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Evolved Mommy | May 6, 2015

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Gardening on the Brain & the Budget; How We Built Two Raised-Bed Gardens for Practically Free - Evolved Mommy

Gardening on the Brain & the Budget; How We Built Two Raised-Bed Gardens for Practically Free

P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Retreat

Ever since I was so graciously invited to P. Allen (just Allen to those in the know) Smith’s Moss Mountain retreat I have had gardening on the brain.

Y’all know my focus right now is supposed to be on our family finances, not on perfecting the family garden. However, I’ve figured out how to incorporate the latter right into the former. Woot!

Here’s how:

If we take the time to create a well-done garden we will produce enough (organic) fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables to substantially cut our grocery budget now and have enough left over to preserve for the winter.

Raised Bed Vegetable Garden at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

Now, of course, I want my garden to look just like Allen’s. Who wouldn’t, really? It’s not gonna happen. However, it is possible to have a well-designed and well-planned garden on the minuscule budget we are currently living.

Our Budget Garden

  1. Free lumber:Check craigslist. I found a listing for someone wanting to take down their backyard play area, so they were giving away 2x12s and pea gravel. We got the 2x12s, but disappointingly missed out on the pea gravel.

    Our 4’x8′ Raised Bed Vegetable Gardens that Steve Built Using the Free 2×12 Lumber We Got on Craigslist

  2. The boxes: Steve built two 4’x8’x12″ raised garden beds with bench seats all the way around (a la The Arkansas Governor’s mansion raised beds designed by none other than P. Allen Smith). For great instructions from Bonnie Plants click here. Allen said the benches are important so that you can sit down to weed and plant.
  3. 2 for 1: we wanted to line the beds with something to block the weeds and we needed garden steaks to help square up the box. In the builder’s section of Lowe’s we found silt barrier that comes in a roll. It’s black tarp with garden stakes attached and it’s all rolled up. We separated the spikes from the roll and used the stakes to square and the tarp to line the boxes. This cost about one third of the price of buying the same number of spikes and  amount of tarp from the garden section.
  4. Soil: Dirt can be  a doozey when your beds are 4’x8’x12″ deep like mine are. One thing I learned at Garden2Blog was that soil is king. It should be 50% good local soil, 50% compost or peat moss and a little bit of fertilizer (this is what we are using) or manure. Make the investment in good soil and your time and money will not be wasted. Be sure to buy organic. You do not want strange chemicals hiding in your delicious vegetables that you are feeding your precious family. Seriously, you don’t.
  5. Compost:While Steve was building our raised beds I was busy making our own compost bins. It’s Stephanie simple, y’all. Here’s what you do: 1) obtain a large plastic outdoor type garbage can with wheels and a lid, 2) Drill holes all over that can (it doesn’t matter what size holes), including the lid. The holes should be about 2″ apart. Don’t forget the lid. These holes help keep the oxygen, which is essential to the composting process, moving. 3) Fill your bin with a mix of brown and green. Green = fresh lawn clippings, kitchen waste (see list of items that are compostable),  Then add Brown = recyclable paper, junk mail, shredded paper, dead leaves. Put the lid on and lay it own the ground to roll around. Do this once/week or once/day. We have two bins and are going to buy at least one more this week.

    My Compost Bins

Since we do everything with the cash we have budgeted for specific catagories (gardening supplies came out of “Home Improvement”) we won’t be planting until next week when that category is funded again. It can be a little boring to operate this way, but we are committed.

This weekend, though, we had the best time finding great items in the “Free” section of Craigslist. We got a beautifully aged concrete birdbath, some yarrow, lemon mint plants, phlox, pampas grass and of course the lumber. We met some fun people and started a wonderful family garden.

As I learn I will share.

We are committed to two things right now: budget and an organic lifestyle. This new venture serves both purposes.

As always, feel free to comment or email any questions. If I don’t know the answer I’m sure one of the 20 other bloggers I met last week will be able to help.

Oh, and for full disclosure: P. Allen Smith put us all up in the swanky Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock. He also fed us delicious food. I will forever sing his praises. However, if he had been an a-hole I would not. My opinions are my own.


  1. Susan

    Great info and inspiring topic. I need something to put in my driveway since I am land locked in Redondo Beach & only good sun is out front.

  2. great post WE would like another

  3. Danielle

    Hey Stephanie,

    It was great to meet you at the Garden2Blog event! Loved your post, but wanted to make sure that the lumber you got for free is not treated lumber as you don’t want to use this to grow vegetables in.


    • Thanks for the heads up. We are 90% certain it is redwood, which would mean that it is not pressure-treated pine. Even if it is pressure-treated pine the chemical requirements changed drastically in 2003. The wood is several years old and there is no proof that beyond one year any leaching occurs. All of that to say: I’m just going to put it out of my mind and pray for the best for now. We did not know any of this before we built our garden and I’m planning to do a follow-up post soon.
      If you’ve seen any of my recent posts on food you know I’ve already gone off the deep end about that thanks to Michael Pollen, Dr. Gerson, etc. The last thing I need is another toxic chemical to worry about. Fan-freakin’-tastic!
      There is no arsenic in my vegetables. There is no arsenic in my vegetables. There is no arsenic in my vegetables.

  4. This is SO inspiring. I love your easy compost bins. We’ve had trouble with possums in the past. This would be an awesome solution!

    • These are great because they are sealed. :)

  5. Anna

    Thanks for the tips! I’ll be taking a drill to that old trash can tonight! :)

    • Anna, they were really fun to make. We had one of the cans and I went to the hardware store and got the other one. I think we will do one more. Should have some compost in 6 weeks. Just remember to keep it damp (not wet, though). When it is no longer warm to the touch it is ready.

  6. Great article! Couldn’t have written a better one myself. I just started blogging so there’s not much to check out on mine, yet. LOVE your blog Stephanie! Now I have some reading to catch up on!

    • Thanks Jennifer! This is my happy place. Yours is great, too.

  7. Awesome! We are doing organic raised bed gardening in our back yard too! I highly recommend the Square Food Gardening method, as it’s easy and straightforward, even if you have no idea what you are doing (I don’t). Here’s my post about our garden and square foot gardening:

    Happy gardening!

    • Fawn, I just discovered the square foot gardening method this weekend. I’m definitely going to look into it this week, since Steve’s vegetable list keeps growing. Going to read your article now.

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