GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

Some People Call it Recycling


We call it cheap.

Yes, of course it’s “greener” to re-use things which originally had a different purpose.  The other option would be to dump those things and purchase new things to accomplish a task.  But that would cost a bunch of money, and last time I checked, no one I know has a bunch of extra they want to throw away.

So being green is also being cheap- I learned this at a fancy school. You might have heard of it- it was called School of Growing Up Poor.

Original School of Re-Using: The house I grew up in

One summer, a tornado ripped through our county.  Homes and barns were scattered everywhere.  Trees were down. Power was out.  The place was a mess.  I was about 15 I think, my sister was 11, little brother was 5.  And our task for the remainder of summer vacation was to reclaim as much of our buildings that had blown away as possible.  Lucky for us, no one had been injured.

Each morning from mid-June through end of August, we all got up, suited up in covered shoes, long sleeves, gloves, hats, sunscreen and bug spray and went to work.  For large pieces of lumber or wood that we couldn’t drag ourselves, we used one of our horses to pull it back to our property.  We’d form a small pile before lunch.  Take a break, time to fight like siblings do, and then in the shade tree in the afternoon, we pulled nails.

I was oldest, so I got to use Dad’s hammer, when he wasn’t using it.  (He and my stepmom were usually working on the really big issues with tractors, hydraulic lifts and pulleys and trying to get our power and water back.)  We also had to bucket water from another well for most of that summer too, using wagons and kid-power.  My sister and I would see who could fill their coffee can fastest with rusty, bent nails.  After we pulled all the nails out of the lumber, we made neat stacks of clean boards that were then re-used over the next many months, as we re-built a barn, a chicken house and a shed.  We were fortunate to only lose a porch off our house, leaving us with a roof over our collective heads.

Later that fall, after a new tractor shed had been constructed, my sister, my stepmom and I were out putting the roof on, again, recycled corrugated tin.  Some Jehovah’s Witness’ came over to visit and asked, “What are you ladies were doing up there?”

“Putting a roof on! Wanna help?” we yelled.  We got one guy to carry a bucket of nails up the ladder for us. We always have a giggle about that story, and wonder why they never came back to visit again.

So recycling and reusing is ingrained in me.  We re-used everything.  So when we set out to continue our journey in urban farming, free, recycled stuff was the obvious choice.

Let’s start with the most obvious: The Green Box Garden(s). They are multiplying! (I knew I shouldn’t have fed them after midnight….)

Free pallets, cut in half, screwed together and painted with mis-tinted discount paint. Inside lined with landscape fabric (on clearance!).  I mean really, who doesn’t love that shade of green!? And check out the blue poly barrel in the background- catching rain water!


These things are incredibly versatile.  Though we paid a little money for them, purchasing other items to do what these have done would have been much more.  I love them as container gardens for tomatoes, strawberries and lilies.  (One barrel cut into thirds.)

Also for rain catchment!  You have to be careful with water-catching though- don’t use it for leafy green veggies or strawberries, etc.  That water should go nowhere near anything that is going in your mouth due to possible E coli from bird doo on the roof! So we use it for non-edible plants and tree watering.

Growing up, these were coveted barrels.  They didn’t rust like metal ones, and we used them whole for storing for animal feed, storing loose hay, cut in half for water trough for horses, sleds in the winter, and of course, practicing barrel racing! Which I loved, but was never great at.

While I don’t like the place to look too junky, we have used a variety of things as trellises.  This one made from pallet wood for cucumbers.

Those plastic containers that apples sometimes come in, well they make great mini-greenhouses for starting seeds.

Perhaps my favorite recycled item in the garden is this one.  Our son’s crib-toddler-bed convert that was recalled for safety was also not-returnable.  We were out a bunch of money on this thing, and it made me furious that products for children do not have higher safety testing than they do.  The very piece in question, the part that fails and caused children to get stuck between the frame and mattress, well, it supports squash and beans in our garden.  Take that sub-par safety standards.

So, what are your favorite re-used or re-purposed items?

Author: Carmen

Things I love: justice in all forms; flowers; locally grown food; cloth-diapering; breastfeeding; feminist theory; outdoor play; beaches; wine; Divine interventions; 4-H and coffee. Things I loathe: racism; homophobia; toxic crap; misogyny; litterbugs; the zombie apocalypse and pitbull-haters. My formal education is in sociology, gender studies, and public policy. I'm also a Lactation Educator; 4-H Youth Development coordinator a Certified Master Gardener and a graduate of a Permaculture Design Course. I've been blogging for several years on dozens of topics- everything from women's health to breed-specific legislation. But the thing I like to write about most is my gardening, food adventures and my kids. So there you have it. Please be kind. Thanks.

9 thoughts on “Some People Call it Recycling

  1. A great and powerful story to put into conext what you are doing in your garden. A monster sized YES to re-use, and then re-use and then some more re-use.
    I’ve never seen thise plastic trays fo rapples and I can see instantly why they would be good for seedlings!

  2. Thank you! I’m always trying to figure out a way to re-use something. I’m currently researching a possible massive, island wide rubber flip flop recycle. Every house I know has at least 10 pairs of these things that are beyond use. Maybe a massive shred into playground mulch? or melt into rubber bouncy balls? LOL

  3. Love your blog. Loved seeing and hearing about how you grew up (so like me!) and I love your Great Flip Flop Round Up idea.

  4. thanks Q! I’m just glad you keep visiting me in my little corner of the blog world. 🙂

  5. Great post! I just love reading your blog.

  6. That is a good story! I sometimes wished I grew up on a farm, but I don’t think I would make a great farm girl. LOL

    I think recycling and re-using are great traits to have. If that’s called cheap, then call me cheap too. LOL I love your garden. I’ve tried growing an herb garden once, but it died. I think my soil is not great, so I’m planning on buying some worms and adding it to my soil.

  7. I LOVE the apple mini green house!


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