i see people spend a lot of money on gardening, and i always think, “but that’s not the point!” part of the magic of growing your own food, aside from the many health and food security benefits, is to watch how much money you save, and if you just end up spending it all on the front end investing it into soil, lumber for beds, tools, plants, pots, more soil, fertilizer, and the like…. that’s not saving you much. here are some things we have gleaned for free, turning the waste of the world into abundance! in no particular order:
coffee grounds. we’ve befriended the owners of the coffee kiosk located 2 blocks from our house, and as luck would have it, they just changed owners and now use only organic beans! we’ve been happily carrying off their grounds to make our plants happy. not only does this help us build our soil, it reduces that business’s footprint in two ways- it reuses their waste product (the grounds) and keeps them from throwing away more plastic bags (the ones they used to contain the grounds- we are providing our own buckets to have them fill and we switch them out every other day or so.) from what i’ve read, the earthworms love coffee grounds, slugs do not (they can create a barrier around sensitive plants) and they have a great carbon-nitrogen ratio to complement whatever is in your compost bin. the starbucks label (we experimented with picking up their grounds but have a better source with our neighbor) even offers the tip that alliums in particular are fond of the grounds.
i have been known to snag rinsed out yogurt containers from the break room at work (since i make our yogurt in glass jars, this actually makes plastic containers so much more “precious”!) for seedlings. (as well as beer cups/water bottles picked up off beach, fast food/coffee cups from the side of our road, our own empty ice cream cartons, an empty lasagna pan from friends delivering us a generous birthday dinner, as well as the usual re-used nursery containers of course…) on a related topic, starting our own plants from seed saves us a ton of money, and then saving our own seed makes the whole thing completely free- free being the ultimate goal for achieving self-sufficiency.
our own cast-off items, like this colander which is now a hanging strawberry planter, for planting in creative ways (hung using beach-combed rope). like that the price sticker is still on our 25 cent watering can? it needed some duct tape (leaked when we brought it home! total ripoff! but we got it working.)
chicken manure compost. our friends from walker farms, from whom we buy all of our organic poultry, lamb, and all other meat besides beef and fish, have provided us kindly with a really good deal on a straw bale (for mulching) and insisted that the compost they’re giving us is free of charge. i know it’s technically a waste product but seriously? you can pay high dollar in the store for chicken manure. and this is the good, organic, yummy kind. free fertilizer? check. (this will supplement our elk poop harvest nicely.)
freebies from the beach. we routinely walk on the beaches along the oregon coast, and whenever we do, we make it a point to collect as much beach garbage as we can. in the process, we’ve scored lots of useful items, saved them both from polluting our shoreline and from the dumpster. we will never need to buy rope, as we’ve gathered huge lengths of it in all different gauges. i also find useful pieces of board lumber, buckets, and the aforementioned bottles, cups, containers, etc. i plan on trying to gather some seaweed this coming fall, when it starts to break free and accumulate on the beaches, because of all the amazing minerals and nutrients it would give to our garden. i’d want to leave plenty there of course, to feed the ocean as well, so that will be something to assess, as always with wildcrafting endeavors.
plastic sheeting. this is packaging from rolls of fabric i’ve ordered wholesale (can’t buy organic cotton locally… but giving the packaging a second life helps.) i painstakingly remove the tape that is often more than generously applied to the outside of the roll in order to keep the sheet of plastic intact, rather than just slash through the whole thing. we’ve been using this stuff for greenhouse-type structures (cloche/coldframe type things) and a makeshift window-greenhouse where our seedling starts are growing inside the house.
the “free pile” near a dumpster is also a great place to find palettes for building a compost bin, planters, anything wooden. this picture shows a length of hose gleaned from said free pile (it leads from our bathroom on the second floor, from there we send our gray water down to the garden from the bathtub. speaking of reuse.) also shown are a motley assortment of planting containers, in which our perennial herbs and flowers are mostly grown, in anticipation of someday wanting to bring them with us when we move from this home. all of these pots were some version of free. that includes the overturned tree-sized one in the background with the brick on it, holding compost. our 5 gallon buckets have almost all been freebies, and we have even scored some gardening tools this way (others we have bought at thrift stores).
canning jars. related to gardening, how are you going to store all of your wonderful produce? jars are somewhat pricey to buy new. if you have no other option, then wait for canning season when they all go on sale. but in the meantime keep your eye out at your local thrift stores and garage sales, where they usually go for a song. you can even put up a notice in a senior center saying you’d pay for used canning jars, and often there are seniors who only want to can smaller amounts as they age and don’t need their quarts anymore, or things along those lines. estate sales are also a good place to look. once you have your jars, all you need are lids, as the jars and bands can get reused ad infinitum.
hope this is useful and inspires you to expand your garden, free-style! please add any of your own gleaning ideas to the comments.