Backyard Recycling

Revamp your garden with these creative tips for repurposing trash

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Most of the food that nourishes a good garden is recycled from somewhere else—manure, for example, or leaves turned into mulch. But lots of other things can be used in the garden, too. These creative recycling tips will save you money, benefit the environment, and get you in the habit of using your ingenuity. Watch out—this kind of fun can be addictive!

Bones
Leave old bones in the bottom of the oven to dry out. After a few weeks of baking, they’ll be brittle and you can add them to your compost bin or dig them into the soil under shrubs to add calcium and phosphorus.

Egg cartons
Plant large seeds, like pumpkin or zucchini, in potting mix in old cardboard egg cartons. When the seedlings each have two leaves, place the egg carton in a shallow dish of water till the cardboard is soft and pulpy. Then plant each segment; the soggy cardboard will rot away and leave the tender plant roots undisturbed.

Cardboard boxes
Use them along paths to keep weeds down (they’ll gradually break down). Warning: Rain doesn’t penetrate cardboard very well—so don’t use them around trees or anything else that needs a drink.

Crockery
Mortar broken crockery onto your concrete path or patio (file off sharp edges). Or use it to mosaic a bird bath.

Panty hose
To collect seeds from sunflowers, herbs like lavender, or vegetables like parsnips, slip a panty hose leg over the seed head while the seeds ripen. The seeds will collect in the toe, and you can hang them in the garage (protected from mice) till you need them.

Loop panty hose gently in a figure eight around a stake and then around plant stems. Panty hose are less likely to cut into soft wood or ringbark trees than rope, string, or raffia.

To clean your grubby hands, slip a piece of soap into the toe of old panty hose and tie the other end to the faucet.

Dust
Dustpan dust makes wonderful mulch for pot plants.

Garden hose
Slip sections of old hose (too holey to repair) over wire or rope for tethered animals, so they don’t get tangled. Hose makes good ties for trees, too. Tip some derris dust down bits of hose and stick them in the back of silverfish-infested cupboards—the silverfish will scuttle down them, become contaminated, and die.

Mosquito nets
Drape them over cabbages and cauliflowers to keep away cabbage white butterflies; spread them over stakes to protect tender seedlings from wilting in hot weather.

Newspaper mulch
Newspaper is an excellent weed suppressor; spread it at least six sheets thick between your plants, overlapping each sheet, and water well, till the sheets soak together and form a sort of papier-mâché.

Orange or onion bags
Slip them over ripening fruit to protect it from hungry birds.

Plastic bottles
Cut a soft drink bottle off at the shoulders; tape the top into the bottom so it becomes a funnel; make two holes at the sides; slip in some string, and hang it up. Label: “Fly Trap.” Add two prawns and a raw egg and cover with water when it rains. Wait four days and watch it fill with flies.

Tea leaves and cooking oil
Stop mice and ants from eating your seeds before they germinate by rolling the seeds in one part dried used tea leaves and one part white pepper, with a little used oil to make it stick. The oil will also help stop the seeds from rotting in cold soil.

Teapots
Don’t throw out a teapot—full of love and happy memories—when the spout is cracked. Fill it with water and pop in a watercress plant—then snip the leaves whenever you want a touch of peppery greenery in your salad, soup, or sandwiches.

Tin cans
Nail tin cans onto posts or wooden walls. Let ivy-leafed geraniums or other climbers trail out of them or fill with a froth of white alyssum.

If you have a slope that needs support, collect all your old tin cans, cut off the tops and bottoms, then press them into the dirt, so that only the tiniest edge shows. Plant miniature ivy or other ground cover in each can. In six months you’ll have a stable, plant-covered wall.

Keep snails from your seedlings by pressing an old tin can, open at both ends, into the soil around each seedling. (Snails don’t like climbing over the sharp edges.)

Hair
Makes good mulch if you can get enough of it. Mix it with other stuff so it doesn’t clump up. (Don’t use it if rats make nests in it.)

Toothbrushes
Old toothbrushes make good scrapers to get rid of scale, woolly aphid, and other hard-to-move pests on twigs and leaves.

Vacuum cleaner dust
If you have pear and cherry slugs—those slimy-looking sawfly larvae that eat pear, cherry, and hawthorn leaves—dust them with your vacuum cleaner residue. If you can, reverse the sucking action and blow the dry dust right up the tree; it will dehydrate pests with no harmful poisons. Warning: Don’t try this if you’re asthmatic and allergic to dust.

From  Wellbeing Magazine (March-April 1999). Subscriptions: $74/yr. (4 issues) from Private Bag 2102, North Sydney, NSW 2059, Australia.