Adventures in garden hardware

In the past week, Operation High Nutrient Density Garden (OHNDG for short, I guess) went into the hardware collection phase.

Last Tuesday, one of my co-gardeners and I headed to an alley in Van Ness to collect about 100 free bricks. This was a Freecycle find, and therefore a you-haul kind of deal. She and I each stacked about half of the bricks in the trunks of our respective cars, which proceeded to lug them across town like babies with loaded diapers scooting along the living room floor.

That’s my analogy. The one that came to mind for our benefactor was drug-laden vehicles. She worried aloud — only half jokingly — that we might get intercepted by the cops before we reached our destination.

If you figure that solid clay bricks weigh about 5 pounds each, we were transporting a quarter ton of these things. The whole endeavor felt very clandestine and mob-like. I even started to consider assigning each of us a mafia name–you know, the kind that indicate the opposite of what you are? Like I could’ve been “Hamburger Mary.”

Luckily, although we were each carrying a weight equivalent to the body of a guy called “Little Pete” who has ended up in arrears, our sagging trunks didn’t draw the attention of the MPD.

Did I mention that this was after dark on a moonless night, and that our Toyota and Honda sedans are each at least 12 years old? It’s actually pretty astounding that we made it across so smoothly, and I can only explain it by chalking it up to  us white ladies getting the beneficial side of racial profiling.

When we arrived, we unloaded the bricks little by little into my old lady shopping carts and rattled them along the narrow walkway to our garden plot. With each trip, our trunks got a little lighter, and gratefully bounced back up.

As we sneaked around the dark, barren community garden, again we ran the risk of drawing attention. We had very little business being there so many weeks before the last frost and hours after the closest establishments — the Washington Animal Rescue League and a printer — had closed. But again, no one bothered us or attempted to apprehend us.

On Saturday, we were off to Community Forklift in search of cheap fencing, posts, garden tools, and whatever else we could scare up. This place is fabulous. It’s the trendy consignment shop of do-it-yourselfers. With a careful eye and a little time, you can find a decent chandelier, used windows, beautifully rustic old doors, a bunch of two-by-fours, or a huge kitchen’s worth of cabinets, shelving, and stacked ovens. You can take all this and more home for a song. Not a little ditty, maybe, but not the cost of the whole retail opera for sure (the chandelier might cost you $10; the deluxe kitchen set would set you back about $600).

They’ve also got paint, screws and nails, tubing and hoses, and most of the stuff we needed. Though the warehouse and the yeard didn’t have many garden tools to speak of, we learned that the annual tool sale is coming up on March 28.

For this trip, we came away with five green-enameled garden posts and a galvanized (we think) 12-square-foot piece of fencing, and plans to return for the tool sale. Total cost of our first thrifty home improvement center purchase: $6 plus tax.

Later that day, we headed toward a Craigslist find — seedling trays at 10 for $3. After a short and only slightly bewildering drive beyond the beltway, we found ourselves in a townhouse in Potomac. We looked through trays with shallow compartments, trays with deeper compartments, trays with really deep compartments, and trays with no compartments but wide latticing on the bottoms.

The kid selling these finds works at a garden store, he said, and presumably got these all as freebies. He also has hundreds of pots. If anyone’s interested in container gardening, leave a comment and I can pass along his email.

We settled on 20 of the shallow-compartment trays, but discovered later that we should have added the latticed trays (Take note! You can put these under the more flimsy trays for support when they’re full of soil). If you end up going out that way, I recommend going over to The Vegetable Garden afterward. That’s where we were headed.

My fellow gardeners also obtained seeds from the Rooting DC forum and Johnny’s Seeds, and also stopped by Purple Mountain Organics for potting soil and stuff to mix into it like coir. While there, they looked into getting some help from the biggest piece of hardware we’ll deal with over the course of our gardening quest–a rototiller!

So the garden is ready for a brick wall around the perennial bed and a nice sweet pea and snap pea trellis. And now, at long last, we can plant some seedlings and know that they’ll have freshly-tilled soil for a home when they’re ready.

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6 thoughts on “Adventures in garden hardware

  1. Girl, you give new meaning to the word “thrifty!”. When are you serving up an ‘Omnivore’s Dilemna’ type of meal?

  2. Jill,
    You’ve gotta be thrifty to outfit a big ol’ garden like we have! We could easily drop hundreds on this endeavor… plus I have to admit it’s fun finding good deals.

    Sarah,
    Done! Good luck with your new pots!

  3. Fabulous! I love it.

    One comment — I would think about the oil impact of all of that driving around too and include it in the price of whatever you were getting. That will reveal the true cost of it — $3 trays but $10 worth of gas? Tripling the price.

    I know this piece was about gardening and not Peak Oil, but more light shining on the hidden costs of our lifestyles is only a good thing.

  4. Hm… this is true. But what if (as is actually the case) we’re driving out there for reused trays? All the petroleum that would’ve gone into making new plastic was saved! We’re reusing all this cheap stuff, which cuts down on producing new materials and thus the fossil fuels it would take to make and transport them. But then again, large trucks and freight trains are more fuel efficient, per item, than a personal vehicle. You’d probably have to do a study to figure out, conclusively, which is more sustainable. For now, we’re going with the solution that seems sustainable for the Earth and is definitely keeps cash in our wallets 🙂

  5. Rhea,

    Also, it’s just easier to track your greenbacks than your carbon footprints, me thinks. You, at least, can see how much you’ve saved up vs. ways you’ve been environmentally conscious. I see you did ll of that on your quest for the garden building supplies! So, when can we see the fruits, er, vegetables of your labor?

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