How Much?: Deciding On Details and Costs In Your Garden.

I often get asked for a budget when communities decide they want to build a garden and I never have a great one to offer. So this week I am sitting myself down and doing some math. Here it is, broken down, with store-bought and DIY (do-it-yourself) options so you can pick the pieces you want and add them up into a feasible budget for your project. Don’t forget long-term planning and that a lot of this can be phased into your garden over a few years, so start small, do what you can afford and plan for the future.

1. Start with a Soil Test

You will want to test your soil for nutrient levels in year one to give you a starting point of what soil amendments you will need to add to get your garden up to par. If you have any concerns about past use of the land it is also a good idea to get your soil tested for heavy metal contaminates. You can read all about this here.

Soil Test Costs:

Nutrient Test: $20.50

Heavy Metal Test: $25-$70 (depending on which lab you test at)

2. Raised Beds or In The Ground?

Your soil test may help you decide if you want raised beds or not. You will need to decide if you are going to till the soil and build up what is there or if you are going to use lumber to build raised beds and bring in new soil. If your soil is contaminated we recommend lined raised beds with fresh soil. If your soil is great and folks are able to bend down, growing in the ground is the cheapest way to go.

In Ground Option

You will want to pull off the sod by hand and till your earth if it is currently lawn. Then you will want to add in lots and lots of compost, plus any soil amendments your soil test indicates you need in order to bring your soil fertility up to an adequate level. There are lots of free and natural amendments you can get in your neighbourhood such as coffee grinds, woodash, egg shells etc. If this interests you take a look at our booklet Build Me Up Buttercup: Knowing and Loving Your Soil

In Ground Costs:

Compost (40lb Bag) : $5 (as a general rule of thumb for new gardens, one bag of compost will cover double the size of the bag)

2 kg Box of Bloodmeal: $8.00 (as needed)

Box of Greensand: $10 (as needed)

2 kg Box of Bonemeal: $8.00 (as needed)

Bag of Kelp Meal: $10  (this is sprinkled into the soil, so one bag would likely cover 3-4 beds)

Raised Beds

If you are building raised beds use a wood that is more rot resistant, such as Hemlock, and preferably a thicker board (such as a 4×4) as they tend to last a lot longer. I build my beds about 3 ft. high to give lots of growing room for the roots and like them to be no wider than 4 1/2 ft. so I can easily reach the middle. Click here for a simple explanation of how to build your own.

However if you are happy with your plant roots going down into the soil below (there is no contamination and you are simply using lumber to give the beds a defined look) you can build beds that are only 6″ high. You can buy pre-made kits like the ones at FreeSpirit or build your own. The length is arbitrary, however if each person gets one plot I’d recommend giving them a fair amount of space (8-12 ft) so that they can have some room to grow.

Then you will want to fill the beds with the best quality soil you can get your hands on. Do not skimp here! The cheapest soil will be sandy or clayey and have very little nutrients, causing you grief for years to come. Buy a soil that is high in compost (70-80% compost) and has a good texture (not too much like sand and not too much like clay). Use a soil calculator to determine how much you will need to fill your beds.

Most local soil companies use municipal compost, and so I would also recommend adding some organic matter rich in microbial life into the mix. This could be some backyard compost, worm castings, leaf mould, seaweed compostkelp meal or your own compost tea. This will help “wake-up” the life in your soil and help to get everything going.

Raised Bed Garden Costs:

Hemlock per board ft: $0.80/ft


Pre-made raised bed kit (4 x 8 ft) $88

Soil per cubic yrd: $25 (once you decide a bed size, and number of beds, use the calculator to determine the amount of soil you need.)

Soil Delivery Fee: $85

Seaweed Compost (18 kg bag) : $12 (as a general rule I would add 2-3 bags/garden bed in the first year)


Worm Castings (one bag): $10 (optional/instead of seaweed compost)


Homemade Compost: Free and great!

Kelp Meal (one bag): $9 (this is sprinkled into the soil, so one bag would likely cover 3-4 beds)

3. Tools & Storage

Now that you have your beds in place you will need some tools and a place to keep them safe and dry. Essentials include shovel (2-3), hand tools (2-3 trowels, cultivator), watering can (1-2), leaf rake if there are trees around the garden, pitchforks (1-3 if you are building your own compost on site), hose if you are using a water hookup and a wheelbarrow. Buy the best quality tools you can afford, they will last longer, however watering cans seem to be a dime a dozen.

Then you will need somewhere to put all of these tools where they will stay dry and not be stolen. By far your best bet is a good ol’ fashioned shed. It allows enough room, can be easily secured and best of all you can collect rainwater from its roof. But if you can’t afford a shed or are not allowed to build one, a big wooden garden tool storage box will also work and can be easily built by a handy volunteer.

Tool Costs:

Shovel: $40 (will want 2-3 shovels)

Hand Trowel: $9 (2-3)

Cultivator: $9 (2-3)

Pitchfork: $50 (1-2 if building compost on site)

Leaf Rake: $15 (1-2 if trees are around the garden)

Wheelbarrow: $130

Watering Can: $10 (1-2)


50′ Hose plus nozzle: $35 (if you are using water hook-up)

Wooden Tool Storage (DIY, cost of lumber): $100


Shed: $500-$2500

4. Compost Bins

I personally believe these are a must have, but you need to be committed to using them or else what’s the point? But building compost allows you to have a source of soil fertility for years to come, so if you decide not to build your own compost remember to factor in the cost of buying more compost every year (add about a 2 inch layer to your soil every year).

There are a few different options depending on how much money you’d like to spend and what kind of system you’d like. For serious compost making for a community garden, I’d suggest having three bins plus a leaf storage area. You can make 3 bin system out of pallets, which are easily gotten for free. The design is simple and a pleasure to use, as it is quite open. Here are great instructions on this design.

If ascetics or rodents are an issue, you can build the mac daddy version that is supposedly rodent proof (when you use line the inside with wire mesh) and it’s beautiful. Here are great instructions on this design and here are great instructions on a few others.

As for holding the leaves you can pile them in an unused corner of the garden to let them sit and make wonderful leaf mould, or enclose them using wire mesh in a circle or square shape. Make this space big, leaf mould takes a long time but is the best soil conditioner there is, you will want lots of this stuff around.

Composter Costs:

Pallet Composter: Free! plus cost of some wire and screws


Materials for Wooden 3 Bin Composter lined with Wire Mesh: $350-$400


Store bought tumbling composter: $180

Wire mesh enclosure using 25′ wire netting: $20 (use to hold leaves and make leaf mould)

5. Rain Barrels

If you have a nearby structure to catch rain from, rain barrels are an awesome addition to your garden. The rainwater is great for your garden, it also allows you to store up this precious resource during wet times and use it when you need it the most, in the dry times. You can buy rain barrels at a garden centre, and if you’d like to increase your water capacity, you can join two barrels together. You can also turn any plastic barrel (or garbage can) into a rain barrel following these Rain Barrel Construction Plans.

Rain Barrel Costs:

Two Rain Barrels with Connector Kit (Home Depot): $150


DIY Rain Barrels (using construction plans: $100

7. Signage and Chalkboard

You will want a sign in your garden with the name of your garden and a phone number or email address where people can get in touch if they want to become a member. You can easily build and paint a sign yourself or have one professionally made.

You will also want a place where garden members can communicate back and forth. A simple chalkboard under the awning of your shed or under a tree works great, or an outdoor bulletin board is another good option. You can buy a chalkboard at an office supply store or make your own with chalkboard paint and a piece of plywood.

Signage Costs:

Homemade Sign (paint, scrap wood/plywood): $40


Professional Sign: $150

Chalkboard: $35

6. Flowers, Trees, Herbs and Berries

Lastly don’t forget that you will want to have some flowers, native plants, berries, herbs and possibly even fruit or nut trees in your garden. They all play different roles, offering shade, attracting pollinators to your garden, and offering snacks to hungry gardeners or passersby. And of course they are beautiful and smell good, and that is so much of what a garden is about!

Plant Costs:

3 Blueberry plants: $35

6 Raspberry plants: $30

2 Grape plants: $45

2 Cherry plants: $40

10 Native Plants (Botanical Garden Sale May 5th 2012): $30

15 Herbs (Riverview Herbs): $45

7. Please Share Your Budgets!

If your project is making a budget why not share it so others can get a better sense of what different sorts of gardens cost? If you’d like to share your budget as a resource (you can remove any identifying information before sending), please email Garity Chapman. Together we can make funding applications a happier situation!

Written by: Garity Chapman


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