Recycling in the Garden

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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I can’t tell you how excited I get when I’m able to thriftily recycle and repurpose in my garden. It’s a state near giddiness, I assure you. I chalk it up to a strong Dutch heritage, an inventive mind, a limited pocketbook, and a love for stepping more lightly on the planet.

This past week I recreated my gourd patch from last year. If you read about last season’s harvest, you may recall that the lush and healthy vines slowly encroached on our mowed pathway. I wanted to help make my husband’s mowing task easier this year by containing the vines. I needed to prepare the three planting spots anyway, so I decided to go whole hog and work the bed over more fully for whatever I might want to grow there next season.

Planning and Planting the Perfect Gourd Patch

First, I created my cage from purchased hardware cloth and conduit poles. I’m not so worried about critters bothering my gourds, so I left one end open. That end features a reused section of white picket fence that I nabbed off of a Craigslist find of red bricks a couple of years back. It’s held in place by a large bamboo pole, purchased in a lot at an auction many years ago.

Next, I covered my three planting beds with the visqueen fabric (an auction find, mentioned in a previous post). Then, I covered the rest of the ground with cardboard. I discovered this great tip a few years ago when wanting to quickly kill off large patches of lawn. I now use this method whenever I’m creating a new bed. I use my cardboard double-thick if it’s small boxes or single-thickness if I’m using appliance cardboard.

Where to Find Free Cardboard

Here are some are hints for getting and using free cardboard: Tell the delivery people you want the cardboard from any new appliances. Let your neighbors know you want theirs if they’re getting new stoves or washer/dryers. Ask your local appliance sales stores if you can have some of their large cardboard boxes.

For the smaller boxes, grocery stores are prime gathering spots. You can request that they save you some, and most will if you’re prompt at picking it up. If you can’t plan ahead, or simply want to grab boxes more quickly, I’ve found mornings are the best time for pick up as the boxes haven’t made their way back to the the compactor yet.

Dairy and cold-processed food boxes work well. I also use a lot of produce boxes. It’s best if you remove tape first, otherwise you’ll end up finding the pieces in your bed when you work it in the future.

The great thing about using cardboard, in my opinion, is that it allows for a very quick reuse of the garden space by giving you a solid temporary foundation to build upon. I say temporary because I’ve noticed that the cardboard disappears (is composted) within three to six months, depending on conditions. The elements, worms, and bugs make short work of it, turning it into another depth of richness for your soil.

After placing all my cardboard, making sure to layer over the edges and holes so no grass was showing, I began to layer my straw. I’m lucky to live in farm country so I usually have access to straw from several sources. The bales come either bound by plastic twine or baling wire. I prefer the latter because I cut it and use it to hold my hardware cloth or fencing in place. I also reuse the twine for beans, peas, or other plants to climb.

While I could have simply grabbed small, bunched layers of the straw and spread it out, that would have used more straw. Instead, I scattered it more loosely and built up a mulch of six to ten inches. The Spring rains will compact the straw a bit. This mulched bedding will provide a lovely foundation where my gourds can mature. I will train some of the gourds up and over the repurposed pool ladder that I picked from my neighbor’s trash last Spring. (Yes, I got permission first.) I’m sure the straw will also become a haven to countless critters. That makes me happy.

Also in this bed are some reclaimed concrete blocks. A nearby town has an area where they smash old concrete, bricks, and stone to repurpose for various uses. I asked for and received permission to grab some of the goodies for my garden. I have built the foundations of several beds with the concrete blocks. I used them in this bed to hold the ladder in place. I also used a rescued stone from a torn down school as a sort of altar top. I usually place a container of water there for the birds. Some concrete blocks contain fly ash, a suspected carcinogen, so if you are using these in food beds you should use some sort of barrier between them and the soil.

As you can see in the last photo, my bed is ready for the gourd seedlings currently emerging in the baby plant nursery (aka our guest room). Hopefully, the weather this year will help Mother Nature and I grow another bumper crop of gourds. I can’t wait for more surprises hiding under leaves in the Fall. Until then, I’ll be washing and preparing the gourds from last year so I can create more inspired artwork.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumingsand Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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