posts tagged with 'scrounging'

raising the stakes

When I started gardening I scoffed at the stakes offered for sale at the hardware store. Close to ten dollars for a length of wood? Ridiculous! I just used all kinds of things I scavenged here and there: branches, broken tool handles, marking stakes picked up from parking lots in the spring, old hockey sticks... Then later I came into possession of a bundle of proper garden stakes and I realized that they were actually pretty good. They're cedar, so they last, and they're cut with attention to the grain so they stay straight year after year. I had eight—so I've been using them by choice for all my staking needs. For the tomatoes especially. This spring one of them broke for the first time, from rot, and at the same time garden expansion meant I needed more, so I was forced to consider if I needed to actually buy some for myself.

Maybe I will one day. But for now I've found another solution, one that I can't believe I never used before. See, I have some power tools, and also lots of old lumber, and it takes maybe 45 seconds to turn six feet of old pressure-treated decking into two or three top-quality professional-looking stakes. A run through the circular saw to strip a one-by-one length, then zip zip on the miter saw at a 45° angle for a little point. I made some yesterday to stake up the corn which, unexpectedly, mostly blew down in a violent thunderstorm the other night. Not all the stalks broke. I don't know how long my new homemade stakes will last, but they look pretty nice now and even if they do fail to go the distance I've got plenty of wood to make some new ones next season!

free wood

a woodpile of logs

that's going to be a lot of fires

I don't like spending money, so there are lots of times when, instead of buying something, I wait to get it for free. That is not efficient. But sometimes it works out well, which is very gratifying. Our fires have been fueled by the logs we picked up out of the woods last fall, and there's still some of those left. But firewood is something that's nice to stock up on, so when our neighbor across the street had a tree taken down and sawed up, I took notice... especially as the logs continued to sit on the curb for a week. So I asked, and I got em! True, when dropping one of the heaviest ones into the wheelbarrow popped the tire the free aspect was minimized slightly... but I suppose I can always wait for a free tire!

Then last week a friend called to tell me he was helping someone clean out their garage, and would I like any free lumber. I would! I dashed over to find a pile that included six sheets of plywood—four of them half-inch smooth-finished panels that go for about $50 each. Then there was a bunch of miscellaneous pieces that I took away to make up for getting the plywood. But even that has already come in handy! I find myself using the scraps of molding to prettify the playhouse—I'd never pay for it, but when it's free I'm glad to have it!

molding in the playhouse


This delightful accumulation is happening at the same time as our other neighbors are doing construction on their kitchen. There's a big dumpster out front, and I've watching it filled with pieces of beautiful old wood ripped out of the old space. The container is big and deep, so while I did manage to grab one irresistible beam, most of it will be lost to the landfill. So sad. Oh well, at least I've got my woodpile.


garden scrounging

Even though today wasn't nearly as warm as the last few days, we put in some heavy gardening time. The season has been opened, so we have to keep moving even if it's cold and gray. Today we enlarged the garden a bit and put in peas, with help from our reliable farm-hand Kyle. But that wasn't all: Harvey and I also took a little expedition to the woods to fetch back some things that've been catching my eye for some time.

Harvey's wagon loaded with a rhodadendron and a large timber

no room for passengers

We'll use the big timber—it's actually the cross-piece of a telephone pole—to edge the raspberry bed and make it easier to mow the grass along it. I noticed it lying near the edge of the woods, oh, two years ago and always meant to bring it out, but it was inaccessible summers due to the heavy growth of poison ivy that surrounded it. And winter, of course, I wasn't thinking of mowing. The past few days, though, the plants have been springing up and out in fast-forward, so I figured the time was perfect to finally grab it (if that's the right term for so heavy a thing). There was a little green on the dreaded plants, but the cold meant that I was bundled up pretty good. No rash yet.

As for the plant, I only noticed it a few months ago. Someone took out a rhododendron and threw the stump a couple feet back in the woods, maybe last year, and thanks to the indomitable nature of the species (they're currently trying to take over our front porch and side stairway) it didn't die. Maybe it'll even bloom this year so I'll know what color it is before I decide what to do with it! Because I have no idea—I just knew I couldn't let it sit there where it was any longer. Thing's worth like thirty bucks! We'll plant it around here somewhere, or else give it to my parents; Mom, do you want any more rhododendrons?

Harvey was very excited about the whole thing until he realized there wasn't any room for him to ride back in the wagon. Actually, he didn't precisely realize it, and over the course of the walk home—it was all of a quarter mile—he must have asked me some two dozen times if he could ride. Failing that, he wanted uppy. Of course, there was no hope of either happening; it was all I could do to keep that load moving at all. I must say, the wheel and axle is a marvelous invention.

Only one person saw us bringing the bounty home (besides the neighbor kids, that is, and they already know we're crazy). She gave us kind of a look, but I just smiled because a score like that was totally worthwhile. We'll have to go back soon; there are some very attractive-looking rocks that I've had my eye on for a while.


many men's trash

We got a notice last week that our town is changing the way trash pickup is run. Instead of being able to throw away as much as we want, however we want to put it out, we'll have to fit all our trash for the week in a town-issued bin. New trash trucks will have robot arms that'll pick up and dump the bins without the garbage man having to set foot outside of the cab. If you have more trash than can fit in the bin you'll have to pay per bag.

At first, I though this was totally cool. The automated bin pickup alone is pretty fun—I've admired the system at work in other towns (like Santa Monica; remember when we lived there?). And of course we like the idea of limiting how much households can throw away for free. Sure, you'll be able to dump an awful lot before you have to start using the overflow bags, but at least it gets people thinking about the value of trash pickup.

After a bit more reflection, though, some downsides occurred to me. Worst for us personally (and for other right-thinking trash picking folks, like the woman we spoke to on our walk this afternoon) is that it will be a whole lot harder to find another man's treasures out on the curb. Not only will everything be in the bins rather than piled enticingly for our perusal, the rules say that the bins have to be closed. While I don't mind poking through a promising pile, I think I draw the line at opening every trash can I pass in search of something interesting. I imagine that people who are disposing of items that they think might be of value to someone else will still leave them on the curb for a little while before trash day, but a lot of what I've found—five gallon buckets, broken tool handles for plant stakes, small pieces of good lumber—would probably be tossed directly.

The effect that the new system has on garbage men is another issue. It used to take two guys to run each truck; I'm pretty sure now it'll only be one. So half as many people will be working, and I hope the one left is an introvert because he's going to have a pretty boring day by himself otherwise. Maybe he can talk on the phone like our newspaper delivery girl does every morning. (I don't worry about mail carriers, who also have their trucks to themselves on their repetitive daily rounds—I know they're all introverts.) The trash company must be saving money to be able to afford to give us all free trash cans; I'm sure a good portion of that comes from reducing salary.

So news is mixed. If only there were an efficient system to allocate "trash" items, one that didn't use stupid yahoo groups. We have stuff that we don't want in our house anymore, but we know it would be useful to someone if only we could find them, and I'm sure that there's so much thrown away that we would love to have. Of course, this is all a pretty modern problem: I was just reading (in a blog post about 19th-century vocabulary) how, in 1815, they didn't even have trash cans:

Weird note. Trashcans, wastepaper baskets, garbage cans... none of these exist even as a concept. Everything got reused, fed to the pigs, or burned in the fire.

The reusing we can manage, but we're a little short on pigs. Will chickens do?


on the morality and societal perception of dumpster diving

Over at Concrete Gardener Jo has posted about scoring a bunch of apples out of a dumpster by her house (and using them to make an apple crisp, of course!). We're a little jealous: after I read Waste and told Leah all about it, she took a few trips round to the local grocery stores to see if she could do any dumpster diving of her own. No luck: they're all locked away. Plus, there's that pesky sense of unease that comes with taking things out of the trash.

Not that we're worried about getting sick from food that's been thrown away: the whole point is that the stuff grocery stores are chucking is perfectly good, for the most part. And when it comes to the vast majority of what we eat—bread, fruits and veggies, and dairy—a quick look and a sniff is all you need to tell if something is off. The real problem is that, as much as we rationally feel that making use of cast-off food makes personal economic sense and is even a positive social force, we've been culturally brought up to feel on the one hand that trash is private property and on the other that we shouldn't degrade ourselves by taking handouts of any kind. And then, even if we do manage to find a full open dumpster—shouldn't we leave the bounty for someone who really needs it?!

All three of those objections came up when we were chatting to Jo about her apple find at Thanksgiving. They're tough problems: even though the first two are objectively nonsense—at least if you're a filthy hippy like us—they still have the power to restrain our actions. Even when we settle the issues within our own heart, there's still the neighbors to consider: what happens if someone I know sees me?! (Or even someone I don't know; the situation has the potential to be embarrassing in any case). The third is different, because yes, other folks will always need free food more than we do, for any value of "we". I don't, though, think we're taking food out of the mouths of anyone if we manage to liberate something from the trash behind the Bedford Whole Foods, and as long as we continue our other charitable activities we shouldn't worry on that front. Or we could, as Luke suggested, learn the hobo code and chalk directions to the good dumpsters on the street!

I grapple with a very similar dilemma every day on both legs of my commute. Right on the Lexington/Bedford line is a condemned home, with a fence around it and—relevant to my interests—a whole lot of junk piled very impressively in the yard. I'm especially interested in the heap of five-gallon buckets. $2.54 at Home Depot online may not break the bank, but money is money and I could use a bunch of those in my farming efforts. And more importantly, I really think they're going to go to waste if I don't take them. Bulldozed into landfill when the house is finally taken down, most likely.

But what if somebody who actually has claim to them is planning to use them? I can't shake the thought. Plus, there's the fence to consider; although it provides only a visual reminder of the cultural expectation of private property, something that would alone probably prevent me from going in after the buckets even if the place weren't protected by cheap chain-link. As I say, it's a dilemma. There's also a trail-a-bike that's been locked up by the Dunkin Donuts in Lexington that I'd love to get my hands on. That one has a U-Lock, though, so there are also technical issues of removal to consider.

Neither of those are trash, though, and all that food is. Legally, trash on the curb is public property; though the stuff locked up in dumpsters is not, I don't think the stores have any moral right to it after consigning it to disposal. So can we bring ourselves to go get it? Would you?



I carried a plastic potty the size of my torso 3/4 of a mile to my house while holding the dog leash and the stroller handle in the other hand because someone was throwing out a perfectly good potty and eventually we'll need a potty.

Man! No one ever told me becoming an eco-friendly white-trash hippy would be so physically taxing! Well, I guess I should have imagined.

salvage operations

The other day I was out biking with Harvey and I happened upon a giant pile of items being disposed of by a family who looked to be moving away imminently. My attention was caught by a Flexible Flyer sled on top of everything, and I immediately desired it. Who cares that those things only run on a vanishingly small range of snow conditions?! They're classics! Happily, it fit very nicely on the back of the bike trailer.

a sled on the back of the bike trailer

sled portage

Here at the squibix household we're firm believers in taking what we can get from other people's cast-off possessions. I mostly come home with useless things like sleds and lots and lots of windows, but Leah's finds are far more practical: a rubbermaid container for storing clothes, a set of bed rails still in their original packaging. The other day while we were biking she noticed a big bag of kids clothes and snagged five very serviceable pairs of trousers. Too big for Harvey now as-is, but the two pairs with more-than-cosmetic rents in the knees have now been transformed into shorts that will fit him from now until when he's four. Below-the-knee cargo shorts? Pretty stylin! Especially when paired with an equally-free mama-made shirt and a cutie belly-button. Aw.

Harvey sleeping in a cute free outfit

those cute clothes? totally free!