Although my official trash-free year has come and gone, I decided to continue to share trash-free related information on this blog.  This post is about my first steps with container gardening using home-made compost and re-used materials.

Seed sewing
A couple of weeks ago I planted a few seeds to motivate me to put my trash-free compost to use and finally do some gardening.  I used a couple of egg cartons that I saved last year, filling each egg dimple with some potting mix left over from a from an indoor plant that didn’t make it past Christmas.  The tops of the egg cartons made perfect trays.

Egg carton seed starters

Egg carton seed starters

I planted a few different seeds according to their directions and in just two days my salad mix and cucumber plants sprouted.

Egg carton seedlings

Egg carton seedlings

I knew that these little plants wouldn’t last very long in their egg-sized homes so I prepared materials for their new, more luxurious abodes.

Preparing Potting Soil
Since I was going to be growing things in containers, the soil needed to be extra special – able to absorb water and hold nutrients, but drain well, too.  According to what I read online, using pure compost was not advisable.  Digging up soil from the ground would also not work.  Even mixing my compost with dirt from my yard would not work well in a container and it would be incredibly heavy.

I didn’t want to buy potting soil from the store due to the packaging involved and its huge carbon footprint, so I looked into making my own potting soil.  Most of the “how to make your own potting soil” websites claimed, however, that I needed things like builders sand, perlite and peat moss – all exotic items that came in packaging that I would have to buy at the store anyway.  I finally came across a Mother Earth News article that shared my belief in using local ingredients for potting soil and suggested a mix of compost and leaf mold.  “Leaf mold,” I found out, is basically compost made of just leaves.

I am lucky to live on a property with a beautiful, lush backyard and a Kukui nut and avocado tree.  I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I started searching the grounds for this leaf mold substance I read about on the internet.  Our Kukui nut tree and avocado tree both shed their leaves pretty regularly year round.  “We must have this secret potting soil ingredient somewhere around here!” I thought.  I searched around looking for old piles of leaves when I remembered that we do have a pile of leaves – a really large pile in the corner of the yard put there by the gardeners that visit a couple of times a month.  It has been there ever since I moved in to this house about four years ago.  I excitedly dug under this old pile of leaves to find gold!  I mean leaf mold!

leaf mold gold!

leaf mold gold!

I didn’t have a shovel or gardening tools, but I was so excited that I dug out the precious potting soil ingredient with my bare hands and a plastic bowl.  After sifting out the larger, non-decomposed pieces I mixed it with my sifted compost I made last year in a 1:1 ratio, making enough to fill all my containers.

Salad Table
Since I eat so much salad, when I saw something online about the “salad table” I knew I wanted to make one.  A salad table is a flat, wooden container that stands at the hight of your waist rather than on the ground.  It is also wide enough to hold a variety of greens.

A salad table is really easy to make!  And you can use all sorts of materials.  This is the list of materials from the Maryland Cooperative Extension directions linked above:

  • Untreated Framing Lumber (Two 2 X 4s, 10’ long, Two 2 X 4s, 12’ long)
  • 3” galvanized wood screws
  • 3/8” staples
  • Roofing nails
  • 3’ X 5’ roll of 1/2” mesh hardware cloth (This is a galvanized wire mesh that comes in a roll.)
  • 3’ X 5’ roll of aluminum window screening

Rather than using new materials to build the table, my boyfriend, Adam, and I built it from materials that I have been collecting over the last couple years: part of a shipping crate I found at work, a screen from an old sliding door that was broken by a Fernando (my dog) incident, left over 1/2 inch hardware cloth from past random projects, and two wooden saw horses I found on the road waiting for bulk pick up.  The only new materials we used were nails and scrap wood from the local hardware store.

Nailing the screen onto the salad table

Nailing the screen onto the salad table

I filled the finished salad table with 3″ of my home-made potting soil.

Salad table with homemade potting soil

Salad table with homemade potting soil

I transferred the seedlings from their egg carton starter homes to their new containers by simply pealing bag the damp paper egg carton. The egg carton pieces will be shredded and thrown into my compost.

Pealing away egg carton for replanting

Pealing away egg carton for replanting

I put the salad mixture seedlings in the salad table container and planted the rest of the seeds from the package.  The new seeds sprouted in a couple of days.

Salad table with seedlings

Salad table with seedlings (and Fernando in the background)

To protect the new seedlings from the downpours common to the Windward side of the island, especially this time of the year, I covered it with some of the left-over screen material we used to make the salad table, tying it down with a few lengths of my old dental floss I have been saving.

Salad table with screen and tie downs (made with old dental floss)

Salad table with screen and dental floss tie downs

Bucket and Bag Gardens
The salad table would not be an appropriate place to grow my cucumbers nor the tomato seedlings I received at the Kamehameha Sustainability Fair, so I filled my newly painted buckets I made at the Bucket Gardens in Hawaii workshop in Waimanalo with my new potting soil and made pretty homes for them, too.

Cucumber bucket garden

Cucumber bucket garden

Tomato bucket garden

Tomato bucket garden

With cucumber seedlings to spare, I used a couple of the many reusable shopping bags I have collected over the years for the remaining planters.

Shopping Bag of cucumber seedlings

Reusable grocery bag of cucumber seedlings

I am fairly new to container gardening and would love any suggestions on how to make my plants happy and ideas of how to reuse materials for gardening!

Trash-free year in the news!
Green Magazine Hawaii’s editor, Kevin Whitton, asked me to write an article about my trash-free year experience.  You can find it here in their Jan-Mar E-zine issue under the title “Excess Baggage”: http://www.greenmagazinehawaii.com/ezine.html.  A big mahalo to Kevin for supporting my somewhat crazy trash-free experiment.