Vegetable garden ideas using recycled materials

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Great strides have been made in recent years in terms of recycling the billions of tonnes of waste that is produced around the world each year. However, more still can be done to boost efforts to reduce the negative impact that waste has on the environment.


One novel way in which you can boost your recycle efforts is to use disposable items to grow fresh food in your home and garden. This piece will show how you can combine recycling with creating or enhancing a vegetable garden.

Give your old items a new lease of life

By giving a new lease of life to everyday household items you can increase the scope of your vegetable garden by making use of formally out-of-reach areas such as walls and fences. Start off by reviewing things that you have stored away in cupboards and old items that you are thinking of replacing or throwing away. The image shows how Wellington boots can be used to grow fresh produce on your fence. Objects such as old suitcases, watering cans or kettles could also be used to grow things such as delicious radishes or colourful marigolds to be enjoyed as part of a fresh salad.

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Take advantage of vertical space

Plastic is a cheap and highly durable man-made material that has been put to lots of uses in the modern world. However, its durability also means that it does not degrade easily and it can impact negatively on the environment. Thus, it is important that we find new uses for items made out of plastic. In this image you can see how empty plastic bottles can be used to grow vegetables that prosper in limited spaces, such as lettuce. You should first cut away part of the bottle and fill it with gardening substrate before planting the seeds or cuttings. Hang or attach the bottle horizontally to the wall and do not forget to make some holes in the bottom so excess water does not collect in the container. With some vegetables, such as radishes, it will be better to use the bottle vertically to allow the root - the part that is consumed - to grow better.

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Home-grown potatoes

One great way of growing potatoes is to use old tyres. Firstly, you should stack three or four tyres and cover the inside with a large plastic bag, making sure that it has a few holes to allow for drainage. Once you have completed this stage, fill the stacked up tyres with soil and place a potato sprout five centimetres below the surface. If you do not have any potatoes with sprouts at hand, leave one in the refrigerator for a few days. Once planted, you must wait six or seven months for the potatoes to grow. You will have to carefully disassemble the stack of tyres and look underneath the soil as new potatoes grow on the roots of the mother plant.

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Recycling tin cans

Did you know that you can easily turn empty cans of tinned tomatoes into the perfect utensil for growing actual tomato plants? Select large tins so that the plants have plenty of room to grow and do not forget to make holes for water drainage. Fill the tins with a rich, loose gardening substrate such as worm humus and pearlite. Remember to position the tins in an area that gets a lot of sunlight and to water the tomato plants one or two times a day. When the plants have grown above 40 or 50 centimetres, you should use stakes to prevent gusts of wind breaking the main stems.

Small vegetables

Unused guttering can be transformed into an excellent habitat for small leafy vegetables like salad rocket. Fixed to a wall or hanging from a roof, you can use old guttering to take advantage of vertical space. It is also a practical way of growing small edible flowers such as marigolds or Indian cress to be used in salads. Both are beneficial plants for vegetable gardens as they attract pollinating insects like bees and they also distract pests away from your main produce.

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Old wooden boxes

Old wooden boxes also make excellent habitats for your garden plants due to their breadth and depth. You can try using them to grow herbs, peppers, spinach, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peas, beans, cabbage and beetroot. Indeed, they can be used for almost everything you could ever imagine growing. You will need to cover the inside with plastic to hold the gardening substrate. Make some holes for drainage and then fill the box with a soil suited to the vegetable, plant or herb that you are looking to grow. If you feel like adding a little touch of style to your garden, you could paint the boxes in a variety of colours.

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Water can be recycled as well

We should all try to cut down on our water usage as it is one of the Earth’s precious resources. One way to do this is by collecting rainwater in your garden. Leave a container, such as a bucket, pan or old plant pot, out in the open the next time you see that it is going to be a rainy day. Once you have collected the rainwater, you can later use it to water your plants. Rainwater is healthier for our plants, as it contains less chlorine and salt minerals than is found in tap water.

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Organic waste

Everyone who has a vegetable garden should be looking to recycle their organic waste in the form of compost that can be used to enrich plants and vegetables. Compost is the natural process of decomposition of organic waste that transforms it into potting soil. It is a virtuous circle in which the left over waste from vegetables which have provided us with food becomes compost that provides growing vegetables with nutrients. It is also a very useful method of recycling biodegradable waste.

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Other ideas

If you want to have plants at home, you can either buy seedlings ready for transplanting from a garden centre or, if you already have experience, you can make your own seedlings. The latter option involves germinating the seed and, once the bud has reached the right size, transplanting it to its final location. You can produce seedlings in a wide variety of recycled containers such as jars and milk cartons.

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Let your imagination run wild

Creativity is the most important part of using recycled materials in your vegetable garden. Play around with the myriad of options that are at your disposal. Walls, ceilings, floors and many other corners of your home and garden are waiting for that green-fingered idea that will provide you with fresh, delicious produce to share and enjoy with your family.

Related: How to grow vegetables in the shade in the UK

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Your expert: Ezequiel Waldmann

Ezequiel Waldmann writes on gardening matters for various websites. He is passionate about plants and has a special interest in organic vegetable gardens. His motto in life is “the greener, the better.”

Related: How to grow seasonal vegetables in Britain

Ezequiel Waldmann