My Favorite Gardening Hacks
I’m not a very “gadget-savvy” person. I don’t like clutter or buying tools. My garden style is very much “use what you have” and don’t overthink it. This article covers some of the fun things I’ve discovered while gardening over the years. By now we have family, friends, and neighbors that save items for me because they know I’ll put them to good use. Check out the garden hacks below that re-use, re-purpose, upcycle, or whatever you want to call it!
Water Jug DIY Cloche
Southern California (zone 10b) has pretty mild Winters, but occasionally a cold front comes around. I like to use various cloches to protect fragile seedlings or frost sensitive plants in the garden. For example, my over-wintered peppers have started to produce leaves already, but we are due for some 40 degree temperatures that could potentially harm the new leaf growth or stunt the plants. Therefore, I’m utilizing some of these DIY jug cloches to protect my pepper plants (pictured above).
Other great uses for cloches can be 1) protection from birds or 2) direct sowing seeds outdoors when it is still a little early and colder than usual.
Carefully remove the bottom of the jug to create the tallest size possible for your cloche. You can choose to remove the screw-top or leave it on. I usually like to remove it to allow for more oxygen for the plants because the cloche itself is enough protection from frost. This hack can be done with milk jugs too, although clear materials work best to allow for sunlight. It’s almost like a greenhouse for your plant! PS: make sure your cloche won’t blow away!
Re-use those nursery trays!
We have a contractor friend who often gets plastic, garden nursery trays on the job. You might recognize these trays at your local nursery holding those 6-packs of plants. These trays have become one of the most versatile gardening tools that I use every season. See Below for all the ways I re-use these trays in my garden.
Use them to easily carry or transport your seedling pots. Many of you know that I start the majority of my seedlings in 4″ reusable pots. To make moving the seedlings around much easier, I simply place them in a nursery tray. Caution: if exposed to lots of heat or sunlight, these trays will eventually become brittle. They can crack and spill your seed pots everywhere!
Protect fragile transplants from full sun after transplanting. Newly transplanted seedlings can be more fragile despite having gone through the process of hardening off. To lessen the chances of transplant shock, I will often cover my new transplants in the garden with a nursery tray until they have properly adjusted.
Protect sprouts or seedlings from birds. The newly sown patch (pictured below) is full of radishes, beets, kohlrabi, and turnips. We have a very active bird population in our yard, so I use the nursery trays to protect the new sprouts from bring eaten by birds.
Use nursery trays to plant a bunch of seeds at one time. I did this with my leek seeds this year, and I was able to plant all the leek seeds I needed in one tray—simple and easy! I happened to have some extra landscape fabric around, so I simply lined my nursery tray with the fabric, added seed starting mix, and sowed the entire tray with some seeds. As long as you sow seeds that are okay being separated/divided later, this works out wonderfully for sowing large batches of seeds at once.
You can check out the nursery trays in action over in my How to Grow Leeks article. I have even included a video on we transplant them into the garden. Leeks are such a wonderful kitchen garden vegetable and I highly recommend growing them!
Use a Fruit or Produce Clamshell as a Mini Greenhouse
I’m always saving random containers and my family knows it. My mom had saved me this random produce clamshell and it was the perfect vessel for starting my sweet pea seeds. A) it has drainage holes already. B) it has a built in humidity dome. C) It is large enough to start multiple seeds.
I wrote all the names of what was planted on the top of the clamshell in sharpie, and also decided to use toothpicks as separators….but Sam pointed out that I could probably forego the toothpicks because the names written on the top corresponded to the seeds pretty well.
BONUS tip: there are a couple special markers on the market that claim to be fade resistant. One is a new development by Sharpie and the other is by Artline. Be aware that some labels will fade away in the sun if you don’t use something resistant to fading. In my garden, I don’t use labels outdoors for very much, so I don’t have a need for a fade resistent marker.
Quick DIY Seed Labels
Take an orange juice or milk carton and use scissors to cut little tabs out. It helps if one side of your tab is pointed. These kinds of cartons are made to be “liquid-proof” so they won’t have a problem if you get water on them while watering your seedlings. Write the plant name on your label, but don’t forget my note above about possible fading if you are planning to leave these out in the sun for a long time.
Mesh Bag Fruit Protection
While this hack does require you to purchase these organza bags once, you can constantly re-use them in your garden for years to come. Growing berries is a challenge in an urban environment because there are so many pests and critters that love to munch on them. For example, I’ve tried everything for my strawberries—growing them in raised beds, in hanging baskets, using a rock to prop the fruit up, etc. Nothing has worked for me quite like these mesh bags. Last year I went through the trouble of bagging each individual strawberry, but I recently realized I can simply use the larger size organza bags and protect multiple berries at once (see photo below)! This takes up a lot less time and energy.
DIY Garden Dibber or Dibble
If you are not familiar with this garden tool, a dibber or dibble, is an implement with a pointed end that is used to poke holes in the ground for planting.
While you can buy an assortment of beautiful dibbles online, I prefer to use whatever garden sticks I have available. Use your homemade stick dibble to create holes for your seeds before dropping them in. I’ve even used an extremely thick fruit branch as a dibble for planting my garlic in the ground! I encourage you to read my How to Grow Garlic guide, and I’ve included video tutorials throughout for all you visual learners out there.
By the way, do you say “dibble” or “dibber”?
⇓ What are some of your favorite garden hacks? ⇓
PS: Tag me in your garden photos with #FreckledCA on Instagram!