Thriftiness in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)


Top: Mushroom tray repurposed as a riddle. Bottom: Chopstick dibblet 

There are many methods to gardening on a fixed income and being thrifty has always been the way of the allotment gardeners, whether in Britain or in continental Europe such as Denmark and Germany. Often you had, and have, to be.

I have somewhat the tendency – well, more than somewhat really – to pick up all manner of things for reuse and repurposing in the garden (and elsewhere) and those even include abandoned shopping carts. I know that, theoretically, those carts are the property of the stores but when they are found and the stores in fact refuse to come and pick them up then what is one to do? So, lined with a variety of materials, but more often than not old builder's bags (ton bags), they become high planters and I found them especially good for growing carrots as the height is above the vector of the carrot root fly.

A small old stepladder found – no longer useable really as a ladder – is employed as a plant stand, and part of an old folding bed is currently awaiting the arrival, once they have come up and are ready to go out, of cucumber plants, in a planter, to act as a trellis for them.

Five liter and smaller PET water and soda bottles become, with their bottoms cut off, cloches for use outdoors to cover young plants when frost threatens, and indoors they become propagators for raising seedlings.

Although I generally do have many plastic plant pots in which to start my seedlings due to my work as a groundsman at a municipal park nevertheless pots from yoghurt, cream and sour cream, etc., all become, by drilling a drainage hole in the bottom, seed starting pots. Waste not, want not.

In a way, I can't help myself. I have always been a thrift-loving person for as long as I can remember. In fact, I guess I could say I was raised that way, which also is true. And, as far as I am concerned there is a certain thrill (unlike any other) that I get when I save money by utilizing something I found for free or make use of some kind of packaging waste or such. I also the excitement I get, the buzz, when my mind employs its ingenuity for to “design” some use for this or that.

Talking of designing (and making) I have also made a harvesting pot – belt-worn – from a plastic milk jug and am now looking at employing that selfsame, or similar plastic material, from other kinds of strong(er) plastic bottles (non-PET), from which to design and make tool holsters for secateurs, folding pruning saws and such like. We shall see how it goes. Shall report on that, no doubt, in due course.

I know I am strange but I prefer making things from waste materials – if possible – rather than buying something like this or other things.

As far as tools go I am a lucky guy that in being a garden writer I get quite a lot of them for review (or in press packs at events). If I have to buy tools, on the other hand, which is rather rare, then I prefer to go to flea-markets and look for good old tools that can be refurbished and thus rescued and put back to use for another generation or so.

For pricking out seedlings I have adapted a wooden chopstick – one of those that come with takeout Oriental meals, including sushi, and are often found discarded after picnics and such. But, in all honesty, you could just use a twig to do this job or a pencil or ballpoint pen. I just loved the idea of reusing, repurposing and to a degree upcycling that thrown-away chopstick.

And don't forget to pocket any bailing twine that you may find. That stuff comes very handy indeed for many jobs in the garden and the tool shed. Oh, and don't get me started on pallets and their many uses in the garden.

I highly recommend opening minds and seeing beyond the normal use for things before casting them aside or those that others have cast aside. Warning, however! Once you start you will see more and more things that you could reuse and repurpose and even upcycle, and not just in the garden, and you may not be able to stop that easily.

I could – probably – write a book on the subject on thriftiness and reuse, whether in the garden or elsewhere; maybe I really should.

© 2017