Growing Food for $0

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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ThisDinosaur
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Growing Food for $0

Post by ThisDinosaur »

Just about everything I read about gardening assumes I'll be spending money.

Example: Potting mix and/or its components (peat, perlite, vermiculite) cost money. Free local dirt doesn't do the same job, and usually results in weeds.

This may be naive of me, but it *seems* like I should be able to sprout any old seeds in any old lump of dirt + kitchen compost and grow some food out of it. I'd rather not buy dirt, worms, shovels, fertilizer, insecticide...and end up with a $64 tomato.

What are your best tips for growing food with no money input? (Assume you have seeds, a place to plant them, etc.)

Toska2
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by Toska2 »

Perennials : Asparagus, Rhubarb, Apples, Raspberries, Grapes

Fast growing for interplanting or replanting : Kale, Green leaf lettuce, Radishes

Find out what you can trade with the neighbors: greater variety

Plant carrots in in a wide row to choke out weeds.

Plant at least 6 bell pepper plants in a group (not a row) to help pollination.

Plant at least 3 rows per lane.

Don't plant tomatoes & potatoes in the same place year to year. The same bugs eat them.


Edit. Forgot about self sowing plants: https://www.thespruce.com/best-self-sow ... es-4144973

FBeyer
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by FBeyer »

ThisDinosaur wrote:
Mon Nov 27, 2017 9:25 pm
A lot of things require an up front expenditure. Some things require constant maintenance expenditures. Some things provide benefits beyond just the primary activity. Why are yo so worried about the initial expenditure of a garden?
You won't get just ONE 64$ tomato, you'll most likely get as many as you'll ever need provided you can figure out a cheap way to maintain the garden.
If you plant your own garden you'll also buy yourself a most wonderful meditation spot.
You'll also buy yourself some time out looking at greens which very healthy compared to being indoors staring at screens.
You'll buy something to talk with neighbours and others about.
You'll buy some social capital the first time someone's toddler get to pick berries from your yard, or the first time you give away all that stuff you could neither eat nor pickle.
If you do shell out for vermiculite like we've done, you'll also buy yourself some dirt that is MUCH easier to work with.

Everything doesn't have to cost zero, just make sure you're getting more worth than you're paying.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Wander around and eat the green weeds, wild grains, nuts, mushrooms and fruits that grow in your native realm and nothing else for a few months. Make an X-shape out of two sticks and wrap a strong vine around them and use this to set fire to anything currently growing on the ground where you will plant your seeds. Then always pee on the ground where you want to plant seeds. After your gut has had a chance to clear itself of remnants of modern foodstuffs and meats (probably you will notice difference in texture and smell), start pooping on the ground where you want to plant seeds. Wait a year, or until you see some interesting fungal growth, and the sun is warming up. Then dig in the ground with your fingers or a stick and plant the seeds or pits from the most nutritious and tasty native plants (some of this will happen naturally as the smaller, harder seeds pass through your gut into your poop, since omnivores and fruit were made for each other's benefit.) Use your bare hands and maybe a rock, fire, wooden club to kill anything, big or small, that attempts to derive nourishment from your plants before they are ripe enough for you to eat. Snack on some termites while you are waiting for the harvest.

Otherwise, you will have to practice some form of more modern agriculture which will likely require some initial expenditure of money to acquire tools and/or soil amendments. Rule of thumb is that the most advanced gardeners hardly even think about the seeds or plants anymore, and just become black gold hoarders obsessed with the soil itself.

vexed87
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by vexed87 »

Top tips:

Don't build raised beds, just plant into the ground. Amend soils with homemade compost by composting your own organic waste.

Join an allotment scheme, there you will find like minded people who might share resources, tools, seeds etc.

Bringing in 'clean' top soil etc doesn't rule out weeds, that takes hard work and constant maintenance. Eventually weeds will colonise all your imported soils/amendments anyway.

When a book calls for something that costs money, simply find a free alternative or ignore it entirely.

As for vermiculite, IIRC it's recommended as it helps retain water (correct me if I'm wrong please), but there's plenty of natural alternatives that help soil retain water. Wood chips/bark/decaying wood.

FBeyer
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by FBeyer »

Vermiculite retains a good amount of water. If you mix in enough vermiculite your soil gets very loose and easy to work with while "storing" water in case the weather gets slightly dry. So vermiculite helps texture as well as moisture.

Our soil is so loose due to the vermiculite content that we can easily make do with a small trowel when sowing and harvesting. Ive never dug a standard garden for repeated sowing so I have no experiential frame of reference, but Im certain Im very pleased with the lack of shovels amongst our garden tools.

ffj
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by ffj »

Image

There is a lot of food in the above picture. I wish I had a picture of the garden the first year I planted there as it was pitiful, with ground as hard as a rock (100% clay) and almost nothing to show for my hard work. My point is that you just can't throw any seed down in any kind of dirt and expect results. It just doesn't work that way, so no, you can't grow food for nothing. But the good news is that once you reach a certain point of soil build-up it's pretty easy to grow lots of food assuming you have a favorable climate and adequate water.

Here is my advice if you truly want to grow lots of food:

Container gardening and raised beds get expensive real quick and have to be monitored much more closely. Building greenhouses and cold-frames and watering systems and hoop houses etc. also gets expensive. If you can, pick a region where you don't have weather or precipitation extremes. Look for an area where you can plant directly into the ground with adequate water, sunshine, and a long enough growing season.

Next, you have to have good soil. If it isn't good dirt, then you have to fix it. You can't ignore this step because if you do than you are just wasting your time planting seeds that never amount to much. I fixed mine by adding tons of organic matter to it, mainly hay and horse shit. I've never used chemical fertilizers on my garden and I don't use pesticides. The key also is to continuously add more organic material each year whether it's leaves, more manure, grass clippings, etc. That should never stop. If you want to start composting, that's fine, but keep in mind that is a lot of work maintaining mounds and temperatures and turning over etc. I just throw all my organic material directly on the garden and let nature do its thing. Eventually you will become very proud of the soil you've created. Right now I have chickens on my garden plot that eat the insect larvae, break down the organic material I've provided for them, and poop which is very important. In the spring I'll get rid of the chickens and turn everything over.

So in summary, pick a favorable climate and build your soil up. Keep the paraphernalia and gadgets down to a minimum. You will spend more money in the beginning acquiring tools and ways to transport your organic materials but it pays off immensely down the road. Look at yard sales and Craigslist for garden tools, buy all of your seed at the end of the season when businesses practically give them away, and let your neighbors know you want their organic waste. It helps if you give them baskets of tomatoes, squash, beans, etc. :)

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jennypenny
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by jennypenny »

You can start cheap in recycled containers. Half of my garden is in stuff like coffee cans. I've also found that other gardeners who like to buy plants typically throw out the plastic containers from the nursery so I take all of their cast offs. As far as soil, I do buy some but mix it in with soil from the backyard. You can bake it to kill weed seeds. You can also add sand from the beach to the mix to aerate it.

I factor in not just the direct costs of seeds, etc, but also the benefit of not having to go to the store and eating fresher food that's more nutrient dense. It's also good exercise and studies show that digging in the dirt (literally) is good for your microbiome. There are other benefits besides cost saving.

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Sclass
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by Sclass »

While I was in Russia I watched old ladies plant potato sprouts in the green belts around Moscow. During peristroika the government was “adjusting” and the regular food sources got irregular. I didn’t pay much attention but I think they just hoed up the ground and planted the little roots they dug out of the potatoes. Eventually you had potatoes growing all over.

Apparently this was kind of a holdover skill from WW2.

While up at my moms I saw the big pile of gel filled diapers in the trash. Heavily laden with mom’s waste. I’ve heard you can rip open the diapers and recycle the gel that happens to absorb many times it’s weight in water. Mom’s stuff already contains fertilizer. I fantasized about this between making online orders for Ensure delivery.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by ThisDinosaur »

I'm stuck with container gardening at the moment. I'm familiar with the ideas of substituting sand for vermiculite and baking dirt in the oven. But shouldn't I be concerned that baking the dirt eliminates any beneficial microbes in the soil? Is this resolved when I mix in my compost?

At the moment, I'm primarily concerned with how to make quality soil with free resources. Compost and sand I can get, but is that enough? What about potting mix for seeds?

Its possible I'm just delusional, but much of ERE is about substituting skills/knowledge for monetary costs. So, that's where my head's at for this question.

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jennypenny
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by jennypenny »

You don't need soil to sprout seeds ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnSFTdyX8X0

Also search for videos on how to regrow kitchen scraps or re-root herbs in water like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7u-n7qG2eg . Once you have plants started, you can keep propagating them. Dumpster diving would provide a lot of scraps for this kind of project.

Grow stuff in any recycled container. Use the leftover water from boiling pasta, potatoes, or vegetables to water and fertilize plants. I add used tea bags to the water as well.

I hope I don't sound argumentative. It's just that once you get things started, it's really cheap to keep them going. And once people find out what you're doing and what you need, they will save containers and scraps for you, making it even easier. I give fresh herbs back to the people who give me useful items to recycle.

EMJ
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by EMJ »

Get to know some local gardeners - all gardening depends on local conditions. The best way to garden on one area is going to fail in another. Watering, raised beds or not, varieties to grow, when to plant, what to plant - all vary immensely.

Often gardeners will share surplus plants, seeds, supplies as well as knowledge.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by ThisDinosaur »

I sprouted peppers this year using a similar method to that first link, jennypenny. It worked great, but they never made it to adult plants. I transplanted them into a container of dirt + wood chips + kitchen scraps. The wood chips were supposed to aerate and hold water in the soil. Not sure what exactly I did wrong, but I had probably 50-100 little pepper sprouts grow a few inches and then all die. I'll be using a hardier variety this year. I'll probably skip the kitchen scraps, too, cause I've read too much nitrogen reduces fruiting. The wood chips could have been a problem, maybe. (Swiped them from a nearby playground.)

I've done the green onions in water trick before. How many times can you do that before you need to plant them in soil? Presumably these plants need some soil-borne minerals, phosphorus and nitrogen eventually.

Most of the local gardeners I know have yards full of fruit trees. I've got a front and side porch and some south-facing windows.

@Sclass, isn't the plastic in diapers non-biodegradable? I've read that humanure for gardening is ill-advised. One of my kids is still in diapers, so there's a little fertilizer factory right there I guess.

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by Kriegsspiel »

ThisDinosaur wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 1:27 pm
The book How To Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons details how to make good soil, what tools to get, how far apart to plant stuff, how to extend seasons. All that.

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Sclass
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by Sclass »

ThisDinosaur wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 6:22 pm
@Sclass, isn't the plastic in diapers non-biodegradable? I've read that humanure for gardening is ill-advised. One of my kids is still in diapers, so there's a little fertilizer factory right there I guess.
Yeah. They sell the same gel crystals for adding water capacity to flower pots. They don’t rot away. I guess nightsoil is how you spread third world parasites. Maybe bad advice. I was just fantasizing. Hey we are talking free here :lol:

Maybe my mom has worms. Her caregivers insist on gloves. It’s a major line item at the house. I’ve spent some time in thirdworld backwaters where they use nightsoil. You cannot eat raw veggies unless you want to get worms.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by ThisDinosaur »

@Kriegsspiel
HTGMV is the Grow Biointensive method.

http://www.growbiointensive.org/publica ... HTGMV.html

Its ostensibly the method with the highest calorie yield per unit land possible. Which is great, but it is also very labor intensive for getting a bunch of very cheap foods. In my head cannon, biointensive farming of annuals is like active investing. Active involves a lot of ongoing work in exchange for higher yield. My preference is for passive investing; a lot of work up front, but very little for ongoing maintenance. Permaculture style.

Basically, I'm trying to optimize for some combination of

1)minimal cost, 2)minimal (future) labor, 3)maximum savings in food cost, 4)maximal nutritional yield.

And possibly some other factors I haven't thought of.

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by Kriegsspiel »

Well shit, you should have mentioned all that ;) Maybe just plant a bunch of asparagus, fruit, and nut trees?

EdithKeeler
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Re: Growing Food for $0

Post by EdithKeeler »

I know of two horse barns locally that give away horse poop—when I was gardening a lot I’d carry a couple of Homer buckets in my car and fill them up when I was in the area and then dump them on my raised beds. )in winter—not when stuff was growing). I also compost directly into the soil—just bury my peelings, etc. in a corner. I just have 3 4x4 raised beds. I’m thinking about grabbing some of the pumpkins people are putting out for garbage now that they’re replacing them with x-mas decorations—maybe I’ll get some volunteer pumpkins next year.

I think there are some things you can just throw some seeds down and grow some stuff. It’s not going to look like ffj’s garden (damn, that’s a good looking garden!!) My mom’s neighbor ended up with several fig trees because he piled cuttings from his fig tree against the fence because he was too lazy to put them on the street. I had a bumper crop of tomatillos one year when I found some seeds that I’d forgotten about and just dumped them in the garden. I think part of it is about planting things that naturally grow in your area, rather than trying to force things that require more moisture or richer soil.

I’m not sure you have to spend a lot to get something, but I wouldn’t count on living off it, but you could change what you eat, too. Dandelions May grow great in your are but they aren’t typically gardened. But with a little effort and time you could improve the soil and grow more stuff.

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