You will hear me say over and over that most of your garden and soil problems will be solved by adding more organic matter. In fact, I am not sure you can add too much. After all, Mother Nature adds it continually!
I’ve had people tell me that continually adding organic matter is expensive. If you’re buying it by the bag, you’re right. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We, as a society, produce so much waste, there’s plenty to go around.
Here are my top 10 favorite, free or cheap sources of organic matter.
- Woodchips. Call your local tree trimming company and ask for their chips. Most are happy to drop them at your place. Just be aware these aren’t sized like store bought and will include small branches and leaves. But hey, that’s more organic matter!
- Leaves. Currently our property doesn’t produce a lot of leaves (I think the previous owners hated trees), so I put the word out to neighbors and their friends to bring me theirs. Man! Did I get a lot of leaves! And strange looks.
- Cardboard. I love, love, love using cardboard boxes to build soil. Especially when weeds are involved. A thick layer of cardboard topped by several inches of woodchips will break down in a season if it gets some moisture. There’s always enough cardboard to go around and, unlike the woodchips and leaves, you can get them yourself, year-round without special equipment!
- Newspaper/shredded paper. I will sometimes add a thick (6-10 sheets) layer of newspaper under the cardboard to add a little extra food for the worms and other composters. I also like to add finely shredded paper to my compost piles.
- Manure. Chances are someone in your area has too much poop. Go get some! Most free manures should be composted before applying to the soil (especially if you’re going to be growing in it soon), and make sure you ask if the animals have been de-wormed lately. You don’t want to add that to your soil and risk killing your earthworms!
- Coffee grounds. Used coffee grounds are readily available from local coffee shops. Take a bucket and go get some! These are a great addition to compost heaps (source of N), or sparingly applied directly to beds. Pro-tip: Your local grocery store bakery usually has empty frosting buckets to give away for free! They are sturdy, with a lid, a nice handle AND they are food grade!
- Compost. Homemade or commercially bought. A compost made from a wide variety of materials is best. Want to lear now to make a stellar backyard compost? Sign up for my newsletter that includes workshop announcements.
- Chop ‘n Drop. This is a Permaculture method where you randomly prune the plants around your yard and leave the material to slowly decay in place. The decomposition speed depends on size of material and amount of moisture. This is also a great way to mulch and conserve moisture.
- Straw. This option may not be free, but chances are, farms that sell straw bales have a pile of spoiled or rotten ones they can’t sell for a premium. For instance, the ones at the bottom of the pile or maybe bales that got wet. For our purposes that doesn’t matter! I’ve gotten bales locally for $1/bale! And, again, some strange looks of confusion.
- Kitchen Scraps. Making dinner? Save the veggie scraps! Now I wouldn’t add these directly to your garden unless you want an influx of rodents visiting your space, but they are great to add to your compost pile. Better yet, and this is what I usually do, give them to your flock of dinosaurs (a.k.a. chickens). They are my favorite composters. The bonus is that the more scraps you give them, the smaller your feed bill will be! Win, win, win.
Well there you have it. My favorite inputs that cost nothing or very little.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite that you use?