Many people establishing new garden areas immediately jump to purchasing organic materials such as compost, topsoil or wood chip mulch. But more often than not, it is possible to source materials for free, or even to avoid purchasing materials altogether by using what is already on site.
One tool that is very useful for those with larger gardens is an electric wood chipper/shredder. This is a great choice, especially if renewable energy can be used. Having one of these means that you can make your own wood chip from pruned material on site, and avoid buying it in.
If you do not have a large garden, then you might not make your own wood chip. But when taking on projects such as making a new forest garden, or building layered beds or hugelkultur mounds, you can, in many areas, source free wood chip from the municipality or from tree-care businesses nearby.
Compost takes time to make. But a hot composting system can deliver enough material for smaller gardens on a more manageable time-scale. Especially if you compost all the garden materials you possibly can and not just food waste.
In short order, you can rapidly expand the amount of organic material generated in a garden through the right plant choices. Quick growing accumulators – including comfrey – that well known example – but also a range of other plants – can often be harvested for mulches etc. multiple times a year. And deciduous trees and shrubs will soon reward you with a bounty of fallen leaves.
If you don’t have a garden large enough to generate significant quantities of organic matter, you may still be able to source municipal composts for free, and enrich and improve these with other additions, such as manures from local farms, or even zoos or pet shops, for example.
Sourcing organic materials for the lower layers of new raised beds is often easier for small-scale gardeners than sourcing a suitable topsoil/ compost into which you can plant. If you want to get started before your home-made compost is ready, another option is to ‘borrow’ the topsoil from another area of your garden.
Consider digging shallow sunken paths, and shovelling the excavated topsoil on the new growing areas, for example. Turn turfs removed upside down to make loam for later, or dig a wildlife pond or other earthworks and use the material you remove elsewhere.
If you think carefully, and use what you have, you will often find that you do not need to resort to buying in organic materials to start your garden. And it can make it easier to start and maintain your garden in a sustainable way, right from the outset.