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by Gail Kavanagh

For the gardener, recycling is nothing new. Composting is one of the most ancient methods of recycling in the garden, saving vegetable peelings to create improved soil. But the modern gardener in the disposable age has even more sources for useful recycling.

1: Solid Packaging.

Solid polystyrene foam is an excellent material for recycling in the garden. It comes in many guises, as packing for new furniture and appliances, and boxes for freighting fruit and vegetables. Polystyrene packing with shallow depressions moulded to go around appliances can be used for raising seeds, no matter what their shape. Drill holes, or poke a warm knitting needle through the bottom of the packing shape to create drainage, and fill with soil. You can set these trays on shelves in your greenhouse.

The boxes used to take fruit and vegetables to market are even more useful, especially if you don’t have much space for gardening, or you live in a rented property when you can’t disturb the lawn to plant vegetables. Poke drainage holes in the bottom of the boxes with a screwdriver and fill them with soil to make a garden you can take with you when you move.

You can grow most vegetables quite successfully in these boxes, and they make excellent kitchen gardens for herbs. You can put your herbs close to the kitchen or on the patio for easy access. Polystyrene boxes are also excellent on balconies and in courtyards, meaning you can have fresh vegetables no matter where you live.

2: Broken crockery

If you break plates and mugs, don’t waste this invaluable resource. Put the shards in the bottom of your pots and boxes before you add the soil, and they will improve drainage. Save anything that gets broken, including flower pots, as these can be really effective drainage.

3: Plastic sheeting

If you don’t have a greenhouse, you can rig up a very simple but effective substitute using plastic sheeting. This can be old shower curtains, or any other plastic sheets that would otherwise be discarded. Cover a simple framework, such as an indoor clothes dryer frame, with the sheeting and set your seedlings inside. Alternatively you can use bamboo poles to rig up a plastic tent over your seed boxes.

4: Non-recyclable plastic bottles

The plastics industry may not be able to use them, but the gardener sure can. To force seeds or protect them from frost, just cut the bottles in half, and set the lower half over seedlings you want to protect. You can pierce holes in the bottom half with a heated nail for drainage and fill with soil to start your seeds, setting another bottom half over the top to create a mini greenhouse. The top halves of the bottles make good funnels so don’t throw them away.

5: Newspaper and junk mail

Mulching is another way you can recycle in your garden, by using sheets of newspaper and unwanted junk mail shredded and laid between your plants. Soak the paper with water to form a mulch that will discourage weeds and keep the moisture in the soil. Old cardboard boxes and packaging can also be recycled in this way.

6: Egg cartons

Used paper based egg boxes have so many uses in a garden, that they should never been thrown away until they can’t be used anymore – and even then they can be put in the compost or shredded for mulch. The egg ‘cups’ can be used for raising seeds in your plastic sheet greenhouse while waiting for the frosts to pass.. Just fill the egg shaped depressions with soil, plant two or three seeds in each one, and when your seedlings are ready, separate the egg cups with scissors and plant each one as it is..

7: Any old rubbish

When you are clearing up the clutter in the house, set aside anything that can be recycled in the garden – and that is almost anything. Items like rusted or worn pots and pans, old gumboots and colanders can be recycled as pots for plants. Make holes in the bottom if there aren’t any, line with sphagnum moss and fill with good quality potting soil. Colanders can be used as hanging baskets if you fix chains to the edge. Turn scraps of fabric into garden kneelers to get up close and personal with the weeds in comfort. Turn scraps and odds and ends into garden art with solder and strong glue. Look at everything with a new eye – a large iron wok can become a fire pit, crates can be covered in cushions for seating and discarded tables and chairs can be painted white and find a new home under a shady tree.

Gardeners recycle their seeds every year, so it is second nature to find new uses for old stuff. Before you throw it out, check it out for recycling in your garden.

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