Recycling in the Garden During the Not-So-Dead of Winter

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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I’m not a big planner. I adore living in the present, taking multiple things into account when finding my way through each day. One day the sunshine might guide my activities and the next day might flow through the errands that have piled high.

There are some things that do require a little planning. The purchase of seeds for the garden can be one of those. Since I normally purchase from trusted seed sources who would never consider adding GMOs to their catalog and I rarely impulse buy off the local shelves, I must plan ahead.

Part of my plotting comes in when I go through the goodies I have on hand. Seed packets from past seasons, traded seeds, and saved seeds come under scrutiny. I let my mind wander as I consider what kind of garden I’ll play in during the coming months. Do I want to stick with the usual, or do I want to explore uncharted horizons?

At the same time, I survey the garden space. What areas do I have to work with from the past year, what beds am I going to expand or want to create anew. Am I going to rotate all the crops or will some stay where they happily thrived? And, this year in particular, how can I create my more normal bumper crop of tomatoes so that I don’t repeat the horrifyingly small harvest of last year? I need salsa for my kitchen fun!

Compost Pile from Recycled Materials

I’ve mentioned that I am a fierce practitioner of recycle, reuse, repurpose. My gardening is one place this practice actively shows itself. Aside from the vast reuse of bricks and concrete blocks rescued from other sources, I also employ reclaimed metal bed parts, wrought iron fencing, wooden pallets, and more.

My compost pile is rebuilt each season. In its smaller versions, it was created completely out of loose bricks. This past season, it grew to include a pallet and some concrete blocks (top photo). That new, enlarged bin is currently overflowing with the debris from my garden overhaul covered in last week’s blog. By springtime it will have compacted and I’ll turn it over—reclaiming the nicely composted soil at the bottom. I love composting because it’s the ultimate recycling.

Recycled Seedling Containers

But we were talking about seeds, weren’t we? One of my favorite ways to recycle with seedlings is the containers I employ for potting on. I’m also able to reuse my seedling starter trays each year by being careful to extract each baby by using a pencil to dislodge it from the bottom. It slides out into my hand and I place it into a well of soil nestled in a repurposed milk carton.

Recycled milk cartons. Even though I don’t drink milk myself (due to intolerance), I have my husband save all the cartons he uses throughout the year. Once emptied, I cut them in half, rinse them out, and poke holes in the bottom corners. They go into the basement until needed in the early spring. I love these cartons because they’re sturdy enough to last until the seedlings go into the ground, and they can be easily labeled with the name of the plant.

Toilet paper rolls. I also use the core of toilet paper rolls for my seedlings, especially corn. Yes, I start my corn indoors in these tubes. This used to bring my father-in-law (an actual corn farmer) great mirth. I started this practice when we lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the growing season is greatly abbreviated. I continue it here in Ohio because those extra couple of weeks really do seem to make a difference in my harvest outcome.

The milk carton seedlings are carefully removed by tearing the outer shell away from the well-rooted plants. I do the same with the toilet paper tubes, though those could go straight into the ground if I chose to because the cardboard composts so quickly. Because I anticipate having fewer milk containers this year, I may use more tubes since that’s what I’ll have on-hand. This should work fine for the seedlings that don’t need as long indoors.

Once my babies are well-established and ready for hardening-off — because spring has finally proven its serious arrival — I move them to the shelter of our front porch. This is another area where I use my repurposing skills. When we first moved into our home, we had the windows replaced for energy efficiency. I kept all the old screens. Okay, I kept the windows too but that was for arting. Anyway, the screens make fantastic wind and sun screens for my seedlings. They add just enough protection while allowing an introduction to the elements they’ll soon be battling on their own.

A dear friend tagged me on an anonymous meme on Facebook last week with the following saying: “Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the year… for gardening begins in January, with the dream.” I told her it could not be more appropriate in timing. What dreams do you have for your garden in the coming year? Are there ways you can incorporate recycle, reuse, and repurpose?

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 atHumingsandBeing Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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