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The Best Veggie Garden $1 Can Buy

By Susanne Talbert (art_n_gardenApril 15, 2009
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With my Colorado hard clay soil, I struggled to raise vegetables. Not just “good” vegetables, but “any” vegetables. I tried to till in one or two bags of composted manure, watered till my husband was blue in the face while paying the bill, and stared longingly at my dirt clod for hours. Good vegetables never resulted. But this year I got serious about it, and in a very cheap way.

Gardening picture

With the economy how it is, I, along with many other people around the world, am turning to vegetable gardening as a way to cut my bills.  The only problem is that I don't have any extra money to invest in what seems like, at least right now, a pipe dream.  So I set out to build the cheapest vegetable garden I could.  In the end, with quite a bit of resourcefulness and some back breaking labor, I ended up spending only three dollars on my new raised vegetable bed.  If you'd like to know how I did it, keep on reading. 

Luckily (or unluckily) for me, the previous owners of my home had some serious love for hardscaping.  They had red brick pathways, a red paver patio, a red brick terrace and pink toned landscaping rocks laid in every available square inch.  I hated it.  As a gardener it made it nearly impossible to squeeze in plants or understand the quality of my soil, much less do any of it successfully. 

One day as I was digging through the rocks, cursing every shovelful that amplified my anger, I decided what any good, stubborn gardener would: raised beds were the solution! 

The only good part about all this hardscaping is that I wouldn't have to buy any more.  I began to gather the red bricks and pavers that I had previously dismantled, and make a plan.  My target:  a strip on the side of my house where the baking sun made landscaping rocks and a compost pile the only success I could come by.  A stray patch of cottonwood saplings and a dwarf barberry (spines and all) had set up camp in this strip.  This area was truly my nemesis.

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I began stacking the leftover 12-inch square pavers seven high in order to form my enclosed raised bed on top of the landscaping rocks and cottonwood-barberry cemetery.  I installed stairs so that I could easily access the future vegetable garden I see in my mind's eye.  I gathered spare boxes from work to lay as a foundation and weed--ahem, cottonwood--blocker.

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Now for soil.  How could I find that cheaply?  I remembered that one of my neighbors boards her horse at a nearby stable.  Oh and my co-worker whose parents own a ranch and raise cows and horses right outside of town. Surely they had to have a pile of manure free for the taking.  Once I asked around a little bit, sure enough!  I found all the manure I could have, free for the hauling.  Mind you this was in January, so I had some time to let the manure age while I waited for spring's thaw.   I knew that I needed to let the manure heat up and "cook" in order to kill weed seeds and fly larvae.  Just like a compost pile, the manure needed to heat up so that the nutrients could blend into a friable, fertile soil.

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One carload at a time, I filled garbage bags and spare boxes full of manure and hauled them home.  Most of what I got I dug from deep inside a well-composted pile of horse manure, so it wasn't too smelly.  I don't know how many boxes and bags or loads it took, but eventually I topped off the new raised bed.  I figured this layer of manure would settle as it sat, and I could later cut in top soil so I wouldn't burn any vegetables.

In order to speed up the "cooking" process, I decided to cover the manure with black plastic to absorb the sun's heat.  Where's the cheapest black plastic to be found?  The "dollar" store of course!  Three boxes of black trash bags did the trick.  I sliced off the gathered end and ripped the bags down the side to create plastic sheeting.  I laid the bags down, overlapping them across the leveled manure and secured it with broken pieces of pavers, old boards, and small piles of landscaping rocks.  It looked somewhat like an odd, large-scale version of Mancala. 

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Under snow and spring rain, the manure has been heating and composting.  In early May I plan to dig in several bags of composted cotton boll, a cheap alternative to Canadian sphagnum moss, and maybe a bag or two of topsoil to increase the diversity in my soil, and then begin planting. 

I'll put in butternut squash, watermelon, zucchini, peas, okra, tomatoes, beans, and lettuce.  In the end I will have spent only three dollars on plastic bags and about $30 on cotton boll.  If I trade for all my vegetable seeds, this garden will be my cheapest yet. 

Ingredients for a cheap raised veggie bed:

  • Cheap/free edging material to contain soil and raise level of ground such as landscaping timber, bricks, pavers, rebar and PVC, etc.
  • Collected cardboard and cardboard boxes for blocking weeds and transporting manure
  • Free compost, manure, leaves, or other organic matter
  • Cheap black plastic trash bags
  • Any amount space that is easy to access and is otherwise useless

 

Gardening doesn't have to be expensive.  Look for free or cheap things, repurpose old belongings, and trade for seeds. 

I hope this article is of some help or inspiration for you this season.  Be resourceful, and perhaps you could have a wonderful harvest of vegetables this year, too!

 

Other helpful articles on this topic:

The Easy Way to Grow in Heavy Clay Soils

Low Cost Compost For All

The Frugal Gardener

The Numbers of Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos all belong to the author except for the Dwarf Barberry which was uploaded to PlantFiles by Debsroots and the thumbnail which was uploaded to morguefile.com by melodi2.


  About Susanne Talbert  
Susanne TalbertI garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite. My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Cheap materials dordee 2 26 Feb 24, 2011 8:55 AM
Great ingenuity, Suzanne! pajaritomt 8 77 Apr 20, 2009 5:45 PM
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