Repurposing Items in the Garden – and Saving Money
by Dawn Lesley Stewart
I am all for saving money wherever I can. The same goes for recycling and repurposing items so that they have a new extended life. There are many ways you can reduce costs by using old items in a new way in the garden.
Every year I start my vegetable plants indoors under lights, and later transplant them outdoors when the weather becomes warmer. Empty yogurt and cream cheese tubs make excellent plant pots. I use an awl or small Phillips head screwdriver to punch several holes in the bottom of the plastic containers (use a slight twisting motion when inserting the awl or screw driver to prevent the plastic from cracking). These plastic containers can be used for several years, too, further extending their productivity.
It’s amazing how many older household items can be transformed into decorative planters. Old watering cans and bicycle baskets make lovely vessels for flowering plants. My sister-in-law transformed a chair with a cane seat that was falling apart into a mini outdoor garden complete with moss and small succulent plants such as hens-and-chickens. I have even seen old sinks and tubs repurposed into gardening containers.
I use popsicle sticks as plant markers for my indoor plants. When I start vegetable and flower seeds indoors, I need to label the containers so that I know what seeds are planted where. Scrap pieces of wood, such as thin slats, work well as larger markers for outdoor plantings. On many of these markers I write the type of plant rather than the variety. For instance: radish, cucumber, bok choy. That way I can use the markers from year to year. If I am growing several different varieties such as with tomatoes or squash, then I will also write the variety on the stake (ex: Matina Tomato, Raven Squash).
Sometimes outdoor plants need protection from cooler weather or early frosts. Cutting the bottoms off of milk jugs makes a great shield to place over young plants so that the entire plant is protected. If larger areas need protection (such as from an early frost), I use bed sheets to cover the plants at night. Make sure to remove the jugs and sheets in the morning so that the plants receive plenty of air and sun.
Cut Worm Deterrents
When placing new plants in the ground, I surround the stems with a cut worm barrier. Cut worms are the lumberjacks of the garden. They wrap themselves around plant stems and chew through them … timber! I cut plastic drinking cups cut in half, and place them as collars around the young plants. These collars can also be saved and used for several years before they need replacing.
I use a variety of plant stake sizes. Some stakes/poles I purchase, while others come from leftover wood or sticks picked up from the yard. Small branches with a “Y” formation are great for bracing young plants. Longer sapling trunks can be used to form a teepee shape where pole beans can grow.
I am avid quilter, and strips of leftover fabric make great plant ties. Alternately, you can cut fabric strips from worn clothing or sheets. The soft fabrics also do not cut into the plant stems. If you have leftover yarn, the birds might find it attractive to add to their nests. One year I used yarn to tie my tomato plants upright, and there was one determined robin which kept pulling at the yarn ends wanting it for nest building material.
If you are like me, you prefer straight garden rows rather than wobbly ones. Old boards with a straight edge or leftover string make excellent straight lines. I have also used gardening poles to achieve an even row. I usually keep at least one of these on hand: Take two sturdy sticks and tie a piece of string to each one. This way you can jab one stick at one end of the garden, and the other stick at the opposite side of the garden until the string stands taught between them. When not being used, the string can be wound around the two sticks for compact storage.
Rocks as Weights
To help prevent weeds, I use black plastic sheeting. However, a good wind is likely to see that sheeting tumbling across the yard. Over the years, I have collected a nice assortment of rocks to anchor the black plastic in place. At the end of each season, I gather the rocks and store them until they are needed again the spring.
Speaking of preventing weeds, newspapers also make a good temporary weed barrier. I prefer black plastic for my vegetable garden (not knowing what chemicals and inks might leech into the soil from newspaper print). However, when I planted rug junipers along the edge of the road, I made sure to place a good layer of newspapers on the ground, mulching over them. The newspapers worked great until they eventually decomposed.
Our lives are filled with sturdy plastic containers (with lids) bought from the store and contain items such as dry pet food and cat litter. These “buckets” are great to reuse to hold gardening items. You can use them to mix soil or as storage. I am using cat litter containers that stack well to economize on storage space.
Yes, even water can be repurposed. I have a dehumidifier in the basement, which came in handy during our last mandatory water ban (we could water vegetable gardens but nothing ornamental). The dehumidifier pulls excess water out of the air and collects it in a bucket. Each day I would have one or two buckets of water at my disposal. I used that water to keep my garden flowers and container plantings thriving.
These are some of the ways I reuse items, giving them a renewed existence and purpose. It feels good to stretch the life of an object and at the same time save money!
Happy Gardening !
Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.
Copyright 2010 Dawn Lesley Stewart