There is a tremendous amount of repurposing, re-use, and up-cycling these days, some of the ideas are brilliant and some not so good. When I first learned about using empty wine bottles or edging a garden I have to say I thought it ‘might’ be a cool idea, they certainly can look pretty enough.
A year and a half ago, during a snowy December, Curt and I moved to an eco-village. I love the whole concept of living more consciously, in balance with nature, and in an intentional community, but that’s a topic for another blog post. We moved into this community where people had begun living for 19 years and so there were many things that had already been done. The wine bottle garden beds were one of those things. The winter of December 2010 was a fairly snowy one and Curt and I were focused on moving in and getting set-up but every once in a while I would walk past the bottle garden beds and wonder what type of growing occurred in those raised beds that were at the time bare ground. Quite often during the winters a garden can look kind of ugly, particularly if things are not kept, that was the case here and I found myself thinking that I couldn’t wait until spring to get that garden area into shape and looking beautiful. The image to the left top is when the bottle bed was new and fairly straight, it looks nothing at all like that today.
As the snow melted more and more was revealed and the more I was wondering how receptive folks would be to a serious clean-up and ideas about those thousands of wine bottles. I was thinking of other creative ways to use them without making the suggestion that they be hauled away, since they were already brought to the land.
I believe the garden area itself wouldn’t have looked so unkept if the wine bottle placement stood the test of time. The weeds could be easily pulled or cut back, but the wine bottles, which were once perfectly placed, just looked like you would imagine anything put in the ground above the frost level to look… yup they heaved in every which direction (mostly outward with some more out than others) and the soil in the raised beds was slowly creeping out of its glass confinement too.
One day, I went around and gave several bottles a little wiggle to see just how much work it would require to straighten them out again. The wine bottle beds had only been in place for 3-4 years. Each bottle I wiggled made that glass and grit scratching sound that you might hear when you’re digging and hit a piece of glass that has been sleeping beneath the soil surface for 50 to 75 years. The glass looked brittle, felt very brittle, and sounded brittle.
I stopped my wiggle test, stood back and wrung my brow. As a landscape designer, all I could think about is all the time that had originally gone into this project and how much time was spent driving to bars to collect the wine bottles. And, how much time it would take to solve the ugliness of what stood before us.
The more I looked and thought, the more un-eco this concept of using wine bottles, glass, as edging wasn’t such a very good idea. Just the maintenance alone made it an unwise choice. Sigh.
Gardening Experiences in a Raised Bed Bottle Garden
As the air warmed and it was time to plant the cooler weather plants and seeds into the raised beds I offered to help loosen the raised bed soil prior to planting. These beds were your typical 4-5 foot wide and 15-20 feet long beds, surely easy enough to work in, right!? Wrong!
It was challenging using the broadfork effectively because of all the glass, I found myself standing too close to the inside of the bed which put pressure on the soil and pushed the wine bottles out even further, that glass and grit scraping sound I described above. I’ve used a broadfork plenty but I will honestly say that because of the enclosure of glass it you would have thought that I didn’t know the first thing about the task. I was very disappointed in what the restrictions did to my performance.
Weeding the wine bottle beds presented its own set of issues. Because I can be in the garden for 4 to 14 hours a day without batting an eye, I sometimes like to sit, squat, side squat, kneel with one foot out in front of me, and even keep my balance with one hand on the ground. The wine bottles made it impossible for me to perform any of those comfortable postures.
Then, the inevitable happened, I pulled a weed, with large deep roots, and a bottle broke – popped and went to pieces in the path and in the raised bed. Sunlight degrades the strength integrity of glass over time. I picked up the pieces, all that I could find.
All ready to get back to the weeding task I kneeled down on the path and reached for a weed in the raised bed. Even though I never felt the bottle touch my leg it too popped and shattered. because I was in the ‘reaching’ position I had to do the push and pull yourself back maneuver. While doing that my hand didn’t quite clear the broken bottle and the damn thing sliced into my finger real good, bleeding like crazy. I went inside and put several drops of Lavender and Helichrysum essential oils on the wound and asked Curt to help get it bandaged up.
At this point I was so disgusted with the idea that anyone could be so foolish to do something like put glass in raised vegetable garden beds, I snapped at Curt to, “go get that stinking glass out of the bed before I got out there and rip them all out and bring them down to the recycling center!”
Much Safer and Better Ideas for Repurposing Wine Bottles
Build a cob garden fence or wall!
- Using wine bottles in a cob wall eliminates the worry of getting sliced when gardening
- The wall looks pretty when the sun shines through the colored glass
- The wall, if properly placed, can create a microclimate in your garden which extends your growing season
- When you build the cob wall properly there will be little maintenance (cob walls need a small roof to help keep rain and snow off)
- The wall can also double as a privacy fence
- Including the wine bottles in a cob wall makes the job go faster and uses less cob because the bottles take up space
- Make candle holders out of wine bottles!
- Make drinking glasses out of wine bottles!
- Make a glass wind chime out of wine bottles!
- Make pendant lights out of wine bottles!
- Make a wine bottle Hummingbird feeder!
- Make a wine bottle garden torch!
- Make a wine bottle mood light!
- Make hanging wine bottle vases!
- Do a wine bottle hydroponics thing, you can do this with plastic soda bottles too!
- Build a cordwood shed with wine bottles walls!
- Build a cob and straw bale greenhouse and put wine bottles in the walls!
My suggestion is, don’t make wine bottle garden beds unless you are willing to:
- Do yearly maintenance to keep them straight and looking good
- Always wear protective clothing and eye gear
- Keep children and pets out of your garden
- Be prepared for wounds and probably trips to the emergency room for stitches
- Be prepared to take them all out and bring them to a recycling center in less than 6 years, and replace them with newer bottles
- Not use metal tools in your garden
- Not kneel or touch the edges of your garden beds
- Learn how to extend your reach and build enough muscle strength in your body that you never need to rest a knee or hand to get back up onto your feet
My advice… do not do wine bottle garden beds if you:
- Value your time and energy
- Want to live truly environmentally friendly
- Want to be able to work ‘freely’ among your soil and plants
- And, don’t make bottle garden beds if you want to get anything else done in your garden this season
Glass bottle hanging vases image is from CountryGirlWedding.
Native Plant Landscaper, Gardener, Labyrinth Design, Feng Shui Practitioner, Aromatherapy / Essential Oils, Big Fan of Nature and Living Simply.
"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
~ R. Buckminster Fuller