Let's get started!
Step 1: Free Compost From the Landfill
Many cities dispose of yard wast by composting it and then giving it away for free. So call up your local waste athorities and see what you can get.
One thing.... Sometimes the compost you get from the landfill is not completely broken down and will burn your plants. To solve this just plant your plants in a pocket of potting soil.
Oh, and another thing..... Occationally landfill compost is made with sludge from the water management department. It's sterile and non-toxic, but some people believe that it contains medication that has been flushed. I plant flowers so I couldn't care less if they contain viagra, however, if you plant veggies you may wish to proceed to step 2.
Step 2: More Free Compost
The idea behind lasagna or sheet mulching is to compost, not in a pile in your back yard, but where you want to plant. Here is a basic recipe for lasagna mulch. At the bottom of the page I've listed several links that show other ways of composting including the traditional method.
Feel free to leave out steps 3, 5, or 7 if necessary.
1. Pick the spot where you want to plant. You shouldn't dig it up, just squish or mow it till it's mostly flat. Remove any large rocks if you see them.
2. Water that spot thoroughly until it's really soaked. It will be hard to get water down to this area when it's mulched
3. Sprinkle a light layer of coffee grounds and potting soil from an old potted plant all over the area this will encourage the worms to find your compost
4. Lay down 4-6 layers of wet newspaper (no colored ads) or 1-2 layers cardboard. This stops weeds
5. Cover the newspaper with a few pounds of leftover kitchen scraps (no dairy or meat).
6. Quickly cover the scraps with a 6-12 inch layer of grass clippings / yard waste with no thick branches
7. Cover layer 6 with several inches of finished compost or garden soil if possible
8. Cover the entire area with several inches of mulch (see the mulch section of this 'ible for more info)
Now you have 2 options:
If you were able to top the lasagna with enough soil in step 7 you can plant right away.
If not, which is most likely the case for us broke people, your going to need to wait for it all to break down...i.e. 3-6 months
I know that's a long time! But it's totally worth it because in the end you will have the most amazing soil on the planet right where you need it. If you live up north then this is a great project for the fall cause the you can just let is sit all winter and it will be ready for you in the spring. If you live someplace warm like I do (Southeast Florida) you should do this in the summer when the intense heat and summer rains will help the mulch decompose faster. Remember: a dry compost pile is a dead compost pile.
Also, as it decomposes the mulch will eventually compress to the same level as the ground around it. So don't worry if it looks kind of out of place at first.
Explaining Sheet / Lasagne Mulching
Step 3: Fertilize With Coffee
If you've answered yes to both of these questions then Starbucks has got you covered!
Used coffee grounds contain a ton of the nitrogen that your plants need to grow, and it just so happens that Starbucks has a policy to give used coffee grounds to any customer who requests them.
They even package them with a sticker that gives you fertilizing directions!
Of coarse you could just use leftovers from your coffee maker, but I don't drink coffee so I use starbucks.
And in case anyone is wondering, coffee grounds are virtually acid free because all of the acid is transferred into the coffee pot during percolation.
Step 4: Fertilize With Tea
Fertilizer tea is sometimes made with store bought ingredients, but here is the free method:
Stuff a large bucket full of yard clippings
Fill with water
Let it sit 12-24 hours
Pour the now nutrient laden water on your plants
There are lots of other recipes for fertilizer tea on the Internet, and depending on your resources you may be able to make some of them very inexpensively. Experiment with what's out there and do what's right for you and your garden.
Step 5: Borrow Your Tools
Warning: if you are well known in your family for breaking / loosing things you may want to stick to your neighbors.
Step 6: Free Pond
First find a large Tupperware-like bin (the really big ones that small children can hide in...60 QT?). You probably have one lying around in your attic/basement/garage/storage unit. If not ask your friends and family. (Also, I've noticed that curbside recycling bins are about this size so if you have the know-how to plug up any drainage holes by all means use one of these.)
Bury the bin if you want or decorate it as desired. (Note: if your plastic bin is transparent you MUST paint or bury it. Otherwise the light shining through will cause your pond to fill with algae and become gross.
Next, procure enough smooth hard rocks to generously cover the bottom of the bin. For some of us this means visiting our local nature areas, and for others it means visiting our neighbors' rock gardens...I'm not asking where you got them; I'm just telling you what you need.
Fill the bin with water and let it sit for 24 hours. This will allow any sediment from the rocks to settle and also allow any chlorine in the water to dissipate.
Finally your new pond needs plants. Plants help create and maintain a natural ecosystem in the pond. Good places to find plants are local lakes and friends' fish tanks. Just set them gently against the rocks on the bottom of your pond and wait to see if they take.
Congratulations! You now have a pond!
Step 7: Free Garden Art and Furnature
Some of the most beautiful furniture I've seen has been made out of junk found on street corners. Remember that broken ladder? Make it a plant stand! Rusty chair? Plant beans around the bottom and use it as a trellis! Keep an eye out and let the materials come to you.
I never expected to put benches in my garden until someone in my building threw out their entertainment center. The center itself was beyond repair, but it was easy to see that the Asian style doors would make great bench seats. Four cinder blocks later my neighbors were complementing the new addition to my garden.
(I will admit that I cheated and bought the cinder blocks, but I was just too excited to wait for the wastestream to provide them. They cost me 5 dollars)
This is your chance to be creative (in a non-plant kind of way)! Have Fun!
Step 8: Free Mulch
So instead of looking for mulch at your local home improvement store, try taking a walk down the street. Chances are that your neighbors are as anxious to get rid of their dried leaves as you are to have them. Sometimes you can even find them bagged and ready for you to take (the leaves, not the neighbors). I like to get sawdust from behind a warehouse on my way home from work.
Also, remember the landfill? If your landfill makes free compost then chances are that they make free mulch too. Make sure you give them a call!
*Be careful using sawdust. Don't use dust from pressure treated wood and always mix it with something like coffee grounds or grass clippings or it will suck nitrogen out of the soil.
Furthermore, an important note to my northern comrades: While on your quest for mulch you may come across the idea that hay is the answer. JUST SAY NO! Hay contains seeds, and a thick mulching of hay will cause you countless hours of weeding. I read somewhere that if you soak it in water a few days you'll kill the seeds but I wouldn't take the chance.
Step 9: Go Forth and Garden
Most of all just have some fun!