50 Garden Hacks From Your Trash

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There may be items in your trash that could help you with your gardening. Check out this list and see if any of these great ideas resonate with you, helping you pull a couple things out of your trash and, well, into your garden to green up your world. If you don’t have these items in your trash, ask for them on your local Buy Nothing group. I’ve categorized the ideas by item, and each one links to a unique reuse. Enjoy!

Plastic Bottles:

1) Plastic Bottle Mosquito Trap: This one is a trick using yeast and a cut bottle glued together. Read on and try it.

2) Plastic Bottle Cloche: It’s as easy as cutting a plastic bottle in half and sticking it upside down over your seedling or plant.

3) Plastic Bottle Self-Watering Seed Starters: These plastic bottles, cut in half and one inverted inside the other have a wicking system worth checking out.

4) Plastic Bottle Drip Irrigation System: 4 small holes in your 2-liter bottle that’s buried in the ground provide excellent watering for your plants.

5) Plastic Bottle Greenhouse: A greenhouse like this is a true inspiration.

Milk Jugs:

6) Milk Jug Scoop: Milk or OJ jugs make easy scoops.

7) Milk Jug Cloches: Use Milk Jugs to protect your larger plants. Just cut the bottom out of the milk jug, turn it upside down and it’ll protect your plants.

8) Milk Jug Mini Greenhouses: These mini greenhouses in gallon jugs can prove useful.

Clear Plastic Containers:

9) Plastic Container Mini Greenhouse: Just turn it upside down and you have a mini cloche/greenhouse.

Winter Squash Seedling Basking in the Heat of a Lettuce Box, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Cereal Boxes & Cracker Boxes:

10) Cardboard Weed Block: Take your cereal boxes and cracker boxes to the garden and use them as weed blocking.

Bike Wheels:

11) Bike Wheel Trellis: Bike wheel trellises are beautiful.

DVDs/CDs:

12) DVD/CD Bird Scaring Trick: Birds don’t like reflective stuff. It scares them off. Put a few around your berries and you’ll keep those peckers away.

Mailboxes:

13) Mailbox Garden Tool Cache: Post an old mailbox up in your garden, and you have a water-proof place to store hand tools, planter markers, and your notes.

Make a garden tool cache out of an old mailbox. Photo © Liesl Clark

Drawers:

14) Drawer Seedling Starter: This one’s easy. Just use an old drawer as a seedling planter box.

OJ Cans:

15) OJ Can Plant Labels: The can tops make pretty labels for marking your rows.

Rain Boots:

16) Rain Boot Planters: Save a few pairs of the kids cute rain boots for whimsical planters.

Plastic Plant Pots:

17) Plastic Plant Pot Flowers: Add a little flair to your outdoor space with these plant pot flowers.

Trash Cans:

18) Trash Can Root Cellar: I’m interested in trying this for storing our potatoes, carrots, daikon radish, turnips and cabbages next year. It simply requires digging a deep hole.

Tupperware Tubs:

19) Tupperware Worm Farm: Make a few holes in your old Tupperware bins, order a few hundred red worms, follow the instructions here and you’ll have a worm farm.

Plastic Bottle Caps:

20) Plastic Bottle Cap Lawn Flowers: Michele Stitzlein creates beautiful blooms from plastic caps. She’s published a couple of books on plastic cap art, too.

Glassware:

21) Glassware Flowers: These bowls and dishes are all the rage.

Garden Hoses:

22) Garden Hose Flowers: If you have space on a wall, you could create flowery art from your old hoses.

Twist Ties:

23) Twist Tie Plant Trainers: Save your twist ties to use for training plants to fences and stakes.

We reuse twist ties for training our espalier fruit trees. Photo © Liesl Clark

Soda Cans:

24) Soda Can Planters: In a pinch, soda cans can be used as planters and seed starters.

25) Pop Can Plant Markers: With a little effort, you can make some pretty markers for your garden.

Styrofoam:

26) Styrofoam Planter Filler: Fill the bottom of your large plant pots with styrofoam so they don’t get too heavy.

Styrofoam Planter Filler, Photo: Liesl Clark

PVC

27) PVC Garden Tower: Drill holes in a PVC tube and you have a strawberry planter

Coaxial Cables:

28) Coaxial Cable Fence: Who knew that a coaxial cable could look so pretty with bamboo?

Tie a Bamboo Fence Together with Coaxial Cable

Wine Bottles:

29) Wine Bottle Waterer: Turn your empties upside down (with H2O in them) in your plant pots and go on vacation!

30) Wine Bottle Garden Edging: Wine bottles can make colorful garden edging.

31) Wine Bottle Hose Guard: A wine bottle and a stick are all that’s needed to keep your hose out of your garden beds.

Empty Bottle Hose Guard Hard at Work photo: Rebecca Rockefeller

Clementine Boxes:

32) Clementine Box Planters: Clementine boxes make excellent seedling starter boxes or planters for forced bulbs.

Blue Jeans:

33) Blue Jeans Garden Apron: Sew yourself a simple garden apron from an old pair of jeans that can hold your garden tools.

Plastic Mesh Produce Basket:

34) Plastic Mesh Seedling Saver: We use these baskets to prevent slugs and birds from destroying our seedlings.

Turn your trash backwards: Place mesh produce baskets over seedlings to protect from birds, frost, and really big slugs.

Windows:

35) Windows Greenhouse: This is a simple design for a small greenhouse made from windows.

36) Window Frame Trellis: An old window frame with mullions makes a pretty trellis.

Broken Ceramics:

37) Broken Ceramics Pot Drainage: Put your broken ceramic pieces in the bottom of plant pots for added drainage.

38) Plant Your Broken Dishes: Plant your favorite broken dishes in the garden and enjoy them throughout the growing season.

Carafe and Pitcher under the Bean Trellis photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Broken Pot Planter: When our ceramic pots break, I plant them in our garden along with something planted to look as if it’s spilling out of the pot, having grown there over time.

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Paint Cans:

39) Paint Can Planters: I love these paint cans turned planters at my friend Maya’s house in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal.

Even Paint Cans Add Flowery Color to a Household, Photo: Liesl Clark

Laundry Hampers:

40) Laundry Hamper Potato Planter: I planted potatoes inside an old laundry hamper and the harvest was easy.

Potato Leaves Begin to Poke Out, Photo©Liesl Clark

Skis:

41) Ski Fence: If anyone lives in the Seattle area and wants to make one of these, please contact us as we have several hundred skis at the end of our Rotary Auction.

Window Blinds:

42) Mini Blind Plant Markers: These look really easy to make.

Panty Hose:

43) Panty Hose Deer Repellant: If you place a bar of soap inside the foot of old panty hose and hang it from your apple tree, it should deter the deer from nibbling on your tree. You can also use a single child’s mitten for this, as it looks cute and either put the perfumed soap inside or human hair (they don’t like the smell of humans.)

Headboards:

44) Headboard Trellis: A headboard makes a beautiful pea trellis.

An Old Headboard from Freecycle Makes a Perfect Garden Trellis, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Newspaper:

45) Newspaper Garden Uses: There are many reuses for newspaper in the garden.

Cassette Tapes:

46) Cassette Tape Bird Deterrent: Pull the tape out of your cassette and string it over your garden. Birds hate the reflective quality of the tape.

Pet Food Bags:

47) Feed Bag Tarp: Sew your plastic woven pet food bags together into a tarp for garden needs.

Toilet Paper Tubes:

48) TP Tube Seedling Starters: Start your seeds in a tube filled with soil.

Sponges:

49) Sponges in Plant Pots: Cut up your old sponges and place them in the bottom of plant pots. They’ll hold moisture for a long time.

Kiddie Pools:

50) Kiddie Pool Raised Bed Garden: Hard plastic kiddie pools make excellent raised bed gardens.

What do you reuse in your garden? Help me add to the list.

33 Eggshell Reuses

33 Eggselent uses for your eggshells. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the heart of the summer, our chickens lay a dozen eggs for us a day. For a family of 4 with 14 hens, we go through a lot of eggs. Here are a few reuses for those hardy shells.

1) Garden Fertilizer/Compost: Throw your shells in your compost or yard waste bin if your municipal recyclers allow kitchen scraps in there. Try to crumble them as they’ll decompose more easily if you do. They add calcium and other minerals to your garden soil. I use a stone mortar and pestle by the composter to crush them. Some people even put them in the blender.

2) Worm Food: Our worm bin worms love egg shells. Truly. I find their eggs inside eggshell clusters.

3) Garden Pest Deterrent: Crush and spread them around your favorite plants. Some slugs, snails and cutworms just don’t like them so they won’t “cross the line.”

4) Pot Drainage: Crumble them up and add them to the bottom of potted plants that need drainage. Tomatoes and eggplants will love the added calcium to deter end rot.

5) Chicken Egg Hardener: If your chickens are laying eggs with soft shells feed them some…..eggshells. I know that sounds gross, but it helps give them a dose of calcium and the girls love it. Be sure to crush the shells. Chickens go on the shape of things for foraging so if they get used to eating egg-shaped goodies they’ll start eating their (gasp) own eggs.

6) Eggshell Candles: Yes! They’re beautiful and easy to make.

7) Homemade Space Geodes: These are really cool to make with the kids and they even glow in the dark.

8) Spring Flower Vase: These look quite beautiful with hyacinths held in an egg cup. I only have one chicken that lays white eggs, but seeing these makes me want to save all those white shells.

9) Organic Seedling Starter Pots: Just plant your seeds inside the shell (with potting soil too, of course you dummy), put the shell inside your cardboard egg carton, fill all the other egg carton cups up and you can plant the whole thing in your garden.

10) Egg Shell Succulent Planters: Make a lovely mini succulent garden using your egg shells and the carton, too.

11) Sidewalk Chalk: Big sticks of sidewalk chalk are easy to make and you can use a toilet paper tube roll as your mold and just peel it off.

12) Science Eggsperiments: Here are 10 cool science-y experiments for your child to try with eggs. Fun!

13) Calcium Supplement: Skip the pills and simply bake your shells at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind them to a fine powder. Add your supplement (a teaspoon or less) to your favorite smoothie or juice once a day.

14) Pet Calcium Supplement: Do the same as above but just add the powder to their food.

15) Egg Shell Mosaics: You can make beautiful mosaics with Easter egg shells or from ones you dye just for this project.

16) Drain Cleaner: Occasionally send a few crushed-up egg shells down the drain. They can help keep it unclogged by their abrasive action.

17) Egg Shell Decor: Getting in the Easter spirit? Try this idea of hanging your egg shells from a tree as a pretty accent.

18) Instant Bandaid: This one’s my favorite. Technically, you’re using the inner membrane of the shell. Tear a bandaid-size piece of it from your egg shell and place it over your ow-ie. By overlapping the 2 ends together, they stick and will stop the bleeding, too. Love it.

19) Vanilla Custard Pots: Serve up your vanilla custard in natural egg shells.

20) Egg Shell Frame: Make a cool modpodge picture frame with egg shells.

21) Christmas Ornaments: If you blow your eggs out you can turn the shells into pretty ornaments.

22) Abrasive Cleaner: Crush them to a coarse texture and use them to scrub down your pots.

23) De-Bitter Your Coffee: If your coffee is too bitter, add finely crushed egg shell powder to your coffee filter and your joe will taste smoother and sweeter.

24) Bird Food: Add some crushed shells to your bird seed mix. The birds need calcium, too.

25) Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner: Feed some to your garbage disposal. They are an eggsellent cleaner and sharpener for it.

26) Soup Stock Booster: Add egg shells to your soup stock when boiling it. The nutrients can’t hurt.

27) Garden Walkway Addition: I add crushed shells to a garden path made of white gravel and sea shells. The egg shells just blend right in and hopefully deter the slugs, feed the birds, amend the soil, etc, etc. I guess I like walking on egg shells.

28) Stain Remover: According to Apartment Therapy crushed egg shells can help remove stains in your sink, on your tea pot and from other kitchen or household items.

29) Laundry Whitener: Some say that if you toss some shells in a mesh bag in your laundry, the gray tint to your whites will disappear.

30) Sensory Play: Egg shells make great sensory play items for your toddler.

31) Eggshell Toothpaste: That just about says it all — follow the directions in the link. My daughter and I are going to make some this weekend.

32) Cute Halloween Ghost Decoration: They hang like wind chimes but look like little ghosts on the breeze.

33) Try the Walking on Eggs Experiment: Want to make eggs into eggshells fast? Try this! No, seriously, this experiment conducted by a 6-year-old is a pictorial essay worth checking out.

Now that you’ve reused your egg shells so nicely, what to do with those egg cartons?!

How to Catch Fruit Flies

Fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans, so scientists love studying fruit fly genetics to learn more about scenarios  of  human resistance to disease. But let’s face it, other than in the lab, we really don’t like having these 3mm-long flies in our midst. Females can lay up to 50 eggs per day in your worn-out fruit and in drains and sponges. This time of the year, a kitchen with any overnight wine glasses left unattended will bring about a few hundred fruit flies in no time.

Relief is here, in the form of advice from by big brother. This trick is so simple, and it works. Bryn demonstrated it, and my kitchen has been thanking him ever since.

Make yourself a fruit fly funnel with paper. I just used some scrap paper from an art project my daughter left on the counter.

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Place the funnel in a glass jar with a few tablespoons of wine or vinegar inside. Leftover red wine has worked really well for me. And, that’s it! Just leave the funnel jar on the counter and it will attract the unwanted flies quickly and thoroughly. It’s a bit like Hotel California: The fruit flies can check in any time they want, but they can never leave.

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See the little fly there? Proof! I even poured the wine through the funnel and some of it stained the paper and, frankly, I think that helps to attract more flies. I don’t see any fruit flies flying around my kitchen anymore and this jar is sitting right next to some very ripe fruit.

What are your fruit fly trap ideas?

How to Fix a Cracked Wheelbarrow

I bought a plastic wheelbarrow and regretted it 4 years later. So much for the “plastic lasts forever” theory. Yes, it lasts forever, but it cracks in the interim, into smaller and smaller pieces. That was the fate of our deep Ace Hardware wheelbarrow that was this homestead’s workhorse for some 4 years.

We’ve had to replace the wheel once already. You can do that at Ace, amazingly, as they have parts ready to purchase for their wheelbarrows, but I doubt they’d have a new tub for us to replace. I thought we’d have to trash the whole molded black plastic thing, and then our friend, Ang Temba Sherpa from Nepal came to the rescue. He stitched it!

Yep, the fix was a mend via wire stitching, using a thin drill bit to make small holes for threading the wire along the crack. It’s a beautiful work of art to behold, somewhat like the stitch-up of the plastic plant pot I spotted in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal on our last trip there.

repair plastic pot

Why don’t we mend our plastics in this country like the people of Nepal do?

It’s now been another 4 years since Ang Temba repaired our wheelbarrow, and I’m proud to tell you that we’re still using it! The long cracks in the base are actually quite welcome, as they let rainwater drip out. We have an improved wheelbarrow as a result of this everlasting hand stitchery.

Thanks, Temba!

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It’s still in action!

DIY Stone Pillars & Planters

We simply have too many rocks in our soil. When we harvest potatoes, there are many false alarms on harvest day as perfect potato-shaped rocks are  procured from the soil rather than spuds. So when we cleared a new spot to add planting space to our veggie garden this summer, we had a pile of waste as a result — rocks. What to do with the rock pile? I thought about giving them away in our local Buy Nothing group (yes, I’ve seen people post that they want rocks on our neighborhood Buy Nothing group), but then the hoarder in me took over and we chose to make stone pillars instead. It’s quite easy, but there are a few tricks you’ll need to know about to pull this artistic gardenscaping off well.

First, you’ll need chicken wire. Make sure your chicken wire holes are not too wide for the size of your rocks.

1) You’ll need to cut a rectangle of chicken wire out, about 2.5 to 3 feet high (depending on how high you want your pillars to be) by 4 to 5 feet wide. Wrap the wire around, into a cylindrical shape and hook it together with the wire ends you’ve created in your wire-cutting process. Make sure you leave no wire ends poking out anywhere as those could be a hazard for passers-by. You now have a cylinder cage for your rocks.

2) Then, start filling your chicken wire cylinder with rocks! The trick is to place your largest spuds, I mean stones, on the outside of the wire so they block the smaller ones from falling through the mesh. My son and daughter love filling the pillars up with the stones they bring in on their wheelbarrows.

3) Fill until your cylinder is full, brimming with stones to give a pretty fieldstone pillar affect to your favorite spaces.

Now, Make Stone Pillar Planters!

We love our pillars around the pond so much, and found we had plenty more rocks to deal with, so we created 2 more pillars with the added feature of a planter inside. Here’s how:

Fill your stones only 1/3 of the way up your chicken wire cylinder. Then, add a gallon or half gallon plastic or clay pot inside so the pot’s rim is flush with the top of the chicken wire cylinder.

Fill in around the outside edges of the pot with stones and completely cover up the pot from the outside, all the way to the rim of the pillar.

Then, plant your favorite flower in the pot as you would any planter!

Chicken Yard = World’s Best Composter

Our chicken yard serves 2 purposes: It’s the playground for our feathered friends but it’s also a great source of beautiful compost for our gardens. We don’t allow our girls to roam free because of the challenge of predators nearby like bald eagles, red tail hawks, raccoons, and mink. We’ve provided the chickens with enough space to run around, have dust baths, and roost. And since we can’t let them roam about the yard, we bring the yard to them!

If you can't free range your yard birds, bring the yard to them. Grass clippings and leaves line our chicken run. Photo © Liesl Clark

This little chicken farming trick is the best trash hack we’ve brought to our hen yard. Much like the practices of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, mimicking natural patterns on a domestic scale, we believe our chickens should work for us in producing the best organic matter for our crops and vice versa.

Full circle: Garden waste --> chicken yard --> garden again. Photo © Liesl Clark

When we mow the lawn, the waste from that effort, the grass clippings, are dumped in there for the girls to munch. When we rake the fall leaves, the waste from that practice is thrown in by the wheelbarrowload. Even our garden clippings and weeds go in the hen run. It’s salad for them. The level of the hen yard, after a few months of this is raised significantly, but the endless scratching, pooping, and pecking breaks the organics down at a remarkably fast rate. And the end-product? After only a few weeks of being in the yard, we have the best compost I’ve ever seen. Waste to gold that’ll go on our veggie beds and back on the lawn to be put back to use again. It’s a truly closed loop practice and I revel in the circles I move in daily around the property, completing this life and food-giving cycle of the natural world.

Perfect chicken-generated compost from our coop yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

By the bucketful, we shovel compost out of the hen zone and into the garden, thankful for the girls’ help in turning our yard and garden back into gold. The little bugs and slugs on the backsides of leaves give them endless treats to find as they scratch for them around their yard. They’re just as excited about getting a load of leaves as they are a bucket of school lunch leftovers or algea from our pond. It reduces our chicken feed expenses, too.

Happy girls in their yard full of yard clippings. Photo © Liesl Clark

 

But probably the greatest benefit to bringing the free range to the hens is the quality of the eggs. Our yolks are a fiery orange, pretty similar to what you’d see on a chart for pastured hens, because we’re bringing the greens and proteins right into their yard. The slugs, bugs, snails, and larvae that come with the deep weedy greens we toss in there. Along with our non-GMO organic soy-free feed, these eggs are as healthy as we can get ’em.

Yet another benefit of this practice is that the rainy season chicken yard mud is offset by the mounds of leaves we throw in there. By providing new leaves on the floor of their yard, the mud-factor is reduced greatly and our eggs therefore don’t get soiled. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest will know what I’m talking about.

Happy feet. No mud in the mud season when you can throw grass and leaves in there. Photo © Liesl Clark

Last spring, our newly-transplanted rhubarb amidst daffodils were as glorious as ever, just popping out, thanks to the girls’ gold.

Compost from the composting chicken yard helping newly transplanted rhubarb. Photo © Liesl Clark

And our winter garden has produced greens for months due to the rich infusion they get from our chicken yard.

Homesteaders' dream garden in the middle of winter, thanks to our composting chick yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

What do you throw in your chicken yard? And do you then take the resulting “waste” out into your garden or compost? Please share in the comments below.

Embracing Ugly Veggies

Digging around in the garden, today, I had to run into the house to look up a stunning fact. Here it is: Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 billion tons, is wasted. But here’s the hitch — The Food and Agricultural Association claims:

  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.

Fruits and veggies top out the list, not grains, dairy, meat and legumes. It’s the perishables that contribute to (in this country) the over 33 million tons of food each year that ends up in the landfill.

I posit that much of it is ugly veggies, like ours.

This time of year, the veggies in our garden are downright repulsive.

That's Broccoli Folks! © Liesl Clark

That’s Broccoli Folks! © Liesl Clark

The ceaseless rain and a recent freeze, has waterlogged the cauliflower.

Browned Cauli Still Tastes Great © Liesl Clark

Browned Cauli Still Tastes Great © Liesl Clark

Thanks to a few thousand slugs that share the land with us, the slender kale has holes in it.

Holy Kale © Liesl Clark

Holy Kale © Liesl Clark

The finger potatoes and sun chokes cling to the sodden earth like black clods of nutritious grit.

It's What's For Dinner © Liesl Clark

It’s What’s For Dinner © Liesl Clark

Never fear, friends, just lower your standards, and don’t let your ugly veggies get you down. They’re still food. Hideously delicious food.

Roasted Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

Roasted Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

 

Gone are the days of showing off our succulent crops in beautiful baskets on long lost sunny afternoons. No, tonight’s dinner was wrestled free from the muck and slime of a New Year’s dark garden of primal growth that only the diehard will eat. We eat the foul-looking foodstuffs because snubbing our nose at them would contribute to the EPA’s wasted food bottom line. No, we’ll whip up dishes from weird days where clouds and wet shadows prevail over the  sheepish sunlight.

We triumph, quietly, when the kids eat the ugly veggies.

Pizza with Kale and Red Pepper Flakes © Liesl Clark

Pizza with Kale and Red Pepper Flakes © Liesl Clark

So, why be ashamed of the slug holes and dark spots on your rotting heads of cauliflower or snail-slimed leaves of kale when you hear this confession and bear witness to our homely ingredients? Embrace your ugly veggies. They’re food after all.

Washing the Grit From Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

Washing the Grit From Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

No one’s watching. No one’s comparing their Instagram-perfect patches of deep solstice greens with yours.  Bon appetit!  Go ahead, share your vile veggies with the fates that befall all winter gardens. Welcome them into your kitchen, unsightly as they are.

Snail on Kale © Liesl Clark

Snail on Kale © Liesl Clark

We eat our ugly veggies with pride. How about you?