Green, frugal, sustainable, simple, healthy, happy... No matter what we each call it, we come together here to support and learn from each other.

We are preserving our planet with our lifestyles. We are creating sustainable communities for our children. We are living the lives we want to live. Please join us!


All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

Join Us Here, Too

Buy Sustainably

Join us in saving our family budgets and helping our local communities thrive.

10,000 Steps

With numerous environmental, physical and emotional benefits, what are you waiting for? Let's start walking!

Green Your Insides

For your family and our planet, start greening your own home.

Great Reading

How To Amend The Soil In Your Whole Garden For $20 Or Less

There are five very cheap ways to amend your garden soil.

1.  Create Your Own Compost Bin

If you have the space in your garden, for very little money you can compost your own kitchen waste, grass and garden clippings, and leaves.  In a 4′x4′x4′ container, include half “brown” materials – straw, leaves, newspaper and other dry things – and half “green” materials -  grass, food waste and other new materials.

Compost Bin

Add lots of water, turn occasionally (every 3 days to 3 weeks, depending on how fast you want it to decompose), and wait (2 weeks to 4 months, depending on the weather, how often you turn it, and what you’ve included in the pile).

2.  Create Your Own Worm Bin

A friend of mine is going to show me how to do this soon, so I’ll post about this soon.  But in the meantime, if you looking for a smaller-scale way to recycle your kitchen scraps into luscious soil-amending goodness, check out Patti’s video:

3.  Lasagna or In Situ Composting

In Situ Composting. This is the lazy gardener’s compost method.  Here’s what I do:  I line my garden paths with straw.  As I’m weeding and cleaning up the garden, I throw everything into the path, on top of the straw.  You can also add food scraps, but be aware that animals might come find them so choose cautiously.  The paths will begin to decompose, rain and excess water from watering will keep it moist.

By next year, the paths will decompose and you can turn in the soil a bit and move your path to a new spot.  Keep in mind that you can only use weeds that haven’t gone to seed, because this method doesn’t get compost hot enough to kill the seeds.

Lasagna/Sheet Mulch Gardening. Another lazy gardener’s compost method, essentially you create a 2′ tall compost pile all over your garden, alternating green and brown in each lasagna layer.  If you do this in the fall, by spring you should be able to plant in rich soil!  I looked for a good video to show you, but the above is the best I could find – it helps, anyway!

4.  Plant Cover Crops

Fall or spring, you can plant cover crops – there are a plethora of options.  Crimson clover (above) is one of my favorites, because it’s beautiful and brings a lot of nitrogen and organic matter into your soil.  Peaceful Valley has some of the best resources – their Fall catalog has an amazing grid listing all their compost crops with each one’s benefits.  However, if you find cover crops locally, you’re likely to happen upon ones that work best in your area.

5.  Let Your City Do It For You

Big Truck, Little Truck

A good portion of local municipalities now have compost programs that work with your regular garbage pick-ups.  Every Spring, we go get a truckload full for $10-20, depending on how big a load we want.

It is a lot of exercise to bring in a whole truck load of compost at a time – but with two people, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, you can unload it and mix it into your soil in 2-3 hours.  And you feel really strong and well-exercised the next day!

Which Method Do You Use?

How have you amended your soil in the past?  Will you try something new this year?

Similar Posts:

16 comments to How To Amend The Soil In Your Whole Garden For $20 Or Less

  • I traded an extra canoe than needed some fiberglass work to a friend who makes tumblers out of 50 gal barrels from Coca-Cola + old bed frames. Prior t that I had a pile or an old trash can I drilled holes into for ventilation.

    Personally, I’d be leery of city compost because you don’t know what people spray their lawns with, etc. We have access to free city mulch + it’s a little scary. We can put yard waste on the curb, city picks up + turns into mulch. The problem is when the curbside pile sits there for too long it becomes a depository for trash by people walking by and that ends up going through the chipper into the mulch piles.

  • ALM

    Great post – I love the cover crops method. Last year, I let the clover grow and flower in one of the beds, and just pulled apart little areas where I planted tomatoes. The clover grew for a while with the tomatoes, and it eventually went to seed and sort of died, and I left it in place and just covered it all up with leaves. The tomatoes did OK; they did end up with what I think I figured out was a calcium deficiency, but I don’t know that the clover caused it because that has happened before. And while the clover was there it kept weeds out. Also, I would add one more thing to this list that we are doing: chickens! House them over your beds all winter, put leaves in there, they’ll scratch and poop – perfect compost.

  • Love the lasagna method! I hadn’t seen that one before.

    We just built a worm bin with the kids the other night as part of a gardening project. It’s so easy, and kids love adding the worms in.

    Great post! You did a good job showing how manageable compost can be.

  • We get our neighbor’s grass clippings which are not sprayed, and lots of leaves, and buy straw. Everything that doesn’t go in the tumbler barrel with some poultry bedding, goes right onto the garden, Neapolitan style. With a deep enough, mulch, no need to weed and no need to till[ yes it slows down spring warm-up but we plant in hills of potting soil and that seems to take care of germination. Compost from the heaps around the barrel are used in the potting soil.

  • We got compost from a company near us for $30 a cubic yard, which was about a truckload full. With a 1000 square foot garden, though, even with a very light amount of compost, it cost us about $120. We’re working on composting ourselves, too, but we’re not making enough here at home for the entire garden. Maybe cover crops for next year, to help out but hopefully be cheaper.

  • Katie

    I am also wary of compost from out town. I know they combine street sweepings with the yard waste and all I can think about is the petroleum products in the compost.

  • Rob

    I got an earth Machine compost bin= the city here sells bins and rain barrels once a year for $20 each!
    Never tried that lasagne method- I must

  • Jennifer

    I have both a stack style hot compost bin and a Wriggler Wranch vermi (cold or worm) compost bin. My first worm bin was a homemade one (looks similar to the one in the photo) – and pew! It didn’t allow the liquids to run off to a lower container, which limited the amount of compost tea we could pull from it. Additionally, it smelled like feces. I almost gave up on worm composting! My city does a subsidized program for low cost worm bins (I think I paid $15?), it was well worth it!

    For low cost bins – keep an eye on craigslist and freecycle. I’ve seen a few bins go around the community that way.

    Our city also has free compost pick ups, we’ve taken advantage of that too. It smells of horse poo, so it must be rich!

  • Lori

    We have a tumbler where we dump our kitchen waste and some fall leaves, but it doesn’t produce enough for the whole garden. I did use straw as mulch last spring and plan to turn the most decomposed bits of it under shortly, which should help somewhat. We had to take down a large tree this winter, and when they ground the stump we had them leave the woodchips, which we’re planning to move into a currently unused bed on the property and add other compostables on top – sort of like a lasagna bed, I suppose. Other than that, we still supplement with a bit of locally produced, store-bought compost. I do wish our city/county had a great deal on compost like yours…

  • dancingfatcat

    I got all the aged manure I wanted from freecycle. Though it did require some work, loading two truck loads for free was well worth it. Plus I can always go back for more anytime :D

    I almost forgot to add, bunny poo is wonderful in the garden and doesn’t need to be aged.

  • Caution about the City compost. My experience is that my city (Bakersfield) produces junk I don’t want in my vegetable beds. The best method is to do it yourself. That way you know what you’ve got.

  • I heard an interesting tip from someone at a garden shop – you can always bury produce scraps 6-8″ deep and let the worms go to town. Takes longer that way, but it’s an option if compost bins aren’t allowed in your neighborhood!

  • DSF

    I’ve tried all of the above (except the chickens mentioned in the comments). These days, I do hot composting in small batches and vermicomposting, both with bokashi. The microbial fermentation method I use requires a retail investment of a little more than your heading per year, but it’s worth it for me: with bokashi, I can process all my organics, including what remains after meat and dairy meals; make composts in small batches, safely; and produce either vermicompost or hot compost without adding additional water, which matters in my area. Not to mention, the plants seem to love it.


  • I totally admit I am one of those geeks trudging through snow in January to go turn my compost pile.

    Just a couple of things here that need mentioning.. if your hot compost pile reeks like a barnyard, that’s the smell of nitrogen leeching away or anaerobic decomp. probably due to too much water. You don’t want to be pumping out methane or nitrous oxide (which is over 300 times worse than carbon dioxide). That’s where the 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio kicks in.. to minimize loss (green to brown is simplified a bit too much, hence the problems.)

    Also a vermicomposter for 7 years. Most earthworms in the states used for vermicomposting are an assortment of invasive species. Great for agriculture.. but destructive in many areas, especially those like the NE forests that have adapted ecologically without them.

    The tea is made from finished compost diluted in water. (In vermi-bins.. liquid run off is leachate, which is not vermicompost tea. Leachate is from bins that are too wet/ feeding overly wet foods and are often quite high in phototoxic compounds.) If the worm bin stinks.. it is too wet, over fed.. and anaerobic pockets of bacteria are creating that odor.

    You can’t beat compost for improving the soil. You do want to know where it comes from or what is in it especially if your goal is organic. “Organic” labeled bagged compost means from carbon source.. NOT chemical free. Some of those composts, if used on an organic farm, they’d lose their certification.

  • katrina

    for years i have cut the bottom off of a large pot and put the cut bit a little underground with the top exposed. i have placed all my scraps etc/herb cuttings etc in the pots and put a paving slab on top so my dog couldnt go scavenging. spray with water when i water the veges & it breaks down great! then i move the pot over to another part of the garden and start all over again. LOADS of worms do there work from underground and whatever regerminates is left to nature! easy! Try cutting the base off of an old flip top bin! imagination could run wild!

Leave a Reply to Rob




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>