When I first thought of building/creating my own garden, I felt daunted by the idea. After all, my most successful gardening experience to date was my little plot in my parents’ huge, back-to-the-land garden about 30 years ago.
Perhaps it was the memory of hours spent in the garden every day. As a kid I didn’t just work my plot; we all pitched in on the family garden. It was back-breaking – if rewarding – work. When you’re reaching for subsistence farming, working the farm is an all-encompassing endeavor.
This sense of overwhelm was added to by the fact that where I live now we have impossible soil and mutant greedy-goddam-gophers. My first attempted garden was destroyed by the varmints. They didn’t just eat the roots, they also pulled the seedlings down through the soil and eat those too. Grrrrr.
Learning from earlier mistakes, I knew I needed to protect my plants from the gopher-infested ground. I priced gopher wire (YIKES!) and wood. I thought, “Nope. I’m never gonna have a garden.”
This year I decided to seek out other ways to make a garden possible. I started researching everything from micro-farming to vertical gardens to container gardens. The images were way more helpful than any of the articles I found. I was exposed to a slew of ideas for creating low-cost, easy to manage gardens.
This image, and the story that accompanies it, was the final blow that felled my B.S., “But I can’t pull it off!” story. If refugees in Africa can grow a garden, WTF am I whining about? I have water, access to dirt, access to unlimited seeds. And tons of access to containers.
Some DIY website (which I can no longer find) suggested using a dresser to make containers. Brilliant! As it turned out, I had a decrepit dresser sitting in a storage space around the house waiting to be put to use. And if I hadn’t had one, I know I could have easily found one on freecycle.
I dove into the process of repurposing that baby with gusto. Much of my garden is growing, beautifully I might add, in a shoddy old dresser that would have sat in retirement for god-knows how long.
I took my ($19) cordless drill and the biggest bit I had, and drilled bunches of holes into the drawers and the body of the dresser.
Once I filled that space, I took to filling some recycled/reused/scrounged/found items and built a planter box out of scrap wood and reused nails. Then some used/preowned tubs (we have those around here – cast off from the main cash crop in the area). When I ran out of those I took a page from the inspiring refugee farmers and used sand/fertilizer bags. (Also preowned.)
(I also wanted a kiddie pool for melons, but so far no luck on that one. I’ll keep trying on freecycle. For now my melons are part of my array of sacks.)
Working with what I had, I slowly built a garden that is engrossing, inspiring, and makes me very, very happy. I ate my first summer squash yesterday, and am looking forward to my tomato harvest with tingling anticipation. More than a hobby, my garden has become an organizing element in my life. I’m kinda in love.
Let me enumerate the glowing virtues of my garden:
- Working in my garden is soothing and invigorating all at once.
- My relationship with my plant-friends and the entity that is my garden is one that really feeds me.
- Figuring out the little ways I can make things work, make them work better, or sustain longer, is a puzzle that keeps my mind happy and calm.
- I feel really great about the fact that I’ve lessened my carbon footprint, saved money, and am feeding my family good food all at once.
- I spend more of my time outside on a daily basis.
- Working in my garden is profoundly satisfying in that really basic, guttural way.
- It’s beautiful, and it makes my heart happy.
- It’s organic. Our yield will be nourishing, fresh, and really good for us.
- It was pretty low cost to set up, and will save my family a nice little bundle of cash in the long run.
That said, let’s talk dollars and cents. (And sense?)
My “startup” costs:
Soil; three bags at ~$8 each = $24
Fertilizer; one bag, ~$3
Starts; about $40
Seeds; about $20
Trellising net; $9
Garden twine; $3
The rest of my garden infrastructure was repurposed, recycled (scrounged/found/reused), or freecycled. I spent ~$100 for what has become a sizable garden.
I had access to pre-used bamboo stakes that I’m using for trellising, along with garden twine. I purchased one trellising net at a garden supply shop – though I think I’d opt for using only twine and stakes if I had known better. Tomato cages are super expensive, but one of my tomato starts – which I purchased at a local hardware store – came with a small cage included. At $8 this felt like a steal. Yet, I’ve already had to extend the cage height with bamboo and twine, and the plant is only starting to bear!
Thinking about creating your own DIY garden?
In evaluating your ability, desire, or commitment to creating your own garden, it would be worthwhile to consider how much you spend on fruits and veggies and calculate from there. Every time I dropped three bucks on a seed packet, I thought, “Wow. That’s the price of ONE cantaloupe!” Or one bag of tomatoes/one bag of peppers/three bundles of cilantro/etc. And that’s not even taking into account the added cost of buying organics, which is more than just a side benefit of gardening for yourself. A bag of organic tomatoes outstrips a packet of seeds by a good bit. Organic cantaloupes? Ha! No contest.
Another thing that helps is buying your starts, soil, and seeds bit by bit. This is a great idea for a couple of reasons. You won’t end up with more than you need or have room for, and you don’t have to shell out the cash all at once.
If you’re ardent and thrifty and really want to cut costs, you could probably find starts and seeds for free, and maybe even soil. Containers are a cinch. If you can’t find them in your garbage, dumpster dive! Or, if you decide to use sandbags, I bet you can swing the .39 a piece! If you wanted to splurge and go with real, old fashioned burlap, I bet you could get some friends to go in on an order with you. At $15.75, you and a couple friends could have your whole sack-gardens growing in style.
In finding those odds and ends, scrounging serves a number of valuable ends at once. Repurposing and reusing are the most effective ways to cutting strain on the global ecosystem. The benefits outstrip those of recycling by a long shot. To that end, freecycle is a great resource. So are local gardening projects, farmers’ markets, and your community.
See a heap of old lumber? Ask if you can haul it away. Ideally, this works out to be a win-win situation. Have access to old fence posts or metal stakes? Use those in place of bamboo. Know someone who has bamboo growing on their property? They’d probably be psyched to have you cut some. (Bamboo is kind of like blackberries. It grows fast, easily, and often out of control.)
Gardening is Sexy!
Victory gardens, kitchen gardens, crisis gardens, relief gardens, eco-gardens, climate change gardens; by whatever name, they’re just as sweet. Container gardens growing food in the concrete jungle are changing the terrain of how people live, and how they eat. Inspired by both fear and desire, a new generation of gardeners are waking up. From East Oakland to the stark and crowded ways of refugee camps in the African Congo. From luxuriant exurban landscapes to narrow concrete patios. On patios, on rooftops, in yards, parks, and schools, the verdant, vital, vibrant green of new growth is peeking through the cracks.
Growth and decomposition. Dirt, sun, water. Sexy as hell.
Postpunkvegans, CSA farmers, back to the land hippies – and their grown kids, locavores, herbivores, and omnivores are all digging in and getting grounded. You can too.
Branch out. Look for new ideas. Get inspired. And reap what you sow.