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How to Make a Garden in Berkeley for FREE Part I: Steps 1 & 2

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We may be heading towards September, but there is still time to plant a fall crop (consult a Planting Schedule), and if you follow these steps, you can do it for absolutely FREE!

The awesome scrap metal TOOL sign at the Tool Lending Library

The awesome scrap metal TOOL sign at the Tool Lending Library

I lived in Berkeley for 6 years, but it was the 6th year which solidified my love for that hippie town.  It all started when I moved into a Victorian with a huge, untamed backyard and I decided I wanted a vegetable garden.  In my efforts to create one at minimum cost, I realized how singularly unique, strange, and utopic is the city and how frustratingly rare are its opportunities.  So take advantage of them!  I will present how I managed this garden, which ended up being FREE, in 4 steps, beginning this week with steps 1 and 2.  Stay tuned for next week’s follow up:  How to Make a Garden in Berkeley for FREE Part II: Steps 3 & 4.

Awesome Tool Lending Library poster

Step 1.  Preparing the land: The FREE Tool-Lending Library

The dudes that work there are extremely helpful and hilarious- they insisted I borrow safety goggles when I rented the electric rototiller (that shit was aaaawesome).

After spending several stupid days breaking up the shitty soil in my backyard with a broken shovel, I remembered I lived near The Mecca of Tools.  No, I don’t mean frat row'”I mean the Tool Lending Library!

shovels, rakes, spades, oh my!

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library houses the Tool Lending Library (the greatest thing ever).  All you need is your library card and you can check out nearly any  tool for FREE (click here for a full list of tools, lending times, & late fees and here for rules and restrictions).  No more hand-tilling for me!

The Berkeley Tool Lending Library
1901 Russel St. @ MLK Way
Tues 10am-5:30pm
Wed & Thurs 12pm-7:30pm
Fri 1pm-5:30pm
Sat 10am-5:30pm
Closed Sun and Mon

If you are an Oakland resident, fear not, for they have their own Temescal Tool Lending Library.

Step 2.  Acquiring good soil: The Berkeley Marina FREE Compost Giveaway

compost image via

A couple years ago, the Berkeley’s Department of Public Works dropped off little green composting bins at every single house in the city.  You just dump the compost bin’s contents into your larger green waste bin and it gets picked up weekly.   You can compost nearly anything: food, food-soiled paper, food containers, egg cartons, waxed cardboard, and more!  Then, on the last Friday of every month, the City’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department offers free compost (made from all that residential green waste) to Berkeley residents.  And what could be better on a Friday morning than a huge, smelly, steaming mountain of compost?  It’s self-serve, so bring shovels, containers, and maybe a bandana if you’ve got a sensitive smeller.

FREE Compost
Berkeley Marina Maintenance Yard
201 University Ave.
Last Friday of the month (weather permitting)
February through October 31st
8:45am-2:45pm (or until the compost is gone)

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Chloe - Pennywise Reporter

Chloe - Pennywise Reporter

Chloe's youth was split between California and Kauai, frolicking on a macadamia nut farm in the tropics and landing finally in the Bay Area. Raised by super-Jew hippies, and the youngest of three sisters, Chloe learned early the virtues of thrift, economy, and green living. To the chagrin of her parents (who hoped, of course, for a Jewish doctor or lawyer), Chloe has put her degree from UC Berkeley to great use by becoming a folk singer. As "Chloe Makes Music" she plays shows throughout SF and beyond, donning vintage frocks, selling handmade merch, and pinching pennies as she sings for her supper. Calling Berkeley home for the last six years, you can think of Chloe as the website's East Bay Correspondent, opening your eyes to the hippie-filled, tree-hugging, organic-loving, vegan-eating, but way-overlooked and awesome assets of Berkeley, Oakland, and beyond.


  1. Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap
    August 23, 2009 at 11:19 am

    this is kick ass!

  2. Chloe - Pennywise Reporter
    August 23, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    i know, right?? wait til next week- shit’s gonna be even better!!!

  3. August 24, 2009 at 9:40 am

    sweet! i’m looking forward to the part where you tell me where to get free seed (for plants).

  4. […] keeping with my “How to Make a Garden for Free in Berkeley” series (Part I, Part II), here is a perfect opportunity to get a bunch of starts for your winter crop (though this […]

  5. April 23, 2010 at 8:40 am

    For free gardening classes I’ve used
    At the class, I was given numerous free packets of vegetable seeds!

  6. […] you’ve read both of Chloe’s posts about how to prepare a garden for FREE (parts one and two), but now you’re wondering what kinds of plants will tolerate our clay-filled soil in […]

  7. […] There are institutions like the Oakland Tool Lending Library, things like that that allow people to share tools and resources.  Lots of anarchist houses have tools and have the ability to work on some of these things, but that’s not spread out generally through a generation under 60 years old.  At this point, if you tell people, ‘you can build your own bookshelves,’ they’re sort of perplexed and amazed that such a thing is possible.  It’s one of the easiest things you could possibly do, but that too has been so mystified: the ability to do anything yourself has been both bourgeoisified and also mystified—’why would you possibly do something yourself? It’s cheaper to do it this way, better to do it this way.’ Tool Lending Library poster (via) […]

  8. […] Les bibliothèques d’outils ont déjà une longue histoire aux Etats-Unis puisqu’elles existent depuis la fin des années 70. On peut généralement y emprunter de l’outillage à main (marteaux, pinces, scies…) et des outils électriques (perceuses, ponceuses, meuleuses…), rarement du matériel plus lourd. On en répertorie une cinquantaine actuellement (voir cette carte) et la ville de Portland en possède 6 à elle seule ! C’est un filon bien connu des bricoleurs du dimanche (comme on peut le constater dans ce billet de blog intitulé « Comment construire gratuitement un jardin à Berkeley. ») […]