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Free or cheap amendments?

Steve Flanagan

Joined: May 06, 2012
Posts: 324
Location: North Fork, CA. USDA Zone 9a, Heat Zone 8, 37 degrees North, Sunset 7/9, elevation 2600 feet
What free or cheap amendments do you add to your soil? I am specifically wanting input on things that you bring into your garden from elsewhere.
Alder Burns

Joined: Feb 25, 2012
Posts: 1197
Location: northern California
Accessing inputs from off-site greatly depends on location. If you are in or near a town of any size, you should be able to tap some of the waste stream for your purposes. In
Georgia where I spent some 20 years, even grocery stores often have open dumpsters, creating huge opportunities for human, livestock, and compost food. Even here in modern CA, I've still been able to source all the cardboard I could ever want for sheet mulching and other uses. Many towns have people rake leaves to the street....if one is right nearby they can be readily gathered with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. A rural town (at least in GA....haven't checked out the local scene yet since it would be 20+ miles away) will often have a sale barn...where livestock are traded....and an associated manure pile free for the taking.
If you look beyond free to cheap....remember Craigslist. I've so far found one cheap source of grain for chicken feed (and the resulting cascade of manure down to soil amendment) and free post-Halloween pumpkins (to be gradually cooked up either in solar cookers or on woodstove embers, weather depending----to be similarly fed off to chickens, with benefits ongoing). It's all about finding those niches and leveraging the opportunities.

Alder Burns (adiantum)
julian kirby

Joined: Nov 15, 2012
Posts: 58
I would recommend Seaweed from the beach Cuz your in Cali. Go on craigslist in the wanted section, make a post aimed at restaurants for their seafood shells and green waste, call local restaurants and ask the same thing. Go to your local grocery store, they have MASSIVE AMOUNTS of green waste if your comfortable using it. Go find a volcano, take a 5 gallon bucket of the gravel you dig up off the slope. If you have friends or Family that own rabbits, goats, chickens etc you can potentially get free manure. Grass clippings and tree trimmings from around your neighborhood. the recycling center here gives away compost. Go Fishing, if you catch invasive species that aren't good eating, put all the fish in a bucket, dig 3-4 foot deep holes, bury fish in holes with some compost. make sure you are not breaking any laws when removing things public property, and that you have permission on private property.
Aquire seeds for alfalfa, comfrey, yarrow, yucca, neem, nettle, dandelion,aloe, valerian, and any other plants that contain compounds beneficial to plant/animal growth, AND START GROWING THEM! when its time to harvest them down save some of what you would compost, and dry it as you would medicinal herbs. With these dried flowers, leaves, and seeds, you can make Fermented Plant Extracts, Enhance low quality compost, SELL THE MIX, supercharge your Worm Castings(worms love neem meal), vary the mix and add/subtract things to make a Winter animal feed.
Willy Walker

Joined: Nov 26, 2012
Posts: 77
Location: Foot of the Mountain, Somewhere around Northern VA
I have been considering this same question. Here is where I am at with a few questions along the way.

I have asked the neighbors if they are willing to put there compost materials in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid and I will pick up weekly.

I have been thinking about asking a local hair salon for a days worth of hair on a weekly basis. I am wondering, what type of chemicals may i bring in via hair? Almost a funny question as at my house our hair is treated with nothing but love.

I have started collecting coffee remains from my office.

I have a waste bin of "stuff" at my office to bring home such as, printed paper, tissues, bathroom hand towels, light cardboard, etc.

I have been thinking of taking the used brown paper towels from the bathroom at the office by the sink used to dry hands.

Perhaps swing by Starbucks for there coffee remains.

I have been watching everything that I throw away in all the rooms to determine if a second compost can in each room would be worth it (would drive the wife crazy)

I have for the last 5 years kept my compost very pure. Recently, i have decided to open it up to all things great and small. I still use a careful eye but I am feeling the benifit of the extra compost is worth the impurities? Is this how others feel? I have also just added 13 chickens to my land and I feel the added heat from there waste will help cleanse a bit more.. Thoughts on that?

Mobile Chicken house build-

S Bengi

Joined: Nov 29, 2012
Posts: 1231
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
Low grade straw/hay.
Cardboard box
Free leaves/wood trimming.
Restaurant prep trash. bread, uncook/salty food
Cooking oil with mushroom spores.
Robert Ray

Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 1340
Location: Cascades of Oregon
I have made friends with a green lawn service company and he brings me unsprayed leaves every fall. Our local electric co-op has to trim trees and chips are free.

"There is enough in the world for everyones needs, but not enough for everyones greed"
gani et se

Joined: Apr 24, 2011
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
For hair, you might consider that a barbershop might be a better source -- no perms or dyes, maybe.

Intermountain (Cascades and Coast range) oak savannah, 550 - 600 ft elevation. USDA zone 7a. Arid summers, soggy winters
Rich Pasto

Joined: Dec 13, 2011
Posts: 100
shredded leaves. piled alone they will compost in a season. spread 3 inches for awesome mulch/weed barrier that will have earthworms working under it in a day. till/turn it into the raised garden beds. leaves are organic gold and can usually get cubic yards of them for free off craigslist. i drive around the neighborhoods with my leaf vac and offer to clean up yards for free. Have never had anyone turn me down.
Anna Demb

Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 22
Woodchips and shredded twigs from transfer station, about $5 for a pickup truckload. They get it from arborists etc, and sometimes I run into someone who just cut down a tree and get 'em to dump the chips from their shredder in the back of their truck into my driveway for free. I mulch heavily with this on crappy fill I want to improve and broadcast daikons and clover over it and plant a few comfreys to start breaking up the soil and adding organic matter. Soon the mycellium spread and then earthworms start to come.

seaweed from beach

cardboard from transfer station (free)

granite and other stone dust from quarry (very cheap, but heavy for the pickup to carry)

leaves from neighbors (often prebagged!). Best when I shred them with a lawnmower beforr using for mulch or compost. I have had very good results using leaves with seaweed as sheet mulch with cardboard underneath for a new veg bed.

and, onsite, urine most importantly

BTW, I have found hair very stubborn to compost.
Kris Minto

Joined: Sep 17, 2012
Posts: 136
Location: Ottawa, Canada -- Zone 4b/5a
These are some of the free amendment I currently use:

- Wood chip
- Garden waste (twigs, leafs and plants)
- Grounded coffee beans (Starbucks)
- Kijiji / Craig List (Manure, compost and quality top soil)

Cris Bessette

Joined: May 20, 2011
Posts: 735
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
Mostly leaves and dead wood from the forest around my house.
I only take the top layer of fallen leaves and move around to different areas in the woods to prevent leaving the ground bare.

John Rains

Joined: Nov 25, 2012
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL

Have you tried experimenting with sowing seed after you harvest the litter layer? I had a thought that if youre working with hardwoods, you could harvest the litter in the fall and sow cool season annuals to cover the soil for the winter and spring...not sure how that would effect the ecology though.
Cris Bessette

Joined: May 20, 2011
Posts: 735
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
John Rains wrote:Cris,

Have you tried experimenting with sowing seed after you harvest the litter layer? I had a thought that if youre working with hardwoods, you could harvest the litter in the fall and sow cool season annuals to cover the soil for the winter and spring...not sure how that would effect the ecology though.

I've never really thought about trying to sow seed in the woods, generally I harvest the leaf litter pretty late in November or later, kinda late for planting.
I get more than enough leaf litter without stripping down to bare soil anyways.
My prepared beds / hugleculture beds in the garden and around the yard are generally the only place I plant cool season greens,etc.

One problem with growing in the woods is deer,rabbits, etc. destroying things.

julian kirby

Joined: Nov 15, 2012
Posts: 58
Build Bat houses!!! You can harvest the guano from underneath and compost it!!! insect control and fertilizer. just thought about it.
Andy Reed

Joined: Jan 02, 2013
Posts: 85
Sea Shells from the local shellfish processing factory. Grape Marc, which is the remainder from pressing grapes for wine making. It's skins and seeds, very alkalai and makes an ok stock food suppliment, or soil ammendment. The seeds take years to break down. It gets delivered in 30 ton lots though so make sure you have some room, and it needs a year or two to compost if you are not going to process it through an animal.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6898
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
I have read that many farmers in Austria get the free grape marc and put a 1-2 cubic metre pile in their barns.
Keeps the barn warm all winter...then it goes to compost pile.

Stacking functions: happy animals, happy garden.

I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Free or cheap amendments?