A casual stroll through your local home and garden center will lead you to believe that gardening is an expensive endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be wallet-consuming. We’ve found that we can use quite a few reclaimed and cast-off items in our garden. Because we use these upcycled garden ideas, we’re able to spend our gardening money on things that we can’t get for free.
We started growing a garden to feed our family when my husband was in graduate school and we were living below the national poverty level, we relied on reclaimed items for our gardening and homesteading supplies. At first it was hard to think outside the box and not just run to the store to pick up what we thought we needed. But over time we’ve learned that if we slow down and think about what we want to accomplish and what we already have, we can usually figure out an upcycled garden idea to get the results we want.
Upcycled Tomato Cages
One of our first upcycling in the garden ventures was what do to with our tomatoes. For years we bought the tomato cages from the store but most didn’t last more than one or two seasons. And even then, they weren’t really strong enough to hold a mature tomato plant loaded with tomatoes.
Then we tried to make our own cages with livestock fencing which was labor intensive, somewhat pricey, and they started breaking after two seasons.
About eight years ago we started using 250-gallon tote cages for our tomatoes. These are metal cages that surround a 250-gallon industrial tote. We have a friend who uses these in his business and gives us his extra cages. I’ve also seen companies sell these inexpensively, similar to those that sell burn barrels because they don’t have a way to get rid of them after they use the contents in their business.
These are the best tomato cages we have ever used. We can easily put four tomato plants in a cage and use strips of old cotton t-shirts to tie the tomato plants to the cage as they grow. They do take a bit more space to store than a small tomato cage so we just keep the amount we use and store them in the garden year round.
We’ve also used them for pole beans and cucumbers, but they don’t work as well for long vine plants as they do for tomatoes and tomatillos.
For long vines, we have several upcycled garden ideas we use in our garden.
When we bought our home, the windows had wrought iron bars over them. We removed them and use the largest one in the garden for a trellis.
When our son’s metal futon frame broke we stacked the frames and used t-posts to turn them into another trellis.
Our church was getting rid of some old eight-foot wooden folding tables that had water damage. We took them and removed the legs and tabletop from the metal frame. We staked the frames with t-posts and added string to make seven-foot tall trellises.
My sister uses a couple of 12-pane window frames in her garden as trellises. She had to replace the windows in her home and wanted to do something fun with the old ones. They look so nice in her little cottage garden.
Pretty much anything that is tall and either has a way for vines to grab and climb or you can add string or wire to will make a good upcycled trellis. T-posts are inexpensive and old ones can often be found hanging out in various areas of our property so we use those to stake whatever we’re using for a trellis.
Keeping our garden watered is a chore every summer. All of our water supply is near our house and not throughout our property. So we water by hand. I actually don’t mind hand watering because I find it relaxing. But I can’t always get out to the garden every day.
Years ago we started using milk jugs to help water our garden deeply. During the heat of summer, it’s especially important to water deeply and not just the surface of your garden.
We save our milk jugs and use a drill with a small bit to put small holes in each side and the bottom of the milk jug, we don’t put holes past the shoulder of the jug. Depending on the size of the drill bit, we put 10 to 20 holes on each side.
We put two milk jugs in each 4 X 8 bed and bury them up to the neck of the jug. When I’m watering, I can put the hose in the jug and just let it fill and overflow a bit while I do a little weeding and harvesting.
If your space is limited and you’re growing crops in containers, these self-watering planters are a great idea.
Upcycled Raised Beds
I love using raised beds in my garden instead of row planting. Somehow the idea of having many small areas to plan and work is less overwhelming to me than planning and working in one large area.
But building planter boxes can get expensive if you’re using all new materials. We’ve built a few this way, but it’s not my favorite because over time the wood breaks down.
Some people use pallets to build planter boxes because the wood is free. But you need to make sure the pallet isn’t built with treated wood. Not all pallets are stamped (only international ones are required to be stamped) but if you have one that is stamped MB it’s treated with Methyl Bromide and should not be used.
We’ve used fallen tree logs to build some of our raised beds. I love this look even though not all of the beds are the same size or even straight. But over time even these large logs break down.
This year we decided to start looking for salvaged bricks and cinder blocks to build our beds. It will take time. We won’t have it all done in one season, and it won’t all match, but I think it will be beautiful once it’s filled with plants.
And that’s the thing, the beauty of a garden is in what it’s growing and how it’s feeding your family, not in the decorations. So don’t be afraid try some upcycled garden ideas in your garden. Some will work out great and some won’t but it’s worth upcycling in the garden before you buy something.
What upcycled garden ideas do you use in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.