Ready to get started but unsure of where to get bulk soil and amendments? Isa's garden charities will share free and paid resources on how to get growing
Tired of buying small bags of low quality soil or spending way too much on premium name brand soil? We will share some ideas on how to get free or cheap growing medium to help you get started or continue your gardening journey.
There's no such thing as 'Free' Soil
“The pile of leaves in your neighbor's front yard is just as big of an eyesore to them as it is a goldmine to you”
First things first, keep an open mind and don't be afraid of a little hard work! Going the free route may be the only option to some, be aware that this is a longer route to take and elbow grease and patience is a necessity. With some work, everyone is able to find free materials on places such as Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Sharewaste, local Facebook groups, landscaping companies, woodworkers, Chipdrops, local farms, city composting programs, restaurants, Freecycle, or even your neighbor's unmaintained yard.
It never hurts to ask, the worst that can be said is no. Truth be told that pile of leaves in your neighbor's front yard is just as big of an eyesore to them as it is a goldmine to you. Offer to clean up their yard waste and in exchange you receive the best mulch or compost ingredients that money can't buy!
Woodworkers- I can't even begin to tell you how many local woodworkers have bins upon bins of primo grade sawdust (collecting more dust) stored on their property simply because they don't want it to go to waste. If you're lucky, there may even be a local woodworking club in your area, BINGO! Pick up your phone or stop by and ask if you can put their sawdust to work.
Nextdoor, Craigslist, Facebook, Freecycle, Sharewaste- Search for or create a post on social media and other local groups or apps asking for any and all yard waste (as long as its not treated with herbicides), food scraps, paper products, and other compostable items.
Landscapers- Ever wake up to your neighbors yard being leaf blown? Instead of being grumpy about it, jump out of bed, run outside and yell at them! Let them know that you would love to take any yard waste off of their hands (Make sure to let them know you're not a psychopath just frugal and excited). Feel free to also look up local companies and call or email them asking if they could drop off bags of leaves.
Farms- Not everyone lives next door to a farm but those that do can ask to take any *ahem* 'droppings' off of their hands. Just make sure to avoid pig manure as it is not recommended to be used in your garden beds. Alpaca, llama, goat, sheep, and rabbit are the best as they can be immediately used in your garden beds but poultry, cow, and horse manure is also acceptable if properly composted prior to being added.
Chipdrops- YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED these are not for the faint of heart. Chipdrops contain on average 30+ Yards of soil. Imagine a semi truck filled to the brim with steamy, decaying tree material. Now imagine it being dumped in your driveway. Only have one wheelbarrow? don't do it. Going to be moving it all by yourself? Don't do it. Need it moved within 48 hours or your HOA will try to take your house from you? DON'T DO IT. Yes, I might be exaggerating and personally I have used this service multiple times with no issues however, I did have a place where it was able to be stored long term AND I had access to a tractor AND I had a lot of help from volunteers. Again, do not come crying to me when you have a whole mountain of rotting wood in your front yard because I warned you.
Restaurants- Ask your favorite restaurant if they have ever considered reducing their waste. Offer to pick up food scraps and other composting materials.
Now get composting so you can get those garden beds filled!
The 'Lazy' way
“You don't have to sell your firstborn child... to fill a grow bed with decent garden soil.”
The majority of us will fall into this category and prefer to take this route. This is for individuals who don't have months or years to wait for aged compost or are just itching to get plants in the garden as soon as the temperature allows. I can also recommend this route to busy bodies such as myself who just don't have the time anymore to do all of the leg work of getting free soil.
The good news is that you don't have to sell your firstborn child or even spend more than you would on a good pair of jeans to fill a grow bed with decent garden soil. Yes, you definitely could spend $130 per yard of soil but going to your nearest landscape supply company and asking for a yard of their 'sod mix' for $30 will grow the same exact lettuce as the $130 per yard soil and save you so much over the long run. Oh I can feel the emails coming through now, "BUT WORM POOP, GUANO, MICHRORIZAE, LIVING SOIL" Shhh shhhh...... deep breath. You are right, it is missing a lot of the elements that the expensive soil has but soil can be easily manipulated and amended. Buy the cheap stuff and add worm poo, compost, coffee grounds, and other amendments as you are able. If you have money to burn, sure I won't judge you for spending the extra money on fancy soil. We are here to support each other, I am simply trying to prove that gardening has a relatively low barrier to entry. If you want to grow your own food there are many ways to make it happen.
Email the author Emily Estrada with any questions, suggestions, or edits. She especially loves seeing pictures of your garden and may feature them in future blog posts.