at it. Most of the labor is done here and there, as weather and time permit. You can go at your own pace, and make easy choices.
Here’s all you need to start a garden for literally a few dollars. These are plans for one small raised bed, sized anywhere from 2′ x 4′ to 4′ x 6′ or whatever size you end up making. Just make sure you can reach the middle of the bed for planting, weeding, watering and harvesting.
It doesn’t matter what season you start in, there’s almost always something you can plant right now (especially down here in south Georgia), and there’s always the next season to be anticipating, too. And you don’t have to be an expert! Go to the library. Troll YouTube. There’s so much to know so just get started reading. I’m always reading new books on gardening and botany, even if it’s just to skim it for tips and ideas (yay for the library!)
Assuming you’ve chosen a sunny spot, follow me….
TOOLS: You really don’t need many. A flat spade, a leveling rake, a bucket or two, a hand trowel (the little hand shovel thingy). That’s about it. You can get these cheap enough at a regular store, or you can find them at yard sales, second hand shops, and even dollar stores. Freecycle is another of my favorite places to keep an eye out for garden needs. You can even borrow from friends or neighbors, as long as you take responsibility for the maintenance and cleanliness of other people stuff.. Most people are happy to lend tools, especially if they’re returned with homemade cookies.
RAISED BED: You’ll want your veggies to have a well drained spot, so make them a raised bed. Some of our beds were made from wood we reclaimed from old fence pieces a neighbor gave us. Cinder blocks found at the local dump make the border of another. You can bury bottles halfway into the dirt to make the border, or you can use big rocks, bricks — get creative. You can make a border out of anything, as long as it holds its shape in the weather. I’ve seen people use half-buried coffee cans, which I thought looked kind of awesome. Make sure everything is able to drain, otherwise you’ll have a mosquito resort hotel on your hands after the first rain. My favorite raised beds are old tires. I plant tomatoes in mine. I’m currently looking for more. I search the back lanes by trash cans for these.
SOIL: This is just dirt. Don’t overthink it. Find somewhere you can dig some up. A friend’s house, an empty lot, another part of your own yard, just get some. You’ll need your shovel and at least one bucket. Fill up your raised bed with this. (You can break up the soil first with your spade if you want. It will help drainage, but if you’re feeling lazy, skip it.)
COMPOST: If you have compost, put a nice fat layer on top of your dirt. If you don’t have compost, relax. Plant your garden anyway, but start a pile now. Just pile up all your leaves, lawn waste, fruit and veggie scraps in a pile. Keep the pile topped with a layer of dry leaves or pine straw to keep flies and smell away. Compost is just rotting stuff. When it rots down do a nice, black, crumbly consistency, it’s ready to add to the garden. Depending on the materials and your weather conditions, this can take a few months to a few years. So get started on your pile.
MULCH: I use the pine straw that collects on my roof. You can also use dried leaves, hay, wood chips, cardboard, newspapers, carpet scraps, or tin foil. Light mulch like tin foil and cardboard need to be anchored with rocks or something to keep them from blowing away.
At this point, you should have a raised bed full of dirt, compost and covered with mulch. This is where your groceries will live. Love it. Water it down with the hose. Really soak it good.
Now you’re ready to start adding food. There are two ways to do this: seeds and plants.
SEEDS: This is the cheapest. You can find seeds online or at local stores: hardware, garden, dollar tree, big box, farmers’ market. Plant seeds directly in your bed by making a little hole in the mulch layer. Plant the seeds, leaving the hole for the seedlings to sprout through. Keep them moist until they germinate, then keep them watered until they get a few inches high. You can also germinate seeds in little containers of dirt, transplanting them into the bed when they’re a few weeks old.
YOUNG PLANTS: It costs a bit more to buy plants, but sometimes it’s worth the tradeoff in babysitting seedlings. Some sources for veggie plants to transplant into your new incredible, amazing garden bed: hardware and home improvement stores, local feed & seed, freecycle, garden stores, Facebook groups, grocery stores (sometimes have fresh herb plants in the produce section). Friends who garden often have stem or root cuttings, extra seeds, or volunteer plants to give away.
Once you’ve got your veggies planted in the beds and they’re a few inches high, water them deeply every other day or so. Don’t let them stay wet, but don’t let them die of thirst either. Check them every few days for weed or insect infestation. In just a month or so, you should have something to eat that you grew in your backyard.
It’s easier and cheaper than you think. Go ahead and try something. One bed. One plant. Start from there.
SOURCES: My two favorite gardening books are White Trash Gardening by Rufus T. Firefly (as told to Mike Benton) and Possum Living by Dolly Freed. These are worth purchasing to have as reference. Everything else I check out from the library as needed.