Archive for the "garden" category

How can I reuse or recycle old glass blocks/glass bricks?

We’ve had an email from Whitney, asking about reuse/recycling ideas for glass blocks (or glass bricks, as they’re also known):

We just bought a house and making a lot of renovations. We removed some glass blocks from an old bathroom window and I want to reuse them for something. I love glass blocks and since they didn’t get broken in the renovation process I’d love to do something with them. I’d love to be able to drill holes in them and place lights for outdoor use, but don’t know how to do it. I was also thinking about just placing them around the garden, but am looking for some more innovative ideas.

I love the idea of using them in the garden – for bed/path edging for example, or if you have a lot of them, as a privacy screen/divider. I imagine in time the edge seals might become damaged and bugs or greenery may creep inside but that could look pretty cool too :)

More creatively, I’ve seen them used effectively as the “legs” on simple tables – panels of glass blocks at each end of the table top, though I’m not sure how it was all fixed together – any ideas?

Any other practical or creative suggestions for using them either inside or outside of the house?


How can I reuse or recycle empty bottled gas/propane cylinders?

Lyndon has emailed to ask about reusing – or recycling – propane gas canisters (the ones for heating, barbecues or patio heaters etc):

Trying to tidy up the yard at work, what can I do with some old gas bottles?

If there is a company name on the bottles (like Calor Gas, Flo Gas or TotalGaz – to name but three), the safest/laziest thing might be to contact them to see if they could pick them up – gas bottles get reused again and again by gas supply companies and if the canisters are still in reusable condition, they might be more than willing to take them off your hands and put them back into circulation. (They’ll be able to dispose of any remaining gas too.) (UPDATED: see the note below from Calor – you should really give their tanks back to them.)

Empty or old gas bottles also pop up quite frequently on Freecycle/Freegle, Gumtree and eBay as it is cheaper to refill old tanks than buy new ones every time (and hurrah for that!). Again, hopefully they’ll disappear from your yard with minimal effort and be reused again & again.

As for non-intended purpose reuses, some people turn them into outdoor woodburning stoves – but do be careful if you want to try anything like that yourself! Safety first, and all that.

Have you got any suggestions for how he could reuse these bottles? Or ways to recycle them? And any other advice (particularly about safety issues)?


What food packaging & other household waste do you use for starting seeds?

It’s seed-starting time here in the northern hemisphere and my Twitter feed is full of exciting stories about what fruit & veg people are going to be growing this year. I’ve added half a dozen more fruit bushes to our garden this year but I’ve not sown any seeds yet — my seed box is sat on the side of my desk making sad puppy eyes at me as I type ;)

Gardeners & allotmenteers are just about always resourceful types when it comes to reusing and recycling stuff – I don’t think I’ve ever met a grower who doesn’t keep ice cream/margarine tubs etc for reuse – but I thought it would be worth having a bit of a sharing session about what you reuse for starting seeds, as plant pots or as water-catchers under plant pots, and if there is anything that you choose not to reuse for whatever reason.

At one point, a good few years ago now, I think about 90% of my seeds were started in plastic mushroom tubs — either directly in the tub or using them to catch water draining from plants pots. In the past, I also used shallow fresh pasta packaging as starter trays and multi-serving yoghurt/cream pots for the growing on stage. I know my dad keeps the clear plastic boxes used by supermarkets for muffins or pastries whenever he gets them because the lid gives the tray its own little propagator/greenhouse too – and similarly he cuts down 2ltr pop/soda bottles to make a pot with its own little cloche.

Moving away from plastic – since I do worry about putting plastic in direct sunlight/warm spots when it’s not designed to be used in that way, I’ve used newspaper and toilet roll tubes to make “plantable” pots – the former just require a little folding into shape and the latter can be cut in half to make twice the number or left whole as “root trainers” for growing carrots or parsnips.

(I also cut up plastic milk bottles & drinks cans to make plant markers for all these many, many seeds!)

So, what packaging (or other household waste) do you reuse for starting off your seedlings? What about for the growing on stage?


How can I reuse or recycle leached wood ash left over from lye making?

Bee has asked:

What can I do with a lot of wood ash after it has been leached? I have a large firepit, and I plan on saving and leaching the ashes… but I’m very leery about tossing that much slag ash onto the compost heap. I’ve found lots of info about ashes before leaching, but practically nothing about after leaching.

Funnily enough, I was riddling our woodburner and thinking about recycling ash just before I spotted this question from Bee :)

We’ve already covered the various different ways to reuse wood ash – from unpainted/unvarnished wood – in the garden and beyond — and one of those ways is to use it to make lye, which is what Bee is talking about here: the wood ash left after it’s been steeped to make lye for soapmaking or what-have-you.

I haven’t made lye myself – we just compost the ash – and like Bee, my Google-fu has failed me. I can find lots of tutorials on how-to make lye from wood ash but they all just skip from making the lye solution to using the lye, without explaining the clean up.

So does anyone know if the leftover ash is suitable for composting? I suspect it would be fine to go on a well-balanced compost heap – when “raw” wood ash is composted, the lye & salts leach away into the compost over time and the resulting compost will be alkaline but not too caustic to burn plants. The leaching process will have removed a lot of the lye so in theory it shouldn’t damage your heap – although equally, there is less point in it being there because it contains less minerals than “raw” wood ash – better than being thrown into landfill but not going to add a lot of goodies to the garden. That’s what I think anyway, from looking at the situation now — I am very happy to be contradicted by someone who has had experience of composting it.

Is there anything else that can be done with it? What would our ancestors – who wasted so very little – have done with it?


Book review: Garden Eco-Chic by Matthew Levesque

A few weeks ago, I was sent a couple of gardening books by Timber Press to review here and on The Really Good Life. This is the first one – Garden Eco-Chic by Matthew Levesque.

The subtitle of this book is “reusing found objects to create decks, paths, containers, lanterns and more”, so it’s quite clear why it fits a recycling site – it’s about reusing and recycling old stuff for a new purpose in the garden. Right up my street! I don’t usually like re-making inspiration books because they often focus on some very lucky finds for their key pieces and while that is the case with certain things in this book (the rusty gabions that crop up again and again, thirty 1970s light fixtures from a hotel, a stash of spectacle lenses), there is plenty of attention paid to easier to source things – piping, old sheets of metal, and scrap wood or stone – and where to get them.

It also included some useful sections on general skills – which tool to use for which job, how to cut difficult materials like polycarbonate sheets or steel, and advice on patinas & finishes to make newish wood or metal look more interesting.
Continue Reading →