Repurposing resources for growing food

by Ryan Sandford-Blackburn

Fair shares applied in the garden for me means repurposing others' waste. Like many others, I have a tight budget when it comes to gardening. I want to grow a lot for not a lot of money. Here are some ways my garden has benefited from repurposing materials, sourced for free or very cheaply locally.

 

Starting a raised bed

If you're taking the no dig approach to gardening, you'll know that you can simply use cardboard to smother weeds before putting compost on top to grow in. I get cardboard boxes from recycling points at supermarkets, after Christmas is a good time to stockpile big sheets away into the shed ready for using later in the year!

If you're making raised beds with edging, e.g. wooden scaffold boards, they could cost a lot of money to fill as they hold a lot of material. Here's my suggestions to keep costs down:

  • Start with cardboard on the bottom, to keep weeds out
  • Add a thin layer of stones, broken bricks, and/or sand
  • Woody debris like hedge trimmings can help bulk out the bottom of the bed
  • Then, add topsoil and compost
  • Remember to mulch on top. Woodchip is cheaper than compost and adds a nice finish to the new bed

 

Composting

Pallets of course are a great free resource for building with. They're a simple way to make compost ways. (Consider what might happen with the pallet in five years once it's started to rot, though). To source pallets, look for neighbours having building work done and materials delivered or ask at building supplies shops etc.

Pet bedding and manure are great additions to a compost pile. Maybe neighbours or friends have rabbits or guinea pigs - ask what they do with the bedding at the moment; also, check what the bedding is - be conscious that wood shavings take a fair while to break down.

Microbreweries might have spent hops they're happy to give to you by the sack load. They'll only have to pay to have them taken away, otherwise. Careful packing them into your vehicle though, they can be slimy and smell of booze.

 

Bucket of nettlesFertiliser

Nettles are a good source for making your own plant food. Similar to comfrey tea, you submerge nettle leaves and stems in a bucket, weighted down with something heavy like a brick, until it smells.

The 'tea' can then be diluted in a watering can; it's particularly good food for plants you're growing for leaves, like chard or spinach.

If you're lucky to live by the sea, seaweed is an option too. It has trace nutrients in you might not get from elsewhere. When I used to live in Cornwall, I'd forage a sack of seaweed, take it home and rinse it with the outdoor hose, then take it to the allotment to spread on the veg beds.

When looking for spots, check that it is legal to collect and the water is clean - the Environment Agency have details on an online map.

 

Buckets

Buckets have so many uses - collecting water, moving compost, growing in... There's no need to buy new plastic buckets, though.

Ask at your local bakery if they have white food buckets they are throwing out, or if they can save some for you. They normally have jam, tomato puree, syrup etc. in.

I've made a worm bin from two buckets. Simply, one goes in the other. The one on top should have air holes drilled around the rim and drainage holes drilled through the bottom like a colander. Then, add worms and bedding with veg scraps, voila.

You can also grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds or old cotton clothing in a bucket with large holes drilled in the sides. Add your chosen growing medium, mix with the mycelium, keep moist and dark and check every now and then. When mini pins start to form, move the bucket to somewhere lighter and it should fruit, giving you mushrooms.

 

In natural ecosystems, resources are constantly cycling round being repurposed. We can be nutrient cyclers too, ensuring that resources are being put to good use and not locked up in landfill or being cycled through inefficient processes. I encourage you to look around you and see how you could incorporate others' waste into your food growing system this year. Happy growing!