Recycling In The Garden

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recycling in the garden - pallet trellises

Recycling In The Garden – Have A Great Garden For Free!

When people talk about recycling, it seems that they most often think of taking aluminum cans or plastic bags to a recycling center so they can be sent back to a factory and re-molded into some new product. Even though we sometimes see logos that say “Reduce Reuse Recycle”, most people don’t think so much about the reduce and reuse parts of the slogan. Recycling in the garden is a great way to have an amazing garden without spending a lot of money.

With all the choices at stores these days, it is easy to spend a fortune on any hobby, but it is not necessary to spend a lot to have a great garden.

When we lived in Idaho, I drove across the state line to Washington every day to go to my job. One day, I saw a large pile of wood chips sitting unattended in a pullout at the side of the road. We needed a lot of wood chips for our garden at the time and were not able to afford the cost of mulch at the store.

After a few days, my curiosity got the better of me. I stopped my car in the pullout and walked to the nearest farm house to ask them if they owned the wood chips. The lady who answered the door said that the truckers who hauled wood chips stopped to clean out their trucks there before being weighed at the weigh station. She said that every now and then her husband would plow them into the nearest field just to get rid of them and I was welcome to help myself to as much as I wanted.

The next day, I drove my pickup to work and brought a load of wood chips home when I returned. They worked out so well that I lined the trunk of my car with plastic tarps and brought home a full trunk of mulch every day until we had more than we needed.

Outside of the town where we lived, the county maintained dumpsters for people to dump their trash. One day when I was throwing some trash away, I saw a large unopened bag of peat moss. I remembered that Tawra said she needed peat moss, so I fished out the bag and brought it home. She was elated and it saved us money we could not afford to spend at the time.

After the peat moss discovery, we made a habit of checking the dumpsters whenever we had occasion to go there. When Tawra was pregnant, we found a glider rocker in pristine condition except that it was missing a couple of the screws. We found several antique chairs, an unbroken antique oil lamp and many other useful or valuable things. Whatever we did not need, we saved and later sold at garage sales. It was amusing that people who would not take the items out of a dumpster themselves were more than happy to pay cash to buy the same items from us.

We had one circular area in our yard where nothing but weeds would grow. After trying several things unsuccessfully to get grass to grow there, we finally determined that if weeds grew there so well, God must have meant for that particular piece of ground to be a garden! I carefully thought of what I wanted the garden to look like while Tawra made plans for the plants that we would put there.

One day when we drove past the dumpsters, we saw that someone had demolished a house and dumped all of the bricks next to the dumpsters. They were old, well worn bricks and were the perfect thing to give our garden that quaint old “English garden” look. If we had to buy bricks, they would have been very expensive, but because we were keeping on the lookout, we managed to get them for free. It’s amazing the ideas that you can get when you think about how you might recycle something in the garden. It also turned out to benefit the county, because the trash hauler would not haul bricks, making it very expensive for the county to get rid of them.

For plants, we found free starts rather than buying them most of the time. We heard that a man in town was doing his best to thin out his rhubarb plants because he had a lot more than he wanted. We went to his house and offered to help him thin them. We split each of the plants in half and planted the extra halves in our garden.

I discovered that we had an asparagus plant in the yard that a previous homeowner planted. Because asparagus is a temperamental plant that will not grow well for several years after it is transplanted, we arranged the adjoining garden so that we did not need to move the asparagus and it produced fresh asparagus all summer.

At the back of our yard, we had an old tree stump that we wanted to remove. One day, I went to test the strength of the stump and hit it with a 5 pound maul. Right away, the top popped off and I discovered the greatest little section of compost where the tree roots had completely rotted.

Later, I was considering what to do about a sickly raspberry plant that had had not grown at all in the two years that we lived there. It had only two pitiful shoots and never put out any edible berries, even though raspberries are normally wildly prolific plants. On a whim, I decided to dig it up and plant it where the stump had been. The soil where the stump had been was so good that the raspberry quickly became a three by eight foot raspberry patch. This was great not only because of the delicious raspberries, but it was also wonderfully entertaining for our two year old son who hung a raspberry bucket on his arm and somehow picked raspberries every day in his diaper and bare feet without once getting poked by the thorns.

We got some starts from a strawberry plant from Jill’s friend and soon had a 4×8 foot strawberry patch. (Strawberries, raspberries and mint are plants that like to spread and take over everything, so make sure to consider how to contain them before planting them!)

We had a large greenhouse and needed 5 gallon buckets for some of the larger plants. We found that we could buy them for $5.00 each, but we didn’t have enough money at the time to buy what we needed. We checked with the nearest recycling center and they gave us as many buckets as we needed for free.

Not far from our house, there was an area that our town had designated as a place to dispose of wood. Every so often, the town burned the pile to save on the cost of transporting it. Since we heated our house exclusively with wood, we visited the pile occasionally and brought home large pieces of logs to cut for our wood stove.

We also discovered that someone regularly disposed of pallets there. We needed to create an enclosure for our compost pile, so we screwed together several pallets standing on their ends and put the compost inside it. It was useful not only to contain the compost pile, but also because the holes between the slats allowed the pile to get plenty of air, accelerating the composting process.

We had a small dog that we wanted to let outside, but we had not yet saved enough money for a fence. Because the pallets were all a standard size, we build a fence out of some of the best looking pallets.

Tawra has an antique Nativity scene made of 4 foot tall wooden figures that we put out at Christmas. One year, there was a storm that damaged a lot of the trees in the area. We build a wood frame and used evergreen branches from the burn pile to create the walls of a stall for the nativity scene. It was very nice and especially pretty after a snowfall left a beautiful blanket of snow on it. The town liked it so much that we won a town contest for the best Christmas display.

These are just a few examples illustrating how easy it can be to save money recycling in the garden. With a little creativity, it is easy to find any number of ways to recycle things by using them in the garden. Not only is this a good way to save money, but recycling in the garden also helps you get that old fashioned garden look that many people pay thousands of dollars to get!


  1. judy says

    We recycle our vegetable leftovers in the garden as they accumulate. Also turn under any and all greens available in our yard. It is amazing how much we save by recycling our garbage in the garden and how nice our gardens have always been.

  2. Robin says

    I had not thought of asking some of the farmers for their wood; they otherwise would collect and burn – but which I could burn just as easily in our fireplace!

    We also drive by and pick up others’ bagged leaves placed curbside for trash pick up. We use these for mulch and to keep down weeds. We get a deeper layer of leaves, then use the wood chips on the top. I have found this is so rich a mixture, that I frequently have “volunteer” plants to take to plant swaps or dig up to replant elsewhere after they are established.

    We use dryer lint in our potted plants to keep the plant roots moist and the soil full of nutrients as the cotton fibers break down. I just poke it in the soil. If I am re-potting, I layer it near the roots/at the bottom of the pot.

  3. DeborAnn says

    Can incorporate packing “peanuts” in soil to help retain moisture around plants. (works, too)
    Never thought about “dryer lint”

  4. Melanie says

    I use packing peanuts in the bottom of my very large planters to keep them lighter, give better drainage. I fill the planters about 1/3 and then compost on top of the peanuts. I always have great planters and lots of compliments…No one knows what is undernealth….

  5. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I make a point of taking the dog for a long walk on trash night and check out what others put in the dumpster. I recently found some plastic dividers that I muse to organize my cabinet and freezer. I also found some baby gates that I use to keep my dog downstairs.

  6. patty says

    starbucks will give you used coffee grounds in bags with instructions for mulching. also the gophers dont like them. i got rid of a gopher village spreading them in my yard.

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