One reason to have a kitchen garden is to save money on food. But gardening can be an expensive proposition. By the time you buy seeds, seed pots, and all the other things you need to plant a garden, costs can quickly add up. And it kind of defeats the purpose if every penny you save at the grocery store is spent at the garden center.
One way to keep gardening costs down is to repurpose everyday items. Before you toss something in the trash, think about how you could put it to use in the garden. Not only will you save money on gardening supplies, you’ll be keeping otherwise disposable items out of the landfill.
Ten Things that Can Be Recycled for the Garden
1. Use plastic yogurt and cottage cheese containers to make plant markers.
If you start your own seeds, you know how crucial plant markers are. Without them, you would have a tough time telling your sweet peppers from your hot peppers until the plants bear fruit. You need those plant markers to keep track of everything. Yet a package of plastic garden markers may cost anywhere from $5 to $15.
There is no need to spend another penny on plant markers. Instead, make your own using plastic yogurt and cottage cheese containers. All you need is a pair of scissors and a permanent marker.
Two more ideas for DIY plant markers: Sticks and Stones: Homemade Plant Markers
2. Use cardboard tubes to make your own seed pots.
A pack of 50 biodegradable seed starter pots will set you back another $6 to $13. You can make them yourself using cardboard tubes – toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes – that you otherwise would toss into the recycle bin or the trash.
Cut the tube into two-inch lengths (which is half of a toilet paper tube, if that’s what you are using). Place each length of tube on end in a plastic watering tray. Fill the tubes with pre-moistened potting soil, and lightly tap on soil to tamp it down, leaving a 1/2” space at the top. Sow one seed per tube and cover with a 1/4” layer of potting soil. Water daily or as needed to keep the soil moist.
Since there is no bottom on the tube, you won’t be able to move it from the tray once the soil is in place. However, once the seed germinates and the seedling grows, the roots will hold the soil. Within 3 to 4 weeks of germination, transfer the seedlings, tube and all, into a larger container or directly into the ground. The cardboard tube will break down into the soil with no need for you to disturb the seedling’s roots.
Also use cardboard tubes to direct sow beans, beets, and other seeds that the ground squirrels love to snack on. The tube will protect the seeds from being dug up before they can germinate.
More ways to make seed starter pots using common household items:
- 20 Frugal, Repurposed Seed Starting Containers
- How to Make Recycled Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting
3. Use plastic clam shell packaging material to make mini greenhouses for starting seeds
Those clear plastic containers that are used to package salad mix, takeout food, or baked goods can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. And that’s a good thing because many recycling programs do not accept them.
The containers used for salad greens make perfect mini greenhouses for starting seeds, especially when used in combination with cardboard tube seed starting pots (see above). First, cut the lid off the container so you have two separate pieces. Then place the seed pots in the bottom container and plant one seed in each pot. Water thoroughly and return the lid to the container keep the soil moist. After the seeds have germinated and tiny leaves appear, remove the lid to allow the seedlings to grow without damping off.
A DIY mini greenhouse makes a pretty nifty substitute for similar items that retail for around $7 to $11.
If you have old seeds that you aren’t sure will germinate, don’t just throw them away. Instead, use a plastic bakery container – the kind with separate cells that are used for cupcakes – to pre-sprout the seeds. Read how to do it here: Benefits of Pre-Sprouting Seeds
4. Use plastic berry containers to save kitchen scraps for the chickens
Here’s an idea for all of you chicken keepers out there. The plastic clam shell containers that are used to package berries don’t make the best seed starting trays because the bottoms have holes in them. However, they are great for saving kitchen scraps to feed to the chickens.
I always have an old berry box on hand as I prepare dinner, to which I add carrot peels, pepper guts, and any other scraps that I know my chickens will love. I pop the box into the refrigerator to keep the veggie scraps fresh overnight and then feed them to the girls in the morning.
5. Use a cat litter bucket as a compost pail
If you have cats, you probably have a few of these plastic, lidded cat litter buckets around. With a lid that locks into place to keep odors at bay, a cat litter bucket makes a great compost pail. Keep it under the kitchen sink or right outside the kitchen door to conveniently dispose of your compostable items. When the bucket is full, simply carry it out back and deposit the contents in your compost pile.
A cat litter compost pail may not be as pretty as a stainless steel or ceramic version that you could buy, but it won’t set you back $22 to $30 either.
6. Use coconut husk planter liners to mulch tomato plants
I have a couple of iron planters that require liners, and I have found that coconut husk planter liners work best in them. However, those liners never seem to last more than one growing season. By the end of the summer, they barely hold soil, much less moisture. Instead of tossing the old liners when I clean out my planters each fall, I save them to mulch my tomato plants the following year.
Simply cut a slit in the liner to the center and position it around the plant. The liners fit perfectly within my DIY steel mesh tomato trellises and help tremendously in keeping the weeds down.
Low Cost and No Cost Trellis Ideas
7. Make an old pair of jeans into a garden apron
Make a no-sew garden apron out of an old pair of jeans. Start at the front zipper opening and cut just under the waistband to the side seams, then cut down along the seams until a point just about an inch below the back pockets. Finally, cut straight across between the two side seams.
In less than five minutes, you’ll have a handy garden apron with pockets for toting around your gardening tools, seed packets, and gloves.
8. Use spice containers for organic pest management
We practice organic pest management in my garden, with barriers and hand removal being the preferred lines of defense. But in some cases, we have to resort to natural insecticides. I have found that old spice bottles with shakers make great dispensers for applying diatomaceous earth and BT to just the places where they are needed.
9. Use styrofoam packing material in the bottom of a planter for drainage
Save on potting soil by using a layer of styrofoam packing material in the bottom of large garden planters. The styrofoam will help with drainage and will help save your back, too. The planter will be much lighter and easier to transport than one filled all the way with soil or with rocks at the bottom for drainage.
10. Turn a leaky watering can into a planter
Speaking of planters, you can transform almost any type of container into a garden planter. I could have throw away this rusted out watering can, but instead gave it a second chance in the garden. An old wooden crate, a wheelbarrow, or even a pair of old work boots can serve as a fun, funky, or whimsical planter. Use your imagination.
What has found a new life in your garden? In the comments section below, please share your ideas for things that can be recycled in the garden.