Community Gardening Blog 2. Planting While in Quarantine: How to start your upcycled garden while staying at home
by Nidia Alyeriz Arauz, Vanbasten De Araujo and Devisha Poddar
With the current pandemic of the COVID-19 changing our lifestyles and requiring us to isolate, to protect ourselves and our community, planting something at home can be the perfect opportunity for you to explore new things and be environmentally conscious. In a time where a lot of us are facing difficulties with the isolation, planting can be an alternative to put your mind at ease and give you an extra activity to plan and execute in the comfort and safety of your home.
Starting your garden during this quarantine can be a good idea to introduce new practices into your daily life and enjoy the benefits of 'going green.' For example, vegetable gardening can provide you with access to fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, mental therapy, nutritious and fresh food, and even economic savings. Planting your favorite plants will be a great opportunity to work on observation, patience, and dedication. In fact, according to Texas Agriculture & Medicine University, people who spend their time caring for nature are more likely to care for others. Caring for plants can help you increase compassion, a pattern that has the possibility of improving relationships. So, during this quarantine, we believe it is important to invest time in activities that not only help to build our immune systems but will also offer a lot of potential for positive interactions with the world and our communities.
First, we will start with a basic but important information: starting a garden does not necessarily require expensive materials! Using recyclable materials allows us to begin without having to go out to purchase tools and seeds. So, in order to help you get things started, we will give you some tips on how and why to start growing plants at your house – whether it is a small kitchen counter, the living room balcony, or a backyard garden. Having in mind that we are all under specific circumstances which going out to buy plants and pots may not be possible (or desirable, #StayAtHome), we will also list some ways to start plants with what you can probably find at your place. One aspect that is important to think about this is how you can repurpose some of your household waste (and even appliances) to help you create the best environment not only for your plants, but also for everyone around you.
In this article we will guide you through how to start an upcycled garden plan that includes all the important information that you need to research before actually starting the seeding process. You will have to think about the type and planting date(s) of the vegetables you want to grow, where they will thrive best, and which type of watering schedule would be the best. Your planting guide should also list which vegetable seedlings can easily be transplanted and which cannot. Remember that vegetables that are delicate and hard to transplant can get seeded directly into the garden or started in recycled containers first. All you need to start is creativity and recyclable materials. Before we go to our examples on how to start your garden, we will first explore more some the idea of upcycling.
A) Upcycling: being resourceful with your garden
Every day, designers create new ways of looking at an old object. In recent years, many have started creating their products thinking about the environment and that is how upcycling became popular. The word ‘upcycle’ is used to refer to objects that were created using the upcycling technique, which consists of reusing objects and materials to create new items, often with different functions, without changing the main characteristics of the original object. Upcycling reduces the amount of waste produced that would spend years in landfills or in polluted areas. In addition, upcycling reduces the need to exploit raw materials for the manufacture of new products, being one of the great examples of the circular economy, which proposes that waste can be used as input to produce new stuff.
Now that we know the relevance of upcycling, we can start thinking about how to use it in our gardens. For upcycling to work when it comes to seeding, it is crucial to know what a plant needs to survive: light, water, and nutrients. Therefore, when thinking about different forms of repurposing some items, you need to ask yourself some questions that will explore the ways to accommodate the plant’s demands and growing patterns with the object’s form. For example, what kind of plant would it fit here? Where will it be located? Is the plant’s root system deep or shallow? How can I assure that the soil container will have the necessary drainage? Will the seedling require transplanting?
Thus, before starting with your upcycling plans, it is important to take a few previous steps that will make your life easier when trying to make your garden work. Remember: this is supposed to be a relaxing activity, so have fun and try not to put too much pressure on yourself!
1. Know your space:
Observe your house or garden carefully to detect places that have access to sunlight and good ventilation. This is important because each plant needs a different amount of sunlight and water and it is important to understand where in your house these plants would thrive and be most comfortable.
Check if there are corners of your house or backyard garden that receive the strong afternoon sun or that receive the milder sun in the early morning or that are shaded throughout the day. Remember that the angle of sun will rise as we approach summer, allowing for more light in more spaces. As previously mentioned, this information will be crucial when choosing what to plant and how to organize the maintenance of your garden. It is essential to do some research before choosing plants, as each type has different light and humidity needs.
As a final tip, avoid planting your plants in one of those forgotten corners of the house, where no one will pass by and remember to water and monitor the growth of the plants. Since we are all in quarantine, try to reserve some moments of your day to work on your garden. This will help your plants to flourish and will also give you a break from your home office activities!
2. Choose your plant varieties:
Once you have decided where you are going to start your garden and how you are going to organize that space, it is time to choose the right plants. Every plant likes a certain amount of sun, shade, water and humidity, so it is important to choose species that will grow well in their environment. If you have a space that receives strong sunlight during the day, you can find a wide variety of plants ideal for hot weather. If that is the case, remember to water them early in the morning or late afternoon, so that the water does not evaporate too quickly or burn the leaves. If you have a more shaded space, with little direct sunlight, you can also find plants that prefer less sun, see here. The important thing is to choose the plants that will adapt best to the environment that you have available for them.
It may take some time for your plants to look beautiful and lush, or for your garden to reach the point of harvest. Be patient to wait for the right time for each plant and understand how they will behave according to your care. For when to harvest, see here.
3. Believe in yourself and in your garden!
If something goes wrong, don't give up! Try other compost or fertilizer materials or soil types, pot sizes, and location for plants. You don't have to be born with a "gardener soul" to succeed in this. With some care and dedication, we can all have a beautiful garden and a delicious vegetable garden at home, even with little space.
Now, let’s think of some upcycling!
B) How to create you upcycled containers:
Sowing is a fertile soil for upcycling opportunities (sorry for the pun) since anything that holds potting soil and has drainage makes a good container for your plants! Old pans, strainers, laundry baskets, the kitchen sink, juice boxes, or PVC pipes can all be repurposed for your garden. As with any plant container, the only thing that cannot be forgotten is to make sure your upcycled container has enough drainage holes.
Any small container, at least 5 or 7.5 centimeters deep will work for starting seedlings. For container sizes for different plants, see here. It must be relatively waterproof, and suitable for making holes for draining the water. They can be individual containers in which we place a single seed, or they can be larger in which we put several seeds per row. For example, containers of medium to larger size, like yogurt pots, can be used after you wash it properly and puncture holes into the base for drainage. Which vegetables should be transplanted and which ones should be sown directly? This link should help you with the answers: https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/propagation/sow-vegetable-seeds./ Even egg shells or egg cartons can be used as the first container for seeds that later will be transplanted to bigger pots. It all depends on what you are going to plant and how you want to make it. In order to inspire you, we are listing some great upcycling ideas that we hope will inspire you!
Sowing in Upcycled containers
Egg cups: One of the easiest containers to get and at the same time biodegradable, are eggs shells or paper egg cups.
Egg shell, egg carton, and wooden box seedings. Source: Personal Archive and Pinterest.
Egg cups are an excellent option for starting seedlings. They are easy to transport, are ideal for creating drainage holes, and they enrich the soil when they biodegrade.
If you have wooden boxes that you don’t use, these can be useful for growing seedlings if they have good drainage holes at the bottom. The seed boxes depicted here are 60 cm by 35 cm wide and 8 cm deep.
Plastic Bottles: Another type of material that can successfully be repurposed for planting are plastic bottles. As you can see in the pictures bellow, they are a versatile container since we can find them in different shapes and forms everywhere. So, if you have a wall in your house that receives a lot of sunlight during the day, you can opt for starting a vertical garden with plastic bottles. If you do not have a wall where you can hang the containers, try using larger bottles to plant larger varieties near a window or on backyard. There are a lot of different opportunities that can be explored with this type of material!
Remember that your walls could get spoiled from the drainage system from the upcycled bottles. Either choose a wall that you don’t mind getting spoiled or follow a self-watering system, (see https://gardentabs.com/vertical-garden-plastic-bottles/ and https://gardentabs.com/wall-damage/ ) or hang them on trees away from the walls.
Bottle Containers. Source: Personal Archive and Pinterest.
Here is how to prepare your chosen upcycled container for the seedling process...
Prepare the mixture with
- ½ strained compost
- ½ good quality soil
- Seeds need to be spaced out in pots or outdoors depending on the size of the fully grown plant and the area available, check the seed packets for sowing instructions. For more information on seed proximity while sowing outdoors, see here. The seeds are cover with a thin layer of soil, approximately 2-3x as deep as the seed thickness. Immediately after the sowing, it’s important to gently soak the soil.
- Containers must always be kept moist. Water them every day in the morning and sometimes, during dry seasons, in the evening as well. It’s important to water new seedlings delicately.
C) Finding seeds and starting you garden:
After giving a new purpose for your waste, you can also re-utilize food scraps as the start of your new garden! Here are some tips on how to start your plants either with seeds directly or from cuttings that you will have in your kitchen after cooking...
1. Growing from seeds
There are chances are that you might have whole seeds/spices in your kitchen cupboard. If not, maybe seeds in a drawer or access to a local nursery or a friendly neighbor. If all of these fail, fret not. The fresh produce you buy such as tomatoes, peppers or chilies from your local market or neighborhood supermarket can be used.
Steps for planting pepper and chili
For pepper/chili and tomato seeds, keep aside a few seeds while cooking. (Please note that if taking seeds from a fruit, you will not know the variety, and whether it is a hybrid seed or open-pollinated. If the seed comes from a hybrid plant, your fruit may be quite different than the one you took your seeds from, but it can still be an interesting experiment!) Take a pot with soil, make sure it has drainage or has a hole at the bottom. Separate the seeds out, wash and dry them well. Use smaller varieties if you have only a windowsill, the larger varieties would be better for your backyard or garden.
- Make a few shallow and separated dent of about 1 – 2 inches in the soil (Don’t add water before sowing).
- Put one seed in each dent and cover with soil. Sprinkle water on top and leave it on the windowsill in the sun.
- You will need to water daily or a few times a week based on the humidity and temperature. But a quick trick is to put your fingertip in the soil, if it feels moist then you’re okay but if it’s dry you need to water it.
- Once the pepper seedlings are a few inches tall you can transplant them in your backyard or garden or to bigger pots.
- The plants should be in a sunny spot and would require watering few times a week or as required.
A similar process can be followed for tomatoes, just with one extra step to ferment the seeds for a few days to remove the protective coating that covers tomato seeds. See here!
2. Growing from cuttings
You want to grow herbs but have no seeds or an idea of how to proceed? One simple, but not always successful way would be to take a cutting to transplant. If you can take a daily walk, keep a look out for herbs that you can identify in parks or neighborhood gardens. Try using a Google image search if you are not sure or perhaps you can use an app such as iNaturalist to identify the plant. But remember: Always ask your neighbor/park authorities before cutting! Take a pair of scissors and cut part of the stem, make sure a few leaves remain on the stem. Plant it in soil or in a pot with mud. You can grow herbs such as rosemary, basil and mint or even coriander with this method. You will have the best success if you follow some advice of how to cut at different times of the year. Sometimes you can also dip the cutting in rooting powder, or if you don’t have this available, put in water to allow roots to grow before planting. See here.
There are also spices that we use in the pantry are actually seeds that could be planted (coriander, fennel, dill, mustard, cumin etc.). See here. We’re not going for self-sufficiency, just easy, laid back home gardening as a hobby. However, if you have the space and inclination, feel free to build you mini food forest in your backyard. If Matt Damon in “The Martian” could do it with potatoes in a spaceship, we’re sure you can do it on planet earth!
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Community Gardening Blogs
Each year CEU students and community members have the opportunity to participate in the Agroecology and Organic Gardening Systems (AOGS) course offered at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy. The course provides participants with a theoretical and practical introduction to agroecology and to organic farming techniques. Course participants are assisted in developing a comprehensive permaculture, agroecology and organic agriculture inspired plan for a garden which they could implement in a tangible location, while also coming up with their own ideas for gardening educational outreach materials which the students could help disseminate in the University community.