The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 9, 2011

Gardening Without Plastic, Part 2: Planting and Replanting

A few weeks ago, I began my plastic-free gardening project in my tiny Oakland, CA yard with the help of and Eric Hurlock of Organic Gardening. I built a raised bed with sustainable wood and filled it with bulk gardening soil that I had delivered without any packaging. So far so good. But buying plants and watering them has proven to be a little more tricky, plastically speaking.

Planting Seeds

I bought Botanical Interests certified organic seeds, which come in paper envelopes and are readily available at garden centers where I live. I’ve got: Swiss chard, spinach, baby carrots, wax beans, cucumbers, marigolds, and nasturtium.

organic seeds

Ideally, I would have started some of  my seeds indoors, but I could not find a single sunny spot in my house that would not have been accessible to the Furry Ones Who Reign Supreme and their propensity for Total Destruction.

kitties in the window

If I had been able to start seeds inside, I could have done it plastic-free. Browsing the gardening aisle at my local Ace Hardware Store, I found Plantation Products starter pots made from recycled natural fiber in plastic-free packaging.

natural fiber starter pots

And I’ve discovered some even better DIY ideas.  A friend of mine said she starts hers in cardboard egg cartons.  Rodale’s Jean Nick gives instructions for making seed starting pots from newspaper. And blogger Mrs. Green of My Zero Waste creates starter pots from used cardboard toilet paper tubes. Here’s her handy video demonstration:

Knowing that starting seeds indoors would be futile, I planted my seeds directly in the ground, which, it turns out, had its own challenges. More on that later in this post. But a few days ago, a Facebook commenter suggested I could have planted indoors if I’d enlisted the help of a few strategically-placed cacti. What do you think? Is that mean? Would the kitties have learned the hard way?

I also wonder if I could have just sprinkled the soil with cayenne pepper, like I do for my houseplants. But would that have harmed the new seedlings?

No Plastic Pots

As I mentioned in my last post, Eric suggested I plant my tomatoes and peppers from seedlings rather than seeds. So the challenge for me was to avoid buying plants in plastic pots:

plastic tomato plant pots

Fortunately, most of the garden centers in my area are supplied by a company in Sebastopol called Sweetwater Nursery, which offers plants in compostable Ecoform containers made from compressed rice hulls. I bought tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, and some herbs in these containers.

Ecoforms compostable plant containers

Ecoform pots crack easily if you squeeze them like you would plastic pots when removing the plants. But I found that if I carefully loosen the dirt around the edges with a trowel, I can remove the plant and spare the pot to reuse.  Sure, the pots are compostable. But why not reuse them as much as possible before returning them to the earth?

If you can’t find plants in plastic-free pots, check with the garden center or nursery and see if they will take back the plastic pots to reuse. In addition to the plants from Sweetwater Nursery, I also bought some herbs from a local vendor at my farmers market. Knowing her plants are sold in plastic containers, I brought some of my own pots (the empty Ecoform pots I’d saved) with me and asked her if I could transfer the plants into my own containers. She was more than happy to have her plastic pots back.

herbs in plastic pots

herbs transferred to Ecoforms pots

What’s more, I learned that the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery has set aside a spot for customers to return their plastic containers. According to an employee I spoke with, the pots are returned to the growers for reuse.

reuse plastic plant pots

So what about recycling? It’s true that some communities allow all plastics, including plant containers, in their recycling bins. But the fact is that a lot of the plastic we toss in the bin might not actually get recycled. And the stuff that does is actually downcycled. Read my post on the problems with recycling to understand why it should be the last option for dealing with plastic waste, not the first.

Oh, those darned plastic plant markers

On thing I haven’t been able to avoid are the plastic markers that come with new plants. I contacted Sweetwater Nursery to find out if I could send them back to reuse. No luck. Janis Kelley from Sweetwater said that the company has been trying for years to find a plastic-free alternative but so far has not come up with anything better than the plastic ones. And they won’t take them back. So I guess the plant markers are my first plastic failure in this little experiment. Next year, I’ll either start all my plants from seeds, or I’ll see if I can find local gardeners with plants to sell or give away.

As for marking my seeds, several readers have recommended wooden popsicle sticks, which would be great if I had a bunch of used popsicle sticks lying around. But I don’t, and new wooden plant markers come packaged in a plastic bag.

wooden plant markers

So I’m using the backs of some plastic markers I already had from prior years. I wrote on them with pencil so I can reuse them in future years. (Sadly, the Sweetwater markers are printed on both the front and back, so I can’t reuse those markers in this way.)

reuse plastic plant markers

I’ve gotten all kinds of creative alternatives from people on Facebook. Like using secondhand metal forks with the seed packet over them. Or shaving the bark off of sticks and labeling those. All great ideas. But I’m fine reusing plastic I already have.

Avoid Plastic-Coated Plant Cages

In her article, “Keep Your Garden Plastic-Free with These Easy Swaps,” Jean Nick’s first bit of advice is to “kick coated products to the curb.” She means vinyl-coated wire products, like the stuff some plant cages are made from. Sadly, my tomato and pepper cages are coated with dark green plastic. But I’m not counting them as a plastic failure this year because these are cages I bought several years ago during my very first tomato attempt. I figure, it’s better to use what I already have than to buy new. So, along with the plant markers, the cages are another plastic item in my garden.

reuse plastic plant markers


Three or four weeks after planting my first seeds, only the chard had peeked out of the soil.

Swiss chard

I think I know why.  In that first week, before I settled on a plastic-free watering method (which I’ll discuss in my next post), I watered with the hose.  I think the violent sprayer washed the seeds away.  Either that or birds ate them.  So finally I decided to do some replanting. But this time, I used Mrs. Green’s toilet paper roll idea.  (We collect our TP rolls to donate to a local reuse center for art projects, so I already had a few of them saved up.)  Instead of making pots out of the cardboard tubes, I cut them in half and twisted them directly into the soil of my raised bed and replanted my seeds inside them. I hoped to accomplish two things: first, I’d actually know where I planted the seeds this time, and second, the tubes would protect the seeds from being washed away. In fact, I could just pour a little water into each tube. Eventually, the cardboard would compost into the soil. That was my plan.

toilet roll plant pot

Well guess what. It worked! Seedlings started popping up right away!

toilet roll plant pot

A few of the original seeds came up too, but after the seeds I replanted in the tubes. Interesting… Anyway, for weeks now, I’ve been adding more tubes and planting more seeds and watching them come up. Later this week, I’ll post pictures of my garden so far. It’s pretty amazing.

My only concern: should I worry about the glue holding the toilet paper tubes together???

Plastic-free Garden Gloves

In my first post, I also asked about plastic-free gardening gloves. In the stores, I had found most gloves made of or coated with synthetic material. And since I’m a vegetarian, I didn’t want leather or suede, which seemed to be the alternative. I did find cotton gloves, but they were covered with little PVC plastic dots. Finally, searching online, I decided on Hemp Hand gloves made from 100% hemp canvas. Hemp is a much more sustainable crop than cotton, requiring fewer chemicals and water to grow and yielding much more fiber per plant.

I ordered my gloves from and requested no plastic packaging. They arrived in a plain cardboard mailer. (Disclosure: if you order any products from via a link on this blog, MyPlasticfreeLife earns a small commission.)

Hemp Hands gloves

The thing is… they’re so pretty, I haven’t had the heart to get them dirty. So they sit unused, waiting to do the job they were designed for, while I continue to dig in the dirt with my bare hands. What was I thinking?

My questions for you

1) Do I need to worry about fertilizing? I’ll need to figure out what kind of food each type of veggie needs, right?

2) Can I compost without a compost bin? I have a compost tumbler I bought a few years ago that I don’t like and never use. Instead, we put all our food scraps in our city’s green bin to be sent to a commercial compost facility. But I’m wondering if I can make a simple compost pile in the corner of my yard without any composter at all. Do I need a bin or can I just toss my organic waste into a pile or a hole in the ground and see what happens? You know, composting for lazy people?

3) What do you think are the easiest crops to grow?

Coming up next: Mulching with straw and watering without plastic.

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Elaine Varley
5 years ago

Love the toilet paper roll idea for seedlings. If your in an area that has bunnies or other bulb or vegetable munchers, just put a layer of dog hair around each plant and top with a thin layer of soil. It really is a great defense.

Beth Terry
8 years ago

bluespinningplanet Thanks for the tips and the book recommendations!

8 years ago

Now that you’re now into gardening, check out books by Ruth Stout. She was the queen of the no-work garden and her methods work great. As to composting, I also follow the easy way and have been doing it since I learned from my mother more than 50 years ago. Just pile it up and let nature do the work! Each time you add kitchen scraps (which have lots of nitrogen), cover them with browns (which have lots of carbon). Browns are anything that’s essentially dried out….think leaves in the fall, hay, straw, pine needles, etc. You don’t have to be an accountant about the proportions. Just make sure you add more browns than greens. It helps the scraps break down and without smells! If your compost smells bad, you need more browns in there. No need to turn the pile. Just keep building it and let nature and earthworms do the rest. I collect bags of leaves that people put out for pick-up in the fall and keep those next to my compost pile so I always have browns on hand.

10 years ago

I am also new to this gardening thing, and am also trying to be as ecofriendly as possible. I collected biodegradable paper cups used a local green fund raising run and have used those to plant the seeds I kept from gemsquash and pattie pans bought at our local home industry – so far so good, I think. Also at the home industry I bought 2 litres of worm “tea” from someone’s wormery (ok, it was in a old cooldrink bottle – but at least it’s not in the landfill yet!) to feed my veggies with till I have compost. I have only just started composting. I cannot afford and do not want to buy a fancy compost maker, and have a huge garden – so I am digging three compost pits. No cost except the wages of the local man who helps me in the garden and who will be sharing the harvest. (Have to be optimistic…) We chuck in all the veggie peelings and egg cartons and tealeaves and coffee grounds and some lawn mowings, etc., and put a layer of the dug-out soil back on top every now and then. When pit one is full we will start filling pit two. By the time the third is full, I hope pit one will be all done and ready to use. Bit worried about rats, but we have a cat for that. Unfortunately we cannot keep chickens as they will be kidnapped before they can say cluck – that’s just how it is around here, otherwise they’d be on pest control and egg production duty already.

Cows wander our streets. Their contributions are added to the compost pits, too.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  Greenrunner

I love the idea of compost pits. Do you have to turn and maintain the compost or just leave it there and let it do its thing? In my book, the less work the better.

10 years ago

oops, i meant the “brown” part of the compost, not the “grown” part….

10 years ago

Hi, I wanted to let you know that i put my compost right on the ground. I live in the country so no neighbors to complain. Sometimes i pile it right in the garden or like this past winter i piled it on top of the ground right where there are a lot of leaves to pull in for the grown part. It works for me, and i can just rake it over since there’s room on all sides. Whatever nutrients are leaching into the ground I’m not going to worry about, eventually i can use that spot to plant something when it gets soft and broken down. It’s like that old book, How to get a Green thumb with out an aching back. That woman just kept piling it in her garden and eventually all she had to do was rake it aside and plant. I haven’t gotten that far, but it just goes to show, you can do it.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  diana12759

Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve just been tossing peelings and egg shells into a pile in the yard. No time to do more, but I like that it’s staying here and nourishing my soil.

11 years ago

Thanks for sharing this post. Using gloves without is a nice idea to protect your garden from plastic…

11 years ago

Have you thought of painting over the Sweetwater markers with chalkboard paint to reuse them? I just now realized that the chalk would probably wash away when watering – but maybe there’s a way around that… not sure.

Beth Terry
11 years ago
Reply to  nellsbells

Interesting concept. Yes, the chalk would probably wash away. But also, after taking a walk through my neighborhood this weekend and witnessing a whole bunch of plastic plant markers on the sidewalk in various places (it seems to be garden planting time right now), I don’t think I want to leave them outside. *Sigh*

Kris @ Attainable Sustainable
12 years ago

I haven’t read all of the comments, and I’m kind of late on this, but wanted to chime in. Compost happens in nature without anybody doing *anything. Humans are totally unnecessary for the process. Of course, we’ve discovered methods to speed up the process (turning a pile, for instance) because that’s what we do. The main reason to have a dedicated compost bin is to keep out critters, but one is not necessary. I’ve written about lazy composting (and composting with the aid of my chickens) a lot on my site because people really should know that it’s easy to do!

12 years ago

There are several good youtube videos for assembling compost bins from pallets. They’re free at many garden and hardware stores, the wood is untreated and it re-purposes them instead of going to the landfill

12 years ago

We compost in an old broken trash can. (yes, it’s plastic. But, since it’s good for nothing else, it keeps it out of the landfill)

Lea G
12 years ago

Good idea. It never came up to me to garden without plastic. Well, we use clay pots but here in the city it’s hard to find. glad to come across this

Kelly S.
12 years ago

We compost in a pile. We put a “cage” around the pile out of some old fencing that we got off of freecycle. You just have to give it a turn to mix it up sometimes. If you have the right “greens” and “browns” balance, it should not smell, and there should be no bugs.

In the late spring you could request on craigslist or freecycle for extra plants. We always end up with a few more than we need and give them away after planting (this year i had extra sweet potato shoots and tomatoes).

For markers i picked up some metal markers at a garage sale. They are durable and last season to season no problem. )
i think lettuces and zucchini are the easiest to grow.

12 years ago

We just dig a hole and drop the produce matter in and cover it up. No rodents. We have worms directly in our soil, too, so we’re feeding them. We live in a townhome with a very small backyard that has two garden beds (one on either side of the stamped concrete patio). I also use containers for edible plants. I use fertilizer for the container plants for now (packaged in cardboard box or paper bag from local family-owned nursery). I’ve been working on our soil for years and it is finally supporting edibles better than the containers at this point. WOO HOO!!!

Easy to grow really depends on climate and your specific location (sunlight, watering methods, heat/cold, etc). I am further South than you are and I live just a few miles from the ocean. What I can grow easily is different from my friend who lives just over a big hill from me, but it’s because that big hill blocks the ocean’s breezes and tempering effects. In the warm months (July – October), our backyard BAKES since it faces due West and we have 3 walls around it. I have to water every single day and sometimes twice. However, one area never, ever receives sunlight. The only thing that has grown well in that area is one particular flower (non-edible). I am still testing out edibles hoping to find one, though.

Easy for me: parsley, lemon verbena, borage, tomatoes (this year; last year it never got hot enough), lettuces/spinach (but not this time of year), beans, peas, carrots, shallots, spring onions, garlic, and beets.

I rotate the beans and peas by season and location to give back to the soil. Neither is worth it for the harvest in our small space. An entire season of peas yielded me about 1/2 cup, but I saved the peas/beans for future plantings for the nitrogen-enhancing properties. Borage helps the plants around it and gives you edible flowers that taste good in fresh salads. Yarrow works similarly, but I put it on the edge of that no-light zone and it failed to thrive.

12 years ago

I have had two different compost tumblers, and didn’t like either of them. We have switched to composting directly in our raised beds. We have 4 beds, and our intention is that each year we will rotate and use a different bed as our compost bed.

Marie @ Awakeatheart
12 years ago

I have been using an old broken steel garbage can that we drilled holes in for our compost bin. The problem I’ve been having so far is that there really does need to be a large amount of stuff in there to really get the pile decomposing as fast as you think it should. A compost tumbler, I’ve been told, can speed up this process because it turns into an oven and can compost smaller amounts of material. I’d love one but it’s a space/cost issue. Ours keeps the critters out (not that we have many, no racoons here in the city but the cats don’t seem to bother with it since I only put vegetable matter in there).

12 years ago

As far as easy to grow… I find herbs especially easy (basil, mint, sage, parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, etc.). I agree on hot peppers being more hardy than green peppers. It also doesn’t get an easier than onions and scallions. I love the perennials as well such as Rhubarb and Strawberries. Kale is hard to get wrong and you get wonderful leaves even in the winter months.

12 years ago

I compost in a heap, it attracts squirrels, stray cats, and mice but we don’t seem to have other fauna (dunno why, I know there are raccoons nearby but we never get them in our yard or trash can). If you have rats, coyotes, or raccoons a compost heap may attract them (or bears, but probably not in your neighborhood.)

Anyway, i compost in a heap and every spring and fall I spread dirt from the center of my annual bed to the edges, and bury the partially-composted heap in the center. Added 8 inches to my 6×6 bed over 5 years, then started pulling soil out to use in containers every spring.

Since you have a tumbler, though, learn to love it! Heap composting takes a lot of room and might make your neighbors unhappy.

12 years ago

p.s. fava beans are the top of my list for easiest to grow. they’re amazing. it depends on climate though. and my compost bin is made of scavenged pallets, i looked for ones that seemed like they’d rot just fine (indicating untreated wood).

12 years ago

you can most definitely just compost in a pile- a pit or trench would be more aesthetically pleasing perhaps, and is a good method as well. for starting my own stuff in the future, i hope to get one of these soil block presses:

i saw them on farmama’s blog and it’s like a giant cookie cutter grid that makes cubes out of your prepared potting soil. pot-free.

i do reuse lots of little plastic pots for now… i get them from my friends and also snag empty yogurt cups from the staff room at work to use. it’s not plastic free but i’m rescuing plastic (i don’t buy yogurt in plastic so i have to scavenge.)

oh, and i think the toilet paper tube trick is great, i have heard of doing that to avoid cutworm issues when seeding directly. you can always remove them as soon as your seeds are established to minimize the glue factor.

12 years ago

Plant Markers: If you ever see an old mini-blind sticking (metal or better yet, plastic) out of a garbage can, grab it and cut it up to make a lifetime’s worth of plant markers. You can use scissors on individual slats or a table saw on 10 slats at once.

12 years ago

Not sure how much room you have, and I think you’ll run into the same problems with the unknown origins of reclaimed wood, but I made a compost bin a few years back using 5 pallets (they had been thrown away by a local grocery store). One at the bottom, and the other 4 as walls.

jude hanlon
12 years ago

Composting: My Dad has made (a series of) compost bins for use in our family’s gardens from interlocking wooden slats. Basically, the slats slot together and when you turn the compost over, you just rebuild it next to itself layer by layer until all the non-useable compost is in the new-build. Happy to give you more detail if you want it!

12 years ago

Beth, something may be eating your seedlings. Rabbits, cats, birds, etc. Also, I mulch so that the seedlings say moist. I noticed you don’t have any mulch on your beds. I use straw but the problem is straw can grow grass. So you will have to weed.

Each year, I keep promising myself I am going to store a ton of leaves for the winter to make mulch because I get tried of weeding. I store them for my composter as the brown part.. I happen to have plastic composters but I have alot of pest to content with. You can build one out of wire fencing if animals are not a problem. Just make sure you that rodents cant get in.

As for fertilizer, certain veggie are heavy feeders such as tomatoes, green peppers, etc. So you need to find out who really need fertilizer if you want to avoid the whole fertilizer bit. My beds are 1/2 compost and 1/2 soil but each year. If you can find seaweed, plants love it.

Easy to grow: Tomatoes, squash, beans of any sort, cabbage, basil, rosemary.. Be careful with garden thugs. Oregano, mint, dill, fennel. I wrote about them on Green Talk. I have problems with eggplant. I think I am too nice too it! Certain plants do better as seedling grown inside rather than planted right into the garden.

The toilet rolls don’t work for me since they dry out too quick.. And companion planting to ward off pest has never saved my broccoli or like plants.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
12 years ago

Regarding gardening gloves – I’ve been planning to make some out of old yoga pants like these:

12 years ago

oh, thanks for this post…we do buy some plants in those compostable-type containers, but sadly, many varieties of seedlings are only available in plastic here in this region of western Kentucky. Love it that you found a place that will re-use the pots…I’ll ask around and see if I can find a place here. thanks!

12 years ago

I agree with many of the other commenters. Compost is essential to a productive and sustainable garden. And, there are lots of good (and easy!) ways to create rich compost. I use the worm bin (made from recycled plastic) that I purchased from I love it and recycle all my food scraps in it. The worms turn the organic matter into compost faster than passive composting. I got my worms from Bay Area Worms – a nonprofit in Alameda. The guy there was a composting guru and had lots of examples of homemade compost bins. He was also more than willing to let me have a lot of horse manure.

Harvesting the compost means that you have to sort through the compost and pick out the worms. I happen to love that part of the process, but if the “ick” factor gets to you, worms might not be your thing. You don’t need to buy a compost bin (worm or otherwise) and it doesn’t need to be made of plastic. I’ve seen them made from scraps of wood, old wooden pallets, and an old car hood. I’m sure you can get crafty with something you find at Urban Ore.

As far as fertilizers go, you don’t need fertilizer if you are amending your soil with compost or manure. If you aren’t making your own compost, the city of Berkeley gives it away to residents every month or so. If you have a neighbor with chickens, maybe you can trade some carrots for chicken poop – which is a fantastic soil amendment.

I have trouble starting seeds inside because my apartment is so dark, and I have trouble starting them outside because my little patch of soil is well shaded and cool. My friend recently suggested making a small outdoor greenhouse using an old window and some wood. I haven’t tried it yet, but I love the idea!

One more tip is to plan ahead. In the Bay Area, we can grow at least a few things all year round. If you decide not to go all out over the winter, be sure to plant some cover crops. Fava beans are a good option because they are nitrogen fixers, super hearty, and tasty! Oh! And save your seeds for next season!

12 years ago

Spinach, peas and beans are super easy to grow. A word of caution about mint. It is very easy to grow but spreads like a weed. I would make sure to contain the roots. My sister has a compost tumbler which does not work very well. She is back to the old fashioned pile mehtod.

12 years ago

Lettuce are the gift that keep in giving. We have 8, a couple of different varietys & between the two of us can’t eat them quick enough before they grow back. (taking of the outer leaves) Magic!

Cheryl Newcomb
12 years ago

Gardening is where I do a lot of re-purposing.

For instance, I have not been able to give up using unbleached paper coffee filters for my brew, but each used one gets saved. i use them again in the bottom of my container planting, they hold moisture and keep the soil form leaking out the drainage holes.

All coffee grounds are distributed throughout my gardens. Every day. My pants and flowers rock!

My best tip for you Beth, ditch the fertilizers ( and their packaging) .
Simply place an uncracked raw egg in the sil below the planting. As is decomposes it will naturally fertilize your plants in a time release fashion!

12 years ago

1. You shouldn’t need to fertilize the first year. You’ve got virgin soil. It is harvesting crops that slowly depletes soil nutients. Your dirt looked good and black, so I think you’re okay. If your plants look yellow ( and you’re not over-watering) then they need nitrogen. But I wouldn’t worry the first year.

2. Compost, don’t get fancy. I have a small raised bed where I grow tomatoes and sweet potatoes. I just add the compost around the edge of the bed, just as it comes out of the kitchen. That’s the way nature does it. Before I plant the next season, I turn the compost into the soil and smooth it out. This year, I added a compost container, I was making more compost than my tiny garden could take. Egg shells will add calcium (if you eat eggs) or you could find someone with a backyard flock and apply a little chicken bedding during the dormant season. You need to let the bedding mellow before you plant.

3. The easiest crops to grow here are spinach, leaf lettuce, radishes, onions. Our hot summers make the lettuces bolt but while they’re here, they’re wonderful. Don’t try sweet corn. It takes a lot of space, you must plant at least 4 rows for pollination, it’s a heavy feeder of nitrogen, and if you have racoons, you won’t get a crop. We’ll plant an acre and expect to harvest half and give the other half to the racoons. Squash and mellons take a lot of space, so you’ve got to keep that in mind. I plant kentucky wonder pole beans on a trellis to save space. (You can save the seed.)

My two cents: work on the soil and make it as healthy and resiliant as possible. That will help to ensure that your plants are strong and will resist disease and pests. Rotate where you grow things from year to year to break up pests cycles. Garden centers make a lot of money from selling you things you don’t need. As long as your plants are healthy and producing you won’t need a lot of inputs. I use paint stir sticks for garden markers and I reuse them from year to year. You can get a bunch from a lumber yard or automotive store for free.

Food feet, rather than food miles, is a good feeling….

Free Range Mama
12 years ago

You can buy cardboard boxes of wooden stir sticks that work well as markers!
I love your enthusiasm!

I don’t fertilize the plants. I just add compost and manure to the soil in the Fall and/or Spring.

My mom used to compost with fencing bins as someone stated, above.


emmer holbrook
12 years ago

ditto ecogrrl! compost tumblers work well and keep critters out, allowing you to compost things you couldn’t use in a pile. that means you get more compost. home gardeners have a giant theoretical advantage over farmers. we can input more than we output. because we don’t grow all we eat and we bringthe rest, with its peels and cores and outer leaves in plus other compostable goods into our homes, we can add more than we take away.
another way to compost is to dig a hole near your veggies, ie where there roots may extend as the season advances. bury the contents of the compost bucket in the hole. mix in some leaves or other “browns”. cover with dirt. done.
your tp cylinders can be wrapped in aluminum foil. it deters slugs. i use recycled foil. that is, the wrapper from a 4 oz chocolate bar is re-used to bake a potato. it’s final reuse is wrapped around a tp tube that has been slit lengthwise. the tube is then wrapped around the seedling as it is planted, partly underground, with soil patted up it’s sides so the wind doesn’t blow it away. slug is deterred like copper strips. tender baby plant is held up. :-)
you can drown herbs, but most are astonishingly easy to grow otherwise. many things that you eat the leaves of are easy, except in the heat of summer when they bolt and get bitter. tomatoes, on the other hand, love that heat. zucchini has it’s abundancy rep for a reason. only plant one hill. it freezes well. and the tiny ones make a decent pickle. shredded it can replace applesauce in applesauce cake and cookies. whereever you have legumes, like green beans and sugar snap peas this year, plant heavy feeders, like corn, next year. the nitrogen added by the legumesthis year will boost your corn a bit next year.

12 years ago

Yes, your plants would probably benefit from some type of fertilizer, but will also probably be fine without it, especially the first year.
Easy composting–you can save your scraps in a covered container in the fridge until you have enough to half way fill your blender. You can even throw in some shredded paper for the “brown part” if you like. Then blend it all with some (gray?) water and pour into a hole in your garden. It will break down quite quickly. (Or if you accumulate a lot of compostables you can blend them as you go throughout the day, save that in a covered container in the fridge & take it out to the garden before bed.)
What’s easy to grow can vary a lot depending on the garden, the gardener, the location, the weather that year etc. The most important thing is to grow what you already eat a lot. (This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get seduced by pictures & end up growing pretty things & then not really eating them much. Please don’t ask me how I know this.)
Best of luck!

12 years ago

We don’t have a tumbler. We just pile for a year or so depending on the size. Turn maybe every 2 months or so. Then we have at it to lasagna garden.

12 years ago

I don’t know if this is an option…but what about checking out Home Depot (or other do it yourself store) for scrap pieces of wood trim? (Definitely make sure they’re wood, as some trim is plastic.) You could cut them to whatever length you want and use them for plant markers…and if you get scrap pieces, you can get them for a song. : )

12 years ago

And I NEVER turn my compost! I put sticks in tipi-wise and dump whatever on top of the peak. This keeps air in between things and mixes them up. I layer weeds with the soil still on their roots (green stuff and brown stuff) with kitchen waste. Come spring, I just pull the big sticks out as they come and dump them on top. I find new sticks at some point as the previous ones break down.

If it were difficult, I’d never do it, honestly.

12 years ago

I think you should try composting. I am a huge adherent of composting. I compost everything. Wool, jeans, socks, lint, horrors from my children’s rooms, weeds, all sorts of kitchen scraps, sawdust, fats and oils – whatever!. The trick in my opinion is to get a composter that is 1 metre/yard around at the base so the compost heats up properly.

For plastic-free, you can make one with some wood, a saw and hooks and eyes from the hardware store. Or ask for a free one on Craigslist or freecycle. People “try” them and give up. Or get more fashionable ones. Whatever the reason, there are always composters to be had cheap or free in Toronto.

I put 2″ of compost on all my garden beds every spring. I just place 1″ chicken wire over a bin and shovel the stuff in from the bottom of the composter accessed through a door. Whatever doesn’t fall through, I pour back on top of the heap.

The other trick to nourishing your soil is to companion plant. Basil and tomatoes go together, for instance. Bean fix nitrogen for squash. I follow Jean Jeavons “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine” [Paperback]. I highly recommend this method of growing food.

And congratulations! I just put the seed in the ground. Next year I’ll do the toilet roll pots!

12 years ago

ok my dear this is going to be what i call ‘gardening tough love’:

1) put the damn gloves on. you’re seriously not wearing them because they’re ‘pretty’? garden gloves are MUCH sexier after they’ve got dirt on them. dirt is sexy.
2) you have a gorgeous composter that you “don’t like”? it’s a gorgeous thing, someone actually recycled plastic to make it, and you give all your rich compost to the collectors? what gives? use your composter. stop being a princess and use what you have. otherwise, as with the gloves, you’re being wasteful. gotta be hard on you for this, as you’ve got great tools to make gardening so easy. and just creating a ‘pile’ in the yard? no. use your composter to it’s potential – it will not only keep the critters out, but the enclosed dark plastic will keep it ‘hot’ and therefore decompose much faster so you have delicious compost way faster. trust me this is much “lazier” than throwing it in an exposed junk pile which honestly, would aesthetically look gross – do you really want all your food scraps sitting out? i have some possums and cats in the ‘hood that would LOVE to eat it up if i’d let ’em…
3) you don’t need fertilizer to have a garden. good soil, compost, and appropriate watering is all you need. i like going by my local coffeeshop and grabbing a bag of coffee grounds from them for some extra ‘oomph’ to mix in – starbucks is used to people asking them for this. boom, that’s it. don’t make it harder than it is. gardening is not as high maintenance as some like to make it. put seeds in soil. let them grow. harvest them.
4) easiest for me? tomatoes (starts), hot peppers (they seem hardier than sweet peppers, even here in oregon i get an awesome crop), lettuce (seed – just harvest and water regularly and every time you chop some off for a salad, it’ll grow back. rad.), carrots (again, by seed, just thin them out after they are a few inches high so you give them room to grow), onions (same as carrots), zucchini. actually the only challenging veggies i’ve found are celery and bell peppers, but i keep trying :)

12 years ago

Pike’s nursery has an organic nutrient for the soil that comes in a cardboard box. I use that. We also use a box of wooden craft sticks for labeling. This year, I used bamboo sticks and string to hold up my tomato garden. Next time I wlll craft it in a different way, but it sure did a great job this year! Most of my plants are grown to the top of it.

The seeds planted directly in the ground tend to grow slower than protected because they seem to need a warmer, moist environment. The tubes give them the extra they need. Just my two cents, could be totally wrong.

Companion gardening rocks. Using those nasturtiums and marigolds, along with some mint/basil should help keep the pests away.

Composting in anything should work. Even a cardboard box. Eventually it will become a heap of dirt. Not the nicest, but it could work. Great job doing it plastic-free. As for the tags – you could always leave them in another pot for someone else who wants them, or save them and use them next year for the plants you will be doing from seedlings.

12 years ago

With respect to easy plants – tomatoes, zucchini, rosemary, and basil are the easiest. I don’t purchase fertilizer, prefering to be as self-sustaining as possible. So I prep the beds with compost, and fertilize with urine and bloodwater. Wood ash can be used to raise soil pH if necessary. I’ve never worried about NPK ratios and have always had bumper crops of veggies. There’s a wealth of books, articles, and websites that discuss how use these methods effectively.

As for composting, I have old metal fencing and metal fence posts that I used to build two compost cages. They’re covered with wooden lids I made, which seem to keep out the critters pretty well. Be sure to thoroughly mix in any fresh veggie/fruit scraps, otherwise your local fruit fly population will explode.

Michele Cornelius
12 years ago

I’ve always had the best luck with greens to put in salads like arugula, mustards, kale and bok choy. Potatoes are also easy…I am in a colder climate though. I have been composting for years using the easy way of putting everything in a pile which I flip over a few times a year with a pitchfork. When the pile gets large, I start a new pile and let the old one sit until it is almost all broken down, and dig it into the garden beds in the fall so it breaks down the rest of the way before spring.

I like the toilet paper roll idea! I have three cats, and start seeds in a window ledge that is high enough and has no room left for a landing site. You can also use an LED light hung over the seedlings and put them somewhere the cats can’t reach. Best of luck with your garden! You are off to a great start.

Sharyn Dimmick
12 years ago

Crops: tomatoes are easy to grow and don’t take much work. I feed mine waste water from the kitchen sink caught in a metal bowl (water from washing vegetables, draining pasta, etc.) They also get some tea and coffee grounds in water everyday. Radishes are super easy, lettuces, chard once it gets going. I have kept a pot of chives going for years, ditto for mint. Tomatoes and basil need some protection from snails — I use copper tape around the base or rims of my re-used pots. I plant tomatoes in ancient plastic buckets that came from laundry detergent or cat litter or paint years and years ago: I punched some holes in the bottom with a screwdriver, put in some broken crockery and potting soil and compost and they are good to go for another year.

I think the issue with unprotected compost is critters seeking food in the pile and making a mess. The pile needs turning in some way, too — restacking, shoveling, mixing in dirt or leaves. We have one loose pile that my Mom turns with a spade and one in a plastic Biostack, which is kind of a pain and has to be moved now and then.

Good luck with your garden. I may try the toilet paper roll trick next time I plant new seeds.

12 years ago

My cats are also using up all of my sunny windowsills. I have tried the cactus thing, but cats are pretty clever when it comes to getting at a salad bar, and you’d need to have enough cacti to build a tall fence if you wanted it to be effective (and then you’d block out all the light!). Also, I’m pretty sure their fur keeps the spines from poking them as badly as we hairless people get poked. If anything, the cactus plants I’ve kept have been something that *I* get injured by when I have to hurry over to remove a cat from my plant table!

The best I’ve been able to do is keep one room that the cats are not allowed in without strict supervision. I keep my gerbils and houseplants in there, along with anything else they shouldn’t get into (sewing projects, extra cat food, etc.). You have to be careful not to leave the door open, and you’ll spend a lot of time throwing the kitties out of that room when they sneak in, but it’s nice to know that I can have houseplants and the occasional fresh herb without my cats eating them!

12 years ago

Love this. I have no luck with the toilet paper roll staring pots but I do have luck with these seeds pots made from newspaper: I also reuse the odd paper cup I get from the coffee shops, and have been known on occasion to dive into a garbage can to retrieve a few!

12 years ago

I have the same issue with the fe-lions getting into the seedlings. I actually built a little cage for them that sits by a south facing window sill. That way I can start things when there’s still 6 inches of snow on the ground and plant when it warms up. But if you try this method be advised… the cats are quite ingenious about getting into the seedling cage so it needs to be pretty secure, and if there’s space on top of it, it needs to be strong enough so the cats can climb up and sit on top. (I speak from experience here.) I used an old set of wire sliding drawers that somebody threw away in the alley with chicken wire around the outside. The top drawer is strong enough to hold the cats and the bottom drawer slides out to make it easy to water the seedlings. You need some sort of tray to catch the water so you don’t make a mess. Works great!

I’ve composted using the hole in the ground method for years. For a while I used the ultra lazy method. My garden has a bunch of small raised plots, so each year I’d designate one as the compost pit. I’d compost there all year instead of planting, and then rotate plots at the end of the season, letting the compost plot “finish” over the winter. Then I’d put the heaviest feeders in that plot the next spring. In theory you should turn it, but I never bothered. My dad has used this method for 40+ years. He calls it “cowboy composting”.

A few years ago somebody threw out an old entertainment center in the alley, which, when turned on its side made a great compost bin. So lately I’ve been composting there instead of the hole in the ground method. Either way works, although the bin is more work because you actually do have to turn it.

In terms of fertilizer, I generally turn lots of dried leaves into the plots each fall, then I get a bunch of horse manure from a local ranch and turn it into the soil in the very early spring about a month or two before planting. I try to rotate the crops… especially switching the heavy feeders and the peas each season to balance out the nitrogen, but I’ve never bothered testing the soil or getting any fancier than that.

Good luck with it! I hope you get to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor soon!

12 years ago

If you do worm composting, you can just toss stuff in and not think about it the worms take care of it for you. But regular compost needs to be turned because the stuff needs oxygen to decompose.

Added bonus to worms: when you have more than enough in the compost bin, you can take some out and put them in your garden. (If you don’t do this, the population will self-regulate.)

Personal agenda to you trying worm composting: I can’t find a way to do it that’s not in plastic and don’t want my nice, organic compost in leaching plastic bins.

Anita Kaiser
12 years ago

Love this idea with the toilet paper rolls. So simple and yet I haven’t ever done it! Will be planting some new seeds in that tomorrow! Thanks for a great tip!

12 years ago

I have a compost tumbler (different model: that I’m very happy with. It’s 50% recycled.

Doing without a container in our FL suburban environment would be problematic with critters and insects, but it may work for you. At my last home I just had a ring of fencing containing my pile, but I used it for disposal, not for gardening, so I didn’t pay much attention to the speed or quality of what it produced. The fencing kept my dogs out of it; not sure if raccoons et al. helped themselves at night, but they didn’t cause mess or damage. That was in less bug-ridden VA, and though there were some flies and bees, it was manageable.