Repurposed for the Garden: We Recycle!

I’ve taken the message on the side of this recycling bin quite literally and am recycling it by turning it into a salad greens garden.

This house came chock-a-block full of junk, especially the backyard. Not that I’m complaining — we’ve found new uses for a great deal of the items and have saved some money in the process.

First up are the recycling bins: there were several, but we have no traditional use for them as living in a house means we are able to keep a large-sized recycling bin that suits most of our recycling needs. It was practically impossible to keep one recycling bin for any length of time while living in an apartment — someone was always stealing them off of the curb! And now, here, we have too many. Go figure.

Fortunately, recycling bins make great planters, if you can get past the ugly. We’re still in a yard renovation holding pattern as we now realize that a tiller is required if we’re going to manage the back breaking work of levelling it out. I originally thought we could do the work by hand because I’m not a big fan of tillers and may have also been overly optimistic when the snow was still on the ground, and the backyard garden was just a dream. Levelling out a bumpy, slopped garden requires time, something I don’t have right now as we are in a crunch to layout book #3 (due out in Spring 2012!). I also have some stray photos to take. As a result, I can’t get my raised beds in place, which means I can’t plant spring greens or peas. GAH! One of our big goals this year is to become completely self-sufficient in salad fixings. Starting next month (or so), I don’t want to buy a single head of lettuce ever again, if I can help it. This should be easy enough to achieve over the long term as I intend to dedicate a rather large bed to greens alone. So exciting! Obviously, this goal is unachievable if I can’t plant….

So for now, while we get through book deadlines and other insanity, the spare recycling bins are going to be my salad garden. Growing in them is simple work and requires no prep time as they already have drainage holes in the bottom. All I did was fill them up with potting soil and sow seeds. And done.

  • Planting: In this bin I sowed Botanical Interests all-red Valentine Mesclun Mix topped up with a few red lettuce, beet, and radicchio varieties that I had on hand because I didn’t have enough left in the packet to cover the surface of the bin. I am growing this as cut-and-come again lettuce so I needed to sow thickly.
  • Design: I went with a red mix with the hope that it creates a shocking contrast of colours against the video blue bin. My strategy here is to work with the ugly rather than attempt to cover it up.
  • Pest Prevention: A family of eager squirrels frequent the yard and they’re currently in an early spring digging frenzy, so I have covered the bin with a piece of plastic chicken wire that we happened to have on hand from another project. I clipped it in place with clothes pins, more leftover junk salvaged from the yard. The mesh should keep the squirrels from digging up the seeds and seedlings until they are big enough to survive a frenzied squirrel assault.
  • Added Drainage: I propped the bin onto cinder blocks (more yard salvage) to increase drainage out of the bottom holes. Aesthetically, propping the bin also lines it up with the porch steps. I may be using ugly recycling bins as my garden, but I still care about aesthetics!

Since chances are great that we won’t be able to plant up the yard anytime soon, I’m planning to fill up the remaining bins with kale, Swiss chard, and Spigarello. I’ve already got the seedlings going inside, but have to pick up some new potting soil. Oh, and build a cold frame so I can harden them off. That’s my next task….

p.s. For more of my tips and tricks on growing salad greens in small spaces, I have a piece in the print version of the latest issue of Yoga Journal. And of course, there’s tons of info in my book, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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15 thoughts on “Repurposed for the Garden: We Recycle!

  1. You can paint the recycling bins with the new plastic-appropriate spray paint that’s now available. We sprayed 3 of them black last year and grew tomatoes in them–they worked well and sprayed black they looked quite presentable too. (Note that paint is pretty nasty. I recommend a mask.) A mulch of wood chips on top of the soil helped a lot with moisture–we hardly had to water.

    I can’t take credit for the idea of painting and using the bins though–I saw it done in someone else’s garden on the Toronto Botanical Garden’s garden tour in 2009 (and you know that if it was a garden tour garden, it looked pretty nice).

  2. Don’t worry about tilling or leveling – ‘lasagna’ garden and raised beds are the way to go. Add in a terrier-type pup that enjoys digging in the off season and the deep double-digging will be done, too. I’ve got heavy clay soil and a lot of rocks, so after the first couple of beds where I realized I was removing most of the topsoil when I lifted sod, I switched to lasagna gardening. Now I’ve got luscious loam with tons of earthworms in all of my beds, totally organic and no hardpan 8″ down. I use lots of containers of all types, too – and love the repurposed ones best!

  3. Lia: The yard is on a severe slope, which will pose serious drainage issues should I attempt to grow a food garden in it as-is. I’m not an advocate and tilling, but in this case I’m left with no choice. I’m not trying to make it perfectly level… just level enough.

  4. I love that you are working with what you have! We have bothersome squirrels as well, but I don’t think that chicken wire would hold them back! They’ve chewed holes in our plastic garbage cans and just set up camp inside. Yes, that means we have very fat and happy squirrels!

  5. Cherie: Some squirrels are more aggressive than others. The squirrels in this neighbourhood are busy diggers but they don’t seem to be the type to chew through plastics or foam.

  6. Wish I could be more self sufficient when it comes to salad greens. I can do it during the off-season for most gardeners but during the summer most of the greens bolt on you quite rapidly. Had some romaine going last fall that promptly shot up and bolted on my in very, very short order. Have a boatload of chard and some arugala that I’ve grown all winter but I’m sure those will go by the wayside once the heat arrives here in the summer. Have thought about doing some baby greens under my seedling lights as they can’t bolt if I’m cutting them off when they are little and it won’t be quite as hot in my garage as it is outside.

  7. I live in an area that’s basically an old riverbed – hard clay and lots of rocks right under the top layer of soil. I got to a point where I wasn’t ready to build more raised beds just yet, but I knew I wanted more garden. The recycling buckets have been perfect for onions and garlic. I even have some saffron in one.

    The beets didn’t do so well in them, but that might have been as much my laziness with slugs as the bucket itself.

    As for small space gardening – I found an abandoned mop bucket behind the janitorial supply place next door.

  8. I’m WAY behind in reading your posts & this seems like an excellent one to read very closely. (Well, they all are, of course, but any mention of container gardening grabs my attention.)

    What a great goal to be greens self-sufficient!

    I’m sorry you can’t create your raised beds because of deadlines. But on the other hand, you turned this into an opportunity to be creative and resourceful as well very helpful to container gardeners everywhere. And fortunately, I don’t have to worry about squirrels.

    And yes, a big yay to book #3.

  9. Agreed….eagerly awaiting book #3! A few years ago, you wrote about your street garden and the issues of people being jerks and throwing all kinds of trash and stuff into it. I am moving to Philadelphia and wanted to try a recycling tub planter in front of the basement window to shield prying eyes from my jewelry studio inside. Do you think there are ways to minimize people using planters as trash cans? Or is this a losing battle? Maybe I need a pirate flag….

  10. Patience: Trash in gardens is a losing battle, but I wouldn’t give up before trying. A bit of garbage isn’t a big deal and never bothered me…. it was the other stuff that took it over the top… and the escalation in damage to the garden had a lot to do with rapid changes in the neighbourhood. I gardened in that spot for years with a reasonable amount of hassle (mostly in the form of garbage) before things became ugly and impossible.

  11. OK! Good to know! I will soldier on, being that I think the new ‘hood is on the up and up as far as hip young folks moving in. I can deal with some cigarette butts, cans and potato chip wrappers….Thanks for the great ideas on how to make recycled plastic containers look good! I’m going to try the wrap with cheap bamboo blinds idea…..:)

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