There’s nothing like getting your hands in the dirt and smelling that earthy scent in the air. With spring in full bloom, my thoughts can’t help turning to gardening. I’m so excited to be joining my community garden again this year – they’ll be planting in May. If you’re thinking about starting a garden up, or already have one, I encourage you to try to find as many plastic-free options as you can. Gardening itself is zero waste because there’s no plastic in the soil or on the plants themselves (and everything gets recycled back into the earth with compost!). But the plastic adds up when you start factoring in the plastic potting containers, plastic fertilizer bags, plastic bags of soil, etc. I won’t say all of this is completely avoidable, but I will say you can find more eco alternatives. Here are 5 of my best tips for zero waste gardening.
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The Best Zero Waste Gardening Tips
Why is having a zero waste garden important?
Gardening can be surprisingly wasteful, and very pro-plastic. Take a look inside any department store and they’ll have you convinced there never was another way to garden than using plastic containers + bags to get the job done.
It kind of makes you wonder: How did people garden before plastic was introduced? Truth is, people have been gardening and planting things loooong before plastic entered the picture and started wrecking havoc on our planet.
And lets be honest: Most plastic is hard to recycle, or doesn’t get recycled at all. that includes all the plastic gardening stuff you’ll find in Home Depot. Just cause it has a recycle symbol on it doesn’t mean it belongs in the recycling bin.
Every state has different recycling rules implemented, which makes recycling harder than it should be. That surely explains one of the reasons why only 9% of plastic is actually recycled…
That said, in the society we live in today, it’s kind of hard to avoid plastic sneaking its way into the garden at some point. So instead of telling you “you must completely avoid it!” I will say this: There are ways to create a closed loop system in your garden that works for you and the earth.
If you already have some plastic gardening containers, don’t break out a sweat. I’m going to share my best tips for putting that plastic to work, AND reducing future plastic use in the garden too.
1. Plastic-free soil + plant food
Step into Home Depot and you’ll see tons of potting soil and fertilizers in plastic bags – not exactly zero waste, unless you plan to reuse that bag when it’s empty. That’s why I was so excited when I stumbled across Den, an amazing plastic-free gardening brand that creates zero waste potting soil, plant food, and cactus soil.
Den utilizes compostable packaging: Their soil bags and bag lining is fully compostable and made from SFI certified kraft paper. I’ve never found a soil bag like this EVER in Home Depot. Also, their plant food and cactus soil comes in a completely compostable tube.
Most importantly, their soil itself is actually sustainable. They use an all-natural formula that’s built around OurCarbon BioChar, which is basically sequestered carbon made from organic waste diverted from landfills. Unlike the stuff you get in department stores, this soil is actually healthy for the earth without any added chemicals.
Their plant food looks very promising too – you just have to mix it into the soil while repotting. It’s perfect for an indoor container garden (which, fyi, I have as well).
Den also ensures they source all of their ingredients within 500 miles of their Bay Area office — cutting down on transportation emissions!
Use code GREENIFYME at checkout for a discount!
2. Upcycle old containers
Put all those plastic gardening containers to good use and reuse them! You don’t need to trash them right after you transfer a plant into your garden, after all. Hold onto them in your shed and reuse them to house another plant. If you have small plastic pots, reuse them again next year for seed starters.
Also, if you enjoy container gardening but don’t have any terracotta pots lying around, why not upcycle a container into a pot? You can transform a yogurt cup, milk carton, or tin can into lovely garden “pots” so to speak and they will be VERY unique. If you have kids, you can ask them for help and get them involved in the transformation too – they’d probably love decorating them.
You can also upcycle an empty container to place your food scraps in and then bring them out to your garden’s compost heap. You don’t need a fancy compost pail (even though I have one and love mine) to get the job done – an empty mason jar or takeout container works just fine too.
3. Grow from seed
I find that it’s much easier to avoid plastic containers when you grow something from seed. Seeds tend to come in paper envelopes, after all.
You can also do some seed saving of your own – just take the seeds out of the veggie or fruit you’re looking to grow, clean them off if need be, and save them for planting! You can also forage for your own seeds, if you know what to look for. No waste and no extra cost to you – but you might want to learn a bit more about seed saving before you start.
You can also ask around and see who has seeds in your community. Sometimes you can snag deals or bargains from your neighbors, or find something for free on a local buy nothing group. Or, see if you can borrow some from your local community garden. Participating in the sharing economy is also very powerful! There might even be a little free seed library near you – do your research and you’ll be surprised at what you find!
4. Use eggshells, egg cartons or newspaper for seed starting
If you go the route of using seeds, you can just use empty eggshells, egg cartons or newspaper to house the seedlings. What’s great about this is it’s completely biodegradable so you can just transfer the whole thing into the ground, instead of remove the sprouts from their little starter homes. If you use egg cartons, you might want to poke little holes on the bottom though, so everything filters nicely. Using eggshells is also a good source of calcium for the little sprouts, and they’ll even add nutrients to the soil then they’re planted in the ground.
You can also use biodegradable pots – which you can purchase online or at most stores. Either way, any of these options are biodegradable, which is important for mama earth. Traditional plastic pots tend to cause some type of root deformation. With a biodegradable pot, the roots can push through and are able to spread naturally while the container breaks down.
5. Compost heap
Starting a compost heap is ideal for a zero waste garden because this will return your food scraps to the earth. It’s literally the ultimate form of recycling. We could learn a thing or two from mother nature! When you create compost, you can use it as a soil conditioner and natural fertilizer all in one. If you’ve got time I recommend DIYing your own compost bin or building your own compost heap – just be prepared because you’ll need specific tools and materials for this. Perhaps you can ask around and get some secondhand items for the job from a buy nothing group. If you’re not into DIYs, this compost bin has thousands of raving reviews and looks like a worthy investment.
6. Eco labels
Want to label all those veggies and fruits? Use creative eco labels like hand painted rocks, upcycled paddle pop sticks, seashells, sticks and twigs, or wine corks on a stick. Just use your imagination and upcycle whatever is available to you. Have fun with it and get kids or loved ones involved too! If you use any paint, opt for non-toxic paints, like Natural Earth Paint.
7. Grow food from scraps
Another amazing gardening hack? Growing food from scraps! Lets say you have a head of lettuce: Cut the lettuce but leave the base intact and put it in a container with shallow water. Leave it on the windowsill and see if it starts to grow back, changing the water every day. This works especially well with carrot tops, spring onions, leeks, onion, and garlic! Once the food regrows, you can try to transplant it if you’d like, or just harvest the greens that sprout up.
8. Water barrels
One of the best ways to reduce water waste is to have a water barrel. If you’re experiencing drought, this is especially important, as any kind of water becomes extremely precious. If you want a thriving garden without having to worry about municipal water restrictions, a rain barrel will certainly come in handy.
To install a rain barrel, make sure you have a good flat surface to put it on. It’s a smart idea to wrap the barrel in mesh because shade will prevent algae from growing on it. Also, you might want to put a screen on it, which helps reduce the amount of gutter debris you’ll have to deal with. Plus, a screen also makes it so mosquitoes can’t breed in the water (very important if you get bit to high heaven like me all summer long).
9. Natural weed control
An easy way to deter weeds? Mulch, wet newspapers, or cardboard. Wood chip mulch is probably the prettiest of the three and prevents weeds from sprouting and keeps soil moisturized. Wet newspaper is also biodegradable but it efficiently blocks light, which makes weeds’ lives harder. Cardboard is biodegradable too, and very efficient at blocking weeds from sprouting too.
Thing is, not all weeds are bad and to be honest, you might want a part of your garden to go wild, so to speak. This makes for an interesting habitat for local wildlife and insects. Better yet, you can plant native wildflowers there and watch what magic unfolds. Just remember: Don’t use pesticides, insecticides or herbicides in your garden as this can damage the ecosystem unfolding there and ruin the soil. If you’re having a pest problem, use more natural deterrents.
10. Secondhand tools
If you’re in need of some new gardening tools, the best ones to get are secondhand! These will cost you a lot less, work just as good, and keep them out of the landfill. You can ask around and see if any of your friends or family have anything to loan you first. If not, a local buy nothing group could work. Double check local thrift stores too, as you might stumble across what you’re looking for by surprise.
11. Return plastic pots
Remember how I was saying plastic pots may be hard to avoid? Well, if you can’t avoid them, for whatever reason, don’t lose hope. You may be able to return them. Let me explain: Most nurseries will have no problem accepting empty plant pots. Simply hand them back and they’ll get reused. You can also see if any of your friends and family would like to use them for their gardens. And of course ask your local community garden if they could use any of your empty pots too. Either way, keeping the same plastic pot in use for as long as possible absolutely beats just tossing it out!
12. Share your bounty
Most gardeners don’t even eat all that they grow. Don’t let your bounty go to waste and rot on the vine. Food waste is a huge problem in this world – in America alone, 40% of food is wasted. And even if you’re composting what rots on the vine, the best option is to always use it up. So, why not share it?
I LOVE sharing my bounty with friends and family. Over the summer I harvested so much from my 4 by 4 plot that I had to give some of it away – and it put smiles on a lot of people’s faces. Please consider doing the same by sharing what you have with your friends and family. Highly doubt they’ll say no to garden fresh cucumbers, tomatoes or peppers.
You can also create a little mini “free produce” table in front of your home, if you’d like to share with your neighborhood. You can give some excess produce to everyone who walks by – just make sure to let them know it’s free and from your garden. You might even want to create a little sign so they can see it for themselves even before you say anything. This helps create food security and builds community!
I also suggest looking into Ample Harvest: Whatever excess you have, you can donate through them, and they will make sure it gets to those in need of fresh food. You’d be amazed at how many people lack access to fresh greens and good wholesome food! So lets put an end to world hunger and food waste altogether.
What did you think of these zero waste gardening tips? Will you be implementing them this season?
For more outdoor fun, here’s how to create a pollinator garden.
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