Category: Zero Spend

Zero-Spend Garden (ZSG): Just Add Water

Yowza! You water fresh grass seed for a few weeks and suddenly you have a lawn in your back yard!!


The squash plant loved the daily watering as well! Anyone got a good recipe for Squash soup?

Oh! I almost forgot – while you weren’t looking, I also added some hastas around the garage – I think it brightens it up quite a bit! I hide a few tulip bulbs that got unearthed during other projects so we’ll get some more color back there come spring.


We’re going to have to start mowing! Good thing Jake’s dad helped us get the mower running again last weekend (thanks Jim!)

Zero-Spend Garden (ZSG): 40 sq. ft. for $7

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any progress with you, mostly because I’ve been rehearsing with the hilarious and talented ladies of Size Eight for our raucous performance at last Friday’s Milwaukee Comedy Festival. It was a great performance, but Saturday I was ready to jump back into working on the back yard!

So our latest ZSG project, which we’ve been working slowly but surely on for the last few weeks has been to:
1) Remove the dilapidated chain link fence from the alley side of the wood fence,
2) Remove the scraggly bush from the corner of the lot,
3) Replant the corner post and rearranging the fencing to maximize our yard space.

The red circle in the photo below shows the section of fence we wanted to move.

But the first step was to clean up the alley side of the fence…

Here are some “before” shots of the alley side taken prior to starting:

The ugly chain link fence…

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the tree has actually grown through the fence…
We used our Sawzall to cut each of the 3 metal posts down as close to the dirt as possible and bought a chain cutter to clip the fence off of the tree. Before we were even half done with the project, some of the local metal collectors had hauled all the poles and chain-link away.

We then cut down, clipped up and bagged the bus​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​h from the corner of the lot…


Once the back was clear, it only took a moment to cut through the nails holding the fence to the posts with the Sawzall.

We set aside the fence pieces and got down to the hardest part of our project – digging up the pole.

Let me just say – that was not fun.

We hadn’t realized when we started the project that the pole was actually planted in cement. We thought we had dug down far enough to confirm it was only stuck in the ground. But we were wrong… so very wrong…

After about an hour of digging, grunting and expelling more than a few strings of expletives, we finally unearthed The Beast…

After some careful measuring, Jake and I took turns chiseling down the excess cement and digging the (significantly smaller) new hole for the corner post.



After we got the pole back in the ground, it was relatively easy to rehang the original fence pieces – though we did have to trim one down a bit.

So…. if you’ll remember here’s what it looked like BEFORE:

And now for the AFTER!

With this change we have gained approximately 40 sq. feet of additional yard space!

The back also looks much nicer:



Total investment: $7 for a chain cutter.
Total gain: 40 Sq. Ft. of yard & a chain cutter.
Summary: Best deal since the Louisiana Purchase.

Next steps: Kill the existing weeds, then till and regrade the yard, then… plant new grass seed!

We’re getting so close to actually having a real backyard, I can almost taste it!

Zero-Spend Garden: 16 Tons. What do you get?

Last week was quite a lug-and-haul week!

We are trying to get the yard ready to seed on August 15, which according to my book, Month by Month Gardening in Illinois, is the best time to plant. This gives the seeds time to germinate during the end of the hot season and they’ll have the full fall to establish themselves.


To prep the yard, we have had to remove about a ton of gravel that used to be under an above ground swimming pool. There’s about a foot wide ring around the entire yard of gravel about 3-5 inches deep.



Because I imposed the “no spend” rule before I realized that we had no wheel barrow, we ended up hauling all of this rock in a old refrigerator crisper drawer.


That’s right, ol’ “MOIST ‘N FRESH” there carried this much gravel…


But, now there is significantly less rock in our yard and we are one giant leap closer to getting a real lawn back there!



Since we have such clay-heavy soil, we’re leaving the sand to be tilled into the soil.

Zero-Spend Garden: Side Planting Beds – Need Ideas!

So, there used to be planting beds on the East and North sides of our garage – but the pervious owners of the house filled them in with concrete. Though that prevented me from planting anything pretty – it did not prevent weeds from coming up between the cracks…


Well once we got rid of all the weeds – the patio area started to look very… concrete-y, in other words, grey and blah.

I added a window box with some of Laurie’s impatients, but it didn’t seem like enough…


I noticed that the concrete filling in the old flower beds was actually quite cracked and broken up. With a little prying with my trusty spade shovel, I discovered I could actually pull up the concrete covering the beds quite easily!

Underneath, I found rich dirt ready for planting!!


I need your help!

1) I feel like I should be able to use this concrete for something in another part of the garden, but I’m not sure how to use it… it’s a little ugly to be used for a bed border, which was my first instinct. Anyone else have any ideas? Anyone want it?

2) If I don’t find a use for it, anyone know how you’re supposed to dispose of concrete like that in the city? Can I just throw it away?

3) What uber-shade-loving plants should I plant in these beds? We don’t really need more ivy – the South side of the garage is already covered, and though lovely, I don’t feel the need to add more. I’d like something with some height – but it can’t get too bushy or it will impede the walkway… maybe some decorative grass? Any flowers ideas?

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Zero-Spend Garden (ZSG): Back Gate – Before and After


Man-oh-manzie! There is nothing like sore muscles and a sense of real satisfaction to let you know that a holiday weekend was well spent. Jake and I spent most of yesterday in the back yard fixing up our back gate area and adding a small retaining wall to the back planter bed.

Prior to Sunday, the gate had bent hinges and swung outward (when you could get it to swing), awkwardly covering the garbage can you were invariably trying to throw something into. Taking out the trash was a huge hassle – the gate was a pain to get open, you had to haul everything into the alley and get the gate closed before you could get access to the garbage cans and then the gate was a pain to get latched again.

No longer! The gate can now be opened with just one hand, it opens easily into the yard giving you quick access to the garbage cans and it swings smoothly shut, latching with the lightest touch.

You can see the excellent work Jake did adding those cement blocks to widen and even out the walk way at the gate.





We used only materials we found already in the yard including a 4“x6“ post buried in the garden, a 4”x4“ post that used to be part of the fence before it rotted at the base last fall, and bricks and pavers we found under the deck and around the property.

The gate area is in pretty good shape… we still have some work to do to finish up the rest of the planter, but I think we’re off to a really great start!