Monday, March 29, 2010

Gardening the scavenger's way

Quiet garden

Gardening is a wonderful pastime. You spend time outside doing physical activity, enjoy some fresh air, take pride in the beauty and bounty you planted and maintain. Right now all I can see is all the work I have to do: adding more mulch and compost, getting the seedlings started and planning where to put all the plants. I have written previously about low-cost gardening ideas (here and here) with a few more options to keep input costs down while maximizing enjoyment.

Coffee grounds
I am not a coffee drinker, but I had read much about the nitrogen boost that coffee grounds can give gardens. I have access to a couple coffee pots at work so I collect the grounds, filter and all, at the end of the day. I put the coffee grounds in a bucket and compost the filter. Acid-loving plants enjoy coffee grounds, but modest amounts of coffee grounds are also welcomed by other plants.

If scavenging from your colleagues at work is not your cup of coffee, visit local coffee shops. With gardening season coming into full swing, many places will save the grounds for anyone who asks. Win for you (nutrients for the garden), win for them (organic material not going into a landfill).

Grass clippings
I mulch my grass back into the ground when mowing as I like returning the nutrients to the soil. However, many people see grass clippings as nusiance and catch the clippings and leave it on the curb. This is great material for mulching garden beds. Keep an eye out for homes where people pile they grass clippings for collection and come back with a rake and containers in which to put the grass. Leave the curb as neatly as you found it and keep the spot in mind if you need more.

Grass clippings (and coffee grounds) are great on the compost pile as well. If you have plenty of leaves, paper, cardboard or other carbon-rich items, add some nitrogen-rich material like fresh grass clippings and coffee grounds. The pile will break down faster and available for use in the garden.

Odds and ends on the curb
People get rid of many items that can be repurposed in the garden. Right now, I am looking for pole-like items that I can use to support my pole beans. It could be lengths of lumber, broom handles or PVC piping, but all would be welcomed to build a tripod structure for my beans to climb. Other bits that can be useful and found on the curb include metal head boards (for trellises), metal poles (for anchoring fencing or keeping hoses out of the garden bed when dragged around), reclaimed furniture (for outdoor use) and the list goes on. If your neighbor is throwing away something, imagine how it might be used to enhance your outdoor space.

Repurposing items
I have started a variety of seedlings in my basement. Most of them were sowed in repurposed containers (e.g., yogurt) and drip trays (e.g., styrofoam takeout trays). The commercial starting trays do take up less space, but I prefer to use what I have on hand. I have been collecting yogurt containers since last year and am grateful I had more than enough for my purposes. Many bits of plastic packaging like the kind that are affixed to cardboard back, are flat and can be used as watering trays so I can water from the bottom. I like this because most of that plastic has no number and cannot be recycled. Anytime I get more use out of something that is disposable makes me feel good.

Milk jugs and 2L soda bottles can be used as mini greenhouses after seedlings are planted outside and it gets chillier than the plant likes. Just cut off the bottom and slip it over the plant. When the weather is warm, remove the cap; when it is cold, put it back in place. With warm enough temperatures past the threat of frost, remove the bottle or jug and enjoy the growing plant.

I am looking forward to the garden this year as I really miss all my fresh fruit and vegetables. Using up the last of the frozen veggies make me even more eager to get out and grow more peas and beans. Reducing the costs of gardening with creative scavenging and reuse makes me proud of what I can do without spending money.

Do you have more suggestions?

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