Kim Stoddart looks at some of the easiest and most rewarding ways to boost your eco-gardener credentials, whilst having fun in the process…
I gardened entirely for free a few years back for my writing in the Guardian. What started out as a ‘can I really do this?’ experiment turned into one of the most empowering and rewarding experiences of my life. What I learnt during this period has informed my more resilient approach to gardening today, even though I enjoy flicking though a gardening catalogue as much as the next person.
The money saving is just one of the many multifaceted perks of learning more make, mend and do on the veg patch. Plastics in particular are, as we now all know, a huge issue with more than 8m tonnes of this discarded material ending up in our seas each year alone. Predictions that if we do nothing about this problem, our oceans will by 2050 contain more plastic than fish have really brought the predicament home hard. Also, unfortunately it has become increasingly clear that the items diligently sent to recycling are actually in part ending up in garbage sites across the world, as a government watchdog warned last year. So reducing your use in the first place and finding a viable role for what you have already where possible is positive action indeed.
There are in reality lots of ways we can do this easily with plastics and other waste materials besides. And doing so also affords one with a sheer empowering satisfaction, knowing that you’re not reliant on buying everything in. Also, the knock on confidence which comes from having some fun getting creative with objects that would otherwise be destined for landfill is outstanding indeed.
Here are just some ideas to help you on your merry, waste-much-less way…
Make a compost pile out of old pallets
Garden centres and builders merchants have this packaging material gathering dust somewhere on site. They make a very good frame for a multi-chambered compost bin, and have many other uses besides. They can be attached together easily by way of hinges , garden wire, or on an even more basic level, tied together, to enable you to increase your home made composting efforts with gusto. Having more than one bin enables you turn your heap from one area to another much more easily and means you can process even more green and brown food and household waste (and maybe that of friends and neighbours) to the benefit of your veg patch.
Keep existing plastic in use for longer
One of the best ways to deal with the aforementioned plastics crisis, alongside reducing your usage overall, is to try and make use of items already created for much longer. As long as you feasibly can in fact. High quality plastic pots and planting trays in existing use should last for many, many years anyway but even the thinner trays from garden centres can be repaired to extend their working lifespan. I use duct tape on mine, which might not be the most attractive thing to look at but it does the job nicely.
Equally your supermarket shop provides many potential planting trays in the form of yoghurt pots, veg trays and cartons which are especially handy for germinating seedlings in. Looked after, they can also last a good few seasons.
Plastic bottles also have a viable use as makeshift cloches for seedlings at this time of year. By cutting a bottle in half and placing the top (minus cap) over a plant pot, you are affording it with valuable extra protection against the cold. The hole at the top also provides ventilation and again, these materials can be stored away for next year after you’ve finished with them.
Recycle cardboard yourself
It has so many uses around the veg patch and this way you definitely know it’s been put to good use. From a weed cover in a new no-dig bed, to a most useful brown layer when added to the compost heap, just be sure to remove any sellotape or staples before use.
Get creative with junk
Otherwise, rather than seeing old items as junk, when you look at them as potentially useful materials for the veg patch, things can get very fun indeed. From using old tractor or car tyres as impromptu raised beds or seats, to fashioning toilet seat planters or making a pond out of an old washing bowl, one persons waste, can become an interesting centrepiece to your plot.
In a practical sense, old windows are incredibly helpful for use as makeshift cold frames. If you have existing wooden raised beds they can simply be used over the top, or otherwise secured more professionally with hinges over a wooden frame for ease of use. Any which way they are excellent at affording seedlings with an extra layer of protection when you need it most.
A version of this article first appeared in the March issue of Grow Your Own magazine