6 - 2009

How we boost our organic garden for free

The Scavengers whom I wrote about yesterday appear to be gardening partly organically, but not completely. At our house, we stick with the organic stuff, which is cheap or free:

  • We grab our neighbors’ straw bales after Halloween (every year they buy one or three to decorate their porch, then put them out with the trash) and work them into our clay soil to break it up.
  • We have two compost bins going to break down our garden waste, veggie scraps, shredded paper and beer-brewing detritus. During the winter, we usually use just one bin. In the spring, we stop adding to that bin, to allow older compost to finish breaking down without being interrupted by new additions. The other is where we put the new stuff.  In early summer, we’ll put the old compost on the garden and switch the “new” contents to the “old” bin and begin again.
  • We grab bags of used coffee grounds at Starbucks to sprinkle directly on the garden or, if Schnauzer Cheap is looking like he’s just going to eat the espresso disks (and who needs a hypercaffeinated, black-bearded terrier?), we mix the grounds into our compost.
  • We have gone to local horse farms to pick up composted manure. Trust me, they have more poo than they can shake a stick at, and if you will take it away, they will bless you for it. Find them on craigslist. We were in a rush, so we purchased a set of lidded bins that we could fill and carry without spills inside our car. If the manure is well composted (aged and perhaps mixed with straw), you can dump it straight onto the garden. If it’s fresher (i.e., smells like poo instead of dirt/nothing), be careful or you could burn your plants.
  • We use natural bug management as much as possible: Dishes of beer to attract/drown slugs, being kind and gentle to spiders and wasps (last summer, we would see a cabbage moth fly into our garden, followed almost immediately by a moth-hunting wasp; the moths were gobbled up with no time to lay eggs that would become worms), using diatomaceous earth to eliminate soft-bellied pests, picking off large bugs ourselves, and luring in ladybugs to eat aphids (on this count we were unsuccessful last year, but we didn’t buy a big pack and set them free at the right time).
  • Mr. Cheap’s secret weapon is fish emulsion, which is fertilizer made from rotted fish. And yes, it smells like it, and yes, it can also drive dogs batty. He sprays plants with diluted fish emulsion once a month or so for extra leafiness and production.

What are your secrets to a cheap organic garden?

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