University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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RECYCLING IN THE GARDEN

Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont

The average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day, which is 1.6 pounds more than in 1960, according to the Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce.  Here are 20 ideas on how you might lessen your own waste generation by recycling waste from your home and garden, back into the garden.
-- Egg cartons can be used to start seedlings.  The paper ones are best, as the sections can be separated and planted directly in the ground where they will decompose.
--Want to start a batch of seedlings?  Save up those “clam shell” containers burgers often are served in at fast food stores.  Again, make sure you poke holes or make slits in the bottom for water to drain.  This is key to keeping seedlings from rotting.
-- Kits are available to make your own “paper pots” from newspapers and the like, in which to start seedlings.  Check online or at your local full service garden store.
-- Before throwing any object out that might hold soil, consider if you could use it for a plant pot.  We did this at home with a discarded silver coffee urn from a recycle center that had a broken leg and spigot.  Boots, wheelbarrows, wagons, maple sugar cans, milk urns, wicker baskets, and even toilets are some of the broken items I’ve seen used for planters.  If objects are metal, old and rusty, consider painting them.
-- Objects that are broken but not able to hold soil might be used to decorate the garden.  Old lawn furniture, metal bed frames (to make a “garden bed”), and broken garden tools can be sprayed bright or decorative colors.  I’ve even seen an old pickup truck painted and planted!
-- Attractive glass bottles such as for wine (even some beer) might be used for vases.  In one garden I saw a “stream’ simulated with a meandering strip of green beer bottles on their sides!
-- Glass jars can be used to store seed packs, or individual seeds if small jars (such as baby food jars).  If you do canning or save produce such as beans, reuse glass jars for these.
-- Hang used aluminum pie pans and defective or unwanted CDs near the garden and fruit trees.  Their shiny movement in the breeze helps deter birds from feeding.
-- Save aluminum foil to place among plants in the garden.  The reflected light (assuming the plants aren’t too close to allow sunlight in) often repels aphids. 
-- Lay whole sections of newspaper (many layers of paper), or cardboard, in the garden, covered with a light layer of organic mulch for moisture retention and weed control.  Wet the paper first in a bucket for ease of laying, especially on windy days.
-- Start a compost pile if you don’t have one, as 25 percent or more of yard waste is compostable on average.  There are many attractive barrels and bins if you don’t have room for or want an unsightly pile. Wood pallets can be stood on their sides and tied together to make a compost bin.  I staple an old tarp or permeable weed fabric to the inside of mine to keep the compost inside.
-- In many areas of the country grass clippings are collected from lawns and hauled off to landfills.  Mow regularly, and with mulching-type mowers, and you wont even see the clippings yet they will add valuable nutrients and organic matter back to soils.
-- Compost leaves at home if you have the space.  Shredding first with a lawn mower helps them break down faster. You can use these shredded leaves as mulch, too.  I simply make a three foot high pile of leaves each fall on a cleaned up vegetable garden, covered with poultry wire mesh so they wont blow away.  They pack down by spring, and over the years have made a nice loam beneath.  I plant hills of melons and squash in this area, with virtually no weeding needed.
-- Watch your neighborhood and recycle center for old storm windows that can be used for coldframes, or just propped up to protect seedlings from frost and rough weather.  Torn or old window screens can be used as shading for seedlings and pots in a “holding area” or coldframe.
-- Old Venetian blinds can be cut into short strips to be used for plant labels.
-- Old sheets, tarps, plastic tablecloths, and shower curtains can be used to protect trunks from dirt when hauling plants, to place under your potting area to catch falling soil, or as frost protection for plants.  I use them for all these, plus to move mulch and soil onto when I am planting in an established garden.
-- Save old tool and broom handles, umbrella frames, even bicycle rims for staking plants.  Mount the bicycle rims horizontal, one on the ground and one above on a post, then run strings between them for vines.
-- Cut strips of old clothing and stockings to tie plants to supports and not harm stems.
-- For years, gardeners have stacked used tires and filled them with soil for raised beds, especially for potatoes.  Some paint the tires to make them more decorative.  My research has turned up no reputable evidence that whole tires should be a concern with growing edible crops.  It is only when tires are burned or shredded that they release potentially harmful chemicals. But if you want to be sure, use the tire beds for flower crops and gro-bags for edible ones.
-- Use old garden catalogs and magazines to cut out photos to make notecards, decorate a garden journal, laminate into book markers, paste onto sections of paper grocery bags for book covers, decorate indoor pots, or even to make a garden pinnata.
   
Although plastic wastes haven’t been mentioned, there are many ways to reuse these too, such as for seed containers, seedling frost protection, and drip watering for plants.


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