The Repurposed Garden

Recently, I sat down with my box of seeds, and started dreamin’. It’s still chilly, but with seed packets poppin’ up in stores and catalogs brightening my mailbox, the promise of warmer weather beckons the gardener in me. More “suburbanites” are putting in backyard gardens.  Perhaps it’s the economy, or perhaps folks want to slow down, take a break from technology, and grab the joy digging in the earth brings.  Putting in a garden can get costly, but mine was done on a shoestring budget! I call it my “Repurposed Garden”.

I used to garden for several years, but then stopped for awhile. But, every summer, I’d find myself missing my garden.  Several flower beds kept me busy, but nothing is as satisfying as eating veggies you grow yourself! Last year, after finding MaryJanes Farm and the Sisterhood (and feeling like I found home), I was inspired to garden again.

I buy seeds early, and usually on sale. They then go in my “special” seed box.  Have you ever walked into a store and saw something you just HAD-TO-HAVE?  That’s how it was with my seed box.  It’s a weathered, red, hinged box, but it’s the message on front that inspires me so: “Let me have a little place where I can just dream“.  After Christmas, out comes my box, until it is emptied of seeds, then repurposed in summer to my front porch to hold red geraniums.

My seed starters are egg cartons, with holes in the bottoms for drainage. The organic eggs I buy at our local store come in plastic cartons; with the lids closed they become mini-greenhouses. With paper cartons, I use a bread wrapper over them. Next year, I will try the newspaper starters MaryJane recently posted on the newsletter “The Cluck”.  I also use a repurposed teak bread box as a mini-greenhouse to start my seedlings, in paper cups.  Just about anything can be used to start seeds in a sunny window.

For the garden itself, we repurposed our old Cyclone fencing “dog run”.  (My “furbaby” doesn’t know she’s a dog, so it’s unused).  We moved it to a sunny spot, dug up the grass, and used an old sandbox as a raised bed. We then put the soil down, my only real expense, bought at a home improvement store.  We bought bags that had small tears in them at half price!  One package of bird netting over the top keeps out the birds.  The raised bed is not as large as the inside of the fencing, so I repurposed old red bricks laying behind the tool shed, unused for years, making a path around the perimeter of the bed so I don’t get my feet muddy or step on my plants.  It looks great!

This is last year, when we first put in the plants.  It’s on the side of the house, out of the way, but in a sunny spot.

Last year, I had tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, lettuce, green beans, carrots, and squash. That little garden fed our family of three all summer long, and into the fall. My grocery bill went down because I didn’t buy produce for months. The yellow squash were so huge and plentiful, we dubbed our squash plant “Squashzilla”, and we made lots of squash casserole.  When the squash developed blight, I used a spray bottle mixed with water, sour milk, and baking soda, spraying the leaves everyday. I learned this trick from the gals on the Farmgirl Connection Chatroom, and it worked without harsh and expensive chemicals.  For slugs, I used an old pie pan with warm beer in it.

This is one of my favorite pictures.  Yum!

The last of the fall tomatoes, small and green, were made into a feast of fried green tomatoes!

I was surprised to find these left in the garden in fall.  There’s nothing like Fried Green Tomatoes!

Even my decorations were repurposed or recycled.  For markers, I did the project found in MaryJane’s Ideabook, using punched tin can lids, attaching mine to old popsicle sticks with Christmas ornament hooks.  I found the cutest garden angel at a flea market for fifty cents, and she provided the right amount of whimsy.  My father sent me a sign he made from old barn wood and pvc pipe, proclaiming my garden.  It’s my outdoor escape.

Easy-to-grow herbs are in the front bed. This year, I’ll use the long flower pots on my deck rails to grow my lettuce, like we did at my daughter’s school in Garden Club. Container gardening is a great way to go if you need more room or don’t have a large garden.

For a composter, I cut the bottom off a plastic garbage can, burying the bottom quarter. We fill it with scraps from the kitchen, and use less garbage bags.  I keep a coffee can under the sink for scraps emptying it every few days.  I didn’t spend a ton of money on a fancy composter, and for my needs this works just fine.  I was so happy when worms had moved in!  I keep it moist, and use a pitch fork to turn it every so often.

For now, I will keep checking on my little seedlings every day until out they pop. Can’t you almost smell and taste those fresh, ripe tomatoes, warm from the sun? Try a garden with me this year!  I may not have a farm, but I am a Farmgirl!  “Let me have a little place where I can just dream….”

  1. Ali - Farmgirl #12 says:

    Nice post! Love the garden angel! The I also love the picture of the veggies in the basket. Very nice!

  2. Ali - Farmgirl #12 says:

    Nice post! Love the garden angel! The I also love the picture of the veggies in the basket. Very nice!

  3. Dawn says:

    I loved this post! We are moving to a new place in a few weeks (in town) but I will have a big back yard and cannot wait to put in my own garden. I loved the egg carton seed starter idea. And also the composter. Can you tell me if you add lawn clippings or dried leaves or wood chips to your food scraps so that it composts properly?

    Hi Dawn!  Thanks for reading.  Yes, I put leaves and lawn clippings, kitchen scraps like veggie peels, carrot tops, egg shells, and even used coffee filters/grinds…just nothing with oil, milk or meat.  Thanks for reading! -Nicole

  4. Laurie Dimino says:

    Hi Nicole!
    Love your blog! I grew up with my grandparents who had a huge garden. Although I appreciated it somewhat back in the I marvel at what they actually accomplished all by hand. It was a massive garden, and my grandfather would ride his bike all over the neighborhood delivering fresh veggies to the entire neighborhood. Last year I started doing raised bed gardening in my FRONT yard- since that is where I get all of my sun. I can not tell you the joy that I get out of my gardens! I echo your sentiments of the pride that comes from being able to feed your family from your own vegetable garden.
    Happy Gardening and good luck with this years crops!
    Farmgirl Smiles,
    Farmgirl Sister#1403

    Laurie, I can just see your grandfather on his bike with those veggies!  What a great thought.  Good luck with your garden, too, and thanks for reading! -Nicole

  5. Nella Spencer says:

    Hi Nicole, I live in Chicago and have a small garden. Was thinking about composting this year and loved your idea with the garbage can. I am definitely going to try it! With our limited space it’s still fulfilling to have a garden and be connected to the earth. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Barb says:

    Look at you-Farmer Nicole. I absolutely love it.

  7. Rowena Richey says:

    Reading this article makes me want to get out and get my gardening going. I have 3 boxes in my back yard. I need to find a way though to keep the little animals out. The hint on treating blight for vining plants like squash is one I will try.

  8. Brenda says:

    Thanks for getting me in the mood.  I love my garden too.  The first warm tomato is the best thing in the world, and a cucumber sandwich… yummy yummy yummy. Thanks for some hints too.

  9. cynthia olcott says:

    Love the brick walkway! I’m going to try one like that in our greenhouse! I use cardboard tubes from toilet paper to start tomato seeds, as the seedlings have a long root, and the cardboard will biodegrade.

    Cynthia, Great tip!  Thanks!  -Nicole

  10. Therese says:

    Hello Nicole!
    I had to laugh when I read that you had repurposed a sandbox! We did the same thing a few years ago, and I love it even more because of all the memories of playing in it with my daughter in sun warmed sand. I am just getting my garden started here in the So Cal suburbs.
    Wishing you a bountiful harvest!
    Farmgirl Sister #1217

    Same to you…thanks for reading!  -Nicole

  11. Kirsten says:

    I too am a suburban farmgirl! I have a yard the size of a postage stamp so garden realstate is minimal. My Daughter and I have a potted garden planned with all sorts of veggies she will actually eat. We’re in zone 2 one harsh, short growing season, but we’re optomistic that our garden. however small, will grow! Thanks for the post

    Thanks for reading, and good luck with your garden!  Isn’t it fun to garden with your  daughter? -Nicole

  12. Mary Ann says:

    Thanks, Nicole, I think you just inspired me to try a small garden/compost. Again thanks for your story and inspiration!

  13. Linda G says:

    I start my seeds in glass jars,I dampen a folded paper towel and slide it in the jar on its side,sprinkle in some seeds and screw on the lid, put it in my kitchen window its like a little greenhouse and when the seedlings have grown I pull apart the paper towel and transplant them to pots to become "teenagers"I put them in the garden.The paper towel is biodegradable so the roots dont get disturbed….Happy Spring!

  14. Diana Lambson says:

    Spring is finally here in Nebraska. Didn’t think it ever would. I should have faith.

    Got out all my seeds about a month ago. Had some that were from last year. I had planned to put them in then but an unexpected visit to our daughter and a health problem for me squashed all but tomatoes and peppers.

    Well, I used an egg carton for some herb seeds and planter cups for beans, radishes and anise. Wanted to see if the seeds would even germinate since they were packed for 2009 and 2010. Beans and radishes have sprouted. Also some of the anise and oregano. Now I don’t know what to do with them. We are still having some really cold nights. I guess I at least know the seed is still viable.

    Thanks for the other tips and for letting me know I’m not the only January dreamer. Diana

  15. Lisa says:

    Oh hi 🙂 I made my own composter too – out of a rubbermaid bin. Very cheap (well I bought it years ago and it was just lying around). You say you buried yours. Do you put any kind of lid/cover on it? I want worms in mine too but I’m afraid the food will attract animals. So mine is covered fully, with air holes for circulation, and I stir regularly. If I could stick mine in the ground and invite worms without inviting other animals, I’d be happy.

    Mine is set back, not too near the house.  It is a rubbermaid trash can that I cut the bottom off (so it is like a big tube), burying just the bottom a few inches.  I do not put a lid on it but do keep it moist in dry conditions.  We have woods with lots of critters, but I don’t have a problem with them getting in there, because I don’t put any milk or oil based foods.  Thanks to everyone for reading and for your comments and ideas!  -Nicole 

  16. Debbie says:

    I’m loving your re-purposed garden Nicole! I used egg cartons for planting seeds this spring too. It’s fun to re-purpose and keep memories of the past alive too!
    Happy Gardening…
    Beach Farmgirl

  17. Mary says:

    I put in two 4′ X 4′ raised bed gardens last year (a la Mel Bartholomew’s ideas on square foot gardening). They were so successful my husband wants six squares this year. I grew yellow squash, sugar snap peas, vine tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers on frames to make best use of the space. I also added flowers for beauty. This suburban farm girl loves sitting near her gardens and sipping herb tea with a good book. Thanks for your inspiration. Time to start planting!

  18. Tess Sole says:

    Hi, Nicole- Here in Oregon, we are having a late start to Spring but it looks like it’s finally getting here. My husband tore out our front lawn and put in a couple of raised beds. We also have fruit trees, blueberries, currants and some ornamentals, too. We put in some tomatoes and herbs in containers in addition to my young fig tree in the back. It feels great to raise some of your own food and be just a little more self-sufficient. Thank you for the great blog, I really enjoy reading it. Tess.

    Thanks so much, Tess! -Nicole

  19. Merrilyn Blackmore says:

    After a hard day at work how your article made my heart sing. It is still so cold here in Alaska. The sun may shine but the wind sure has a bite in it still. I cannot wait to retire and join my husband in a warmer part of this state. He told me he planted pole beans and tried again to block the moose from our garden. I really like your idea of a dog pen. So smart! I will be looking for one. You have no idea how quick those moose can eat through a garden.
    I always enjoy your writings.
    Keep it up.

    Thank you so very much, Merrilyn! -Nicole

  20. nancy says:

    Get some chickens girl! Here’s my "chicken page". I did lots of research (buy your chicks local) and we used mostly recycled materials for everything-

    Good luck and keep dreaming 🙂

    Nancy, thanks for the input!  Check out my other blog entry, "Fowl Play"!  -Nicole

  21. Crystal says:

    What else do you put in your composter to make the soil? grass? dirt? do you layer it equal parts?

    Hi Crystal, I put grass clippings, dried leaves (they are great), potato peelings, egg shells (wash first), anything that isn’t meat or oil based.  I throw it in, and using a pitch fork, every once and again I "toss" it, like a big salad, bringing the older stuff up to the top.  After the winter, I used the soil that it had become, and started over now in the summer.  Worked great.  Good luck!  -Nicole

  22. Sarah says:

    Nicole – just love your blog! I have recently discovered my inner farm girl here in suburban Michigan and am having a blast!

    Was wondering if you could give me your exact recipe for the milk/baking soda solution you used for your squash, as mine have developed blight as well. And do I apply it every day? Is there a certain time of day that is best?

    Thanks so much!

    Here’s what I used:  1 part milk to 9 parts water, 1 tsp baking soda and a few drops of dishsoap.  Put in a spray bottle and spray on the affected leaves.  I did this twice a day.  – Nicole

  23. Tatum Boehle says:

    I like the design of your blog! It looks really full.

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