Rubble or Resource?


Debris and different forms of waste are a common byproduct of home improvement projects. But what do you do with all that waste? Sometimes the answer is obvious – put it on the curb and wait for the sanitation department to pick it up and make it disappear (from your curb at least). But other times the byproduct is something that cannot be disposed of so easily, like big pieces of wood and large piles of stone and concrete. And who really feels good about adding waste to a landfill anyway?

The Not-So-Obvious Solution to an Unsightly Problem

We took up a concrete patio when we installed our greenhouse in our backyard. The plan was to get rid of it at the dump as soon as possible, but that requires money for a dump truck and removal fee, and time to load it up and drop it off. So through our thrifty procrastination the pile just sat there…and sat there…and sat there. It seemed like we could spend money in so many more exciting and productive ways than dumping stone!

Sometimes you see big piles of concrete (or trash, mattresses, and piles of godknowswhat!) on the side of the road and you might wonder “who dropped that there and why?!” But here I was guiltily contemplating that very thing in order to get rid of the unsightly pile that had been sitting in our backyard for way too long! When the realization struck, the solution seemed so obvious I was kind of weirded out that I hadn’t already thought of it…in the two years we’ve been procrastinating its disposal!

Waste or Resource? This pile of concrete has the potential to be more than just rubble.

Upcycled Concrete

Urbanite is a euphemism for broken-up concrete chunks that you use as a building material or other resource. In their book, The Essential Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal point to urbanite as the quintessential urban farm building material for obvious reasons. The cons for its use are the same as for stackable concrete blocks — it’s bulky. The pros are that it’s free, plentiful, doesn’t rot, and isn’t toxic. Using free available materials.Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. We had been planning on building a bed around the greenhouse for a while now, but were still deciding on what material would be most efficient and cost effective. The urbanite suddenly seemed like a resource instead of a pile of waste!

Building a wall
Building a new bed using the “urbanite” stone

Building the urbanite garden bed was pretty simple. We removed the sod with a shovel and hoe, and then dug a trench for the first layer of stone to go into. From there we just laid out the stone and piled it up to the size we desired. Finally, we added composted horse manure for fertilizer on the bottom, and we are continuing to add top soil to fill up the rest of the garden bed.

GH stone wall
Stone garden wall – just needs some more soil and its ready to go!
Urbanite garden bed – ready to be planted in!

We also built another raised bed with the upcycled concrete blocks (urbanite) on the side of the driveway, this space is ideal for tomatoes because it gets mostly full sun all day. Last year we grew tomatoes in buckets here, and while they did well, they will likely do much better with their roots going directly into the ground. Another way to upcycle urbanite is to put it in the bottom of big flower pots for drainage.

Drive way stone wall
A stone wall bed in full sun…just need to add tomatoes!

One Person’s Trash Can Be Another One’s Treasure

Upcycling can be applied to the waste of many home improvement jobs. Below is an example of old unfinished wood doors being repurposed into a raised garden bed. These were installed last year, and you can notice some weathering, but they are holding steady. The stone walls will not experience the same deterioration as the wood, which makes it a stronger resource. All of these garden beds are partially filled using another upcycled resource – composted horse manure. Using Craigslist we found a horse farmer who gives away free bagged compost. It has been a really great resource for building soil health.

REused doors
Wooden doors upcycled into a raised garden bed. The bee hive is peaking through from behind the lattice.

By recycling, repurposing, resusing and upcycling old items you can turn perceived junk into many unique, productive and sometimes profitable products.



Carpenter, Novella, and Willow Rosenthal. The Essential Urban Farmer. New York, NY: Penguin, 2011. Print.

“Upcycling.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

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