Some people might call me a bit weird when it comes to some of the garden upcycling materials I’ve used through the years.

I’d rather consider myself a creative gardener who works hard at being lazy.

At any rate, over many years of gardening I’ve used some items that you might not think of as something to be found in the garden. Actually, for the most part, I’ll never use those items again.

When it comes to mulch, I’ve been blessed to have had an abundance of old straw bales to use in my garden. A few farmers I know have helped me get some, and so have a few folks that have used it as insulation around their homes during the winter.

I had some lean years when it came to finding mulch material. That’s when I had to venture into garden upcycling.

 

Fortunately, my garden cannot be seen from the road so I was not held accountable to any standard by my neighbors or a passerby. That was good, because an old bright blue swimming pool cover never really fit in with the color scheme a garden is expected to have.

However, I found out the hard way that plastic deteriorates quickly under the sun. I’ve had the pleasure of picking up small blue pieces for several years.

Garden upcycling material I’ve tried to use includes carpeting, boards and odd pieces of vinyl siding as a cover for weed suppression and moisture control. Needless to say, none of those items made the cut in continued usage.

There are many different types of mulch you can use in your garden, including partially decayed leaves. (J. Tyler Klassen/Flavor 574)
There are many different types of mulch you can use in your garden, including partially decayed leaves. (J. Tyler Klassen/Flavor 574)

An old piece of carpeting will really suppress the weeds for a season or so. But it starts breaking down in a year or more and it’s a real pain to sort out the fibers and fabric that don’t break down. Not a good long-term thing to use in the garden.

On the other hand, I’ve used black and clear plastic on occasion, as well as newspaper and cardboard, with some success. One year I was given some bales of hay, but quickly found out that it doesn’t pull apart easily like straw does and is filled with weed seed.

I found an old barn ladder last year and used it as a sort of trellis for tomatoes to grow through. I plant primarily indeterminate types of tomatoes so they spread quite a bit and need support to keep them off the ground.

Hay bales sit and dry in a farmer's field in Southwest Michigan in June 2007. Hay is a decent choice for mulch material, but it may contain weed seeds. (Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)
Hay bales sit and dry in a farmer’s field in Southwest Michigan in June 2007. Hay is a decent choice for mulch material, but it may contain weed seeds.
(Flavor 574 photo/Joe Kuharic)

I have the plants grow through the ladder spaces, and I raise the ladder off the ground as they get bigger. This works fairly well and supports the tomato plants as they spread out. I’m using it again this year.

I suppose my efforts in the use of these “unnatural” garden upcycling materials stems from a desire to lessen the amount of physical labor needed to maintain the largest weed free area possible.

What I’ve found, though, is that reducing labor in one area of the garden requires more work in the long run. It is a kind of “pay me now or pay me later” type of thing. There may be ways to reduce the amount of work required to grow a garden, but there is nothing that can eliminate the physical requirements.

Ah, but therein lies the rub.

Part of what makes growing vegetables so satisfying is being able to enjoy the product of your labor; if everything in life came to us with little effort on our part, there’d be less satisfaction in the result.

Whether you’re building your own sailboat, raising a family or growing a garden, the journey in reaching a destination is a big part of the reward.

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