Starting a garden is expensive! Help Please.

fumasterchuMarch 5, 2013

My husband and I moved from Ohio to Norman, Ok 3 years ago for his job. After we decided to stay in Ok we bought 20 acres around the Tecumseh/Pink area.
I have always been a city girl and so when I decided to start a garden I watched a lot of Youtube videos and joined Gardenweb. I decided on doing the sheet mulching/lasagna garden.
Last November we built a 15X30 fenced in area and covered it with cardboard and straw. In February we went to Lowes and bought 1200 pounds of top soil, cow manure and peat. It barely covered half of the garden area!
I really want to have a garden, but my husband is REALLY frustrated with how much money we have already spent. Somewhere around $300 on soil, compost and organic amendments. Plus, 10 bales of wheat straw at $7 a piece. He won't help me anymore, because he says it is cheaper to buy the veggies from someone else.
I have a huge amount of seed packets and want to direct sow as much as I can. I did start tomatoes and peppers indoors though.

I really don't know what else to do. Any help or advice on getting a garden going with no money would be so appreciated.
I see all these videos and posts about people getting tree services to dump wood chips and farms with manure, ect. I live in a new place in the middle of nowhere it seems. *sigh*

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helenh(z6 SW MO)

It is expensive to buy bags of stuff. I have a small pick up and buy stuff by the scoop. I have been working on my yard for years but it is fun and what I would do for recreation anyway. $7 is high for staw here. Shop around Lowe's may not be cheapest. I am not too proud to knock on doors and ask strangers for straw after Halloween and Thanksgiving. I used to get bags of leaves from town people before the tornado. When I drive around town I spot black bags in back yards and ask if can have their leaves. Your problem is you are trying to do it all at once. Why don't you start slow and try to do most of it yourself because it sounds like your husband has burned out. If he was involved in the fence, you got him to do a lot. Plant some salad vegetables and tomatoes and celebrate your successes. If it isn't fun for you, it isn't worth it.
edit- if you have 20 acres, you can rob top soil from your own land. I have a ditch with hedge apple trees and I have been excavating a spot under the trees where not many weeds are growing. I get the best four inches off the top and put it in buckets and haul it to my yard.

This post was edited by helenh on Tue, Mar 5, 13 at 17:14

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 5:04PM
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Thanks Helen. I wish I had neighbors to knock on doors.
I got the straw bales at the local feed store in town. I couldn't find them any cheaper.
I guess I could get the dirt from somewhere off my land, but it is this terrible red clay in some parts and sand in others.
I didn't think you could grow in that? I am not used to soil being red. I thought if it wasn't dark brown or black, it wasn't any good.
I will just plant in the soil I have and when it runs out, I will be done for this year. I started a compost pile, but I really have nothing to put in it.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 5:55PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Even though I keep working on my soil, I still don't have enough spots for all the tomato plants I am growing in my basement. I have rocks like creek gravel where my vegetable garden is. It is not unusual to have more seeds than you have places to grow them. It is fun thinking about the garden and making plans for the future. You have a nice limited space with a fence. Gradually you will get your soil in shape. I think on 20 acres you will find something to drag into your yard.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 8:30PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Gardening can be expensive. But it is also good therapy, good exercise and I hear you get far better veggies than you will ever get from the store. (I flower garden not veggie garden). You probably have a well, but I have city water and have to pay for that too!

Do you compost? You can use several different methods and it will create your own amendments for "free". You can use your junk mail for some of the browns. Does your husband (or you) work in an office with coffee? Coffee grounds are wonderful things.

Start reading up on winter sowing. It's a wonderful, cheap way to get seeds started in the winter. You could start it now if you wanted to, but it would be a fun project for next winter.

Start small. It is very easy to bite off more than you can chew! I have and I really need to scale back some of my beds somehow.

You can use your grass clippings for mulch if you don't let your grass go to seed. It is a good addition for your compost pile too :)


This post was edited by lisa_h on Tue, Mar 5, 13 at 21:17

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 9:07PM
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If you are in the the Tecumseh/Pink area, the Norman Compost facility is just straight down Highway 9 from you. they will load it for $10 or $15 a scoop, my trailer will hold 2 scoops. I'm going to leave the discussion about city compost to others, but I wanted you to know you have an option. Norman residents get first shot, but afterwards, all comers are welcome. Google Norman Compost facility. My apologies for being hit and run. I've got a big meeting in the morning. Good luck!


    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 9:54PM
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Console yourself with the knowledge that in years to come your garden will become much less costly. Getting started is the hardest part. The first spring we lived in Ok we hired a man to break up two acres with a tractor and we planted the whole thing, thinking we could sell veggies. Not without irrigation. I did can a couple hundred jars of beans and tomatoes, but the garden burned up in late July. The next year we planted a tiny garden next to the well and planned to feed only our family. When we started our current garden almost 30 years ago, we didn't even have a tiller. We broke 500 sq ft with hand tools, mulched with spoiled hay we were given for the hauling and worked up from there. (Current garden 1/3 acre.) I have read about lasagne gardening and understand the concept but haven't tried it. Since you have half your garden covered why not plant that part this year as a lasagne garden and just till up the other part and plant short season crops that will be out late spring or early summer. Then come fall you can put a cover crop on the bare part and turn it under in midwinter. You don't say what kind of vegetation you have on your 20 acres. If deciduous trees, you should have some mulch material in the leaves. If grass--not burmuda--you can mow it for mulch. And don't discount that red clay. It needs lots of organic material to loosen it up, but you can grow in it. .

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 10:43PM
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Jenny, you can keep amending your soil throughout the year also...not just in the spring. I'm not as experienced as a lot of the gardeners on here, but if it were me I would plant my leafy greens and anything that takes a lot of nutrition out of the soil in the areas you've already amended; I would plant things that are lighter feeders in the soil that's not been amended yet, and I would dump tons of lawn clippings on my garden all year long. You'd be amazed what adding those grass clippings around your plants will do over the course of a season. Plus it makes for great mulch and will help keep your soil moist. And, when the year is over you can lightly turn it all into your soil and next year it will look even better than it does this year.

Gardening is a process--don't expect perfect soil the first year. Just plan to improve it a little more every year.

Use what you have on your land whenever possible, and take your time. Remember, there's usually a way to get it done even if you don't have much, or any money at all. It might not be the optimum way, but it can usually be done. We don't have any money to spend around here so I yard sale for sheets and use those as shade cloth in the summer (think I've invested $4 in that), we use scrap lumber and wire we have laying around to hold up our row covers and wood and stones to hold them down, and we use those huge $5 bags of animal bedding from Atwoods and free leaves to start the mulching process. Thereafter I use lawn clippings.

Sure, I'd like to be able to do things the awesome absolute best way, but my vegetables have to save me money, not cost me money, so I do what I can.

If you truly need more dirt to do the lasagna gardening route so you don't have to break up the soil, then I would recommend buying in bulk like others have mentioned instead of buying by the bag. Over time though, you'll be adding to that soil anyway with all your grass clippings, leaves, mulch, etc and in a few years you'll probably have some really nice soil going on.

Just my 2 cents. Best of luck to you.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:31AM
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Nancy Fryhover

I have told myself that the next time I start a garden from scratch, this is what I will do:
1. Pick the best spot for sun, drainage, etc.
2. Mow if needed and lay down as many layers of cardboard, paper, etc that I can get my hands on.
3. Then leaves, straw, compost from citys (a little worry on that because of herbicides).
4. Water down and keep fairly moist and don't plan on using the area for 1-2 seasons.
I suppose this is the whole idea of "lasagne" gardening.

I have spent way too much money and labor on getting new gardens going, and so now that is what I would do!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 1:23PM
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Nancy Fryhover

Oh yes and Jenny, I was born and raised in Lima, Ohio. Been in Okla. for over 40 years. My sister still lives there as do 2 of her daughters.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 1:26PM
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I wrote a big long message and just as I hit submit was knocked off the internet. Maybe I can remember some of what I said.

Plant your big plants, like tomatoes and peppers in the untreated part and just upgrade the planting holes around the plants, and don't worry about the ground around them having good soil. Cover the ground with cardboard, and some type of mulch, straw, leaves, grass clippings, etc. Worms love cardboard and they will come eat it and leave you some nice worm castings. You will be surprised how much cardboard will help.

Beans and peas are legumes and set nitrogen in the soil. They seem to grow pretty well in 'not so good' soil, and after your harvest ends, just cut them off at the soil surface and leave the roots in the ground.

Potatoes break up the soil and are harvested early so you could follow them with cowpeas (like black-eyes, cream, or zipper peas). I know in Ohio that is considered cattle feed, but even if you don't eat them, they can help your soil. They like hot weather so could go in after the potatoes.

I sometimes just plant my leaf lettuce and other salad crops in cheap plastic flower pots. It stays cleaner that way, and when the weather starts getting too hot, you can move it to a spot with a limited amount of sunshine.

Take a breath and enjoy the process. Just plant smart this year and learn as you go.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 5:22PM
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Jenny, I feel your pain! We moved last year and started a new garden, and I decided to start small at 15x15, which was about 60% of the size of my old veggie garden (which had only been done the year before as a birthday present for me - then we moved. Doh!). It is very expensive to get off the ground.

As we are a family of only two, and my husband doesn't really eat many vegetables anyway, I've come to realize that gardening will not be a big money-saver/money-maker for me. And I'm ok with that! My husband is too, because he knows how happy it makes me to piddle with my seeds, dream about the spring. That's how I get him out there to dig up things, transplant, mulch, help me throw sheets on in cold and windy pre-freezing temperatures, to "sit with me and keep me company while I pull weeds" (he claims he doesn't know which are weeds or not). After years of trying to convince him that we will "finally get into the black when XX happens" he has told me it doesn't bother him to spend money on my hobby. It's not like video games make him a lot of money, either! :)

So, for doing it on the cheap, I have a few suggestions. I'm also going to link to an old thread I remembered that discussed the "costs" of gardening. IIRC, joellenh used to post quite a bit on this topic and that girl was smart as a whip and really kept great records. I couldn't find the exact link I'd been thinking of, but I think that the desperate drought had blown her cost-savings quite a bit two years ago or so. You might search by her name in this forum and see if you can find it.

When we moved to our new house in Dec 2011, veggie bed was a top priority. We are on a 1/3 acre+ suburban lot and it had tons of overgrown flowerbeds, burned up landscaping, bamboo grove gone wild - you name it, it was a problem. But Establish Veggie Bed was priority 1 for funds. I hired someone to come dig out the grass because DH has bad back and I was working around the clock. ($200). Hired a truck to bring a load of garden ready mix - 4 cubic yards at $45/each=$190 (FYI a cubic yard covers 108 sf at a depth of 3 inches. I was working on a little bit of a slope, and trying to build on top of dense red clay, so this covered my 300 sf about 4 inches deep. Then I dug out paths that were 1.5 feet wide x 15 feed long, and dug down to the clay there, so piled the good dirt on my rows (no use wasting good dirt where I'm walking and not planting anything!), and now my rows are about 8 inches deep with great dirt. My old garden had too narrow paths so I was trying to fix that this time. If I did it again, I'd go two feet wide, because I still am swallowed by the jungle of tomatoes by mid summer. I'm following the "never walk on your rows" method, to keep my soil from compacting.

The paths got a 3 inch deep layer of eucalyptus mulch (naturally bug and ant-repellant) and I'm sure I spent another $80 bucks on that, but I'd bought some extra for the most heinous flower beds in the front yard so can't tell you for sure. I also had to pay for delivery since I don't have a truck, and I think that was $40-50 bucks. So, in for $520 already and don't have a single plant yet. :-). Luckily it was my birthday again. I could have saved $200 if I had been able to do my own labor on the prep work, too.

Pile of bricks, random concrete stepping pavers, a few lengths of metal landscaping edging were found behind the shed (free) and used to make the edges of the plot and keep my lovely, expensive, piles of dirt in bounds. If I hadn't had those, I would have asked around or posted on craigslist/searched for freecycle for some bricks for that purpose. Speaking of... I want too add a 1-2 foot wide brick path around the edges of the bed, so I can have a "round-up zone" if necessary - the bermuda has been hell, so off to CL I go! I have asked random construction sites for leftover materials before, too, so wouldn't be afraid of that. Habitat for Humanity in OKC is another option for cheap materials - stock is hit-or-miss, so I'd call ahead.

The next best thing for gardening on the cheap was the awesome Spring Fling - gracious, giving gardeners from this forum came from around the state and gathered together to trade special plants in designated exchanges of X for Y, shared excess seedlings and divisions and plants for free (no swap needed) spent hours sharing knowledge, stories, food and fellowship in a big ole potluck gardening palooza. It was a SWELL time. TBD if that is happening this year, but it will be great if so - you should definitely make plans to attend!

My current cheap gardening fix is hoarding cardboard. I save all the cardboard we use (cereal boxes, etc) and am adding it to the garden paths and raking the mulch back over it. This is to break down and amend my clay soil below. Making a compost heap is next - I have kind of a random pile right now (mostly "I used to be a pumpkin" guts from Halloween decorations). Using a circle of rabbit fence is what I'm going to do. That's great for gathering yard clippings and holding them together so they have time to compost. With 20 acres, you should have a million things you can compost throughout the year. Leaves. Clippings. Branches take forever to break down but they will eventually. Fireplaces ashes can be added too, I think. For a small household, using a gallon ziplock bag in the freezer to store bits and pieces destined for the compost pile (lettuce cores, onion skins, etc) give a non-stinky place to save scraps until you have something to work with.

My big expense this year will be more purchased mulch. I never got around to mulching the rows last year, and the bermuda infiltrated very easily. Now I'm paying by pulling a crap ton out by hand - two hours at a time. Only about 18 hours more and I'll be done.

Good luck to you!

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening costs

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 5:26PM
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Thank you guys for all the great tips and encouragement!
I spend so much time on this forum soaking up all the info.
So very appreciated.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:42PM
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One additional source of material is a local horse farm. Do a Google search on horse boarding and call around. Chances are someone has more poop than they care to have. Depending on who it is you may be able to just show up and they'll use their own dozer to fill your truck. It may be composted, it may be "fresh," but I've never had a problem just throwing it straight down on my beds.

It took me a year and a half of going here and there but I recently made friends with a guy who has all I could ever want. I'm so happy. (My dogs are also very happy with this friendship, grossly enough.)

Someone recently posted here about killer mulch so you may want to ask about the horses' feed, but if it's healthy poop, your plants will love it. After two years of gardening, my soil is already significantly less red.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 4:39PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Welcome to the forum.

I can tell you have read and researched and planned and worked, and that is terrific. When putting in a new garden, the start-up costs can really add up quickly and it can be so discouraging. I hope you can feel content that you did as much as you could do with the resources you had available, and now you just need to think outside the box and ask yourself how you can obtain materials without spending a lot of $$$.

It is my hope that your husband will come to understand that raising your own produce is about more than just dollars and cents. Also, it helps if y'all can view the start-up costs as a long-term investment. The food you grow yourself will be better-quality, and fresher, than anything you can find in any grocery store, and the feeling of accomplishment you get from growing your own food is just awesome.

You've already gotten a lot of great advice and I don't want to merely repeat what everyone else has said.

Let's talk about your red clay and sand. Guess what I have? Acreage with red clay and sand. Given a choice, I'll garden in red clay as opposed to sand (my sand is really very silty sand) because red clay is high in mineral content which means it is very fertile. Once you add organic matter to break up the clay so that it isn't so thick and dense, it makes awesome garden soil. Sand is harder to improve because it tends to drain too quickly and it lacks the natural high fertility of red clay, so you have to not only add organic matter to the sand, but you have to add lots of nutrients to it as well. Plus, in some areas, very sandy soil is infested with root knot nematodes which makes growing some crops very frustrating.

I've often thought that if I could take a gigantic mixer and mix together my red clay, silty sand and the humusy brown soil from the woodland floor, I'd have the perfect garden soil made solely from materials available right here on our property.

So, I'd suggest you look around your 20 acres and figure out how to use what you already have.

While my main garden started out as red clay, I have improved the soil every year and it now is no longer red. While it isn't yet the deep brown humus-filled soil we have in the woodland, it is a lot closer to that than it used to be. Our first couple of years, I did buy lots of bagged amendments and bulk amendments by the dump truck load. One day, while working in the woodland, I looked at the soil in there and a light bulb went off. What I really wanted was for my garden soil to look like the woodland soil, and you know, no one was carrying amendments into the woodland and 'fixing' that red clay in there--the forest was doing it all by itself.

So, I began dragging my garden cart, wheelbarrow or little red wagon down into the woods in winter, gathering up everything I could find on the ground to add to my beds. Among the materials I gathered was this: fresh autumn leaves (just dump out a container of them on the ground and roll the lawn mower over them to chop them up before you add them to the garden), leaf mold (this is the layer below the fresh leaves---it is the mostly decomposed leaves from previous years), twigs and sticks, rotting and partially decomposed tree trunks, limbs and bark, etc. I would haul up load after load and pile them on top of the soil I wanted to improve. Once I had amendments several inches thick. I'd rototill them into the ground. I didn't get every bed done in one year. You have to be patient with red clay. it will improve over the years, but it will be a gradual improvements. So, in the winter I gathered materials, kinda like a little squirrel gathering nuts, and the rest of the year? Whenever we mowed the yard or the pasture, we caught the grass clippings in the mower's grass catcher and piled them onto the beds as mulch. I also used hay or straw as mulch whenever I could get my hands on it. Over the course of the summer, the grass clippings, hay and straw decompose and turn into compost right there on top of your garden beds. This is my favorite way to compost because the compost is already in the garden and you don't have to haul it from an outside compost pile to the garden.

If you did nothing but put mulch on top of the ground every year, and let it decompose in place, your clay would become great garden soil. I prefer to rototill the compost into the beds every year to get it deeper in the clay, but you don't have to do that. You can build your soil from the top down without even owning a rototiller. Pat Lanza's "lasagna gardening" isn't anything new---Mother Nature has built soil this way forever, and people have built soil this way forever too, just not with a catchy name.

If part of your acreage is forested, you likely have oodles of material lying on the ground in the woodland that would be perfect for building lasagna beds. All you have to do is gather it and transport it to the garden. I only gather from our woodland in winter when venomous snakes are not out and about because we are in the bend of the Red River with the river to our west, south and east and we have venomous snakes all over the place, but especially in the woods. I also am careful to wear leather gloves and thick, heavy leather boots when working in the woodland, even in bitterly cold weather. We're in our 15th year here and I haven't been bitten by a snake yet, but I've had rattlesnakes within 2 or 3" of my hand or foot a few times, and I feel like I've just been really lucky that I haven't been bitten.

If your land is grassland, you still can mow and gather the native grassland plants. They will work as mulch, or you can compost them first if they've gone to seed by the time you cut them so that you won't be putting a lot of prairie grass seeds and wildflower seeds into your veggie garden.

Because I care about the health of our land, I am careful not to take materials from the same areas every year. I want for the plants to keep improving the soil in the woodland and grassland areas too, so I take material from different sections of our property each year.

You also could check Craig's List and your local Freecycle website and watch for freebies there. You wouldn't believe the things people give away if you will just go and pick them up. I've even seen backyard sheds on Freecycle...and every gardener needs a tool shed or potting shed.

When we moved here, we knew one family well because my husband worked with a member of that family, and he also knew a gentleman, by then retired, that he also had worked with. Everyone else? Total strangers. Yet, people don't remain strangers long if they see you out and about.

Because the best available soil was between our house and the road, I put the garden in that spot. Actually, when we built our house my husband and son wanted to put the house where the garden is now, but I wanted the house further back from the road (it is about 300' back from the road) so that I could use the best available soil (other than what was in the woodland) for the garden. Because people driving up and down our road saw me out in the garden every day, they'd stop and introduce themselves and chit chat about gardening. I made so many new friends that way, and they were such good, kind people. You wouldn't believe the stuff they have given me over the years: hundreds of bales of old, spoiled hay to use as mulch or to add to the compost pile, cow manure, composted horse manure, molasses cattle feed tubs (drill drainage holes in them and you have nice big containers to use as planters), concrete stepping stones, landscape timbers, chicken wire fencing for fencing in our chicken run, white picket fencing complete with extra pickets for repairs, concrete edging stones, concrete stepping stones.....isn't that crazy?

I feel like they watched how hard I was working to turn that awful dense, heavy, thick, red clay into a productive garden that they just wanted to help. I'll forever be grateful for the kindness of strangers who became friends.

Nowadays, I have kind of gotten pickier about the use of spoiled hay and free manure. Times have changed compared to what they were like in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and now we have herbicides so strong that they can persist on forage, hay and animal feed even after it has gone through the animals' digestive track. These persistent herbicide residues can last for several years at a high enough level that they kill your plants in your garden. So, I am just more careful about hay. I always ask if it was sprayed with herbicides and if they say yes, I tell them that I am sorry but I cannot use it in my garden. Even when they say no, I let the hay sit a year or two just in case herbicide drifted into their pasture from one next door. This spring I am mulching with hay from the last cutting of 2010 and am confident that it does not contain any herbicide residues.

I don't use local cow manure or horse manure at all any more because too much of it is showing up with herbicide residues in it. I know my neighbors and they'd never give me manure if they thought it was contaminated, but all of them have had to buy a lot of hay the last couple of drought years and there is no way to know if it was sprayed with herbicide. I don't even use the chicken manure from our henhouse until it has been composted for a good long time, and then I test the compost (plant beans or peas in it--they'll sprout, and if it is contaminated with herbicides, it will show up quickly).I know people here in my own neighborhood who have ruined their garden inadvertently by putting herbicide-contaminated material into it, and I am determined not to make that same mistake.

If I have to buy hay from a feed store for any reason, I only buy alfalfa because it is a broadleaf legume, so the specific herbicides that are persistent in mulch, compost and manure materials cannot be used on alfalfa since they'd kill it. Alfalfa is more expensive, but it is worth it to me to have the peace of mind of knowing I am not bringing in material that will compromise my garden.

I believe that over time you'll get to know people and will be able to scrounge up raw material to help you improve your soil. It just takes time.

You can do lasagna gardening without ever buying a single raw ingredient. Just use the materials you scrounge up on your own property. It will take longer, but you can do itl.

In our first few years here, I felt like the garden soil was improving much too slowly and it was driving me up the wall. I just had to learn to be more patient. Now, every year it just keeps getting better and better. Some parts of the garden have improved more than others. This year I have been trying to give extra attention to the areas that seem less improved.

Now that the big garden is getting close to having the kind of soil I envisioned when we moved here 15 years ago, I've broken ground in a sandy soil area. Once it is improved with organic matter gathered from our woodland, it will be perfect for crops like melons and sweet potatoes that prefer sandy soil. We've also built a combination hay bale/hugelkultur garden behind the barn where I intend to grow winter squash because I am tired of them taking over all the big garden every year. Maybe I won't be happy with the soil in these two new areas until I've been improving it for 10 years or so, but I know from experience that if I just keep adding organic matter to the garden, it will keep getting better. I have not purchased one single bit of organic matter to add to the soil in these two gardens---every bit of it is scrounged up or gathered right here on our property.

We're still spending a considerable amount of money to fence in these two new garden areas, but my husband hasn't complained too much about the cost of the fencing.....maybe because he sees how hard I'm working to build the beds without buying and importing a lot of pricey soil amendments.

Gardening is about so much more than just raising your own food. To tell you the truth, unless you buy only organic produce at the grocery store, it might always be cheaper to buy your vegetables at the grocery store if you only think of it as X amount of dollars spent = X amount of pounds of produce harvested. However, the food you harvest will be fresh, if you garden organically it will be ultra-healthy and good for you, it won't be contaminated with salmonella or e. coli if you've been careful with the materials you bring into the garden and with the water used for irrigation, etc. Most of all, it will have superb quality and flavor you cannot buy even at so-called gourmet grocery stores. Furthermore, it will not have traveled an average of 1500 miles from the field to the distributor to your store, wasting a lot of fossil fuel in the process. That is one of the hidden costs of the "cheap" groceries bought in grocery stores.

Whenever I want something for the garden, I think about what it would cost to buy it. Then I ask myself what I could find on our property to use in place of something purchased. You'd be surprised what you come up with. Our very first garden fence, built in the few few weeks after we moved here and when we were definitely on a tight budget as we already were spending a lot on new curtains, mini-blinds, etc.....all the crap you need for a new house....had fence poles from cedar trees we had to cut down in order to fence in the acreage with barbed wire and steel fence posts. After spending all that money to fence in the land, my husband really wasn't in the mood to spend money on more fence posts, so we used cedar and it lasted 8 or 10 years. When we replaced it, we used metal t-posts because he didn't want to have to replace the fence posts again in another decade, but I would have been happy with cedar again.

When I wanted an entry arbor for the garden, we found a cedar tree that had big limbs the right size and cut it down and Tim and Chris built a beautiful arbor from rough cedar limbs from our property. I love it, but is it 12 years old now and we're getting ready to replace it. About 4 or 5 years after they built it, I dragged my husband to one of my favorite organic nurseries in the Dallas area to show him a cedar arbor just like the one he built me....and it was $400. Boy, did his head swell when we saw what those things were selling for down there.

So, I'd suggest you start looking, always, for the frugal, local solution first before you go out and buy anything. It can take a while to adjust your mindset to a scrounger's mindset, but once you do it, you find yourself saving a lot of money.

Also, consider the fact that red clay, once improved, makes wonderful garden soil. You don't have to build lasagna beds above ground with all-imported and pricey ingredients when the red clay you already have can be turned into great garden soil with consistent applications of locally-obtained organic matter.

I rake and gather leaves like crazy in fall and winter. They break down into beautiful leaf mold that enriches your soil like crazy. They help sandy soil hold moisture better and they help break up clay soil and improve its drainage. If I could have only one single material to use to improve my soil,I'd make that one item autumn leaves. No matter how many I collect, it is never enough.

I hope that by describing the various ways we've improved our garden soil, I've given you some ideas about how you can garden more frugally. None of us here are wealthy. We don't just snap our fingers and have tons of organic matter brought in at huge costs to fix our problem soil. We all just work as hard as we can with what we have and with what we can afford and we accept that soil improvement will come, but it will come over a period of time. Rome wasn't built in a day!

A person can spend a small fortune on a garden, but a person doesn't have to. Good luck and keep talking with us as the season goes on. We're all pretty good at coming up with inexpensive, frugal solutions to a garden's many problems.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:17PM
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I guess, I was lucky? Back when I started gardening, (1973) there was no youtube with expensive ideas about how to do gardening.

I dug out bermuda grass (still my way to get rid of it now a days) and planted seeds.

Yes, they came up, and yes, I did can a lot of veggies.

Since then, I have moved often. I always clear an area of bermuda grass to do some gardening. I plant both veggies (not as much any more) and flowers. I also compost. Usually I move a compost pile with me. You should see movers faces! LOL

A good free source for additions to compost is starbucks used coffee grounds. Visit every starbucks on your route, when you go to the city. Pick all up you can... :) your yard will love you for it, and it is free.

Like others said, bagged leaves in the fall, make their way home to my house too.

So far, I have never gotten a load of free stuff from a tree service. Twice I asked people working near me, but they didn't bring any to me. Found out, my drive is to narrow for them, and they will not dump if you are not there.

Quit spending so much money all at once. Like others said, start with what you have, and amend your soil with free stuff over the year.

Give yourself time, have some patience. You will need both, to succeed with gardening in Oklahoma anyway.


Above all, good luck.


PS, search for Dawn's posts/answers. She is so encouraging and so knowledgeable.... you can't get any better free advice.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 8:10AM
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Jenny, welcome to gardening and to your husband, congratulations for such a wonderful effort. If one hasn't already been "bitten by the bug" that would be truly a labor of love... for you, not the garden. It's quite understandable that he'd "run out of gas."

You've received some really great advise. I second the suggestions about hoarding cardboard and cowpeas. I have access to a lot of organic material since we have animals. But I never have as much as I'd like.

A couple years ago I took on a great challenge: to convert an old blue stone driveway (compacted) into a garden. Here are a couple of observations:

1) Any organic material you can dump in there is a great help, though not totally necessary.

2) There is no way to sufficiently extol the value of growing ANYTHING you can, there, which will cover that ground.

3) There is tremendous value in fencing off the ground so vehicles and large animals cannot trample it. The ground will soften up on its own, over time, simply because of the organisms which live in it. If you feed those organisms (with any organic material at all) this process really accelerates.

4) There is no greater "fertilizer" for a garden, than the footprints of its owner. I once read this on another forum, and though I'm sure that the footprints themselves have little to negative impact, your presence and tinkering have great value. In the short run you won't see the difference, but every little thing you do will have a great cumulative impact.

I'm a huge fan of growing "feel good crops," in such ground. The first quality one must possess to qualify as a "feel good crop," is that it GROW and that it grow WELL. If it grows rampantly, that's all the better. If you like okra and can get some in, that's a feel good crop. It will give both you and your husband some very good positive reinforcement. Cowpeas are "feel good crops," as they grow so well, tolerate heat and drought, are BEAUTIFUL and even produce food!

A squash like Seminole or Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin would be a FEEL GOOD CROP because they do all of those good things with an attitude. The first year I planted Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin I put in five plants, it covered an area around half the size of what you fenced it, and produced 400 + lb of food. Like Carol mentioned, you can dig a hole where you want it, add some organic material and plant right there. You don't have to fix up the entire area it's going to cover. Plus, the mere fact that these plants will cover the ground means that area will be noticeably improved by next year.

Do you have any animals? They would be a good source of organic material. Might you consider raising some rabbits for meat? I say "for meat," because rabbits, when they multiply, produce A LOT of great manure. I wouldn't want the expense of raising them without harvesting meat. But if I'm filling my freezer with good meat, I certainly believe the manure is worth it! Two does and a buck would supply you and your husband for about all the meat which you probably, currently, consume in chicken. Does have 4-5 litters a year, with 6-12 kits to the litter. Kits are ready to butcher at 12 weeks and, dressed out, weigh between 3 - 4 lb, and that is mainly meat. Anyway, if you should get into rabbits try to find a mentor. It's not hard, but a mentor would take you a lot farther and faster than experimenting on your own. That's just one example of a complimentary method of food production which would greatly contribute to your gardening.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 8:36AM
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Thanks guys. I love all the suggestions.
I plan on going out and finding all the great things my land has to offer...Or I was, until Dawn mentioned snakes! Yeesh! I plan on my HUSBAND going out and finding all the great things my land has to offer. ;)

He spent yesterday mowing a huge bit of land that had grown wild. It is seriously straw it got so tall. All of it will go into the compost pile. My daughters friend has chickens and she is willing to bring me some bags of coop cleanings.
I am really excited to plant some of those FEEL GOOD crops. I am so new to all of this, but it is super fun to learn. i am gonna try to can what I grow if I can. (haha)

We are planning the chicken coop to get our own chickens and I'm sure they will help.
Hubby wants to raise rabbits, but I am to tenderhearted to do it. I told him he could do it if I never saw, heard or knew about the deaths. Plus, I would have to stay away from them as to not get attached and he works all day so the care would fall to me. Not gonna happen!
Maybe I'll get my Son a guinea pig. Hmm...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 7:30PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You might not have venomous snakes at all. Just keep your eyes open. As far as I know, about 99% of the time I see them before they see me. That is a good thing. Only once since we moved here have I heard the rattle of a rattlesnake extremely close to me before I saw the snake. I just stood really still until I figured out where it was, and then it couldn't come after me anyhow because a hawk had the snake grasped in its talons. (Long story short...the hawk tried to grab the snake...snake bit and killed hawk....snake was caught in hawk's three dogs stood on other side of fence a foot away....and I wasn't sure if the snake was actually caught in the hawk's talons at first, or just kind of hiding from me under the dead hawk, until a friend came over and shot the snake).

The one thing I quickly learned about snakes after moving here is that you cannot run inside to grab a gun and come back outside and expect the snake to just be sitting there waiting for you to come back and shoot it. It will disappear while you're inside, and then you'll be afraid of where it will pop up, knowing that my ranching neighbors all carry guns in their trucks for just such issues, I call one of them while I keep my eyes on that venomous snake so it doesn't get away.

The venomous snakes are free to wander around on roughly 12 acres of our property but on the 2 or 3 acres closest to the house, other structures, gardens and yard area, we shoot them. I think that is a reasonably fair trade-off. If you've ever had a pet bitten by a venomous snake and watched it die, you don't want to see it happen again. We also shoot chicken snakes or rat snakes caught in our chicken coops killing and eating our poultry. My husband used to catch and release them until I caught a black rat snake one day that had killed 4 guinea keats that day. That was the end of our endless discussions about catching and releasing the snakes.

However, understand this also---especially as a gardener---when you live on rural acreage, you will have a lot of rodents--field mice, rats, moles, voles, gophers, etc. Without snakes to help control them, they'd be present in even larger numbers than they already are. Snakes and owls are your friends when it comes to outdoor rodent control on acreage.

We chose rural acreage for several reasons, and one reason we wanted to live out in the country was because we enjoy watching wildlife. We try, as much as it is possible to do so, to peacefully coexist with the wildlife. However, you have to do a lot to protect your garden from the wildlife. We have wildlife here that I never imagined we'd see here, and I was not a stupid city slicker when I moved here....I knew very well that we'd have deer, possums, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards, birds of all kinds, armadillos, possums, coons, rodents, etc. What amazes me is how much other stuff we have here. Most of it I enjoy seeing, but there's been a few that scare the you-know-what out of me!

When we first moved here, I really couldn't picture us shooting any animal. Well, we got over that as soon as something started getting into our fenced chicken run and killing our chickens. I still don't like it, but it is necessary.

I can raise plants to eat. I can raise chickens and guineas for eggs. I cannot raise any living animal to kill it and eat it. I get attached to the animals and name them, etc. If we could only eat the meat from animals we killed, I guess I'd be a vegetarian.

Even when I see a venomous snake in the yard or garden, I'd rather it would just leave so that we don't have to shoot it. I don't necessarily want them dead, but I want the threat removed. Most of the snakes we see are not very aggressive. Copperheads as a rule would rather turn and flee. In our first year here, my then-teenaged son and I stepped into a 'nest' of copperheads in a pasture. It was one large copperhead and a bunch of babies. I'm not sure if they were traveling or what, but they didn't bite us....they just fled in all directions, as did we. Another time, we had company over and all were sitting out in lawn chairs in the yard one night around sunset when our teenaged son parked in the driveway and stepped right onto a copperhead. Looking down and seeing a copperhead under his foot, he got back into the vehicle and closed the door and hollered at us to get a gun and shoot the copperhead he had been standing on. It could have bitten him, but it didn't. I felt about having to shoot that one, but it was headed right for the front porch.

Once I came outside and found 5 cats sitting in a little semicircle, kind of like a bunch of Cub Scouts sitting around a campfire....except there wasn't a camp fire. There was the biggest timber rattler I'd ever seen coiled up in the midst of all those cats. I called a neighbor and then tried to keep one eye on the snake and one eye on the cats. I threw flower pots, a trowel, a lawn chair, etc. at the cats so that by the time the neighbor came, only 1 cat still sat there fascinated by that snake. The cat ran off as the neighbor walked up and then the neighbor shot the snake. He and I couldn't figure out why the snake didn't bite at least one of those cats. Maybe he felt outnumbered. We have had a dog survive the bite of a timber rattler, but the cats usually die.

The only real aggressive snakes we have had to deal with is water moccasins in the lily pond, and we are filling in the lily pond this year sometime because I'm tired of the cottonmouth snakes being that close to the house.

Around our house, it seems like every day is either a zoo or a circus, and I mostly blame that on the wildlife....though every now and then it actually is the interaction between the wildlife and either the people or the domestic animals.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 12:01AM
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"Maybe I'll get my Son a guinea pig. Hmm..."

That would be a start. One of our daughters used to raise guinea pigs. They are very nice little animals.

Honestly, if your husband would raise rabbits, you'd find that they would produce several wheel barrow loads of manure and scraps every other month. I raise ours in one small room in our barn. It's important to clean cages frequently, even flaming them to kill bacteria. We tend ours morning and night.

It helps to raise a pure breed, which has uniform coloring. This cuts down on the problem of getting attached. The rabbit is the easiest of all domestic animals to kill and process. But, hey, everyone's different in what they can or prefer to do.

With some acreage you might be able to graze something larger. We have dairy goats. They are more involved than rabbits. But we get milk and meat, producing cheese and yogurt, etc. They produce a manure on pare with rabbit manure. Goats, however, are exceedingly personable, almost like dogs.

I forgot to mention on other good crop for breaking in a new garden patch: corn. But it should be a really sturdy vigorous variety, which can shade out weeds. Generally, such corn is used for meal or flour and is not sweet. Corn is great for breaking in a new garden patch, because it shades the weeds even while it produces a useful crop. The next year, wherever one grows corn, it will be much easier to work things up for planting other things. Bermuda grass will have lost a lot of ground there.


Here is a link that might be useful: Sandhill Preservation Center Corns

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 7:35AM
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Here's one more link. Carol Deppe sells seeds to some of her corns. I haven't grown them. But Carol knows corns and their flavors better than anyone else I know.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fertile Valley Seeds

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 7:38AM
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DON'T GIVE UP! I know it's so frustrating in the beginning. I've spent the last 2-1/2 years mostly just creating composts, growing worms (you're welcome to some if you like), learning about dirt amendments, soil amendments and anything relative to SOIL. I'm JUST NOW getting to a point where gardening can truly begin.

But like others mention: What we're doing will last for years and years. It makes me happy and I look forward to non-GMO vegetables.

po dunk poor Bonnie

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Okiedawn- what would you think of manure from horses fed pretty much only alfalfa? The place I'm getting my poop from keeps their horses as high dollar show pieces. As I got another load today, I learned that the hay in the composted poop was straight alfalfa. I'm not sure what their diet is in the summer and how they treat their fields, but I know they don't spare expense on their animals, which makes me more comfortable about using the manure on my plants. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 11:09PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Jenny, I have some squash seeds I can send you that should give you great success and good ground cover. Send me privately your mailing address and I will pop them in the mail.

Come fall I will explain all the giggles you might be hearing from Seedmama. :)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 12:12AM
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Awww! Lisa! Don't make me go searching for clues! What squash is it? I vaguely remember something about this, but I can't dredge it up: might even have to resort to asking my "personal secretary" to find out for me ;)


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 7:55AM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Zucchetta :) I ordered the seeds after Seedmama's hilarious story about planting them in a small space thinking they would be a bush type squash....and discovered they were vines and could take over the world.

Jenny, don't let that scare you :) it is a great tasting squash. Different than yellow or zuchini.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:16AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


We have plenty of folks here in southern OK with high-dollar horses. Horse ranching has pretty much replaced farming and we probably have as many horses in Love County now as we have cows, and likely we have fewer people than horses or cows.....and plenty of folks here spray their pastures with herbicides containing picloram and clopyralid and similar synthetic herbicides that have the potential to cause garden damage due to the strength of herbicide residues found in hay, manure, etc Unless the people you are dealing with feed only alfalfa all the time, there's going to be a risk of herbicide contamination. That's just a fact of life in modern-day America.

It boggles my mind that Purina Horse Feed, bought right off the shelf, was the source of herbicide contamination in Vermont recently. I would have trusted Purina, and I would have been wrong. I sometimes buy Purina Chicken Scratch for our chickens. I do always test my own compost though just to be on the safe safe side and I've never had a contamination issue.

Until recently I wouldn't have worried nearly as much about horses raised on alfalfa, even if I knew it was supplemented with bagged feed. However, because they now have found traces of herbicide contamination in manure from animals fed bagged feed, this is more of a concern than it used to be. This is a first, as far as I know. It might be that it also was happening all along and the hay was being blamed for 100% of the contamination when maybe it was there in some animal feed all along and no one knew it.

In the past, the herbicide residue has been found in home-made compost to which something had been added that had been sprayed with the herbicides, municipal compost (some golf courses and some city parkare sprayed with these persistent herbicides), commercial compost, commercially processed and bagged manure, locally obtained hay or manure, etc., but never in manure from animals fed only purchased, bagged feeds.

What I would do with the horse manure is compost it. Then you can test it. You can put fully composted manure (or, if not fully composted, then maybe 50% manure with 50% soil) in cups or pots and plants beans or peas into it. They'll emerge in a few days. Watch their growth for a couple of weeks. If they are healthy, your horse manure is safe to use. If they emerge healthy and then start showing herbicide damage, you'll need to compost it for a few months before testing it again. Using this testing, you should be able to use all the manure you want with little fear you are bringing a contaminant into your garden.

This is a very big issue that all gardeners need to be aware of. For many gardeners, the first time they learn that such herbicide contamination is possible is when their gardens begin to die and they start trying to figure out why. A few years ago, one of these 'new' herbicides was introduced in Great Britain. When herbicide damage began plaguing local gardens, the product manufacturer voluntarily stopped selling their herbicide product in Great Britain. (I've never seen them withdraw one from the market here voluntarily like that.)

The time it takes you to test manure first before using it pays off. If you get these herbicide residues into your garden soil, your garden will be virtually unusable for up to 3 or 4 years. Well, except you could grow grass or grains in it. If you have an area that you really, really, really need to improve with manure and you don't have time to test it first, make that the area where you'll grow corn. Being a grain and not a broad-leaved plant, the corn shouldn't be hurt by any herbicide residue that might exist in the horse manure. If you grow corn there, and no broadleaf weeds pop up.....or if they pop up and then die, you'll know there was herbicide residue in that manure, and you'll likely have to continue to grow corn there for a few years until the residue dissipates.

I have heard of people removing and replacing the top foot or two of their soil in order to get the herbicide residue out of their garden. That's a lot more work than I would have done, but then I have enough space that I could build a new garden plot. That isn't an option for everyone. It is a lot easier to keep herbicide-contaminated material out of the garden in the first place than to try to go back and fix contaminated soil.

George, Your personal secretary has followed Lisa's squash adventures and could have told you even without research that it was zuchetta! : )

Lisa, I grow some C. moschata winter squash that ramble and roam like zuchetta and try to take over the world, and I just let them do it. I also have grown zuchetta for summer squash when harvested in its younger, green stage. This year I am growing two oriental summer squashes that also are moschatas. We'll see if they resist squash vine borers too. I suppose if I fail to harvest them when they are young, small and green, they'll just keep growing like the other members of the C. moschata family and I'll have some form of winter squash.

I still have 20 or 25 C. moschata 'Seminole' pumpkins from last year. We'll be eating them forever. I've had them last as winter squash up to 18 months after harvest. In our climate, the moschata members of the squash family perform so well that they are about the only ones I grow any more. Well, I grow yellow straightneck and zucchini, but only until the SVBs show up. After that, they are short-timers.....


Here is a link that might be useful: Killer Compost--Latest News

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 2:38PM
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Lisa, I want some too. I'll come over one day soon, to get them. :)


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 2:39PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Sure, Moni! You could have some of that forsythia too, if you wanted. That bush is gonna be GONE this year. :)


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 3:36PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Ha, ha, Dawn, are you the personal secretary? :) I grew that squash just for the fun of it, but we really did like it. Sharon and her daughter and I shared the bounty and I gave some away to a few others. Seedmama got in on some of the bounty too!

I was beyond impressed that I had no squash bug problems. I haven't been able to successfully grow any summer squashes in years.

I was scouting out a location for them again this year. I think I'm going to plant them in the same spot. I had a huge load of leaves dumped in that area. I'm trying to work on that soil back there where the Silver Maple was. The leaves are probably 12 inches deep over the area, with my compost pile being directly over the ground stump. I think I can clear out some spaces for the "hills" near the fence and then let them go. :) They can compete with the honeysuckle for fence space.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 3:49PM
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Thanks so much, Lisa. I love squash and I have room to let them roam.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 9:06PM
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Oh, I am gonna do the square foot garden this year. I spent today building raised beds from the huge pile of scrap wood behind my barn. It isn't pressure treated and is showing some weathering, but it isn't permanent and the soil I have is enough to fill 2 beds. I'm hoping the compost method I read about on here somewhere will give me some quick compost and prepare some straw bales at the same time to plant some summer things into. It is basically building a 3 sided compost bin out of straw bales and as your browns and greens compost, so do your straw bales for planting in later. We will see. I am so excited!!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 9:19PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Jenny, the seeds went out in the mail this morning. You should get them in a couple of days!


    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 12:32PM
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Thanks again Lisa. :)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 1:16PM
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Lisa, would love some squash seed. just a couple.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 7:01AM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

oh sure, Susan!! I have plenty.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 10:08AM
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Thank you, Lisa!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 9:12PM
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A couple of years ago, the area rabbit growers pointed out that they had rabbit manure for the hauling! And that rabbit manure is supposed to be very good for gardens. :-)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 10:55PM
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