Frugal Gardening: 5 Tips for Free Compost

Love to garden but find it expensive when you start buying soil amendments, compost, potting soil, mulch, seed starting soil, etc.? Costs can really skyrocket if you have raised beds. Dirt isn’t cheap. Here are 5 tips for scoring free, nutrient rich compost so that you can stop busting your wallet.

Tip #1 – Your Local Waste Centers

If you are short on time and space to manage your own compost pile, but need it for your thriving garden, there is a cheap—and sometimes free—way to get it. You’d be surprised how many communities have places that give away compost and mulch.

Many cities collect that yard waste in addition to trash and recycling. They’ll either pick it up curbside or have yard waste centers where you can drop it off yourself. These yard waste centers will then produce the compost and mulch and redistribute it to parks and other city owned green spaces throughout a city.  However, some of those same yard waste centers also offer mulch and compost to the public for free or at a very cheap price, compared to the bagged stuff you’d pick up at a nursery or home store. Local mulch is especially great because it came from your community, so it’s less likely to be contaminated by non-native weeds or pests.

Check with your local transfer station or waste centers.

Tip #2 – Make Your Own

Composting isn’t difficult, especially if you have a yard or an already established garden. Keep yard waste like small branches, leaves, and grass clippings from mowing to make a compost pile. Add in shredded newspapers (without the glossy pages). Keep kitchen scraps and used coffee grounds and tea leaves. If you already have a garden, use your garden waste. Recycle your plants into the compost.

Tip #3 – Read Craigslist

You’d be surprised how many people have unwanted “clean fill” or compost or even just left over soil on their property and are happy to give it away. Read the free section of Craigslist or join Front Porch Forum and Freecycle.

Additionally, you might think about collecting free potted plants looking for new homes. Even if you don’t like the plants, they usually come in a pot. That means soil and you can compost them both.

Tip #4 – Get in Touch With Local Businesses

If you’re willing to do a little work, you can get plenty of free composting materials. For free manure, contact local dairies, stables, feedlots, or cattle operations for composted cow manure. Many will be happy to let you come and shovel away their black gold. The ideal manure has been composting for at least 2 years.

Poo not your thing? Here are other ways of getting great mulch and compost ingredients from your local businesses:

  • Inquire with local lumberyards and home improvement stores for free sawdust. Be sure to use sawdust only from untreated wood.
  • Visit Christmas tree lots for mulched trees; many cities and communities recycle Christmas trees, so mulch might be available from this seasonal source.
  • You can also contact local breweries about picking up their spent grains.
  • Call a local food processing plant to inquire if they have any left over organic material.
  • Contact local landscaping businesses. They mow, prune and tend yards for a living. You might be able to collect yard waste from them.

Tip #5 – Be Neighborly

Your neighbors are bound to have a lot of potential compost. Talk to them about composting, and ask if they will save their scrap vegetables and the like for you or if you can collect their yard waste. Many municipalities now offer regular yard waste pickup; if your neighbors use this, you can simply ask them to let you collect the yard waste from their bins.

Dirt Should Be Dirt Cheap

Just this week I happened to be out in my yard on trash pick up day. Our community uses local waste collectors so I saw bags of leaves in the back of the truck when they stopped at my house. I simply chatted with the collector and asked if I could grab those bags off him. He happily handed them over. The great thing was that these bags had been sitting for months so were half decomposed already. It never hurts to ask when you see an opportunity!

It’s amazing how quickly leaves and other organic matter break down into rich soil. Knowing this can save you tons of money. Don’t buy dirt or mulch. Make it or pick it up from the free resources listed above. And always keep your eyes and ears peeled for chances to enrich your garden.

Like this article? Share it so that others can learn these gardening secrets!

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