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Garden Reuse-its: Soda Bottles

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 01:00 Written by  R.S.N.

As a greenie, I take the order of reduce-reuse-recycle pretty seriously. I can only do so much when it comes to reducing the packaging things come in, but I seek endlessly for ways to reuse what would otherwise be trash.

The PL community forum has a topic thread called “Reusing things for  prepping” under the “General Preparedness Discussion” category. It’s chock full of good ways to re-purpose items.

Craigslist and Freecycle and similar sites can also be helpful. Need a new cat litter box? See if anybody is trashing a Rubbermaid container. Looking into rabbit or chicken tractors? See if anybody is ditching their dog kennel. Looking for a trellis? Check listings for guardrails, deck rails, and storm doors. Some wine racks have a cross-hatch pattern that would work for the same or re-purpose into growing trellises – as would clothes racks. Need a planter? See if anybody is trying to offload a filing cabinet (drawers) or bookshelf (cut down into rectangles, line if desired). Check for pallets that can be filled with dirt for herbs, lettuce, strawberries, and other small plants and then stood up on end against a wall or with a couple of bracers. Need a bracer for the pallet and aren’t handy with tools? Buckets may be on those sites as well as at bakeries and delis and fast food joints. Stick two on either side, bracketing the ends of the pallet, then plant them with potatoes or tomatoes. Here are some general ideas for using wooden shipping pallets in the gardens: Pallet Garden Ideas (Pintrest).

The world abounds with ways to reuse things. Here I’ll focus on the Magnificent Soda Bottle and two of its uses in the garden. I specify: soda bottle. Some use milk bottles without harm and in some applications they’re fine, but the plastic is different and they’re not suitable for some of the uses.

Growing Containers

Craigslist and its ilk can be a goldmine that extends to planters, as mentioned. Growing towers can also be made out of soda bottles. Here’s a how-to: Bottle Tower Gardening.

I have tried both typical sizes, and dislike 20-ounce bottles. They just hold too little for me. I have also decided that instead of just stacking soda bottles as most list, I will feed an aquarium tube or small hose through and set them up on a catch basin, because I dislike the watering options even for the 2-Liter bottles. The top plants end up in flood-drought conditions or soggy because it takes a lot of water to trickle down to the bottom containers.

I have also discovered that the soil needs to be really well packed in those bottles, or the weight of the ones above will crush down. The openings can eventually shift significantly as they settle, squashing or slicing off the plant. I also have better luck starting seeds in them directly instead of manhandling transplants through small holes.

They save space, so if a neighbor drinks soda or there’s a recycling day and you’re comfortable collecting them, it’s easy to build up a supply. Square juice jugs would also work. In fact, you can also stack other types of containers like kitty litter buckets and big detergent bottles, again growing out from the sides instead of the top. You may have to either provide 2x4’s cut to the height the lid drops down or alternate the direction buckets are stacked in, because not all lids will stand up to the abuse of heavy weight being stacked on top. The containers can always be painted to be made a little less ugly.

Watering Assistants

Soda bottles are super helpful for fair-sized gardens and time-pressed people. The bottoms are removed, then the lids are removed or have a few holes drilled through. Cloth or paper can also be shoved into the neck to slow water. Then the necks of the bottles are buried a few inches or up to halfway down their length, so the cut-off bottom is exposed and open.

The small openings in the bottle caps allow the water to seep out slowly so that more is absorbed by the soil near plant roots, allowing more water to be taken up by the plants. The bottles make it faster to water by hand, since they can be filled quickly with a strong stream that would normally compact the soil. They will help capture and slowly release rainwater, limiting water loss from runoff. The bottles also water at root level, reducing surface evaporation.

Water catchment and reservoir size can be increased by stacking bottles. Instead of just one, take a second bottle – or third, maybe even fourth – and remove the bottom from that as well. Nestle the two bottles together, with the neck of one inside the removed bottom of the second. Two bottles won’t typically need support, but three or four would need a dowel or stake to help keep them upright, especially in windy areas.

Water catchment can be increased by expanding the surface area above the uppermost bottle. A wider funnel is an easy start. Tie a knot that won’t pass through the funnel neck and thread the loose end through, then tie off a rock or heavy item that will keep the funnel from blowing off and drop it into the reservoir bottle. The funnel is easy to lift when watering from a jug or hose. A milk jug will have a slightly larger surface area than 20-ounce or 2-liter bottles. Tying the knot around a short length of stick or rod can hold the milk jug or funnel in place without having to tie a two-inch ball in one end.

If the area is prone to mosquitoes, the bottles can be covered with lone socks that survive the wash cycle without their mates or old towel pieces.

Rain catchment can really be increased by using a small umbrella that has outlived its purposes elsewhere. Holes should be carefully burned, not cut or punched with a nail, because the holes tend to expand under pressure otherwise. Two small holes near the very center can have light line passed through, and that can be tied off to an anchor that will be inside bottles or to hooks that would go outside the bottles and down to stakes or fencing. Additional small holes are burned to allow water to trickle into the bottles.

Umbrellas are wide, so they should be used with taller water catchment towers, and they are susceptible to winds – really susceptible. An effective way to use them can be to attach them to a corner of a fence and then pipe the water they catch elsewhere. The bottle tower can be arranged to sit above a holey hose or to drip into a bucket instead of directly into the ground, or the tower can be positioned on a brick with a groove or rough cinder block that will feed into a trench along a garden row. Mulching the trench will help eliminate mosquitoes and evaporation. Umbrellas will also shade plants, which can be useful for salad and cabbage lovers if there is a merciless south sun, or could be a bane for tomato and melon plants.

A Replacement Watering Can

If and when the watering can dies, soda bottle lids can have a few holes drilled and be used the same way. If a couple of spare lids are kept, the soda bottles can also be used for temporary storage of things like a vinegar-soap-water mix used to discourage some pests or fertilizer mixes (do not store compost tea or Bt for more than a day). Switch out for the holey top and it’s ready to sprinkle. Waxed paper or plastic wrap can also be used as a seal if there’s no spare cap; cut a small square, lay it over the nozzle, and screw the holey cap on.

  • Side note: Soda bottles are NOT recommended for herbed oils, but the 20-ounce bottles also works for herbed vinegars for salads.

The Incredible Soda Bottle

Soda bottles have a lot of other uses, too, from direct food and water storage to homemade bird feeders and fish traps. For most who are interested in long-term preparedness, the ability to grow at least some of the food consumed tends to be a focus. Reusing common soda bottles can help grow in small spaces. They can also help with gardens that have to fend for themselves for a week or two at a time, gardeners who haven’t got larger irrigation systems and don’t want to fool with big, complicated hose systems, who doesn’t want to invest in hoses or who wants temporary, movable options, and for anyone who likes to take trash and free stuff and turn it into something useful. 

Last modified on Monday, 30 September 2013 03:02
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