In my household, 2013 is going to be the Year of the Garden: My husband Chip spent the winter reading books on square-foot gardening, we cleared out a sunny corner of our front yard, and we've been making lists of the vegetables and fruits we'd like to plant (who knew there were so many varieties of tomatoes?!). Chip has made me promise that I'll do my part in weeding and watering, and I've made him promise that the raised-bed frame he builds will not look disreputable.
It took a trip to the supply store for reality to set in: As we tallied up the cost of the soil, plants and seeds, tools and other gear, we realized that that idea of free veggies all summer long was actually going to cost a little more than we thought.
We started putting back all the extraneous tools and gadgets, and decided to get creative. At home, we dug through the recycling bin and poked around the house to find items we could reuse in the garden.
If you're planting a garden this summer, save yourself a bundle by repurposing household items for these garden items. Not only will you save money, but you'll also divert some of your waste from the trash or recycling bin!
- Plant Markers: Since we're garden newbies, I'm worried we won't be able to tell a zucchini seedling from a tomato seedling, so plant markers are a must. Don't waste money on the cute but pricey ones at your garden store, because you can easily make them with found materials. I wrote the plant names on small plastic yogurt or sour cream lids, cut two slits into the plastic, and poked chopsticks through for the stakes. I've also seen ones made from wooden clothespins, plastic knives, or wine bottle corks. Check out some of these pretty ideas at Apartment Therapy.
- Raised Beds: Leftover wood or plastic lumber, cinderblocks or other building materials, can all be repurposed to make a raised bed garden. There is some concern about the chemicals used to pressure-treat wood, but if you suspect the wood you want to use is pressure-treated, you can line the inside with heavy plastic. Ask friends, neighbors and nearby construction sites if they have building materials that they want to get rid of; you'll be saving them from having to dispose of them, while saving yourself some expense.
- Newspapers for Mulch: Save those Sunday papers… they are a natural way to keep weeds under control. Spread them over the open spaces of the garden, leaving an opening around each plant, and cover with a thin layer of compost, soil or mulch, just enough to cover the newspaper and keep it from flying away. The papers will let water sink into the soil, but will block weeds from growing.
- Seed Starters/Greenhouses: Cut up paper towel or toilet paper rolls to use as seed starters. Line them up in a shallow container (a cleaned disposable aluminum casserole, or a large plastic package works great), fill them with soil, plant the seeds and add water. You can fashion a mini greenhouse by cutting open large clear plastic bags or using clear plastic packages (such as the big clamshell packages that salad greens come in). The best part is, when it's time to plant your seedlings, you can plant the whole bundle, cardboard tube and all, since the cardboard will eventually biodegrade. For more detailed instructions on how to make the seed starters and mini greenhouses, check out IntuitionPhysician.com.
- Compost: Compost is the ultimate recycled gardening material: You can turn all of the food scraps you'd otherwise throw away, into soil that's richer and more nutrient-packed than anything you could buy at the garden center. Composting also has many environmental benefits ; less food in landfills means less methane gases and other pollutants. But it's not just as simple as throwing your potato peels and coffee grounds into a corner of your yard. Be sure to consult a book or a reliable website for instructions (I like the composting article on EarthEasy.com — you don't end up with a stinky, bug-infested pile of trash! If composting on your own sounds scary, there are a few alternatives you can look into, too (like freezing your compost until you can drop it off at a greenmarket!).
By using recyclables to create some of these DIY projects for my garden, I'll be saving money, cutting down on waste, and giving my garden real personality.