If you’re like me, you’ve hesitated to start a garden for the investment. In today’s post, I’m sharing my most budget-friendly way of starting a garden.
I get giddy talking about the garden. Especially when it involves hardly ANY investment to start. Too good to be true? Not really.
With using mostly things lying around the house, we totally changed our chicken run into what will hopefully be a garden full of flowers.
Let’s look at the before photo. I love a good makeover, especially when it’s something I’ve done. Here’s what the yard looked like in the beginning. The grass is already dead around the run because I had put tarp around the area to try and kill the grass over winter. That part is totally optional.
The Purpose of Adding a Flower Garden for Our Chicken Run
- For the beauty!
- The flowers growing will be edible for the chickens.
- The flowers will provide shade for the chickens in the heat of the summer.
- The flowers will invite the pollinators into the garden!
What You’ll Need to Save Ahead of Time:
- Food Scraps: I’d recommend if doing this for a vegetable garden, saving only food scraps that are organic. Basically, if you wouldn’t compost it, you shouldn’t save it.
- Coffee Grounds: Again, if you’re using your garden for growing things you’d eat, I’d err on the side of caution and use only organic coffee grounds. The conventional coffee is ladened with chemicals that you wouldn’t want seeping into your soil.
- Manure: This MAY be a purchase you have to make based on your circumstances. But if you do have animals, you could use their manure to add to your soil and build it up. The animal’s poop you could use would be cow, chicken, rabbit, or goat. This is going to add nitrogen to your soil. Feel free to ask around to anyone who has animals. They’d likely give you some for free!
- Cardboard: When saving cardboard, I make sure to take all the stickers off. I saved all my boxes for a year to use for this project.
- Compost: This may or may not being something you have to prepare for, but if you have the means, start building up your compost to use for your future garden.
You may be wondering what on earth are we saving this stuff for? Well, this is all going to be added to the ground that you plan on using for your garden. No digging required! On the Internet, it is known as no-dig gardening or Back To Eden gardening.
Other Things We Need to Purchase:
- Edging for your garden
- Construction Sand
- Top Soil
All in all, we probably spent around $100 on this project.
Benefits of No Dig Gardening
- It’s so much easier & better for the soil than tilling!
- Saves your body & back!
- It’s healthier for the soil.
- Provides your plants with the nutrition it needs to grow and thrive.
- Fewer weeds. The seeds remain buried under compost rather than getting tilled to the soil surface where it can easily sprout.
- It improves your soil. This has done wonders for our clay.
- You use less fertilizer because what you’re adding naturally feeds the soil and plants.
- Less watering. The thick layers you add to the garden will prevent evaporation and help your soil retain moisture longer. They also drain better which is what we’re looking forward too on our clay soil!
- Inexpensive. In a world with inflation, it’s great to be able to use what would have otherwise been garbage for this project.
What is No Dig Gardening?
With no dig gardening, we’re kind of mimicking the way soil thrives naturally. If you think of something untouched, like a forest floor, there are layers of organic matter that fall onto the soil. Leaves are the biggest example. That dead plant matter attracts bacteria and fungi and they’ll start to colonize on the surface. This is essential to soil health because these beneficial microbes then convert this organic matter into compost.
Then more fun science-y stuffy happens. Eventually all the critters that live in the soil carry the material that has decomposed and carry it even deeper where the roots can start to absorb all of that goodness!
These critters furthermore help to create a well-aerated environment that helps your plants because there’s a much deeper absorption of water which of course will help the health of the plant.
But We Always Used to Till?
Yes, but once you know better, you do better, right? Tilling the soil is so aesthetically pleasing because it looks like a clean slate to work off of.
But there are negative side effects. When you till the ground, you can kill those beneficial organisms that are key for soil health. Also, you’re bring to the surface weed seeds. I don’t know about you, but I do have time to be pulling extra weeds!
Step By Step Instructions:
There are many different things you can add to your soil. If you don’t happen to have a certain thing on hand, don’t fret, just don’t use it.
Step 1 (optional): Kill the grass where you want to put your garden plot. I did this by placing tarp in the desired area. Ideally, you’d want to cover it with the tarp sometime in the fall and keep it there until you’re ready to start.
Step 2: Cut the grass and weeds as low as possible. You could use the lowest setting on your lawn mower, or I used a weed trimmer. If you happen to have any really tough weeds, try pulling those out instead of cutting. the purpose of this step is that the grass adds nitrogen. With whatever clippings blew around while cutting, make sure to rake them back in.
Step 3 (optional): Add edging to your garden. We are located in a suburban neighborhood where lawns and landscapes are expected to be well manicured. We chose to add edging not only to prevent grass from creeping in later, but also for the aesthetic. The budget-friendly option we choose for this was landscape timbers from Home Depot.
Step 4: Add green matter. This would be the food scraps you would add to your compost: eggshells, fruit waste, and vegetable waste. The eggshells will take some time to decompose so you can either grind it into a powder or add it right in. It won’t harm the plants. I just used a food grade bucket to place all my scraps in and it took me a few weeks to fill it up. This step is beneficial for critters.
Step 5: Add coffee grounds. This one I didn’t actually use because I didn’t plan well enough in advance. But if you were to use coffee grounds, organic would be your best option because conventional coffees are ladened with chemicals that you wouldn’t want to seep into the soil. Coffee grounds are a great nitrogen source for the soil.
Step 6: Add animal manure: This provides nitrogen to the soil. You can use manure from chicken, goats, rabbit, or cow. Once it’s placed in your garden, level it all out.
Step 7: Add 2 layers of cardboard. Preferably you’d want all your cardboard to have been soaked for a day or two beforehand, but if you simply water it when it’s in place, that’s okay too!
Step 8: Add 3-4 inches of top soil.
Step 9 (optional): Add 1/2 inch – 2 inches of compost.
Step 10: Water the bed. Wetting it all down at this stage is key. Keep it consistently watered too! By watering, it’ll soften the cardboard even more and retain the moisture longer. If your cardboard ends up drying out, it’ll become rigid and won’t break down as easily. And that can make it hard for the plants to become established.
Step 11: Plant your garden. Once you’ve got all your layers added, you are ready to plant as normal or add your seedlings.
Here’s how it turned out. I ran out of compost, so I had to resort to taking the pine shavings that were decomposing in the chicken coop. (Hence the difference in the picture) Homesteading is about making do with what you have on hand! I just love how much tidier it looks in the backyard now and cannot wait to see the flowers all in bloom.
Maintaining Your No-Dig Garden
To keep your garden healthy and reducing the weeds, simply apply an inch of compost every year. My favorite time to do this is in the cooler months when the garden is empty.