I Make Free Plant Markers from Sour Cream & Cottage Cheese Containers
This Earth Day post is a little late (although I did miraculously get one up on time on Farmgirl Fare called Every Day is Earth Day-and I'm Eco-Chic Who Knew?), but every day really is Earth Day if you're a vegetable gardener. Is there any better way to connect yourself to this amazing planet than by getting down on your knees and wallowing around in the dirt and then gobbling up your efforts? Not while you're still down in the dirt, of course—though I do admit to enjoying a nibble here and there when I'm working, especially if there are any cherry tomatoes to be had.
Growing your own food is a great way to 'go green,' but during all of the recent Earth Day hubbub, I started thinking about the many simple ways you can make your garden even greener. Using organic methods to deal with pests, fertilize, and care for the soil is the obvious big one, and that's really important to me.
I think the sometimes extra effort and loss of bounty is worth it, and I'm thrilled that the White House now has an organic vegetable garden and even a honeybee hive on the lawn (thank you, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International for your tireless efforts toward making that dream a reality!). Of course the pesticide industry has already complained to Michelle Obama that they're offended by the Organic Garden at the White House. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.
Not having any garbage pick-up on the farm (you can read more about what that's like here) means that we go out of our way to reduce, reuse, repurpose (don't you just love that word?) and recycle—which often has the added benefit saving money as well. Here's a short list off the top of my head of some of the other simple ways—beyond putting food on the table—that my kitchen garden is extra eco-friendly:
—Fertilize with manure from the sheep, donkeys, and chickens.
—Keep five compost bins full of kitchen and yard waste, though when you have ravenous chickens, the food scraps are usually just eggshells, coffee grounds, and orange peels. Tried composting before with no luck? Don't give up! Amuse and inspire yourself by reading about my early composting trials and tribulations.
—Grow open-pollinated heirloom varieties so I can save seeds for planting the next year. If you save seeds from hybrids, you won't always end up with exactly the same variety, plus I love the idea of growing vegetables that have been around for 150 or more years.
—Mulch, mulch, mulch! This is probably the most important thing I do in the garden. Mulching vegetable beds with something as simple and handy as grass clippings—or even the weeds you just yanked out—keeps more weeds from growing (which saves tons of future weeding time), helps the soil stay cooler during summer, helps keep roots moist after watering, and eventually breaks down into an all natural soil amendment.
—Repurpose unused indoor stuff for outdoor use. Forgotten metal strainers become compost sifters (more on this in a future post), while old bedsheets and blankets are perfect for throwing over plants in cold weather.
—Shop yard sales, flea markets, junk and thrift stores, and even antique malls for garden goodies. The vintage shovels and pitchforks I've amassed over the years not only appeal to my sense of design, but they also work great, were mostly real bargains, and didn't require the outlay of natural resources that manufacturing new ones would have. These are also good places to stock up on old bedsheets and blankets, as well as pretty garden pots.
—Think creatively when it comes to unrecyclable household trash. Cracked plastic buckets that no longer hold water can still carry weeds, rocks, and compost. Rusted (hello, humidity!) baking sheets make handy trays for seedlings and other things, and old metal pots not nice enough to be donated to the thrift store can be used as planters or for carrying soil amendments, compost, etc. Yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese #5 plastic containers become weatherproof seedling markers when cut into strips.
Those annoying blue styrofoam containers that fresh mushrooms are sold in make great seed starting containers. (It's almost impossible to find containerless, bulk mushrooms for sale in Missouri, which unfortunately means I probably have about 100 of these stupid things by now.)
—Use things beyond their expected life span. Just because something isn't still 100% perfect doesn't mean you have to toss it out and replace it. Floating row covers are advertised as lasting only a season or two, yet some of mine, which I don't treat all that well, lasted over 10 years (though I have to admit the new stuff I bought last year doesn't seem to be nearly as tough and tear-resistant).
The covering on my homemade greenhouse (which I first used on my greenhouse at Windridge Farm) has lived a dozen years beyond its supposed life expectancy, thanks in part to throwing an inexpensive poly tarp over it during the summers (which also keeps it much cooler inside) and because I don't mind a few rips and tears here and there.
I'm also still using the same black plastic seed starting plugs and trays (some are pictured above) that I bought in bulk in 1995 (including these cheap little containers from a restaurant supply store that each have their own mini-greenhouse snap on lid); when they tear or crack, I simply double them up.
With its broken buckets, peek-a-boo greenhouse covering, and weed-mulched beds, my garden may not be picture perfect, but you can't tell come harvest time. I know there are more things that I'm not remembering because they're so second nature to me by now, but I'll add to this list as I think of them.
In the meantime, how do you make (or hope to make) your garden greener? Please share your eco-friendly thoughts, tips, and ideas with the rest of us!
© 2009 FarmgirlFare.com, the frugal foodie farm blog where we've discovered over the years that using less and doing without means you actually end up with more.