Thursday, June 5, 2008

Repurposing items for the garden

To keep with my theme of gardening, I have a few ideas for repurposing disposable items for the outdoors.

Plastic one-gallon jugs
Every month, I purchase at least two gallons of distilled water for my cats to drink. With my consumption of milk, this means I generate at least six gallons worth of plastic waste. I do put these containers in the recycling bin and save the milk caps for schools to redeem for money, but it would be better if I could reuse the items.

Last year, I saw a large bag sitting around newly planted trees at my workplace. When I did some research, I found the Treegator(R) is a drip irrigation system for watering trees. I did not want to pay $25 a piece for this item, but I really liked this idea for watering trees.

After thinking for a bit, I realized I had all these gallon containers that used to hold water--why not use them to water trees? To create my own drip irrigation system, I take the empty gallon jugs, put some small rocks in the bottom to keep them upright (especially when empty), poke 3-5 holes in the bottom with an ice pick, fill with water from the rain barrel, tie loosely around the tree with string (so they do not blow away when empty) and let them sit on the mulch. The water drips from the containers, provided the cap is not on too tightly, and the trees are watered. I use 1-4 containers around my trees, depending on size and fill them twice weekly to provide supplemental watering especially in dry conditions. The half-gallon containers might be nice for using in the garden next to tomatoes or cucumbers, plants that need more water to grow well.

Washing machine hoses or old watering hoses
I love my rain barrels, but when the water levels get low, the water pressure stinks. Since most rain barrels let the water drain by gravity, less water means lower pressure and more time spent waiting for the container to fill with water before use. I was trying to figure out a way to get around this waiting problem. If I could do something while I was waiting for my gallon jug to fill with water, I could be more productive. That is, pull weeds or put down additional mulch as the container fills with water or switch out for the next container as I use the full one. However, the spout for the rain barrel is more than 12 inches above the mouth of the gallon jug when placed on the ground.

As a new homeowner, I do not have lots of old bits and pieces of items laying around. However, a previous owner switched out the washing machine hoses when a new washing machine was installed, but left the old hoses in the basement. The spigot on my rain barrel is standard sized connection, which matches nicely with the old washing machine hoses. By cutting off one end of the hose and leaving ~18 inches of hose with the female end intact, I can screw the threaded end onto the rain barrel spigot and put the open hose end into my container. I can walk away as the container fills with water and no rain water on the ground. This idea also works with old garden hoses provided at least 18 inches of hose from the female end is intact.

Plastic containers and bags
This is not an uncommon idea: save the containers from a flat of flowers or four-pack of tomatoes and use them to start your own seeds. However, you may be like me and have no waterproof container to put these containers in to protect your furniture. In fact, I need a tray that is smaller than the dimensions of my plastic milk crates, which cover my plants so the cats cannot munch on the seedlings.

Both my cats are on a prescription diet, and the dry food comes in plastic bags. The bottoms form a rectanglar box shape and are Ziplocked closed on the top. I felt bad throwing these bags away as the plastic is quite sturdy, moreso than any bags from the grocery store. When I transplanted my pansy seedlings in larger, square containers, they did not fit well in the Pyrex dish I was using as a waterproof tray. In fact, I had five containers and could only fit two in the Pyrex dish. However, if I cut the bottom off my saved four-pound cat food bags, I found two seedling pots fit well (if a bit tightly) into the bag bottom. This protected the furniture and gave me more room to get the plants under the milk crate.

For the four-pack container of tomato seedlings, I found another tray to use: the plastic portion of the 500-pack of Q-tips. I just finished a box and while the cardboard was recyclable, the plastic was not. On a whim, I put the four-pack of tomatoes into the plastic lid and voila! Instant waterproof tray that fit the container perfectly! I repurposed an item and had more flexibility in situating the tomato seedlings as this tray was smaller than the Pyrex dish I had been using.

What creative reuse or repurposing ideas do you have?

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