OBJECTIVE : Grow organic food producing plants without spending any extra money, while choosing the methods that close the loop between consumption and refuse by recycling household and yard waste, paper, cardboard, food containers, water, and urine.

I am fortunate enough to be living rent free for the year in beautiful and mysterious Roswell NM, I decided I would like to experiment with how to live sustainably and cheaply (two things that go well together), so that in the future I can implement these skills and tricks when I return to a renters life. Naturally this requires skills like gardening, greywatering, composting, and the raiding of dumpsters and recycling bins. I decided to bring all the small things I have learned/developed together into one all encompassing life altering instructable. Along the way I have found other peoples instructables to be very useful so I have linked to them as well. Be sure to look at all the picture notes for details and specifics on the smaller things I have done.

RESULTS: beautiful organic veggies, herbs, healthier richer soil, less water consumption, less household waste, muscles, a tan, admiration from your friends and neighbors (you will be a buffed green hero!) This experiment has changed my life, I kid you not.


TRANSPORTATION - You will need to do a lot of alley raiding and dumpster diving*, unless you have a great bike trailer (I sure do need a nice bike hint-hint) I'm afraid this might require a car, but with luck you wont have to go too far out your neighborhood, and to minimize gas usage -- just allot a little extra time when you go out on errands and incorporate as many alleys into your route as you can. Keep bins, bags, gloves, rope in your trunk so that you will be ready to salvage whatever may turn up, this way you wont be using more much more gas than you
normally would. See the pictures and notes below for what I found in about 1/2 an hour on my way to pick up my friend from work, train yourself to see the hidden potential in other peoples refuse, of course neighborhoods with yard will probably be more fruitful if you live in the city.

LAND - Anywhere thats has dirt and sun is a good place to start, don't worry if it doesn't have very good soil because we are going to fix that. If the soil seems really questionable you could take a sample to your local county extension for a free soil test. If you have no land check out community gardens, or abandoned lots, or consider container gardening if you only have a roof or balcony.

SEEDS - save from organic non-hybrid veggies, or go to a seed swapping website like:
or buy from a good seed company like:

Robyntheslugsays: "The problem with saving seed is that many plants are hybrids. The seeds from the resulting fruits are often either infertile (Think mules), or are genetic variants without the protections and flavor the parent plant would have. If you save seed, avoid hybrids! (For instance, heirloom varieties tend to work better)"

CLEAR PLASTIC BOTTLES - these are good for making mini green houses

PLANTERS - just look around the house, check the recycle bins

CARDBOARD or STACKS OF NEWSPAPER - Enough to generously cover your garden

MANY MANY BAGS OF YARD WASTE - grass clippings, leaves, spoiled hay try and get a good mix of green and brown avoid anything that might have pesticides on it, black walnut leaves, bermuda grass, anything too seedy). These are easy to find fall and spring if you go down the right alleys looking for them.

FOOD WASTE - nothing meaty or greasy, usually you can find a lot of "about to rot" produce behind small grocery stores.

3 LOADING PALLETS - About the same size

OLD GARDEN HOSES - leaky is OK, spring and fall people throw these out, often found with lawn waste.

MULCH MATERIAL - Here in New Mexico there is a pecan shelling place where one can just go out back and get as much of their discarded pecan shells as one can handle. Think what kind of local byproduct you might be able to get in your area, I've heard many landscaping places will give you free woodchip mulch if you pick it up.

RED WIGGLER WORMS - can be found in manure piles or ordered on line

OLD MATTRESS SPRINGS OR OLD FENCING - Go ask a mattress company, or just look around for fences people are throwing out.

BUCKETS - construction site dumpsters, they may have caked sludge to be scraped out

TIRES - behind tire places

BOOKS - Go to the library try and get the following books:
Dam Nation, Dispatches from the Water Underground by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine et all this is an amazing book about water, graywater, urine composting, composting toilets, and how we had better get our act together or we wont have any clean water anymore. Has great advice on greywater systems and a bicycle powered washing machine etc.
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
Anything by Bill Mollison (the guy who invented the term "permaculture")
if the library doesn't have those books you should ask them to order them, otherwise just see what else they have especially pertaining to your climate, and general organic gardening.

THINGS YOU MIGHT HAVE TO BUY IF YOU CAN'T FIND OR MAKE (I know I said no money, I just haven't figured out how to do these for free yet. Any suggestions other than the five finger discount?)

HOSE REPAIR KITS - also hose accessories like splitters and sprayers may be needed, but stay away from the soaker hose and fancy irrigation systems OK?

SEED STARTING MIX - it's pretty important to have a good sterile potting mix to start your seeds use coir blocks which are made from coconut fiber (instead of peat moss which is a non renewable resource) vermiculite, perlite. If you think your soil would actually be conducive to seed starting you can sterilize it in the oven at 375 for 45 minutes in a big pan.

NATURAL FERTILIZER - like fish emulsion (anybody have a recipe? nevermind here it is http://www.ypsidixit.com/blog/archives/2006/05/diy_fish_emulsi.html), and bat guano -- know any friendly spelunkers?.

NATURAL PEST CONTROL - like neem oil or insecticidal soap spray, but some say just let the insects be, in order to attract whatever likes to eat them, just grow more of everything, a very interesting idea that encourages the natural ecosystem to right itself.

GOOD SOIL/COMPOST - Only if you didnt start composting early enough.

GARDEN TOOLS - if you don't have any already try to find some second hand (or just steal out of your neighbors yard . . . JUST KIDDING!) check out this home made hand trowel http://www.instructables.com/id/EGC7RCOF03GBB8C/?ALLSTEPS

  • There is certainly a gray area to alley raiding and dumpster diving, I have never had a problem with assuming that if its in the alley next to trash it's up for grabs, but if you have any doubts you can ask before taking if that sets your mind at ease.
I really like the idea of a round bed. I've got the room and I hope to try it out. Thanks for suggesting it!
what soil mix did you start the seeds in? that seems expensive. I would really love to know how to get that for free.
Thanks for posting this. I've been wanting to get into <a href="http://www.southtownhealthfoods.com" rel="nofollow">organic grocery supplying in Chicago</a> for a while. Thanks for the tips.
Calling all freegans or those considering it! Can you please complete either a multiple choice survey takes less than 7 minutes http://www.surveymethods.com/EndUser.aspx?87A3CFD684C2D0D08C OR an under 5 minute short answer questionnaire http://www.stellarsurvey.com/s.aspx?u=B0C2352F-90C5-4B66-BA78-9B716EB2676B&amp; The purpose of this survey is to educate Florida Atlantic University's graduate class Food: Environments and Culture class about freeganism. Your answers will remain anonymous and confidential. The results will be compiled into large statistically representations, unless otherwise noted by you in with written consent at the designated final box stating that you want to be used as a specific example. At the end of the survey there is also an optional elective to request a follow up interview which should last between 30 minutes to an hour depending on your availability. Feel free to skip any questions you feel uncomfortable answering, you can always save and continue later, and you can submit without finishing if need be. Thank you in advance for your participation in my project. I really appreciate it!
very nice...
You worked really hard on this, thank you so much for all of the documentation. There are always more ideas! But I like your progression, and your ideas for reuse of existing materials get the creative juices going. My mother came from a generation where using discarded things was a necessity - and then along came all of the excess of the next generation, where it was considered taboo. I'm so happy that people are returning to recycle, reduce, reuse, repurpose.
hey i live in central florida could i do this at my home or should i do hydro ponics also i saw a mrobot project that can water plants would it still be organic if i used machines to help wondering
Go to your local coffee house with a bucket (or they may have one to give you) and ask them to save their coffee grounds &amp; filters. - Make nice addition to compost and garden! FREE!<br />
Totally. I keep the grounds from the coffee machine at work and my compost has never been wormier. The first compost barrel I tried it on became absolutely full of worms who had converted EVERYTHING into beautiful loam. I can't recall what else I'd put in there, but all my other bins are going better than ever so I mainly attribute it to the coffee. Google coffee and fertiliser: there are some good sites showing that coffee is a nutritious compost additive.
As a kid I can remember my dad had a worm farm, a planter in the yard and he put coffee grounds on it. That's all!
Maybe it's a stupid question but would those fertilizers work on an hydroponics system?
Tomatoes can be dehydrated or canned. Garlic can be dehydrated as well as onions. Herbs certainly can be saved for later use. but trading produce at farmers markets can give you other consumables or other things to preserve for the larder. Once you start getting ahead remember to rotate your inventory. A recent study showed the cost of beef if we were to include fossil fuels would be nearer to fourty dollars a pound. I mean it's just not going to be practical to have everyone eating beef and pork in the future. I have gone towards more fruits and vegitables as well as nuts for my protien and found the amout i spent to be less for fruit and nuts then say for beef and feel better as well. Not every climate allows every crop to grow but seeds are available from climates like yours from across the globe look into what can grow in Australia they now grow kiwi's who would thunk they do good now exported off season to other markets
I like your use of the bedspring as a trellis!&nbsp; I bet it's sturdy enough for cucumbers or something.&nbsp; Last year, when I was picking pea and pickle vine tendrils off my fixed fence, I was thinking how smart it would be to let the vines dry out all winter and detach the trellis and smoulder it in a brush fire pile.&nbsp; easy way to clean it off :) (hopefully that wouldn't break the welds)<br /> <br /> I was concerned about your kitchen sink trap suggestion - though its a great suggestion, I hope you coverered the empty end of the trap so sewer gasses don't come up (that's part of the purpose of a trap in the first place)<br /> <br /> Good luck on your sustainable living - I admire your&nbsp;dedication to&nbsp;it!!
The correct link is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.seedswaps.com" rel="nofollow">www.seedswaps.com</a>, not seedswapper.com.<br />
Careful with the tires. They're leaching cadmium into the soil.<br /> <br /> Never place your beds downslope of a road, as the cadmium runs with the water and deposits in the soil.<br />
just be sure to wipe the mold off of it before you serve it next to your tofurky. It's called technology people, embrace it.
Maybe you are confusing vegetarianism with organic. There is organic beef, chicken, pork, etc. And there's no way to wipe all the mold off of food. It's on the cloth you wipe with. You're breathing it in. You're exhaling it. It's everywhere. It's called microbiology. You can't see it but it's there. Consider this: there are more microbe cells inside your body than human cells.
Actually I would like to incorporate a duck tractor eventually, I just wasn't up to the task of animal husbandry yet. <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.energyfarms.net/taxonomy/term/151">http://www.energyfarms.net/taxonomy/term/151</a><br/><br/>What mold are you guys talking about? Rerat are you suggesting that composting is dangerous?<br/>
I've heard of the chicken tractor, but not a duck tractor. Ducks will fly away while chickens will hang around after you let them out of the tractor. Some tractor designs keep the birds inside all the time and others allow the birds out during the day and protect them from predators at night. Birds will do an incredible amount of good for your soil. Just be aware they will defoliate everything as they eat all the grass, plants, and bugs, so your soil will look like the surface of the moon when you move them away. <br/><br/>Another way to get started with birds is to install bird houses, feeders, and bird baths. Just getting the wild ones to your place to pick caterpillars and beetles can be very beneficial. You will have to watch your crops, though. <br/><br/>Regarding molds: If you had asked a microbiologist in the 1980s how many microbes lived in the soil, they might have told you there were about 50 but only a dozen would grow on a petri dish in a lab. Since the 1990s, with DNA testing available at relatively low costs, they have discovered DNA from over 100,000 species. A lot of them are molds. Don't ask me to name them, because they have not been named. This added microbial complexity has driven the scientists to stop calling it a food chain. Now they call it a food web. Specifically for soil they call it the soil foodweb. If you are interested learning more about soil biology, the best thing I've found is <a rel="nofollow" href="http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/biology.html">this</a>. It's about 50 pages long with all the pictures, so settle down and turn off the phone if you want to concentrate on it. I have reread it several times and learn more each time. When all the microbes live together in relative harmony, the condition is called 'normal.' When things get out of whack, some of the good microbes will be overpowered by the disease causing microbes and you will get fungal or bacterial diseases on your plants. Usually all it takes is restoring the health of the entire population of microbes to reset things to normal again. This is how Mother Natures has evolved the system over the past 4 billion years. <br/><br/>Composting is not generally dangerous. It can become more hazardous if you don't know what you're doing. If you stick to composting garden scraps and non-meat table scraps, you'll be fine. If you want to start composting meats and animal dung, give yourself at least 3 good years of successful, productive composting before you try the advanced stuff. <br/>
I've heard about a variety of animal tractors, chicken, pig, rabbit, goat, sheep, etc. Sorry I cant give an exact source but it was probably Bill Mollison. Thanks for the microbiology tutorial, microbes rule.
If you haven't gotten or made your &quot;bird&quot; tractor yet and are now among those of us who rent, here is a great instructable if you still looking. http://www.instructables.com/id/Chicken-Barrow/<br />
I don't think composting animal dung is that "advanced." If you have any local animal farms or horse stables this would be an easy to way to make lots of great compost while recycling waste and keeping it from contaminating the local ecosystem. I work at an organic CSA that gets weekly shipments of animal waste (hay, dung, scraps & whatever else is in their pens) from the local zoo. They include everything from all their exotic animals. We even found an unhatched emu egg once. All we do is have a few piles and turn them every few weeks. In about three months (checked when the compost thermometer stops heating up to ~130), viola, rich compost yumminess.
Is it safe to assume the egg was a dud?&nbsp; I&nbsp;know those things aren't cheap. &nbsp;My aunt raised them when I was a kid.<br />
Thanks for the link to the USDA website! Check out Elaine Ingham's commercial website: www.soilfoodweb.com for a bio test on your soil, and endorsements for compost makers
I've heard of using tobacco for pest control.&nbsp; I&nbsp;suppose planting tobacco nearby would help too.&nbsp; I tried making a tobacco tea from some cheap (bugle boy) pouch tobacco and it seemed to work ok.<br />
&nbsp;Also, you can make newspaper seed pots which can be culled from people's recycle pile. &nbsp;You can start the seeds in them and then put them right in the ground when you plant, they break down as the season goes on.
love it will try it. love your peace i cant grow but will try with the kids
One free source of wood scraps such as what Squee was talking about is pallets.&nbsp; I have found them behind businesses such as liquor stores and supermarkets, and the broken ones they normally give away.&nbsp; Just ask to be sure.
One other thing.&nbsp; Walnut sawdust is slightly toxic, so it should not be plowed into a garden.&nbsp; A number of other sawdust varieties, especially domestic ones, can be plowed into dirt and broken down with woodloving mushrooms, such as Pleurotis Pulmonatis.
Ludionis has a good idea there, but I heard of a similar growing situation that used old auto tires filled with dirt for growing potatoes.&nbsp; The man was paraplegic, in a wheelchair, and couldn't dig a normal garden, so he filled stacks of tires with dirt, planted potatoes and other root crops, and knocked over the tires when he needed to get the potatoes or carrots or whatever.
I&nbsp;thought that disease could be spread through fecal composting because while urine is indeed sterile in the absence of an infection, feces is not.&nbsp; Have heard that countries that fertilize with human feces (see <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/ascaris/factsht_ascaris.htm" rel="nofollow">http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/ascaris/factsht_ascaris.htm</a>&nbsp;for an example)
I heard of a guy once that got a 5 gallon bucket, filled it with dirt, and placed a few sprouting potatoes in it.&nbsp; When the plant developed and he wanted potatoes, he just dug some out.&nbsp; Un-eaten ones would re-sprout and keep the plant going, would add compost/fertilizer occasionally to keep soil rich.
Remind me of what I have going on except for the greywater.<br />
legally you can't say organic unless your certifed and they look for everything for example treated wood cannot be touching anything it has to be elavated and other things you might not expect and if you want organic you dont want pesticides loads of organic sprays are just as bad if not worse for you then some non organic pretty nasty stuff but there are lots of other options <strong>NATURAL&nbsp;PREDATORS</strong> may sound weird but you should research your bugs there are plenty that like to eat potato bugs, and aphids and, cucumber beetles like excample lady bug larvae, assassin bug, and dragon flies, wasps too<br /> good work gowihflo<br />
Smart gardener, earth friendly and Cute. What catch U will make...<br />
Umm...You do know that grocery stores have to pay for those bread trays, right?&nbsp; They aren't just throwing them away?&nbsp; The bread companies pick them up and pay the grocery stores back for them.&nbsp; It's like a deposit system.<br />
Yeah, I'm with you on everything except the bread trays. Those trays are left out back for the bread company to pick up when they deliver the next shipment of bread. When you take them the bread company can dock the grocery store a deposit fee. Otherwise you're still stealing them from the bread company.<br /> <br /> There are plenty of other things that you can use to support your seed trays, including cardboard boxes, a box made from chicken wire, wood or other scrap/salvaged materials.<br />
I think you're supposed to put a cover on it... actually mine's covered on all sides.
It works best when it's worm inside, so you may want to put a black thick bin bags around the sides and cover from the same material on top. Some building sites may have leftovers of DPM lining lying around which they can't use because of the small size
Hi Katz and all,<br /> Composting is accomplished by:<br /> AEROBIC BACTERIA [they breathe AIR] that &quot;munch&quot; the materials to be composted, <br /> and &quot;their byproducts [equivalent of urine and feces] ARE the resulting compost, <br /> AND the purpose of wire or slatted pallets for containment , <br /> AND regular &quot;TURNING&quot;&nbsp; of the pile ALL of which are NECESSARY for the bacteria to survive and do their work.<br /> <br /> Therefore, <strong>it is strongly recommended that compost piles NOT be enclosed in any material that restricts maximum air flow</strong>!!!!!<br /> <br /> The &quot;warmth&quot; needed is provided by the metabolic heat generated by the bacteria themselves.&nbsp; All a composter must do is reduce the loss of THAT heat by having the compost pile as large and compact as possible.<br />
Liking the setup there, thanks for sharing this!
Thank you for creating an easy-to-do organic farming manual. It's very helpful.<br />
I'd like to add, regarding the hose with holes as opposed to a soaker or other solution, that the hose with holes is not only more cost-effective but more effective in general: if your tap water has any amount of debris in it (which it very well might even if it doesn't look dirty), you can expect a soaker hose to clog in a few weeks. Ditto for rain-barrel water. Hose filters that are fine enough to save a soaker hose are stupidly expensive and I don't imagine they last much longer than a soaker hose with no filter would since they're trapping the same stuff. Keep your hose above-ground or risk roots growing in after the water and clogging it! Great instructable, by the way.
For those who work in an office: the ones that have a big canteen - you can ask them to save fruit and veg peelings If the office is small there still should be a coffee machine (filter or automated one with round, one-serving, bags) You can either empty your machine before cleaners come round or, if you don't have a filter machine - put a big jar next to the place where people make themselves tea or coffee and put a sign on it "please put your used tea-coffee bags in this jar, they will be recycled) The bosses might even thank you for reducing their expenses for waste disposal.
How did you get the bat guano?
THIS IS AWESOME! I am making a cob house(already have the foundation and part of the drainage) and I REALLY want to make a big garden to go with it. I have a small garden with potatoes,peas,onions,tomatoes,beets,lettuce and a ton of herb plus pear,apple,and cherry trees but, not enough of each kind to be self sufficient. Luckily though i barely have to buy eggs because I have 20 quail and even though the eggs are small they really add up.I also have three goats. I was thinking of breeding the one but, I don't know, seems like a lot of work. Sorry for the long comment.
The idea is great! for those that wish to grow indoor watch I found SH Hydroponics check it out.
i got a 'drill pump' at home depot for $8 - i got two short hoses; each hook up to an outlet on the pump - use an electric hand drill (got for 5$ at a garage sale) to pump the water out of the tub and into the garden - the guy at home depot listened to what i wanted to do and found me that little cheap drill pump... - i can attach to a longer hose and water the flowers in my front yard or send out the bathroom window to the water barrel i use a nylon sock as a filter on one end
Will this all decompose over the winter?
Probably, but that's why pickling was invented! Just make pickle, chutney or jam out of whatever extra you grow to avoid waste and ensure you have food during winter.

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