Zero Waste Gardening

Spring has Sprung!

If you are like me, this is your favorite time of year. !

The snow has melted and the scarves and gloves are put away until next year.

Little bits of green are breaking through the soil and looking for the sun. I walk around my yard looking for little bits of purple from crocus flowers. I track the daily progress of my other early blooming favorites, the daffodils and hyacinths. 

Gardens are a great way to accomplish your goals for a Zero Waste life! Even if you are not an avid gardener, you can still use this outdoor space to help achieve your goals.

Rs for the Garden

If you look around your typical garden center you will find a lot of plastic. It is a cheap and versatile way for growers to bring their plants to market. 

Using some of the 5Rs of Zero Waste can help when dealing with all this plastic.

Reduce- instead of buying potted plants, opt for growing plants from seed, using 

biodegradable seed starters.

Reuse- reuse the plastic pots for growing seedlings, transplanting clippings, storage, or 

pot liners (some garden centers even accept returned pots for reuse)

Recycle- only buy plastics that are rated for recycling in your area, make sure to clean 

any dirt or plant residue from the pots before putting them in your recycling bins 

Rot-  look for growers that use biodegradable pots and purchase from them when 

possible.  Compost any plant matter or grass clippings.

Starting Seeds

Starting plants from seeds is an easy and inexpensive way to reduce waste in your flower and vegetable gardens. A packet of seeds costs much less than buying the seedlings or full grown plants. But it does take a bit more pre-planning. Depending on where you live, some seeds will need to be started indoors, usually during February and March. Other seeds can be directly sown into the soil of your garden beds. Be sure to check the back of the seed packets for specific instructions.

It is best to start your seedlings in biodegradable containers. Once the seedlings are large enough, and the weather is right, the entire container can be placed in the soil without any waste created. This is also a smart thing to do because seedlings can be easily damaged during transplanting from pots to the garden.

Making your own seed starting containers is an excellent way to put some waste from your household to good use. Get creative! I have used cardboard from egg crates and cardboard toilet paper rolls. Egg shells are also excellent to use to start seedlings and they have the added bonus of adding calcium to the soil as they degrade. 

Kitchen Scraps

Another Zero Waste Garden technique is to plant your kitchen scraps directly in the garden.

For example, instead of throwing out the trimmed base of the celery (or composting it), place the base of it into the soil and it will grow more celery.

This can be done with many foods in your kitchen like celery, green onion, garlic, lettuce and bok choy. 

Another trick is to remove the seeds from your favorite vegetables before cooking or serving them in your favorite dish. Free seeds!

Weeds

I hate weeds. I am constantly battling weeds. Most years I win, but it is easy to become lazy and lose the battle. 

There are many Zero Waste techniques that can help you in your battle with weeds.

There are many weed prevention fabrics on the market, but to achieve Zero Waste choose a natural mulch instead. There are a variety of wood mulches on the market that can suit your needs.

For more problem areas of thicker weed growth, put a layer of newspaper or cardboard under a layer of mulch. They will create a physical barrier to growth, block the light from getting to the weeds, but allow water to seep through.

Avoid chemical herbicides. Depending on what weeds are growing in your garden, you can use alternatives such as vinegar, soaps, and salts to combat the unwanted garden intruders.

I have found that the only truly Zero Waste weed prevention and removal system is pulling them up by the roots with my own two hands. It is best to pull them up before they flower.

Pests

Starting with native plants is an important step in natural pest control. Native plants have evolved and adapted to local soil and climate conditions, and are likely to be able to naturally combat the local pest population. 

Another powerful tool is a knowledge of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

IPM is a method often used by commercial farmers but can easily be adapted to home garden use. It emphasizes prevention, early diagnosis and long term strategies for controlling pests in an environmentally responsible manner. IPM is based on the life cycle of pests and their interactions with the environment in order to find the most environmentally and economically sound way to deal with the pests and protect your garden.

One of the first steps to treating pests is to know what pests are harming your plants. I use these easy to use yellow sticky traps. These traps serve two purposes. Regular monitoring of the traps will let you identify the types and amount of pests in your garden. And they trap and kill some of those bugs. Of course if the pests become an infestation, you will need more than these traps.

Once you know what kind of pest you are dealing with, it just takes some research to figure out how and when to best control them, not just for the moment, but how to prevent future problems.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is a method of planting two plants together for the benefit of one or both of those plants. 

Some plants attract beneficial insects or can repel unwanted pests which can help all the other plants in the area.

Other plants add nutrients to the soil that are needed by others.

Here are some quick examples of some plants and their benefits:

Dill- attracts ladybugs, which feast on aphids and spider mites

Borage- attracts bees which are excellent pollinators for tomatoes

Peas- give nitrogen to the soil which benefits radishes.

The Harvest

Once it is time to harvest your garden, make sure to optimize it for Zero Waste.

Gather seeds from flowers and vegetables to use for plantings next year.

Share the bounty to avoid spoilage and waste.

Freezing and canning are also great ways to avoid waste.

Gardening, whether you enjoy flowers or vegetables or both, is endlessly rewarding and an easy way to help you achieve your Zero Waste goals.

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