If you know anything about me, it should be that I love to produce. I like to make things from seemingly nothing and I also like to instill that ability in others. Which is a big reason I have my garden. Taking a little seed and making it grow into a big ol’ plant, that’s my JAM! So after I got my community project rolling, I needed to do more! But on the limited budget that I was on (ahem, $0) I couldn’t do it alone. Which is when my googling took me to Neighbourhood Small Grants. The Vancouver Foundation actively funds small neighbourhood projects each year; all you need is an idea and the ability to share it and see it through.
When I found NSG, I got to work writing out my application.
Last year, my family grew more food than we were able to eat; we gave away the excess where we could to friends yet a fair amount still went to waste. In this we realized an opportunity to create community, and so this year, we have endeavored to build more gardening space. I am a horticulture student with an interest in edible landscaping and I intend to eventually eliminate my front lawn completely and replace it all with food. We have sent letters out to the 60 homes in our neighbourhood letting everyone know that we would be sharing our excess produce with them this year. Within the week, we have heard from about 10 of our neighbours, thanking us for this and already asking after some mint they saw growing; which is where this project comes in. I want to build a planter box (2’w X 6’l X 3’h) in my front yard, next to the sidewalk, in which to grow produce designated for the neighbourhood, starting with lettuces and mints. I also want to empower my neighbours to grow their own food by producing seedlings that they can plant in their own gardens and yards, and also provide free seeds with planting instructions. I will be doing the bulk of caring for the plants we grow, and I intend to create videos for our neighbours to learn how to harvest the plants being grown so that the plants are cared for and we continue to get a harvest from the food being grown. My project costs include the following: Purchasing the materials to make the planter box (treated wood, screws, dirt, delivery) Purchasing seeds and small plants to be planted into the planter Purchasing potting soil, reusable seedling pots, and seeds for seedlings Purchasing seed envelopes and printer ink to print on the envelopes Cost of printing and laminating small signs for the planter and to accompany the seedlings Cost of labels for the seedling pots so that they may be returned and reused I hope to cultivate a thriving community around the production of our own food. I hope to grow this project further in the future by putting a cold frame on the planter (for winter growing), creating a seed library where we may exchange seeds, and reusing the products purchased for this project to continue to offer plants and seeds to my neighbours in addition to the produce I share.
My ambitions were high, and still are! Once this NSG was approved, I got to work. Unfortunately, I mis-estimated how tall my planter should be, and it was nearly twice the height that we needed it to be (we wanted kids and adults alike to be able to pick yummy food!). Because the wood was already purchased and cut, and all the costs already estimated, I decided to double the footprint my yard was going to contribute to this project and made my one planter box into two.
While this was being built; I started growing some seedlings ASAP to share with my neighbors. Within a few days of the grant being approved I had the soil I needed to share some sunflower seedings (check out my instagram to learn why I had these to share!) and a few tomatillos. I had another neighbour with tons (16!) of volunteer tomato seedlings for me to share on my little community table. In the two months that I’ve had the funding, I’ve been able to share all these plants, and some pumpkin seedlings. So far, this little community table has shared 30+ seedlings!
Seedlings that pop up in places where you did not plant them. Usually they’re the offspring from fallen fruit from last year’s crop.
I wasn’t able to get dirt into the planter boxes until much later than I originally anticipated, so we’re just now beginning to get plants into it. I decided to fill one with tomato plants and a little bit of mint (which we have separated into it’s own planter within the box so that it doesn’t spread as easily). The other box is just about to be planted with some fall crops, like lettuce, kale, and maybe some radishes.
So if you’re on Hansard, feel free to swing by and pick up some fresh produce from the two labeled planters! Soon you’ll be finding seeds on the community table for fall planting, and other fun treats as a result of this neighbourhood small grant.
Last year, more food than I would like to admit went to waste in my yard. If you haven’t seen my 2020 garden recap yet, check it out! My garden produced more food than Jim (husband man), Cecilia (daughter person), and I could eat, even when sharing the bounty with the friends and family we were socializing with. I took care to harvest some food specifically for the freezer, I preserved food by pickling, canning, and dehydrating, and yet, I still had a lot of food just be tossed into the compost.
So why did I made my garden even larger this year? Well, it’s pretty simple; so that I could create a community among my neighbors.
A group of people who live in the same area or who share a common characteristic, like gardening, or eating. Eating is my favourite kind of community assembly
Now, you could argue that my neighbors and I already belong to a community, as we literally all live in each other’s vicinity, but aside from the casual conversations I have with my next door neighbors, D&W, watching my kid play with other kids while I stand there with the other parents, and the constant walks Cecilia and I take, we don’t really interact with our neighbors which is a shame. So I decided that this year, instead of letting food go to waste, I would create a place where I could share garden fresh produce.
My ultimate goal here is to share my excess and have neighbors share theirs. To start a conversation around growing our own food, and living a more sustainable life. And to get to know my neighbors a bit more intimately. I hope that by offering a community space to share, we become more interconnected and learn from one another.
I brought up this project with a small group of people in a discussion around food security and I had two individuals reach out to me, asking about my grassroots project. Until this point, I didn’t think about it as a grassroots project, and just something I was doing for my family and for my desire for community, but the more I considered it, the more it became evident that this term “grassroots project” was so accurate, except there would be no grass, because I’m ripping my lawn out!
This project of mine has a budget of $0 so I turned to my local Buy Nothing group (you know how I love my BN group) and Facebook Marketplace for free listings of the things I would need to make this project a little more “real”. I wanted a table (to place my gifts) and baskets and bowls (to put the food into, on the table).
Fortunately, I was able to find a table pretty quickly (sooner than I was ready to put it out!), and I’ve now started collecting baskets and bowls to share the wealth.
My next step was telling my neighbours about this. Because of COVID I couldn’t exactly go door knocking, so I worked on a letter which I then printed (I decided that using materials I already had, like paper, ink, and seeds did not count against my budget) 60 copies of. This was a big undertaking for me because I also decided that I wanted to make sure that my neighbours wouldn’t just think this all was spam or someone trying to convert them to another religion before they even opened the letter, so I coloured a different fruit/veg/plant drawing on every.single.letter and wrote out one of two things “It’s like a farmer’s market, but no farmer and free” or for the ones which my drawing suffered “I grow food better than I draw it!”
The day after we sent out these letters (which Cecilia and I hand delivered), our Instagram had a bunch of new followers and we had neighbours already dropping by, asking after the mint I had planted. My table wasn’t even out yet, and our neighbours were excited!
I’ve also applied for a Neighborhood Small Grant, for which I’ve been approved, which will allow me to grow plants specifically for this project AND build a planter box just for neighbour use. In it, I will be planting some lettuces, mints, and perhaps other small things, and posting videos to instruct neighbours on how to harvest these goodies for themselves. I will have another blog post though to share more about that project, which I’ve titled Hansard Growing.
As this project grows (pun intended) and I learn more, I hope that I can inspire other small neighbourhoods to do something similar. All it takes is one person to make a good change in their community!
“Buy nothing. Give freely. Share creatively.” These are the corner stones of the Buy Nothing Project, founded in Washington (the state) by two friends, Rebecca and Liesl (Buy Nothing Project, n.d.)*. I’m interested in reducing waste and other green goings on, so when this project came across my radar, it piqued my interest because it’s such a simple concept.
When I originally wanted to be involved in the Buy Nothing Project, I couldn’t find a Facebook group for my city, which meant I wasn’t able to join because part of the premise is a hyper local gifting economy. Until I found the BuyNothing7 Challenge, I thought I was SOL for getting involved. Since then, I have found a local group to me and have been participating almost daily.
Back to the 7 day challenge. It was an interesting concept. Spend no money, except on essentials for 7 days. That part can be simple, especially in these pandemic times, but then comes the challenge part; each day there is a specific “todo” to really get involved in the gift economy. So knowing there was a new challenge every day, I decided to put this challenge off until after classes started. Then until after midterms ended. Then “maybe after the reading break” and I realized I just had to commit and make myself accountable for my own BuyNothing7.
Giving comes easily to me; not so easily? Giving away things of mine. I grew up poor, for a lack of a better word, and I early on became uniquely attached to my things. I also am a bit of a… collector. If I think something may have a use, I have a hard time getting rid of it. This is something I’m working very hard to amend but I have collected literally every tin that we have gotten from my daughter’s formula and not given them away because “I can use these!”. I am still unwilling to give up those tins, but there are pleanty of other things which I can part with.
I started off this day’s challenge fulfilling a gift to someone in my local BuyNothing group who has been looking for milk jugs for their winter garden. They’ve started to collect now for next winter. I have all the clean milk jugs that I can use for my own winter sowing, so I’ve been collecting these 4L jugs for this person that I don’t even know for a few weeks now and I just remembered that my collection has grown enough now that I can tell her to come and pick them up.
But that isn’t explicitly the challenge. Sure, I gave, but I had already set that all aside and it felt a little like cheating, especially as I hadn’t cleaned anything. It took me about 30 minutes to decide to clean my sewing desk.
This sewing desk often becomes a junk desk. It sits in our den and because it’s corner lines up with the corner of the room, we can put things on it that Cecilia (daughter/person) can’t reach. Which means it’s seldomly useable for it’s intended purpose; sewing. I have a matching dress project that I started working on in December that I frankly forgot about that I managed to uncover while cleaning! And now that I’ve cleaned the desk off, I can keep on working on it.
As for the gift; I uncovered here a brand new car window sunshade that we never used but my daughter decided to rip out of the packaging. We would likely never use it (clowns creep me out) so I posted it. I also came across my collection on safety eyes (the hard plastic pieces used as eyes for stuffed animals). This pack had some outrageous number of eyes and noses in it, and I needed a few different sizes so I splurged. I will keep on using them, but I realized that there’s no way that I’ll be using them all, so I sent out another offer into the Facebook Buy Nothing world, offering a few pairs to anyone who needed them so they wouldn’t have to go purchase their own extraordinary number.
Day one down, and it was a lot easier than I chalked it up to be. Now for day two.
Day 2, BuyNothing7; Fix
We live in such a wasteful world. I’m sure you can think of something that you owned that when it broke, instead of fixing it, you just tossed it. I can think of a few pairs of pants which ripped where my thighs rub together and instead of fixing them, which I am completely capable of doing, I put them in the “donate” pile. Looking back on this, I can only think of myself as a complete piece of rubbish. Not only was I unwilling to fix them or repurpose them, I gave a pair of pants to a charity who would undoubtedly just toss them as actually fixing them isn’t part of what they do. I put the onus of throwing them away on someone else’s shoulders so that I wouldn’t feel bad about throwing them out myself.
I’m getting off track. The point of this day is to look around at the things in your home which need to be fixed and actually put the time into fixing that thing. And if you don’t know how, it was something that you could approach your local Buy Nothing group for as an ask. And if you had nothing to fix, then offer yourself to your group to perform a service.
I will admit, I had to go grocery shopping today, but as per the BuyNothing7 challenge rules, this is totally okay, as long as I don’t purchase things on impulse, as it’s a need. I got everything on my list and nothing else, except hand soap. It was on my list for weeks and the store was always out when I went, so hand soap wasn’t on this list, but it was on my general list of things that we needed and the store wasn’t out. I also got myself a coffee as a little treat for getting out of bed to grocery shop at 7:30am, which was also something I had planned and is okay as per the rules. I almost cracked to get a super tasty looking cranberry muffin, but I am proud to say that I resisted.
For the day specific challenge, I decided to repair my husband’s slippers. As far as projects go, this one was simple, but also sitting on my todo list for far too long. As you can see in the photo, a thread holding the leather sole onto the felted slipper was beginning to unravel. These slippers were given to Jim (husband/man) as a welcome gift from his last employer and he adores them, I guess they’re comfortable, anyway, he had asked me to fix them and I gave him explicit instructions not to wear them until they were fixed so that the fix doesn’t become more difficult. Poor guy keeps complaining about his cold toes, instead of, you know, wearing socks.
This fix took me approximately 15 minutes. I could have done it faster, but I wanted to be careful to ensure the slipper looked as good as it did before and not disrupt the integrity of the original thread, as it is still holding most of the slipper intact.
It’s pretty obvious why this is a challenge in the BuyNothing7, because it encourages a fix culture rather than one of waste where you throw a thing away when it becomes dysfunctional, and replace it. Obviously, on some level, there are a lot of aspects about the Buy Nothing culture that I agree with which is why I decided to do this challenge in the first place, but analyzing each challenge as I am doing here really helps to drive the point home.
As a quick update on day one as well is that in offering safety eyes to other people in my buy nothing group, I’ve made a friend (kind of) who is coming to pick up some eyes from me, but who has started a conversation with me and is sharing resources for her crochet and is marveling at my work.
The blog post didn’t take me long to write, maybe 2 hours total with formatting and inserting images, and what it made me do is reach out to a local gardening community (on Facebook of course) and ask them what their favourite frugal “hacks” are. I had a fair number on my own, but there were a few I was having troubles with remembering (like taking cuttings off of another plant to grow a new plant) that served as a refresher. There were also some new ideas for me, and it created a really important discussion in that group. In a way, this challenge is bringing out some social opportunities.
Day 4, BuyNothing7; Needs vs Wants
This day’s challenge was mostly about inner reflection. There’s a fine line between needs and wants, and that line shouldn’t matter. When you’re taking the time to do the BuyNothing7, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have both your needs AND wants fulfilled.
I took probably only 30 minutes to think about needs vs wants today and I think I have a hard time driving a line because it really depends on my mood if something is a need or a want. For example, we recently bought a brand new BBQ, for cooking up the cow we have in the freezer and to get more use out of our deck and to enjoy another cooking method. The BBQ is a want, but its also a need if we think about the type of lifestyle we want for our family. I want the “eat outdoors” lifestyle in the summer, I need to eat something that wasn’t heated up on my stove, I NEED a hotdog off the BBQ because I am not allowed to have a fire in my backyard. There are a lot of wants and needs all rolled into one item, which is where I feel it gets a little convoluted.
Sure, we can look at whoever’s hierarchy of needs (I’m not going to name drop because it was totally stolen from Indigenous peoples and I am not here for that) and state what my overarching needs are, because they are the same as every other living human. But what about food. Food is a need, but I don’t need dried pasta, I could make it myself. The need comes into play when you evaluate what your time is worth and do a cost analysis. I can make pasta (and I do sometimes) but it’s not a sustainable thing for me to be doing. I also don’t need pasta period, I could survive on just produce, but again what kind of quality of life would I have? (I’m not saying people who eat strictly vegetables have a low quality of life, just that it would create a less than desirable quality of life for myself).
While it’s important to distinguish needs vs wants, it’s also imperative to evaluate your wants on a scale. We’re going to need a new car soon. I want a new car soon. Both of these are true. When we buy a car, I have two lists. I have a list of needs: I need to be able to strap two car seats in. I need something hybrid or electric if we’re buying new. I need to have something with a fair amount of space so that I can shove work things in. I also have some wants: I want it to have towing capabilities. I want it to be a manual (which is not happening with an electric car). I want seats that fold down flat. I want a trunk that open by me pressing my foot under the bumper. There are a lot of things I want, but I realize that all my wants are not realistic. But having one or two of my wants will bring me some joy, which makes at least one of my wants a need.
I feel my writing is starting to get too introspective now. I’m going to move one. The point is, I spent some time with my needs and wants.
Day 5, BuyNothing7; Sustainable 24
Think about what you’re spending money on that maybe you don’t even realize that you’re spending money on in these 7 days. Your lights are on, you’re probably not freezing or boiling hot, because of the silent things we spend money on. So in this 24 hour period, we’re asked to consider what we’re spending money on and how we can reduce that cost. Often when we spend money we’re also impacting our environment in some way, so reducing these regular costs can help to reduce our ecofootprint. The main take away is “spend less, conserve more.”
Some of the expenses I found we were silently paying for:
Microsoft programs (word, excel, etc)
Client management software
Timeline creation software
Fortis (natural gas)
Insurance (home, car, life)
Obviously, there’s not a lot we can do about a number of these expenses (if we stopped paying our home insurance, we would be in violation of our mortgage agreement and could seriously effect all sorts of things), but there are a lot of things here that we could trim down.
We had already decided to cut out Netflix and cable; we pay for Disney+ still because we find it’s the best platform for us. When we cut cable, we had to keep internet (working from home also means we have to have like the biggest internet package) so we minimized that cost a bunch (by like $100/month… why IS cable so expensive?) back in September and can’t move much from there.
I realized that I didn’t need to continue paying for Microsoft office as part of my tuition includes the Microsoft suite, so I’ll be getting rid of my subscription and using the “free” one through school. I can’t do much about my client management system for wedding planning, nor the timeline software. Once I understand better how my wedding planning business is going to function post pandemic, I might downgrade that to a lower package.
Website hosting is pretty pricey, and we own at least one domain name we don’t use, so I’m going to attempt to sell that name, and if I want to pay less for site security I won’t have a funtional website for my business. What I am going to try to do is convert that website to a new hosting platform and cut out security entirely. I may have to pay a bit upfront for a transfer and my SEO may suffer, but $1200/year is a bit steep for a business that may not survive much past the pandemic.
Hydro is our electricity, and we suck up A LOT, especially now that we’re home all the time. I have retrofitted a number of our light switches to smart switches to lights turn off on schedule (and I’ve turned off the auto on, so we have to need the light to turn on). I also have a lot of things plugged into power bars and I turn off the power bars when I don’t need the items on, which is going a long way. What I think I might do, further, is install smart outlets/switches to things like the TV so that we can have the TV essentially not plugged in at night, but I have to make sure that’s safe for something like my husband’s PS4 first.
With Fortis (natural gas) there’s a limited number of things we can do; we use natural gas for all our cooking and heating, and we have a smart thermostat for our furnace so we’re able to control consumption that way (which is awesome). We will be eventually installing outdoor gas lines for our BBQ and a fireplace we hope to get in the next few years.
With banking fees, I realized that I didn’t need to have all the accounts open that I have, so I’ve decided to close at least one of them and have added a monthly reminder to my phone to pay off my visa so that I don’t incur fees there. I’ve also made an appointment with my bank to re-open my TFSA and start putting money in there monthly.
Another thing, not listed, is taxes. I am SO bad about doing taxes on time, so this year I have a goal to do my taxes before the deadline so that I don’t occur any weird fees for late payments or anything like that.
The last thing to touch on here is diapers. It is my hope that I have purchased my last box of diapers. Cecilia is slowly being potty trained and if I can cut out diapers that is $30/month that I can save!
Day 6, BuyNothing7; Make It Social
This one is hard to do in a pandemic, but not impossible. Make your Buy Nothing journey a social goal and do things with others to encourage that attitude. The more people in your life who are involved in a gifting economy, the better your experience.
While a gifting economy isn’t synonymous with sustainability, I can say with confidence, when you involve your friends and family in a project like this, you get to live more sustainably.
In the past I’ve hosted clothing exchanges with a small group of women where we all come together after emptying out our closets of the things we don’t wear any more or that are too small, but when I got pregnant it stopped happening then this whole nonsense about some sort of pandemic came up and we just haven’t been able to come together to do this great event again.
Another social thing I’ve done in the past have been my salsa days. A group of us meet up at one place and together we make GALLONS of salsa and we all split the cost and get to go home with some yummy jars that last us a few months.
So while there are a lot of social things we can’t do, I am very much looking forward to the things that we can do. Once restrictions are lifted a bit and we can reintroduce our small group bubbles, I will be having another salsa day. I will also 100% be inviting people to do pickles with me again this year.
I am also working on making a little “produce stand” for my front yard where I can share with my neighbors the excess food from my garden.
The social thing that I decided to do was to bring the conversation to my small group of friends and invite them to contribute sustainable actions that they get to take. It wasn’t much, but it made me happy. Also we’re going to go visit the bird sanctuary tomorrow (3 of us and two kids; we’re keeping our distance and arriving separately) and while it’s not free, it is low cost and a group activity.
Day 7, BuyNothing7; Make a Habit
There is absolutely scientific proof that to make a habit, something needs to be done for at least 21 days, so the 7th challenge is to embrace the challenge for another 23 days; each of those days including even more challenges. And if you decide that the challenge isn’t something you need to continue to do, you’re asked to do two exercises:
“take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned or a behavior or trait about your buying that you’ve discovered and share it” as a gratitude post.
“take a look at some of these behavioral changes that many of us have taken on over the past few years, to curb buying and spark more home-made and home-fixed things. Perhaps you might want to try more DIY-style solutions as alternatives to buying?”
I cannot believe that I am at day 7 already. There were a few times I felt a little weak, up to and including this morning (while admittedly scrolling through Facebook marketplace), where I wanted to make a purchase and instead took a moment, and tried to analyze what I wanted to purchase, why, and if it was worth breaking my challenge and starting all over. I did not break. When I made cookies and decided that the upcycled oven racks that I had been using for cookie cooling racks were not going to do the trick and I decided that I needed a proper cooling rack, instead of ordering it online or going to the store to buy one, I posted the ask on my local Buy Nothing Facebook group.
On the other side of things, when I went to sell some seeds that I had grown the previous year, I also posted some in my Buy Nothing group and I have given away so many seeds for pumpkins, radishes, peas, and cilantro. While I would love to sell some of my packets of seeds, a lot of people are just learning to garden and I think I would’ve been more inclined to experiment with more plants if I had access to free seeds when I was just learning.
For my gratitude post, I shared the following sentiment:
And for the second part, I don’t know that I will have any trouble incorporating more DIY into my regular life 🙂
Other things I did this week in the buy nothing spirit included:
*I want to note here, I have no copyright or anything with the Buy Nothing Project or BuyNothing7 Challenge, this is merely me writing about my experience doing the BuyNothing7 Challenge
YAY! You’re getting a bonus post this week because I am participating in a 7 day challenge! You’ll be able to read more on that soon, but for now, enjoy this.
I don’t know about you, but when I can avoid spending money, I AVOID it. But that doesn’t mean that my poor garden has to suffer as a result. Here are some of my favourite frugal garden hacks to keep your garden on budget but looking great.
Seeds and Plants
Seeds are fairly cheap… until you’ve got 20 packs in your basket and you have no idea where everything will be planted, but you want them anyway. There are a lot of ways to save yourself some money when it comes to your little green babies.
23. Seed saving – when I first started looking at seed saving, it was a little daunting and honestly, I didn’t think I could do it. It’s actually a super easy thing to do, depending on the plant which you want to go to seed. From my first year of gardening I managed to collect seeds from my squash, some peppers, cilantro, and oh my goodness, radishes! I’ve given away a lot of my seeds (because there’s no way that I could possibly use all of the seeds I managed to save) and that brings me to my next frugal point…
22. Seed swap groups – there used to be events when we could actually see each other in person and trade our seeds. I never went to one, but I dreamt of it. This past Christmas, one of my local gardening groups did a seed swap where I sent seeds to 6 other people and in return, those 6 sent me seeds. I ended up with such a crazy array of seeds I probably wouldn’t have purchased but I can’t wait to plant (except the ones I’ve already planted; those ones I can’t wait to eat). All those seeds cost me was about $6 in postage, a few of the seeds I won’t be able to use, and the price of an envelope.
21. Ask for them – is there a plant that you love that someone you know has? Ask them for a cutting or division, or seeds. They may not always say yes, but a lot of the time, a plant needs to be pruned anyway, or they need to make the plant a little smaller and would be happy to give you a division when they do that!
20. Seed libraries – much like seed swaps, these give you the opportunity to get seeds for free in exchange for contributing seeds to the library in the fall. Find a BC seed library here! Unfortunately, COVID has slowed a number of these libaries, but here’s hoping they start functioning again soon!
19. Purchase seeds at the end of the season – Most places can’t sell all their seeds before the end of the year, but seed packs do have a “sell before” date (this is not an expiry date!) which means they go on sale! I’ve gotten oodles of seeds for literally pennies because stores are just trying to get rid of their stock.
Tools can be a big expense when you’re building a garden or adding features. For the most part, the only tools you really need to have a garden is a shovel, maybe a rake, a pair of clippers, and your own two hands. While it’s nice to have more tools on hand (I love my eletric drill and my table saw!) it’s not always a need. Instead here are a few tool hacks for you to save money on things to get the job done. Note, for these selections, I include any tool, including things like soil and fertilizer.
18. Ask for what you need – there’s an increase of interest in a sharing economy lately and if you need something, oftentimes you need just ask and you can access the things you need. You can pose your need on your public social media page, or hit up some of Facebook’s groups, like your local buy nothing group, or a local gardening group. Your social network can lead to a number of the things you might need.
17. Tool library – another library! A tool library is much like a regular library, except there’s often a membership fee involved. Still, paying a membership fee is often far less than purchasing and upkeeping all the tools you may need one off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need an auger; except for that one post that I want to put into my yard. Tool library.
16. Egg shells – Egg shells are a mighty tool, even if they are fragile. I use them for decomposable seed starting pots, for protection against slugs and snails in my raised bed, and just a regular amendment I add crushed to my garden bed. Eggs are full of calcium and other good things. Just make sure to wash the shells and bake them before using to ensure they’re not an attractant for pests. See more about how to use egg shells in your garden here.
15. Milk jugs – turning everyday waste into useful items! That’s what I’m talking about, boi! 1 gallon milk jugs are a great tool for winter seed sowing. Learn how to use milk jugs in your garden here.
14. News papers – I don’t get the news paper, but my in-laws do and I recently asked them to save a few for me. What I got was a tower of news papers that I was not prepared for. But they’re awesome for so many reasons. I’ve made little compostable pots out of them, I’ve used them for cleaning, and I’ve used them in my compost as brown matter. Learn more about using newspapers for your garden at this link.
13. Clear plastic food containers – You know, the ones that your rotisserie chicken comes in or your delicious baked goods? Use those for starting seeds! The clear top helps to keep the atmosphere inside humid for seeds getting going.
12. Sour cream containers – or yogurt containers. Or any opaque container. I cut them down into little stakes and write on them with black sharpie so I can keep track of what’s planted where.
11. Egg cartons – another favourite for a decomposable seed starter; in fact, I used one last year for starting my corn! and I have another couple dozen cells in use now for starting my peppers. Just be sure that if you’re not removing the seedling from the cell before planting in the ground that you tear the bottom off a little so that the roots don’t have to work as hard to get through.
Form and function
This is where we can have the most fun (in my opinion) and get really creative with what we use to make our gardens fruitful (pun 100% intended). Almost anything can become a planter if you try enough!
10. Bed frames for trellises – I just picked up an old twin bed’s head and foot boards and they make for the perfect climbing structure for your vining plants. Put the call out in your Buy Nothing group or scroll endlessly in Facebook marketplace to find some.
9. Used bricks for garden boarders – I have a marketplace alert for anytime someone local to me posts about bricks. Not only can you avoid bricks going to waste, you can build a border or any kind of structure using them, and you can often get them for free!
8. Side of the road treasures as planters – I picked up these scrapped drums from a neighbor up the street who was just throwing away the drums. They are now my cut flower planters. Your vehicle is a shopping cart; keep your eyes open as you drive around your city of other sweet finds like this.
7. Collected shells for features – I like to do walks on the beach and lately I’ve been collecting all the shells I can get my hands on. These can be used in cement for decoration, or you can crush them and use them for “gravel” or you can leave them hole and use them instead of rocks for a feature piece.
6. Offcuts from other projects for planters – we recently rebuilt our deck, which resulted in a number of offcuts. Instead of taking them to the dump, I used them to make new planters. I also used offcuts of some plywood for a new potato box.
5. Cracking coffee cups for little planters – I started collecting animal shaped coffee mugs a few years ago and they are absolutely my go to for every cup of tea I made (and with COVID, I’m stuck at home and often making 3 cups a day). But with as much use as I give them, they don’t always have a long life. Some of my favourite mugs are now cracked and no good fold holding in tea. But they do hold in soil. And plants. So while this isn’t a garden hack; it is definitely a plant hack!
4. Cement – am I the only one getting cement DIYs videos pushed to them on Facebook? Because I keep seeing cement DIYs and I am longing for my next cement project. While they aren’t always easy to do, they are fairly cheap and perfect when you’re trying to make a very specific planter. I am using cement and rocks for my herb spiral!
3. Use the library – thistime I’m talking about the old fashioned book library. There’s a whole little section for gardening. While I am not normally one for reading non-fiction, there’s so much you can learn to make your garden better through books you find at your library. All it costs you is a library card.
2. Ask for help – it is important to hire a professional when you need a professional’s work done, but it is totally possible to reach out to your local But Nothing group and ask for anyone who might be able to teach you how to do the task you need to get done.
1. Trade work for food. This is my number one, top tip. If you need help getting stuff done in your garden, ask for help. Ask your friends, or family, or just put it out there in your local Buy Nothing group. If they’re friends and family, offer them lunch or dinner in exchange for helping, or maybe some of your garden bounty. Offer some bounty to your Buy Nothing group too. It never hurts to share food!
I ‘m going to bring your to my home for a moment on a typical Saturday night from this winter. We are sitting around the table eating dinner. Tonight I’ve made a delicious deluxe cheese burger, and on the side we’re eating roasted veggies smothered in delicious butter. When you look at the bounty on our plates, take a moment to really look at it and think; what part of the meal, the burger or the veggies, is the least sustainable part of the meal?
Without knowing much about how all that food got to my plate, you’re likely going to answer something along the lines of “the burger” because of the vegetarian = sustainability rhetoric that people tend to tout. And in a lot of cases, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Meat products generally have much higher footprints than vegetables. But look closely at the hypothetical meal. This is being served up in January, and the roasted veggies are all in the nightshade and squash families. There’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. None of these fruit grow naturally here in January. I got them all from the grocery store. While the tomato boasted a title of locally grown, the rest of the yummies all came from different countries. How were those tomatoes grown in the dead of winter?
And this is where we start to get into what I like to call the sustainability teeter totter. When two different actions both have different footprints involved and you, the end user, need to evaluate which footprint is the one that you should care more about reducing.
the measurement of the resource(s) that are used in order for the individual or organization to be able to consume/produce the end product.
When we are trying to live more consciously and trying to minimize the harm our actions and consumption take on the planet, we tend to listen to the general statements made about actions we should take. So you might hear that the carbon footprint of meat is astronomical when compared to that of vegetables, or that you should be putting your plastics into recycling to divert it to from the landfills, or that you should take the bus instead of driving. While these are all generally good “tips” they don’t encompass the full picture and often leave people with larger footprints than they intend.
But the issue is when you do start looking more at the different kinds of footprints, aside from the science informing choices, there’s a lot of personal opinions that come into play when making the “more sustainable” option. This is because what is more sustainable and why can be interpretive. Is your water footprint more impactful than your carbon footprint because you value our fresh water more? Well then maybe you only want to purchase hydroponically grown veggies, even if that means they’re trucked in from the states.
So one person may say “in my house I have ceramic dishware because I can wash the plates between each use and there is no waste” but another may say “I use only paper plates in my house as they can be composted and it helps me to keep my water footprint low.” I know at a glance, you may think the second person foolish. Sure, they don’t waste water washing dishes, but what about the water used to make that paper plate? They may argue back “what about the water used to make the ceramic plates?” Different people are going to value different sustainability methods. And hello teeter totter.
Going back to my plate of delicious food. Knowing what you know of the vegetables, you may still say that my burger is still the less sustainable option on my plate. In my personal opinion, it isn’t. The beef in that burger comes from a local farm where I purchased the whole cow. I like to point out that this farm also grows food and uses the composted manure from their cattle to help fertilize their crop, which is so much better for the soil and the plants than synthetic fertilizers. While I may not have gotten the hide, I did get the bones, the various cuts of meat, meat that didn’t make the cut (pun intended) was turned into ground beef. I also skipped out on the organs, but the butcher (who is attached to the farm) did keep them and hopefully was able to sell them in his market. Now, we do not eat enough beef to make a full cow worth it, so I split it among 4 other families. So what you can see here is I did not buy mass produced meat (which is definitely not a sustainable option), little of my cow went to waste, the meat I received came in minimal, paper packaging, and didn’t travel far to get from the farm to the butcher, nor did it travel far to get from the butcher to my home. Additionally because I wanted yummy fresh, local meat but couldn’t take on a whole cow, I was able to have 4 other families make a more sustainable meat option (we all live in the metro area and usually shop at places like Great Canadian Superstore, so this beef option wouldn’t usually be our first go-to). Ultimately, the meat from the burger had far less impact on the environment than if I had gone to, say, a chain restaurant. Another good note here is that that bun was homemade and the pickles were all from cucumbers I grew fresh in my garden. The overall plastic footprint of the burger is minimal, the carbon footprint is below average (as it is still meat from a cow, but the cow was not transported), and the water footprint is also smaller.
But those veggies? The tomatoes were grown locally, but likely in a greenhouse; how much power was required to keep that greenhouse running; how many contaminates are added to the soil? How much water is used? And the international veggies all took a very long car ride to get to my house. Without doing proper calculations (because I’m not a scientist, I am you regular Joe-shmo consumer who is basing my judgement on the parts of this equation that I understand) I am going to make the calculated guess that my veggies have an equal-to or higher carbon footprint to that of the burger on my plate.
So that makes another valuable point to the teeter totter here. How much information do I know about the choices I am making? If my information is limited, all I know is I have a cheese burger and roasted veggies on my plate, I am going to agree that yes, the vegetables are the more sustainable part of my meal. But the more information I’m given, the clearer the image becomes of the sustainability in each option.
So when you’re trying to live in a more sustainable fashion and trying to make changes to everyday actions, try to look into what the impact of each action is before coming to the conclusion of which is more sustainable. And try to remember that sustainability can also be a point of view. Is vacuum sealing my freezer food in bags better for the environment, or should I be storing all my food in reusable plastic containers? It doesn’t matter which you view to be more sustainable, and you shouldn’t pass judgement on others for what they’ve deemed to be more important. Personally, I vacuum seal because it means that my food is less likely to get freezer burnt and is therefore less likely to go to waste.