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Frugal Urban Farming: Saving Money on Materials and Tools

Updated on August 7, 2014

Let’s Start with Two Definitions

It would be downright silly of me to write an article about frugal urban farming without giving you a couple definitions for clarification. So let’s do that right now so I can avoid the aforementioned silliness.

Frugal: the quality of being thrifty, prudent, or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding wastefulness or extravagance. In other words, it is adopting spending habits based on need rather than want.

Urban Farming: the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town or city.

There, now; we have something to work with.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the economy is tanking. Oh, if you listen to the government types, you will hear quite a different story. However, those of us who live day to day, barely scraping together a living, know a different reality, don’t we?

I think we are experiencing the birth of a new revolution in the United States, a revolution born from desperation for sure, but a revolution nonetheless. People are seeing the wisdom of returning to our farming roots. People are coming to understand that we are all in this together, and from that understanding, comes a new sense of community.

It is exciting, it is doable, and I am very happy to write about it.

No power tools needed
No power tools needed | Source

Tools Needed for an Urban Farm

Please note that this section says “tools needed.” What we truly need is much different from what we want, and nowhere is that more true than on an urban farm when the farmer is a believer in frugality.

We have 1/8 of an acre in the city of Olympia, Washington. We have a chicken coop, a quail coop, a quail run, two sections of fencing, seven-hundred square feet of vegetable garden, and soon a rabbit hutch. The following is a list of the tools we have used on our farm:

  • Hammers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Staple gun
  • Hand saw
  • Post hole digger
  • Sledgehammer
  • Shovels
  • Hoes
  • An ax

Please note that none of these are power tools. We do not need power tools. We are fully capable of sawing a piece of wood without the use of electricity, and we are quite capable of screwing a screw without power. Do I want a power drill? It would be nice. Do I need a power drill? Not at all.

We are trying to save money on this farm. We are also trying to save natural resources. You will not find a gasoline-powered tool or machine on this property. We think that is a waste and we won’t do it.

Saving Money on Tools

Look at the list above once again. None of those tools are new. We don’t believe in buying new. A hand saw will last us twenty years if we take care of it. The same is true of all those tools. If they need sharpening then we do that by hand. If a handle breaks I repair it by hand. If something breaks beyond repair, we go to the next garage sale we find and buy a replacement tool for five bucks, and we are good for another twenty years.

Silly you say? Well I say nonsense to your silly. New tools mean more natural resources mined, and mining means destruction of the environment. I won’t be a part of it.

So many uses
So many uses | Source

Materials Needed for an Urban Farm

As I glance around our urban farm, here is what I see:

  • Lumber
  • Topsoil
  • Chicken wire
  • Fencing wire
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • Fence posts (wooden)
  • Fence posts (metal)

As I look at the materials we have used for our various projects, I know that only two items were purchased new, the chicken wire and the metal fence posts. I actually feel bad about that because we were in a hurry and had no other choice. We had purchased the chickens before we had a coop or run made, so we were scrambling like crazy to get the job done, and that meant a trip to Home Depot. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Made from recycled materials
Made from recycled materials | Source

Saving Money on Materials

Without a doubt, the greatest value for an urban farm is a wooden pallet. We built our chicken coop using wooden pallets. We have a fence made from wooden pallets. Part of our quail coop is made from wooden pallets, and many wooden slats used for repairs were pulled from wooden pallets.

What does a wooden pallet cost?

Nothing!

Drive around your city and you’ll find businesses more than happy to have you haul away their pallets after their merchandise has been shipped to them. While you are driving around the city, be on the lookout for free lumber sitting on the side of the road. That’s how we found all of our wooden fence posts.

Check on Craigslist for barn sales in your area. I’ll bet you that you can find chicken wire and fencing wire for sale at those barn blowouts. You’ll also be able to find jars filled with nails and screws, usually costing no more than a couple bucks.

As for topsoil, you don’t need to go to your local nursery and buy topsoil for your garden. Use your existing soil and enrich it with compost. If you plan accordingly, you can prepare your soil one year and be ready to plant the next.

What’s that you say? You don’t have a composter? Well what in the world is wrong with you? Take an old plastic tub (large Tupperware container) and make your own compost bin….or…make one out of…wooden pallets.

Simple and cheap quail enclosure
Simple and cheap quail enclosure | Source

And That Leaves You with the Cost Of……

Your animals! I have no cost-cutting approach to buying chickens, quail, rabbits or whatever else you want on your urban farm. Baby chicks and quail can be had for about $1.50 each. Rabbits will cost you a bit more, but once you make your initial purchase, you’ll never have to purchase them again if you practice a little farm/animal husbandry.

We will be purchasing an incubator soon. Yes, it will cost us $50 for a used one, but when you consider that we can sell fresh, organic eggs for $5 per dozen, you can see that our original payout of fifty bucks will be covered within two weeks, and from then on it is all profit.

Oh, let’s not forget the cost of seeds and plants. We invested several years back on some berry bushes, and each year we buy seeds for our vegetable garden. We also have a seed exchange program going with our neighbors, and we regularly trade cuttings with each other so we can have new varieties without paying for them….but…this article is about materials and tools, so we’ll discuss seeds and animals another day.

If We Can Do It Then You Can Do It

And I mean that sincerely. Of course, you may live somewhere where zoning regulations forbid much of this, and if so then I’m sorry. We absolutely love our urban farm. I am amazed by the amount of vegetables and eggs we harvest from 1/8 of an acre. If we can accomplish so much on 1/8 of an acre, who knows what we could do with a couple acres, and that is our quest.

We are proud to be a part of a new revolution. We love the fact that we grow and produce much, much more than we waste. We love being a part of an exchanging community of fellow urban farmers, and we love the fact that we are not harming the environment.

Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of love.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, I'm so happy to hear that one, you are back, and two, that you see more urban gardens. That's a great sign of the future, I think...and hope. :) Thank you!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      I'm back! I got a part time office job a few months ago and some other freelance work and have not had much of a chance to read and comment on hubs, but I'm trying to make a concerted effort to go back and read hubs I've missed.

      I agree with you on this one. Now that the leaves are down and I can see houses and their yards more clearly, there really are more urban gardens around. I've been pretty surprised by it and it's nice to see.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, ecogranny. Thank you!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the welcome! I look forward to seeing them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you ecogranny, and welcome to HubPages. I've written quite a few articles about the farm as it has grown, and the story continues. :)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Applause! Applause! I love your urban farm and the no-power-tools frugality. I imagine we will see a lot more of your urban farm here on HP in the months to come. I look forward to it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Deb, and we already do buy non-GMO seeds...no way am I going to help Monsanto.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Be careful with the GMO seeds. You might need to buy some non-GMO seeds, which really are not expensive considering your health. Sounds like you're having a lot of fun!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alexadry. Oddly, i've never had quail eggs, but I will have shortly. Our birds will start laying in about two weeks and then I'll have all the quail eggs I could ever want. LOL

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      I love your tips and look forward to applying them. We had chickens a while back and are looking to buy more. On a recent trip to Italy, I got to taste quail eggs, very small but so tasty! Planning on getting quails too one day. Agree wholeheartedly on the rabbits, get a couple and soon you'll be on your way to a great investment as they multiply so fast!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, if I could afford three or four acres, then I'd be in heaven. That's the goal....I just have to work harder.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I want to walk through your garage some day. I'd be in heaven. :)

      Thanks my friend...let's have a wonderful Sunday, shall we?

      bill

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing us these money-saving tips, Bill! Thumbs up!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I think I have all the tools and material you list here, now if I only had the land. I can tell you are enjoying your life, Bill. Blessings.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      We have a garage full of jars of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, timber from old things..... I could go on. Sometimes we laugh at the fact that my partner's a hoarder but how useful it is! We do have a power drill but that's it.

      Great article and so useful to everyone.

      Keep inspiring us, bill! Each little nudge will push one more over the line to conservation.

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I understand, Frank, and I appreciate you reading even though it doesn't apply. Have a great weekend.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      Billy thank you for sharing... these tips may prove helpful ... not for me... love the city life... for now :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope you do, Alicia, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes, a lid is necessary for the turning over. Keep the food scraps as small as possible...they break down and decompose quicker that way.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for all the ideas, Bill. My father had a somewhat similar approach to our back garden as you. I need to follow your example and his!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I knew there had to be a way to start one that's cost effective! Thanks, Bill. I already have a box in mind. I actually started a small compost pile with a detergent bottle. I drilled holes in it for drainage and have been adding peelings and grass cuttings, but it just isn't big enough and there is no way to effectively turn it. Does the box need a lid?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, yes, that's exactly what you do. I actually wrote a hub on that, but I'm not sure you can find it in my pile of hubs....but yes, holes in the bottom...add a little dirt, water it every few days to keep things moist, turn it upside down once a week...that's it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      RTalloni, once you've had a fresh egg, you'll never want a store bought again. I love your story about the gated community. Thanks for sharing that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Vicki! I feel like the Gardening Answer Man. I'll include that in the hub next week, but the quick answer is yes, we check the Ph in the soil and add accordingly...but I'll go into more detail next week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, good morning....I can live with that title...King of Frugality....yes, I like it. :)

      Have a wonderful weekend my dear friend, and hugs to you

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, judging from your returns this year, I would say you were born for this. Thanks, buddy, and have a great weekend.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Speaking of compost pile - how do you start one from a plastic tub? Do you have to put holes in the bottom of it for drainage. I'd like to start one. Thanks! This is great information. We need to get out of this trailer park! lol

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing your how to on urban farming to encourage others who may be wondering if they could do it. Many places are allowing homeowners to have a limited number of chickens these days. We have friends who own property in Florida behind a gated community filled with quite wealthy homeowners. They wondered if new home owners there would complain about the roosters. What happened? Though the gated community cannot have their own chickens, those home owners "sneak" over to buy our friends' eggs!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Bill, I would go a bit further beyond Peeples' suggestion (perhaps yet another idea for a specific hub!). Something about what kind of soil would be great. I do try to grow a few things in my backyard, but I feel like such a failure. Things don't grow for me. Do you check the PH in the soil? Do you use a certain mixture? Do you just use compost in your soil? Knowing how to prepare the soil would be a big help for me. I feel I'm doomed from the beginning if I'm not doing the soil correctly.

      I have a hard time, too, filling the beds with soil. It takes so much! Thanks for listening!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Peeples, your wish is my command. I'll write an article about that next week. Thanks for raising a question that affects many frugal gardeners.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Hi there, King of Frugality, Bill ...

      That is indeed a lot of love! I am so proud of you and your family for going that extra mile and living it out in your community. What a wonderful community in which to live and belong ... all like one big family working things out for good.

      As my dear mother used to say, "Waste not, want not."

      Blessings a lot of hugs to you and yours

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. It's absolutely amazing what you have accomplished on 1/8 acre. This gardening thing is becoming quite addicting thanks to you. Our town here has very strict zoning so I don't think I'll be raising quail or chickens but I have plenty of room for more vegetable gardens and that is exactly what we plan to do next year. Great job, have a great weekend.

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 3 years ago from South Carolina

      I love this article, but I really wish you would cover a little more about the soil. We have grown a lot of plants. We've used pallets and penny pinched everything, but even with compost we have always found our largest cost is soil because once we put in the raised bed (pallet planks in a square) There is never enough soil to fill it up. Not minimizing this great article by far! Just one of our struggles with our frugal planting!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, that is so very true. We can plant our whole garden in two hours. Then we pick the rewards for two months. You can't beat that deal my friend.

      Thank you, Ruby!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      They really do, Rosemary. Same with fresh eggs...people can't believe the difference between ours and store-bought eggs.

      Thank you for the visit.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lizzy, I wonder who that could be????

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      I'm looking forward to getting out of the Sahara Desert and starting a flourishing garden of my own. I have the perfect mentor in mind ;-)

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 3 years ago from USA

      We used to have raspberry bushes and they tasted so much better than what is sold in stores.

      Enjoyed this. Thanks!

      Rosemary

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, that is so weird. Your comment showed up saying it was not spam. I've never seen that before. Anyway, good information about the pallets...I always use pallets from grocery stores, but now I get them from the urban garden and farm center...anyway, good information and I thank you.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      There,s nothing i like better than picking vegies from my garden. It takes little effort in planting a plant but the rewards are so yummy. Thank's again for continued encouragement in urban farming, hopefully it will catch on and towns will grow most of their food...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Same here, Bill, and it was an Iowa farm where I learned all this. Thanks my friend.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Sounds so much like the Iowa farm where I grew up. More than a little nostalgia there... Thanks for sharing. More power to you and your neighbors! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, I would be in heaven if there were garage sales nine months a year here. You are right...keep our eyes open and the deals are out there for sure. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Dora, and thank you as always. Happy Thursday to you.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great advice Bill and we just need to keep our eyes open; I got a wheelbarrow for $3 at a yard sale and pics and hoes etc for as little as 75cents. There is always some great deal but I live in the south where outdoor sales go on 9 months a year or more. You can save a fortune on everything really.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Another practical guide to the happiest, most honest, sensible way to live. Thanks for demonstrating how frugal urban farming can be done.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE...as soon as I finish writing today I'll go pick some more vegetables.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      We pick our own vegetables every season. It is such a pleasure to see our hard work has paid off. I enjoy eating the homegrown tomatoes and peppers also some lettuce and a bit of spinach. An interesting and useful hub from you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Isn't that cool, Eric??? I love it when the neighbor kids eat berries from our bushes while they walk by.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent article and inspirational. It is such a joy to have vegetables that my 4 year old can pick and eat right here right now!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Michelle. I hope one day you can live with some land and enjoy it as I do.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Vicki! We have to get you some land so you can give it a try.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Irish, I don't know any other way to keep it but real. Why is it that I smile every single time I see you here? Must be admiration. :) Love to you and a punch on the shoulder to Mick!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Another great article on farming and frugal living. Inspirational, really. :-)

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I'm so proud of you Bill and all that you have accomplished on your urban farm. You really have shown us how easily it can be achieved if we want it. I have learnt so much from you and you have been a guiding light to many others. Keep it real it my friend, love ya loads!!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Wonderful for all of us living in the city and wishing to spend a little less!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, that's happened to me, and I get so irate it takes me hours to return to it and write another one. Thanks for trying.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      ologsinquito, I am convinced of it.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Well, shoot. Once again I posted a long comment and it hasn't shown up. :-(

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      I'm really starting to think we all need our own vegetable gardens now, with the way things are in the world.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Breakfastpop, let's hope it doesn't come to that...but we'll be ready in case. :) Thanks my political activist friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish, I would love to meet your grandfather. He sounds like my kind of guy.

      The axe (ax)? tree roots mostly. :) No chicken necks I assure you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Randi, I can't imagine trying to grow things in Arizona. I'll stay right here where I'm quite happy with my little slice of heaven. Thank you for being here once again.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I do too, Brie, and I do know how to use them. LOL Thank you for the visit. I'm excited about your trip.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, my neighbors and I plan on visiting the barn where she boards her horses to pick up some pallets and start our co-op. She mentioned to me that you need to be careful with the pallets you pick up. Those found in industrial areas may have been contaminated with chemicals. We're going to try to find pallets that hauled feed or food products. She says there's some kind of a marking on the pallets that identifies the grade (or something like that). We still need to clean up the invasive plants that are growing along my fence line and in some of the trees, then we're on our quest for pallets. We're also attending a Planning Your First Organic Vegetable Garden seminar put on by our local extension office in a couple of weeks. I'm excited!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      Dear billy,

      When Ebola has taken over America you and your lovely wife will be among the few who can live on their own. I applaud all that you are and all that you do. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      My grandfather uses most of his backyard to grow a huge garden, even though at his age and in his poor health he can only plant and water it. Others in the family have to come harvest it for him. He produces so much that for years he has taken the extras to a local food bank and nursing home, even after our huge extended family has taken what they want. He also has very productive pecan trees. I shudder to think what you'll be doing with that axe, Bill. Chopping down weeds, I hope.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Ai live your 1/8 of an ace, Bill! I am so envious! I tried to start out small. I Ann only working with a balcony but wasn't too grow my own herbs. My first attempt here in Az was not successful. I think my next attempt will be to try an indoor garden. It's just too hot and dry here. Thank you for all this gear advice and beautiful pictures!

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 3 years ago from Manhattan

      Another great article. I love old tools even though I don't know how to use most of them ;)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, I doubt your dad needs these tips, but thank you for sharing. Have a great day my friend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I love these tips and you know my dad does, too. Will be totally sharing this one with him today and huge thank you once again and always! Have a wonderful Thursday now!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Carol. I have to make some decisions soon about my direction, and I think there will be more books coming out in the next year....so I hear your advice and I appreciate your kind words.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 3 years ago from Arizona

      So where is the book about all of this. You have done so many different things in the 2+ years I have known you. You are resourceful, enjoy life and creative. TO me you are one of the best writers ever---seriously. People need to know these things and how easy it is to find sources and just get in and start working. Thanks BIll, for being my friend these years.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Music to my ears, Deb. Take pictures, write an article....such a simple task that I am amazed more people don't do it. Good luck.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      Hi Bill. I have a stack of 7 old pallets in my yard right now that we got from my brother-in-law's work (for free, of course). I am about to embark on a compost bin project and am very excited about it!