Gardening and Building Soil on a Budget

While growing and enjoying the bounty of my garden, my primary focus at any time of the year is on building even more fertility for the next season. The low-cost alternatives, which I outline below, cost little to nothing with minimal work. Why incorporate these low-cost methods? Because it is a helpful and practical method to sustain a garden on a budget, divert free, readily available “curbside carbon” from the landfill and back into the soil to build garden soil fertility and the ultimate pay-out of a bountiful harvest with little to no work!

Now is the best time to start planning for the fall garden. At any time of the year, one can start by building a garden bed foundation of soil and mulch for the next season.  Follow the steps below.

To Build Soil; Collect FREE Resources! The To-Do’s:

  1. Collect yard leaves, grass clippings and mulched cuttings. The best time of year is fall, winter and early spring. 
  2. Create compost piles per your aesthetic discretion.
  3. Collect even more leaves from around your neighborhood until you run out of space. I guarantee, come spring and summer, you’ll wish you had collected more while leaves are the most abundant.
  4. Aim for a cubic yard of leaves per 40 square feet of garden space. Are people looking at you funny? Take heart, you are saving a fortune by making your own zero-cost compost, diverting landfill waste and reducing warming emissions all in one stroke
  5. Next, build some garden beds with the collected material. Fill beds two-thirds full with topsoil and potting soil. Add a heavy layer of leaves, this is mulching. Mulching is adding a layer of matter to the soil.

At the end of three or four months your piles of leaves will be nearing their full decomposition. Your beds, once composed of plain soil will be dark, moist and microbiologically active. All that remains to do now is pull aside whatever mulch (large pieces of organic matter) remains, watch for worms, and plant!

Ongoing Garden To-Do’s:

  • Start seedlings per our planting schedule.
  • Keep mulching.
  • Start over! No leaves on the curb? Use wood chips instead. Tree crews are desperate to rid themselves of this material, and will do so for free. 
  • Want even more fun free garden resources? Peruse Criags List for free materials of logs and wood chips. Go to a stable and get a load of manure or call your favorite coffee shop to ask for the used coffee grounds for pick up. 
    All of these materials will set your compost heaps on fire, figuratively and almost literally, giving you more mulch and compost even faster.

With this low-cost method of building soil, you save money, divert waste, and curb emissions. Get started today to restore and build your soil. Anytime is the best time to get started and going into summer is the best time to start planning your fall garden today.  The Fall Vegetable Gardening Class in Zoom will be on July 18th, 2020. Cost $20. Reserve your spot today.


The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfel
Building Soils Naturally by Phil Nauta.
Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! By Ruth Stout
Year-Round Food Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas by Bob Randall, Ph.D. can be found at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market greeter’s booth.

By Gabriel Boja

Gabriel Borja is an Urban Harvest youth garden educator, certified permaculturist and urban composter. For friendly advice he can be found at Buchanan’s Native Plants.