I love things that meet a need so specific that they get the job done when nothing else could. In the push-and-pull of the moment, I’ve discovered many such tools, mostly ad hoc, accidentally or serendipitously, and mostly to use in the garden. Below are five favorites in no particular order!
1. The ordinary kitchen fork
(Especially a sturdy, three-tined one sometimes called a “dessert” fork.) We’ve found a fork indispensable for weeding around onions and other crops in densely planted rows or beds. It’s great for removing weeds that have nestled close to the crowns of hardy flowers. It’s also good for weeding around seedlings too fragile to handle much soil disruption. Forks both scrape and dig. Apologies to the gardening companies that make terrific long and short-handled tools for other weeding tasks, but a small, hand-held fork is more useful than any weeding tool on the market for close weeding.
2. Discarded carpet scraps
We pick up a lot of these at the town dump, as roadside castoffs, or from people we know are re-carpeting a room or house. Great for suppressing weeds between rows or beds, or along the edges of big vegetable garden; the giant ones work well for killing off grass and other vegetation to prepare a planting bed for the following year.
Use old carpet remnants to suppress and kill weeds
Nothing works better. If I need to pretty up a carpet-covered area, I spread a thin layer of grass clippings, hay, or straw on top.
Especially useful: stair runners and other narrow carpets, which don’t need slicing up before placing them.
3. Discarded metal bed frames
Over the years, I’ve brought half a dozen of these clunkers home from the town dump. They’re ugly, most of them are heavy, and a couple of them snap closed with a crocodilian predacity. What they’re superbly good for: drying onions.
We grow bushels of storage onions from seed—enough to last until next year’s crop is mature. When I harvest the onions, usually in early August, I open the beds and spread the onions out one layer deep to dry in the hot sun, until the green tops have fully dried back to the bulbs. The beds allow air to circulate below, around, and above the onions. On rainy days, we haul the beds into our shed to keep the bulbs from getting wet.
4. Bean frencher
I’ve written before about this little kitchen tool with only one possible use: slicing green beans lengthwise. Once I discovered that green beans in general, but especially frozen green beans, taste much better frenched than cut, I bought one of the hand-cranked models and started freezing dozens of bags of them for use in winter. I simply thaw them without further cooking for use in salads, thaw and heat as side dishes, and toss a handful or two with other vegetables into a big pot of soup. Superb for making a classic green-bean-mushroom casserole (fresh mushrooms, not mushroom soup).
5. Lids from plastic deli containers
I bake bread, especially flatbread often, and used to hate cleaning out the big stainless bowls; bits of dough would clog up brushes and scrubbers, and they’re almost impossible to launder out of dishcloths.
Enter the plastic deli-container lid. I’m talking about the thin, round, transparent containers that once contained olives or potato salad. Place one lid in the palm of my hand. It’s flexible, and the edges are a bit scratchy, just enough to scrape the dough from the inside of the bowl. Two or three turns around, and it all comes off.
Finally, as a bonus, there’s one more thing I don’t know how I could garden without…
Crocs (or any comfortable, easy-to-clean shoe)
These plastic shoes aren’t very fashionable, though many people around here wear them. They do have supportive comfort that allows my broad forefeet to spread.
But their singular feature turned out to be the way they scrub down so readily, going from muddy garden soil/slushy driveway to shower to heading-for-town in a couple of minutes. Stuff a hand towel in ‘em to dry ‘em off.
Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve bought many shoes in different colors and styles. I wear them year round; the classic clunky ones go well with heavy socks in winter, and the more delicate sandals travel to all but the fanciest shindigs. Crocs aren’t recyclable, but they do last a long time. I just recently wore through through my first pair, bought in 2007.
→ See a few more useful ways to reuse old items.