Getting creative with your hot tub

When Jim Bradley's hot tub was rub-a-dub-done-for, he came oh so close to sawing it up and hauling it to the dump. Then it clicked with the Modesto resident that he'd been planning to create a raised garden bed and that the fiberglass tub within a wood frame might be just the thing.

"I have chickens that scratch the ground and my flower beds, and if I had something above ground, they'd stay off it," said Bradley, who lives on Elm Avenue, off North Carpenter Road near Kansas Avenue. "I thought, well, I'll put it here behind the hot tub. And I'm looking at the hot tub, even had the hammer and saw in my hands, and thought, wait a minute, what if I punch some holes in this. So that's what I did, I drilled some half-inch holes in the bottom, and I have a lot of river rock here, so I put about a foot of rock in the bottom of it, then added some compost that I have here all the time."

He topped it off with a few inches of potting soil, mixed in some Miracle-Gro and got to filling the roughly 8-by-8-foot planting area with tomatoes, lemon cucumber, spaghetti squash, eggplant, cantaloupe, peppers, herbs, strawberries and more. Bradley, a 65-year-old laid-off service writer for Harley-Davidson, got a great deal on the potting soil, which was used and contained some grape cuttings -- so now he has a grapevine growing, too. "It's got quite a bit of stuff in there," he said.

Bradley loves the convenience of the raised planting bed. He doesn't have to get down on the ground to weed (not that he's had more than a couple of weeds, anyway), the chickens can't get up on it and the gophers that live on his land can't get in it. "That was really a plus."

The hot tub, which he planted in May, is Bradley's first attempt at a garden. "My front yard looks terrible," he said. "You wouldn't think I'm much of a green thumb by looking at my yard here, because my pasture looks better than my yard."

Maybe it's beginner's luck, but the tub o' produce really has taken off, with little work other than watering. "I think I did all the right stuff, putting in the river rock and compost," he said. "If I had it to do over again, it wouldn't take much to pipe some water in so I could just turn it on and let it flow, but it's kind of fun to go out there and water the plants individually and just look at the stuff growing.

"To be honest, I think I might have overloaded it. The cantaloupe went absolutely crazy -- the cantaloupe, the squash and the cucumber, you know how their vines start spreading out. They started reaching up around my pepper plants -- didn't choke 'em, because I'd pinch 'em off a little bit. I probably shouldn't have put the vines in there. I'm now on the search for another old used hot tub to put out there, and I'll put my vines in it and just keep the peppers and other stuff in this one."

Bradley and his wife, Rachel, have been enjoying a harvest as rich in quality as it is in quantity. "I've fried up eggplant, I've put my lemon cucumbers along with some sliced red onions in a light Italian dressing and let them marinate -- that's really good," he said. "But what's really spectacular is the spaghetti squash. Off the Internet, I got an Emeril Lagasse recipe for herb-crusted squash ... It's good stuff."

Bradley was given the used hot tub about four years ago, spent a few hundred dollars to get it going and a few hundred more to keep it going. But when it conked out about two years ago, he'd tired of pouring money into it and just kept it covered. But looking back on the spring day when he almost hacked and whacked it to pieces, he said, I'm so glad I put down the sledgehammer and saw. Maybe it'll give some other guys some ideas."