I find lots of free stuff on the street but I never know what I’ll get there. The following items are usually readily available.
I get burlap sacks free from a local café. If the owner has any empty ones around, he’s always happy to give them to me when I ask for them—and for free! I have five or six at the moment that I had intended to use for burlap planters.
If you fear commitment, burlap sacks are a perfect choice for your garden. The natural burlap breaks down eventually and returns to the soil. Plant annuals in them. Neither the sack nor the plants will tie you down.
Well, I kept putting off filling my sacks with soil and plants this fall. But procrastination paid off! My sacks were free to fill with the next item that we needed for the front yard.
Our city offers free certified organic mulch made from wood chips. I had been wanting to pick some up—residents are allowed to take 96 gallons per week—but had no way of getting it home, or so I thought. We don’t have a truck or any large containers. Then my husband suggested we fill our burlap sacks with the stuff. Perfect!
The small woody pieces have gone in the front yard over the dead grass that I am (slowly) transforming into native habitat for insects and birds. (Go here for more information on this ongoing project.) The mulch will help retain moisture in the soil. Thank goodness it has been raining this month!
Mulch doesn’t cost much but stores don’t give the stuff away. Our weekly allotment of 96 gallons works out to over six, 2-cubic-foot bags of the stuff, which costs $4 per bag. So every time we fill up, we save $24. We’ve made two trips so far (we need lots). Not only have we saved $48, we’ve prevented bringing home 12 large plastic bags.
If your city doesn’t provide free mulch for the taking, you might find free wood chips through ChipDrop. It’s like Tinder for arborists looking for gardeners who need wood chips. The arborists pay ChipDrop to use the service, which provides them with a map of dump sites. The gardeners receive the wood chips for free.
Food scraps for compost
We have three compost piles: one closed bin, one open bin and one area for pit composting (burying food scraps). California’s new food waste law requires businesses and consumers to separate their food waste and food scraps from their trash. Although I signed up for ShareWaste a few years ago, only beginning this year, thanks to the law, has a steady steam of neighbors regularly brought over their food scraps, or what I call “pre-soil.”
If you don’t have a compost bin and would like to build a wooden pallet bin, you can likely find free pallets for that. Make sure they haven’t been treated with chemicals.
I’ve picked up many packets of seeds from our local garden share: cherry tomatoes, melons, Cherokee black beans, celery, onion, chives, beets, broccoli, arugula and more! (Go here to find a community garden near you.)
And if you don’t count the mortgage that makes having a yard possible, I get seeds free there also. This year, I harvested seeds from black beans, leeks, green onions, kale, poppies, basil, tomatoes, bell peppers and arugula (so much arugula!). My bok choy has bolted and developed many pods which I can soon pick.
Your library may offer seeds. One in my area reopened its seed library this summer. And some Little Free Libraries share seeds but for the most part, you’ll have to stumble upon seed-bearing ones while walking about. You may also find seeds (and plants) up for grabs in your Buy Nothing Group. I often see these in mine.
Speaking of Little Free Libraries, occasionally I find a great book in one, such as an advanced reader copy of Friday Black, a collection of short stories and the debut work of the brilliant Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. He reminds me of George Saunders—satirical, brilliant, funny and dystopian all at once.
From the Bookshop.org description:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER A piercingly raw debut story collection from a young writer with an explosive voice; a treacherously surreal, and, at times, heartbreakingly satirical look at what it’s like to be young and black in America.
His debut novel, Chain Gang All-Stars, will be released in April 2023.
At our community garden share, gardeners bring fruit to share, vegetables, even eggs from their backyard hens! You may have a similar community garden in your area.
Go here for a post listing sources and apps for free food. That has been my top blog post this year, which I find telling. People are feeling the pain of high food costs, not just here in the US but around the world. (I have readers all over.)
Fennel fronds and other greens
I can sometimes score certain types of food for free at the farmers’ market. Many shoppers don’t want vegetable parts such as fennel fronds, carrots tops and cauliflower and broccoli leaves so some farmers lop these off at their booths and toss them into bins. Shoppers can then help themselves. But just as weeds are plants, these unwanted parts of the vegetables are food.
Fennel fronds can become pesto. Fresh, green carrot tops can be used as garnish in place of parsley. Roasted cauliflower and broccoli leaves taste delicious. Or, depending on what you’re making, add these parts along with the florets. Or trim the greens from thick stems of cauliflower leaves and use the stems and greens separately. Steam, purée and mix the greens in with pasta dough to add some color. You’ll find all kinds of creative ways to use all the parts!
Compared to the price of bottled water, tap water costs almost nothing. Yet millions of Americans buy bottled water and schlep it home not out of necessity but because clever marketing has convinced them that filtered tap water packaged and shipped in plastic bottles—or in large plastic-lined boxes—is superior. In fact, those plastic containers most often merely contain filtered tap water along with microplastic swirling around, shed from the packaging.
The boxed water pictured above costs an astonishing $16.99 for two gallons. So I did the math to figure out how much water I could draw from my tap for that price.
- We pay by the CCF for our tap water
- One CCF is 100 cubic feet of water, which is equivalent to 748 gallons of water
- Our water company charges $4.89 per CCF
- For $16.99, I can buy 3.47 CCF (16.99/4.89 = 3.47)
How many gallons is that? 3.47 CCF x 748 gallons = 2,596 gallons
The $16.99 I’d pay for the boxed water would pay for enough tap water to fill this 2,500-gallon water truck. And I’d have 96 gallons left over, or 48 boxes worth of boxed water.
- With the high cost of living and inflation, who’s buying this boxed water?
- Why are these numbers not metric?
My book won silver for single-subject English-language cookbooks at the Taste Canada awards!
I also won a second place Gourmand cookbook award in the category of food waste. And I’m shortlisted for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.