How $40 and an Afternoon Can Start Your Garden

Many of my friends are interested in gardening but simply don’t know where to start. They enjoy the bounty from farmer’s markets but would like to supplement with some food outside their door. Here is how $40, your neighbors and some pleasant outdoor exercise can get your garden started in one afternoon!

Prepare the Soil

  • Cost: Free – $3
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Where: recycling bin, local dump, local newspaper office

Find a place to plant your summer garden, ideally in full-sun, facing south. Consider the location of outdoor spigots, garden entry and exit points, and how close the garden is to your kitchen. My friend also offered this wisdom.

“Most excited about the fact that I can let this grow at the edge of our property where it won’t be more work for me”!

Ashley S- Twin Cities , MN

After mowing, cover the space with recycled newspaper. If you don’t have newspaper (or don’t have the time to collect it) purchase “end rolls” from your local newspaper office. I picked these up (see photo above) for $3 each. Water the paper so it doesn’t blow away.

Cover the paper with compost. If you or those you know don’t have compost, not to worry! You can purchase compost from any garden store. Even better, local landfills often have free compost for the taking.  Simply drive in with a shovel, 5 gallon buckets and a couple buddies. My SUV did ok but a pick-up would be nice too!

Find some ground cover- this can almost any organic material, from grass clippings to wood mulch from your local tree trimming service. You also can leave this step out the first few days until you mow again.


Find Free Plants

  • Cost: Free
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Where: homes of family, friends, co-workers, church attendees, local garden groups
As with any new venture, we’re all risk averse. My very dear friend, Ashley was concerned she would fail and waste money.
I started with 2 rhubarb plants last year just to prove I could keep them alive–I do not have a natural sense of keeping green/outdoorsy things alive. I heard rhubarb are almost impossible to kill 🙂 They lived! This year we added 5 rhubarb plants, 2 apple trees, and my aunt gave us 5 raspberry sucker plants last week!”
Ashley S, Twin Cities, MN

With plants that already thrive in your area, you’re much more likely to keep them growing. Free plants also gives flexibility and grace if all doesn’t go according to plan. Talk about your interest on social media. Get talking with your extended family at the dinner table. Ask your coworkers.  Fellow gardeners love to thin their crops and share with others.

Above are the plants I’ve gleaned from proud growers or given to others. I agree with Ashley that fruit trees, rhubarb and raspberries are great to start. Consider asking specifically about asparagus and herbs too.


Buy Plants

  • Cost: $1.80/4 pack (cabbage, peppers, tomatoes) to $5 (gallon tomato plants)
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Where: Lewis Drug, Menard’s, Walmart, Target, Landscape Garden Centers

Anyone else annoyed when asking the server in a new restaurant “What’s good here”? her response is “everything”!  Although it may be true, the response doesn’t answer my real question: What should I try?  What will keep me returning? What will give me a good experience?

While it is true, most everything for sale at your local landscape store is good for planting, I’d rather answer your real question. What should you plant to enjoy this process and want to keep going?  If you’re someone that needs some instant gratification (like me!) start with plants that already got a head-start.

My favorites are tomatoes (cherry, roma and heirloom), sweet and spicy peppers, and the entire cabbage family (green and red cabbage, kale and brussels sprouts). Check out companion seed ideas so additional seedlings come up between the tomatoes and cabbage. Don’t forget to water your new creation and get ready for your first pickings in a month.


2 thoughts on “How $40 and an Afternoon Can Start Your Garden

  1. Thank you for sharing your story and blog with kelo news. I have an additional hint. Individuals who are unable to bend over to garden/weed and or who do not have room to till a garden could consider this: a feed bunk. I love my feed bunk vegi garden. An old camper awning to covet the bottom and a few drain holes …works beautifully!

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