East Austin · gardening · Maintenance

Gardening on the Cheap


A huge thank you to the volunteers, both from the community and the garden for showing up to the workday today. The grounds look beautiful and the Giving Garden has been constructed. The Giving Garden’s purpose is to share our bounty with the greater community. An extra special thank you goes to Willie for surprising us with fresh (!) bagels and delicious spreads from Rosen’s Bagel Company. Best bagels ever!

Some people think that gardening necessarily costs a lot of money. Not true. Here are some tips for keeping costs down.

Don’t buy soil unless you live on a rock

Can’t speak for those on the west end but here in East Austin you probably already have all the soil you need. Yes, the ground we walk on has been abused terribly but it can be nurtured back to health. Sheet mulching (or what Patricia Lanza calls ‘lasagna gardening’) is a time tested method for restoring soil. It is as simple as building a compost pile. Layer brown and green materials. Let rot. Plant. Those of us living in urban areas are blessed with abundant free materials: seemingly endless bags of dry tree leaves on the curb and mounds of used coffee grounds from your favourite cafe. All you need is to add a little water and some patience.

Don’t build a raised bed in Texas

They look nice and tidy. They heat the soil quickly in the spring. They might block the spread of weeds. But raised beds have significant disadvantages in areas prone to drought and heat stress. The increased drainage of raised beds can transform a garden into a water pig. During a heat wave soil can get too hot to sustain life. Beds planted closer to the ground retain water and stay cool. To keep weeds from creeping in, go old school: routinely edge the perimeter with a shovel or turning fork.

Use your grocery store as a source for plants and seed

The stubs of green onions can be planted year round. They take up almost no space and their pungent smell protects other plants from pests. Garlic can be grown from cloves. Try tucking tropical plants like turmeric and ginger into shady areas. Cilantro, dill, fennel, mustard, celery, sesame and poppy seed from bulk bins cost pennies to purchase. Seed packets for the same plants can go for a few dollars each. The grocery store can be a source for grains and cover crops like wheat and buckwheat. Dried peas and beans can also be purchased from the grocery store. The stems of basil and mint will grow roots if placed in distilled water. Once the roots are nicely developed tuck the plant into your garden.

Collect and share

If you do buy a plant to grow make sure to save some seed at the end of the season. That way you only need to purchase a plant once. A comprehensive guide for seed saving can be found at this link. Go to seed and plant swaps like the annual Cherrywood Plant and Book exchange. Talk to your neighbours. Most gardeners have more seed than they will ever need. Consider joining the Sustainable Food Center’s Spread the Harvest program for free seeds, plants and other supplies. Remember to store your seed collection in a container in the fridge. Most seed will last for years.

Use mulch

Last summer a gardener at the Patterson Park Community Garden was absent for the entire season. There seemed to be a record number of +100 degree days. She had no opportunity to water yet when she returned her plants were still alive! Her secret: a thick mulch of straw. Straw traps moisture into the soil. Soil organisms keep it cycling.

Join a community garden

You don’t need to own land to plant a garden. Join a community garden if you haven’t already. If your finances are tight even the fees can be waived.

Have you got any tips for saving money in the garden? Let us know in the comments section.