CHEAP way to dig a new veggie garden? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 05-01-2011, 09:40 AM - Thread Starter
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We don't have much money to spare this month, and next month will be too late to start a garden.  We're in Maine.  What is the absolute cheapest way to dig a new garden?  We have a big shovel and that's it.  I may be able to borrow other tools from our landscaping neighbor, but we certainly can't buy anything fancy.  I think we can swing a bag of compost if that's needed.  So, hit me with your advice please!


Oh, yeah, we're not really sure what we will plant, but probably tomatoes, cucumbers, maybe carrots, green beans, sugar snap peas maybe, and a few bell pepper plants.  Probably some squash.  Just the basics really.

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#2 of 11 Old 05-01-2011, 10:14 AM
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Theres a lot you can do with a shovel and some good hard work.  If you have a spot you are willing to till, just go dig a big hole, break up all the dirt, turn it over a bit, and be sure to add a bag of compost just to give you that extra edge.  What is your soil like?

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#3 of 11 Old 05-01-2011, 10:21 AM
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I would start really small.


Use a spade to kill up the sod.  Some people litterally dig a deep trough, then dig another one and place the lump sod side down in the adjoining trough.  Lots of work, but effective.


Alternately, try taking the top layer of sod off.  Outline an area of sod with the spade, and then use a spade or pitch fork (held almost parrael to the ground and try to skim the top few inches of dirt up.  Sometimes you can even roll the sod (hence the earlier outlining).


I would buy some black earth to put in top to help things along.  Or manure or compost.  I can get soil for about 2$ a bag and manure or compost for 3$.  Well worth it.


After uprooting as much sod as you can, go to plan B for next year or later in the season.


Kill the grass through smothering.  You know how when you leave a pool on the grass it kills the grass underneath it?  do it on purpose!  Use newspaper, cardboard, tarp - whatever - hold it in place (mulch works well - leaves, rocks, etc).  2 months from now or so you will have a barish patch of grass.  


If you are newish to gardenning be forwarned that squash take up and over a lot of room.  while I love carrots, they are very cheap in this are and local - they might not be a great choice in your garden if you have limited space this year.  If you go for carrots, make sure the area you plant them in has loose, loose soil.



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#4 of 11 Old 05-01-2011, 10:22 AM
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If you have grass to clear off first, you can lay down wet newspaper and/or cardboard over the area you want to turn into a garden and within a few days you'll have mostly dead grass that's easier to dig up. Leave it for a week and you won't have to do much digging at all. You can just loosen the soil and plant as is (though either way, you will have some extra weeding to do the first couple of years, in my experience). If your soil is reasonably loose, you can lay down wet newspaper/cardboard and plant seeds and seedlings through slits in the covering and it will act as a natural weed barrier. Next year, it will have biodegraded into the soil. Those are the easiest and quickest ways I can think of to start a garden bed without a big investment of time or money.

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#5 of 11 Old 05-01-2011, 10:57 AM
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subbing.  great thread!


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#6 of 11 Old 05-02-2011, 05:23 AM
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Look on craigslist for aged horse manure. Aged manure is a great compost, doesn't smell, and you can often (at least around where I am) find people willing to give it away for free if you haul it yourself. Take a truck or ask a friend to borrow their truck (and wash it when you're done), and shovel away! 


I turned a truckload into my beds the first year with a borrowed a tiller. :)

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#7 of 11 Old 05-03-2011, 08:21 PM
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Originally Posted by ramama View Post


What is the absolute cheapest way to dig a new garden?  We have a big shovel and that's it.

Cheapest possible? Don't dig! It is not necessary. Just disturb the dirt enough to plant the seeds or seedlings, mulch seedlings heavily for weed control and call it good.


If you have a lot of weeds in the garden area, smother them with several layers of newspaper, cover the newspaper with some mulch and make holes through the layers to plant seedlings.



See the picture of a no-dig garden. I needed a pickaxe to make the holes for the seedlings. It's in it's third year and weeds have been minimal, and the soil gets easier to dig in every year.


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#8 of 11 Old 05-03-2011, 08:33 PM
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Put a wanted notice up on Freecycle to see if anyone is giving away seeds or plants.  I know I would love to see something like that as I have all these beautiful grown-from-organic-seed tomatoes to get rid of...sigh.


Make sure you get a type of cuke that is mounding rather than vineing so you don't have to buy a trellis.  Snow peas should go into the ground asap and you can use string by a fence to support them.


If you can't find someone giving away manure for free go buy some.  Steer manure is cheap and works wonders in the garden (I prefer chichen manure but it costs a bit more).  Better than compost for the first year IMO.  Also a good trowel is money well spent.


With next years garden in mind make a compost pile now and start saving your kitchen veggie waste, grass clippings and leaves in the fall.  You won't regret it.  To figure out different ways to compost do a search on the Mother Earth News website.


Be diligent about weeding and keeping an eye out for pests eating your stuff.


Planting a garden should not be pricey as it is mostly sweat equity.

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#9 of 11 Old 05-05-2011, 05:49 AM
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A friend let me borrow her tiny electric rototiller.  It helped tremendously.  I have rusty garden implements I mostly got from freecycle.  I was giving hundreds of seeds by people who "changed their minds".  The main thing I buy every year is more soil amendment because I live in a place with really heavy clay. :)


Occasionally I buy big plants to see if they'll take.  My yards are uhm, kind of chaotic and unformed. lol

My advice may not be appropriate for you. That's ok. You are just fine how you are and I am the right kind of me.

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#10 of 11 Old 05-08-2011, 06:26 AM
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I have dug out the grass,broken the soil,and planted.Goes OK even though the soil is not great.Other times I have just covered a spot with shredded paper,leaves,and good topsoil.That works good too,but the soil does not go far.Need to buy a lot. I have dug up soil from our wooded area,and used it in the garden.


Oh another thing I have done is removed the grass,and if the soil was bad I just replaced the soil for the plant.Dig a hole and put the good soil/compost in the hole for the plant. I have to do this in the front yard,because I can not afford to layer the entire beds with good soil.


For mulch you can get free wood chips from tree trimming companies,or use straw from the feed store.

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#11 of 11 Old 05-08-2011, 07:35 AM
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I use wide, double-dug beds.  To decide how wide to make my beds, I crouched down and measured how far I could reach.  The width of my beds is about twice my reach, so that I can reach the center of my beds without walking on them (I can reach about 26 inches.)  For the paths between my beds, I leave just enough to stand or put a bucket in the pathway.  It's only about 14 inches wide.  In my favorite out-of-print Rodale Press book, they use a space-saving example of 1 ft. wide paths and 5 ft. wide paths.  It sounds kind of crazy, but the difference between a 4x25 ft. bed with 2 ft. paths and a 5x25 bed with with 2 ft. paths is 25 square ft.  You can get a lot of veggies out of 25 square feet!  I have a wider access path, too- about 3 ft. wide, in front of my gate. 


I clear the weeds/grass with a digging fork.  Then I spread compost or composted manure.  I try to add at least 1 cu. ft. per 25 square feet and it can be just about anything, from $1 bags of manure to $3 bags of compost to free rabbit, sheep and llama manure.  I use as much free material as I can get, but this still ends up being one of my biggest expenses.  If you can get rabbit manure, that stuff is worth its weight in gold -- no weed seeds like you might get in horse manure, it's not hot so you can use it fresh, and the plants LOVE it.  Really, though, ANY manure or compost is good -- just be careful that any poultry manure is aged so that you don't burn your plants.  Then I double-dig the area (google for lots of tutorials on that.  It's important to have the right moisture-level in your soil to do it right, so this might mean waiting after a rain or watering and then waiting if it has been dry), rake the bed, and plant. 


Lasagna gardening sounds good in theory but I run into two serious issues.  First is logistical.  Where/how to get all of that organic material to layer on my beds?  How to get it home without a truck (and with my van full of kids?)  Even if I can manage to get that much stuff for free, how much will I spend in time and gas to gather it all?  It requires a good amount of material all at once..  My other problem is weeds.  I have a couple of serious, hard to eradicate perennial weeds here -- crabgrass, bermudagrass and nutsedge.  The first two, especially, are what I concentrate on removing, roots and all, before starting a new bed.  With my digging fork (digging around with my hands) I really work hard on getting them out before planting seeds, or they'll over-run everything -- even with a heavy layer of mulch over them.  (I've tried...)


Wooden sides are pretty and all, but even the cheapest wood isn't cheap.  Double-digging wide beds gives you most of the benefits, for just the price of your labor.  I use pretty intensive plant-spacings -- similar to SFG for the most part (but I don't treat the plants as squares.  They're circles.  By off-setting the circles instead of planting on square grids, you can plant even closer. )

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