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Buying garden supplies can be pricey, even if you only have a small balcony garden. All of those shiny ceramic pots, miniature tools, and bags of potting mix really start to add up!
If high costs are holding you back from growing food at home, then look no further! We’ve got you covered with 7 places around town where you can find free (or very cheap) gardening materials. You can have the best of both worlds: a food producing garden and money in your pocket. Start by saving money setting up your garden now, and save off your grocery bill later.
In addition, recycling material from other people or businesses is great for the environment, as materials get put to use again instead of being sent off to the landfill. It saves dwindling resources and helps to preserve existing ecosystems, all while allowing us to enhance our own personal outdoor (and indoor) spaces.
1. Ask Your Neighbors for Supplies for Your Small Balcony Garden
If you’re brave enough to ask, your neighbors can be a great source of many useful garden materials from yard clippings to kitchen scraps. If they’re gardeners as well, they may have old pots, tools or extra garden soil they might be willing to part with. Got reluctant neighbors? See if they’re open to a trade, their old pots and yard scraps in exchange for a cut of your harvest.
Don’t have your own yard or patio or a even a small balcony garden? Make nice with the neighbors and they may be willing to donate a piece of their yard in exchange for a portion of what you produce, or a promise to help out with yard maintenance. You could also see if there’s a yard sharing program set up in your city to help match you with someone willing to let you garden in their yard.
This is also a great way to build connections in your community.
2. Plant Nurseries + Garden Centers
Though it might seem like a strange place to look for free stuff since their whole purpose is to sell you garden supplies, nurseries and garden centers shouldn’t be left off your list. Like all businesses, nurseries and garden centers produce their own waste, which you can reuse and benefit from.
Related post: How to Choose the Best Starter Plants from the Nursery
They often they get rid of used pots of which many are still completely functional, albeit a little worn. Plants in need of a little TLC that aren’t up to standard to be sold can be claimed by you, and if you’re willing to nurse them back to health, may find yourself with a recovered and productive plant in the future. As before, you can ask if they have anything they’re looking to get rid of, or alternatively, check around the nearby dumpsters for what’s been thrown away.
3. Coffee Shops and Cafes
If you’re in need of compost, your nearest coffee shop is the next stop! Local coffee houses, restaurants and eateries are a great source of all types of soil feeding substances, such as food scraps and spent coffee grounds. In addition, places like these normally have plenty of useful objects to get rid of as new shipments come in, such as large crates, cans, and containers that can be used as planters. Since most of these containers are food-grade quality, you don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals leaching into the soil.
Normally you just have to ask, and most small business owners will be more than happy to have you take away their “waste” for a good cause.
4. Carpentry Shops
Wood scraps, chips, and shavings all have fantastic uses in your small balcony garden, and you can all find them here. Chips and shavings can be used as very effective garden mulches, which reduce weed growth and slow the rate of water evaporation from the soil. Wood scraps, if you can get them in the right sizes and types of wood, can be used to building anything and everything from planter boxes, vertical gardening systems, raised beds and borders. Again, ask and your wishes will be granted.
5. Construction Sites
Constructions sites produce a lot of waste, some of which can be useful in the garden. You can scavenge for used pieces of lumber, screening, tarps, gravel, bits of pipe, plywood, gravel, and if you’re lucky some old barrels with which to use as rain barrels (make sure they didn’t contain harmful substances first).
All of these goodies can be used towards those garden construction plans you’ve been saving for a rainy day, like building a greenhouse, hoop houses, grow boxes, and gardening bench. All it takes is a little imagination! After all, one man’s trash is a gardener’s treasure!
6. Seed Exchanges
Get in touch with your local garden clubs, groups, and societies to find out when and where they hold their annual seed exchange. This normally happens sometime in the spring, so be sure to mark it on your calendar. At seed exchanges, you can bring your own seeds in order to trade with other gardeners so that everyone gets something new to try and share what has performed well for them.
If you don’t have seeds to share, that’s okay too. Most seed exchanges give seeds away as well, or allow you to buy small packets for a few cents. Attending these gatherings is a great way to find out what’s popular locally, and what grows well in your local environment.
7. Your Kitchen
While we’ve been roaming the town looking for free garden stuff for your small balcony garden, we haven’t yet looked closest to home. Though things in your own kitchen might not be considered “free” since you’ve likely already paid for it, you can make use of things destined for the trash.
Most pantries will provide you with enough fruit and vegetable scraps to keep your garden fed long after it’s finished feeding you and your family. Some kitchen scraps can also be regrown (such as lettuce and celery), and seeds can be collected as well, saving you money in all sorts of places.
Though it takes a lot more hard work to round up free supplies for your small balcony garden than it takes to go to the store and buy them, it can really be worth it in the end. With an abundance of compost, plants, and landscaping materials sitting in your yard, all for next to nothing, it’s hard not to feel accomplished. Your reuse of supplies helps turn wasteful processes into a productive and edible landscape that provides for you and your family, with nothing more than a few hours of work every week.