I love to find a new purpose for materials that would otherwise be discarded. I enjoy the challenge of re-imagining the use of items found in our recycling bin or stored in the old hay loft of our barn. I also much prefer using materials that I already have on hand instead of buying something brand new.
A few of my favorite repurposed materials are put to use here in our gardens at 1840 Farm each growing season. We have found them to be incredibly effective and cost saving. I hope that you will enjoy using these no cost, repurposed materials in your garden this year.
Dairy Carton Seed Starting Containers
We give our garden a head start by planting seeds indoors long before the weather outside would permit us to plant directly in the garden beds. Here in New England, our growing season is painfully short, averaging about 120 days from start to finish. In order to have a successful harvest, we need to give our heirlooms a good start inside the farmhouse.
In the spring, we plant our seeds down in the old root cellar of the farmhouse. With enough light and attention, they grow well and ensure that we will be able to harvest our beloved heirloom tomatoes before the first frost occurs in fall. Because we grow our plants from seed, we are able to purchase a diverse variety of heirlooms. For less than the price of one healthy seedling from a nursery, we can purchase a packet of heirloom seeds to grow at least 20 seedlings. We also love having the ability to seek out extremely rare and interesting varieties that are not available at our local garden center.
We use many of our seed starting supplies year after year. No matter how many trays and containers we have, we always seem to need more. We discovered last year that we had the perfect containers for our tiniest seeds right in our recycling bin.
We like to broadcast plant the tiny lettuce, herb, and onion seeds and then divide them by hand as they are added to the garden. We find that this saves time by allowing us to tend to the young plants for several weeks without needing to thin them or move them to larger and larger containers. The resulting plants are strong and healthy with well developed root systems.
We discovered that paper dairy cartons made ideal containers for these seeds. By removing the top surface of the empty cartons, we create fantastic seed starting containers for these crops. The money we save by using these containers easily covers the cost of the seeds we plant in them.
Simply rinse out the used paper container before removing one side of the carton with a sharp knife or scissors. Fill the container two-thirds full with your favorite seed starting mix. Scatter the tiny seeds over the top of the mix before covering the seeds with more seed starting mix. Label the container and tend as you would any newly planted seeds. After moving the healthy plants to your garden, the container can be added to your recycling bin.
Paper Feed Bag Weed Barrier
I love to spend a summer day working in the garden. We plant close to 100 heirloom tomato plants each year along with cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, and countless other crops. With so many plants, there is always something that needs to be done. I enjoy the work, knowing that my efforts will produce delicious, fresh food for our family table..
One garden job that I could do without is weeding. I know that weeding is necessary, but I want to spend as little time as possible pulling weeds. Weeding our raised beds helps our plants to have all of the soil’s nutrients instead of sharing them with the weeds that will happily take over. Yet I find weeding to be my least favorite chore in the garden. I love sharing the weeds with our hens as a fresh treat, but I can find plenty of fresh treats for them from the garden without spending hours pulling weeds. I also find the prospect of spending a large portion of my gardening budget on weed barrier to be rather unpleasant.
Luckily, we have a steady supply of weed barrier materials thanks to our chickens and goats. Our animal feed is packaged in paper bags that make a fabulous weed barrier. I stockpile them all winter long in the barn for this purpose. When planting time finally arrives, I can transform each large bag into a flat piece of paper weed barrier with a few snips of my garden shears. Using landscaping staples, I secure each piece to the soil, covering all but the perimeter of the beds where I will plant onions, herbs, and zinnias to attract beneficial pollinators.
Using my shears, I cut holes exactly where I want to plant, I then tuck the plants into the soil warm soil. When we mow our untreated grass, I collect the clippings and add them on top of the paper surface. With very little effort and little to no expense, I have added an effective weed barrier to our garden and made use of materials that we have on hand.
The paper and grass mulch help our garden beds to retain moisture while minimizing weed growth. Over the course of the growing season, both the grass and paper begin to decompose. When we clear the beds in the fall, we simply remove the staples, reserving them for the next season, and add the paper bags to our recycling bin.
We also use this paper feed bag mulch for our garden paths. We cover the paper bags in the paths with untreated wood chips and have a weed free path all summer long.
I’ll be sharing a few other tricks for using repurposed materials in the garden in the coming weeks. Until then, you can take a photo tour of the gardens here at 1840 Farm. I’d love to hear about your strategies to use repurposed or recycled materials in your garden. I’m always looking for new, great ideas to use in ours.