St. Louis is a great place to be gardening. There are many community resources that a budding plant enthusiast can take advantage of if you know where to look.
One of my goals in homesteading and growing as much of my own food as possible has been to take my family as far off the Monsanto and GMO food chain as I can. With the right planning it can be easier than you think to grow your own corporate-free food. Ironically Monsanto has corporate headquarters in St. Louis. I wonder if they know what is sprouting in their own backyard as an effort to fight against their policies?
Supplies for gardening don't have to be complicated. I've been able to acquire many of the things I need for free or nearly free. To spread efforts in our city and beyond I'm going to list the resources I've used. There may be comparable opportunities in your city as well if you just look them up.
Things I have gotten for free:
The City of St. Louis Forestry Dept. has a composting division where city residents can call for community dropoffs of city compost and mulch. It may not be the most nutritious compost but it makes a good basic dirt to which you can add more nutritive elements. I used city compost in my raised bed, all my pots last year, and on the Farm on the vacant lot. This year we got 3 loads delivered so far. All you have to do is call! This picture is of many of the pots on my parking pad that I filled with city dirt last year.
There are also designated drop spots and they will tell you where you can find piles that they refresh regularly if you just want a little bit. The pile at the Bell Garden at Bell and Vandeventer is almost always stocked because that is the main Gateway Greening headquarters garden. For the Compost division call: 314-613-7200. Mulch is also available.
2. Seeds and plants
I happen to have a mom that is a super gardener. Each year I've gone out and dug up some of her hardy perennials to landscape my yard. It takes some patience as they look a little rough the first year, but they are FREE for goodness sake! It doesn't really hurt her plantings if I dig judiciously. By year 2 everything looks smashing. I have gotten ground covers, ferns, Solomon Seal, grasses, and daffodils this way.
Neighbors have also given me free Irises and other items when they are dividing their plantings. If you are reasonably friendly with someone that has hardy perennials you could offer them something nice of yours in exchange for dividing some of their plants. Baked goods? Help mowing the lawn? Whatever you feel like you can do.
I purchased some seeds last year and then from what I grew I saved as many as I could. This means a one time investment and then every year following you have free seeds. I will probably never have to pay for a pepper seed or green bean seed ever again! The main thing you have to do is just keep your varietals a bit separate and make sure you sort and save in an organized fashion so you know what you are planting the following year.
If you do have to purchase seeds please don't buy them at a big box retailer. Skip the Burpee and head straight for heirloom, open pollinated seeds. Often your locally run garden center may have a selection of independent seeds rather than the GMO varieties you'll find at Lowe's and Home Depot.
Seed Suppliers I have used include:
Botanical Interests (I am a sucker for the beautiful illustrations on their packets!)
Seeds of Change (a little pricey, but very good plants so far)
St. Clare Heirloom Seeds (cheap, basic, totally indie and has lots of cool varieties! I got a lot from them this year and so far am pleased with how they are all doing)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeeds (a MO based company, has lots of unique plants, AND is sold at my local food Co-op where you can even get seeds using your EBT!)
Looking for more? Check out this forum post listing lots more seed supplier options.
All these companies are MONSANTO FREE. The plants will generate seeds that can be used again next year, meaning you can help preserve heirloom, non GMO strains of plants and support biodiversity and sound ecology.
3. Pots, cellpacks, and trays
Every year the MO Botanical Gardens has a pot recycling program where people can bring their plastic pots that might not be able to be recycled in the normal local plastic recycling programs. The dropoff location is in the parking lot of the Monsanto Center just west of Vandeventer. They start accepting pots during the first week of May.
Most people drop off pots, but I TAKE pots! :) The people working the recycling stream don't care at all if you cart off as many as you can use. Many of them are in great condition and you can get everything from pots big enough to hold a small tree to cell packs suitable for starting your seedlings. You can go and scavenge for pots anytime from about 9-5 and the parking lot is generally open. They may not be the worlds most beautiful decorator pots, but it is a great way to get started planting if you don't have the cash to fork out $50 a pot for the designer ones at the garden stores.
Again, ironically this program is run by the Monsanto Center which controls a lot of the research and plant cataloging activities that happen there. I find a small amount of justice in the fact that the recycling program has provided me with many of the items I need to get myself off their food system.
The cellpacks have been awesome for starting my own seedlings. So far both last year and this year I have not bought a single live plant for food production. Just seeds. The amount of money this has saved has been tremendous! If live plant costs $3 to $5 and a pack of seeds costs just $2 or $3.... well I can get a whole row of plants for less than the cost that some folks are spending on just 1 plant. Or if I saved the seeds then that row is free.
If you don't have a pot recycling program nearby you can use the plastic fruit containers that are used for packaging strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and grapes at the grocery store. Instead of trashing or recycling them wash them out and save them all year. They make perfect little greenhouses as they are ventilated and drained. At least half my seedlings are done this way.
You can make your own compost which could save you the cost of having to buy it. Compost and Manure are my number one fertilizers and this year I'm not planning to use anything else. I generate a lot of herb, coffee, and veggie scraps and they all turn into soil-nourishing compost. If you don't cook as much from home you could contact a restaurant nearby you and see if they will save their cooking scraps for you. You might have to pickup frequently to get them to do this for you but the payoff is the free plant food!
5. Tools to use
Gateway Greening here in St. Louis has a tool lending program for members and community gardens. Everything from shovels to rakes to tillers can be borrowed.
The Bell Demonstration Garden is the biggest tool lending hub. Check out their webpage and get in touch if you need to use something. In Old North St. Louis the 13th St. Community Garden also has tools to lend, and so do other gardens designated as lending hubs.
6. LAND to garden
In St. Louis if a vacant lot is owned by the city LRA department you can get an official garden lease to use the lot. Ok, so this may cost you $1 for the lease or something silly like that, but it is basically free. As long as you are willing to work many of the city neighborhoods will be quite happy to have you contributing to the neighborhood in such a positive fashion. It is a good idea to talk to your alderperson as well and let them know what you are doing.
7. Grants for supplies
Gateway Greening in St. Louis also provides garden grants to community garden groups that are starting up. The applications are due in the fall. Admittedly the application is 30 pages long, which stopped me from applying last fall. But it won't stop me this year. They supply financing for hardscape materials, seeds and seedlings. Contact Gateway Greening for more information.
Something you may be able to get for nearly free:
Manure! If there are horse boarding facilities near your house you may be able to get them to give you manure for free or nearly free. A stable near me will let you come shovel your own for $3 or for $10 they'll dump it in your open bed pickup for you. You may have to rot it yourself but it's one of the best ways to feed your plants.
Feeling inspired yet about what you can do for FREE in your garden? I sure am.
Hopefully I'll have time to share more soon. For right now I have to go transplant some things while this gorgeous weather lasts. (In St. Louis that won't be long!)
Love and happy gardening!