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Ending Waste with Your Garden


Waste is a bummer. Waste, aside from being disappointing in general, is a huge source of money loss when we’ve missed the opportunity to reuse something and get more bang for our buck. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to food items, like fruit and produce, which we often purchase based on weight. Bananas and oranges, for example, are weighed at the register, we pay based on that weight, and proceed to go home, rip off the entire outer layer of the fruit, and throw it in the garbage. This goes for carrots and potatoes that we peel, onions and turnips that we chop the ends off of, and rinds from melons that we huck into the rubbish bin. We’ve paid for all of those bits and pieces, but we routinely trash them without much thought, and while we might only waste a few cents here and there in so doing, those cents add up over time. And right now, we’re only talking about food. Watch this:

What do you do with plastic cups after a party? Wine or beer bottles? Egg cartons? Those 100-year-old raisins and oats that you bought to make Christmas cookies that one time? How about that coffee can of used cooking oil or fat that you keep around for future cooking use that doesn’t seem to happen? The case of mason jars you bought for canning, but you did it once or twice and decided “eh, I’m not into it,” and have just had them in your cabinet ever since? Maybe you cleaned out a shed or basement and turned up a bunch of old wood from a home improvement project, or maybe you just got a sweet new pair of loppers and consequently, now have a pile of branches you don’t know what to do with (or, if you had the experience a lot of us had this year, you’re still wondering what to do with the Winter 2013-2014 tree limb aftermath strewn around your yard). Now, we’re starting to see some dollars disappear.

Guaranteed, you have stuff all over your home that can have a second life and save you both the money you’ve already spent on them AND money you might potentially spend in the future on a product you could make yourself with your discard. The obvious answer to a lot of these waste woes, at least in terms of organic waste, is start a compost bin. That’s still a major way to recycle and keep organic waste from mucking up the environment by rotting in a landfill, and if you’re concerned about waste, you need to compost. But, ideally, even the compost bin should be a last resort for some items. The key to limiting waste is creativity, and giving your garbage as many lives as possible before committing it to its final resting place.

Fallen Branches

This winter has been dreadful for not only those of us in Frederick, MD, but for everyone pretty much everywhere. In our area, the awful ice storms resulted in substantial tree damage if not total tree destruction for many people. While most of the damage has been cleaned up, there is still a lot of detritus laying around, including some pretty nice sized branches. Here are some suggestions about how to make the most of your fallen branches:

  • If you have the equipment, mulch it. Come spring, you’ll probably be at the nursery buying mulch anyway, so cut down costs by making your own. You can also do this with your live Christmas trees after the holidays, too.
  • Burn it. It’s tough to see a beloved tree get chopped up into firewood, but nicer nights are on the way, and if you have a fire ring, it’ll be a good time to invite some friends over and roast some ‘mallows. Hey, it’ll save you the cost of buying a couple bundles of split wood. The real benefit here, though, is that you can save the ash from your burned up branches for use in the garden. Wood ash contains nutrients and can be used in place of lime to adjust the pH of your soil if it’s really acidic. Just be sure to burn only wood and garden waste if you want to use the ash in your soil, and make sure you perform a soil test first—a little bit of wood ash can go a long way, so you’ll want to know exactly how much to add before you do it.
  • Build something cool. If you have a bunch of long and intact branches, you can make a lot of functional and decorative garden items that are rustic and one-of-a-kind. With a bunch of sturdy straight branches and some twine, you can make some teepee-style tomato cages or a lattice for climbing plants. There are hugely talented gardeners making amazing trellises and arbors out of bent wood, too.

Wine Bottles

When you go online and see all of the ingenious things gardeners are doing with wine bottles, you won’t let them touch the recycling bin again. This goes for soda bottles, beer bottles, and any other discarded glass bottle you may come across with a really cool color or interesting shape.

  • Self-watering containers and devices can sometimes be a little pricey, but you can totally make your own with wine bottles. There are a couple of ways you can do this. You can use a Plant Nanny, a terra cotta nozzle that you put over your wine bottle. When the bottle is filled with water and stuck into the ground, the Plant Nanny will slowly leak moisture into the soil. Another method involves cutting a wine bottle in half, filling the bottom half with water, and using the top half as a planter. The top half is placed into the bottom half such that the nozzle can draw the water up into the soil, usually via some cotton strings or fiber. If you decide to try that one, please, please, PLEASE be careful—cutting glass at home can be tricky and dangerous business, so read any tutorials you may find very carefully, and please wear gloves and goggles!
  • Wine bottle hummingbird feeders can be very simple or very intricate. A basic wine bottle feeder will need a bottle, stopper and feeding nozzle, and something to hold it up, like wire or a piece of wood. You can decorate your bottle with paint or beads or glitter or whatever you want, and they can be mounted upright to your home or a tree, or hung from a hook. The stoppers and nozzles are inexpensive, and can be purchased online.
  • One of our favorite DIY wine bottle projects is the tiki torch wine bottle. Like the hummingbird feeder, depending on where you want to put them, you can get hardware to mount them to a wall, or you can use wire to hang them. You can also simply place them on a table top. You fill up your bottle with oil, and pop a wick and stopper on the top—ta-da! You can get a wick and stopper specifically for wine bottle torches online. If you want, you can totally decorate your torches, also.

Mason Jars

I don’t know if you know this yet, but you can actually make everything in the entire world with canning jars. You know when you read something or see something on the internet or in a magazine that’s so good and so simple and so clever, and it makes you want to scream because OF COURSE! WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?! GRR! THAT IS THE BEST THING EVER!!! That’s what happens when you see the creative things people do with old jars. Don’t ever toss glass jars—there are so many projects out there for you to try!

  • Make a wall-mounted planter or herb garden. Find a piece of old wood, get some cheap clamps and screws, and mount your jars to the wood however you want. You can fill your jars with planting medium and grow herbs or succulents
  • Jar lighting fixtures and torches are outstanding. You can make a beautiful lights for your garden by simply adding wire around the rim of the jar, creating a hook, and hanging them with a tea light or flameless candle inside. You can also go all out and make an entire chandelier by dangling several of these jar lights together. We can’t even tell you how many ways you could do this—get creative!

Vegetable Trimmings

Really quick: if you don’t make your own soup stock, you are missing out big time. Vegetable stock at the store is expensive, especially since a lot of soup and stew recipes and mixes require you to use multiple cans and cartons of stock. And if you love soups, you burn through your stock quickly, and you never have it around.

Making your own vegetable stock is a piece of cake, and you can use a lot of those peelings, trimmings, and choppings you are throwing into the compost bin. The stems of broccoli and cauliflower, that top onion layer, the parts of asparagus that you snap off, all of the peelings from your carrots, the ends of garlic cloves, leek leaves, celery leaves, and that stuff in your crisper drawer that you’re afraid is going to go bad before you figure out what to do with it. Put it in a bag, and freeze it. When you’ve amassed a good amount of vegetable leftovers, pull it out, chop it up, and boil it in water with whatever seasonings or herbs you’d like to throw in. The stock you create can be strained and used immediately or frozen. The boiled vegetables can then be added to your compost, provided you didn’t put a bunch of salt, oil, or fat in your stock. You can also run your vegetables through a food processor or blender to make a kind of bouillon that you can freeze and pull out whenever you want to make a quick broth.

More ideas on the way in Part Two!


Shattered Tree: ian shiell, CC BY-SA 2.0

Chopped Vegetables in Blender: Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0