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.
pandaaze2 years ago
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YotaTruck5 years ago
The correct link is www.seedswaps.com, not seedswapper.com.
ludionis5 years ago
I heard of a guy once that got a 5 gallon bucket, filled it with dirt, and placed a few sprouting potatoes in it.  When the plant developed and he wanted potatoes, he just dug some out.  Un-eaten ones would re-sprout and keep the plant going, would add compost/fertilizer occasionally to keep soil rich.
kalli5 years ago
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 & filters. - Make nice addition to compost and garden! FREE!
You might want to be careful taking bread trays. Those are left out for the bread company to pick up, and the store has to pay for any that go missing as they are ALWAYS reused by the bread company. So you're costing the store money and stealing stuff that's not trash unless you ask first.
A good name6 years ago
Ah, just a question, do the mattress springs not rust? It seems like they would probably really screw around with the soil... However, if you're looking for free fertilizer, use coffee or tea. I prefer to dry the leaves to prevent mold, but you can just throw the bags (Or filters) right on your garden.
A good name6 years ago
Genius ideas, just genius! All I've been able to "recycle" for my garden is old tea leaves which I compost... I should try dumpster diving, but I don't think I'm willing to risk taking food out of trash cans...