Mar 05 2012

A Recycled Garden

By: Jordan Shay


 I‘m getting married at the end of March and I’ve scoured the internet tirelessly for ways to “DIY” to give the whole affair a more personalized touch.  The problem is that if you want a crafty party, you have to be a crafty sort of person to begin with.  What I mean is that just because I want to do some things myself, I’m not going to learn to sew really well overnight and try to make my own wedding dress or something.  Although it would be hilarious and a way to save money, I wouldn’t be very comfortable judging by the fact that most of my homemade Mardi gras costumes have been made of cardboard.

What I can do myself is grow food.  I’m still pining over lost land—the lot I used to garden on and raise pigs on sold last summer, and I haven’t found a replacement yet.  I could have grown all the vegetables, salad greens, and raised a pig to feed everyone at my wedding!  But I have to remember to focus on what I can do, or what I have the room to do.  In my yard, I have room to grow all the salad greens for 200 people, and so that’s what I’ll do.

The thing is, I want to have something left to eat from my garden when the wedding is over, so I need to stretch every last piece of ground to accommodate for the exorbitant number of salads, so that I can also save some room for the peas, string beans, beets and carrots in my spring garden.

One of the ways I’m stretching my gardening ground is through the use of containers.  Lettuce has a pretty fine root structure, so it doesn’t need a lot of room under ground, making it an ideal container vegetable.

In the interest of saving space and money, I went looking for creative alternatives to buying new pots from the garden center.  My search led me to the Green Project, at 2831 Marais Street, in the St Roch neighborhood.  

Looking at used building materials took on a new light.  Amidst the old doors, light fixtures, tile, paint and lumber, there were a few eight foot lengths of aluminum gutters.  I’ve seen enough old houses in New Orleans where the gutters haven’t been cleaned out in so long that they’re growing small trees to know that gutters can hold enough soil to grow something. So, as soon as I spied them at the Green Project, I saw lettuce in my mind. Specifically, I envisioned the gutters strapped to my garden fence like window boxes, packed with happy green mesclun.
I bought the two 8 foot pieces of gutter, then headed to Harold’s nursery, right on the other side of the tracks from the Green Project.  Harold’s is my favorite nursery in the city of New Orleans: their supply of plants is more diverse than anywhere else, and their plants are the healthiest.  Also, for my purposes in this case, they are the only supplier in New Orleans that carries Metro Mix - the best potting soil/ seed starting mix that money can buy.   I knew that I would need a light soil material to grow lettuce in such small, shallow containers, and I planned to use one part metro mix to keep the gutters light enough on the fence, and one part of my regular composted garden soil to nourish the growing lettuces.

Armed with the Green Project gutters and a bag of Metro Mix from Harold’s, and some lettuce seeds from the ‘free’ bins at the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, I was almost good to go.  I headed back Uptown toward my garden with a stop in at the Home Depot roofing section for gutter end pieces and braces to better support the gutters.
Once back at the garden, I put the end pieces on each end of the gutter and drilled a few holes through the bottom of the gutter for drainage, then screwed the gutter to the fence—with the help of my fiance who insists on doing it himself whenever he sees me suggest using power tools.  He then screwed the brackets into place across the gutters for a little extra bracing.

Next, it was time for me to add my soil: first one layer of Metro Mix, then one layer of garden soil, topped off with a layer of Metro Mix on top for actually starting the seeds in.  

Then I watered thoroughly, even before sowing seed.  I start seeds by watering first, then broadcasting seed, then covering them with a fine layer of soil on top and watering again.  I find that if I just water after covering the seeds, they sometimes wash away, or the water doesn’t get to where it needs to go.  

Once the lettuce seeds were broadcast and snug in their gutter planter box beds, I went inside to commend myself on my crafty gardening idea.  I thought I might blog about my fantastic idea – only to discover that there are many, many how-tos online for gutter gardens, most of them way cooler than mine.  Just check out Apartment Therapy’s article on a hanging gutter garden: for inspiration.

Oh well, I still got to increase my garden space, and feel incredibly resourceful and crafty in the process.  

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