Archive for garden

Garden waste with less waste

The days are getting shorter, there’s a nip in the air: autumn’s blush is with us. In the next week or so the streets of my neighbourhood will be plastered with mini advertising hoardings. Oops, sorry, I meant garden waste bags.

Did you ever wonder why these are so cheap in the stores? Indeed so much cheaper than their smaller counterparts, the indoor compost bin bags, which have altogether more limited advertising possibilities.

The fact that the bags are cheap and made from natural-looking brown paper which is, of course, going to be composted, makes it easy to use them with gay abandon.

But let’s think about that.

Yes, garden waste bags are typically not made from actual trees, but from waste products in the paper system. And it is true that they are not bleached like white paper. But paper manufacture is energy intensive….and even if more than 50% of that energy is now generated from burning waste chips and other biomass, it is still carbon generating.

Then there is the issue of transporting the finished bags. Anyone who has bought a pack of 40 bags from Costco will back me up when I say that they are heavy: indeed they need to be heavy to withstand the ravages of decaying plant material and rain (even snow…). Heaven forbid that we should be inconvenienced by a split bag.

Many bags I see here in Canada are actually made in the US (yes, we seem to have no comparative advantage in manufacturing large paper bags), so first need to be shipped up here and then carried home.

You get the picture: there is a lot of waste tied up in each, neat brown bag. And, to add insult to injury, when your nice brown bag is composted, it will release methane (as does your garden waste), a potent greenhouse gas.

So what is your alternative? First, be sure to fill your bags to the top (I can attest to the fact that the waste disposal guys will pick them up even if they are not neatly rolled over to seal them up). Then let them settle and fill them up even more. It’s amazing what you can stuff in after a couple of days on the curb, especially if your first filling consists of dry, bulky leaves (it’s always better to rake leaves when they are slightly wet).

More importantly, round up all those rigid plastic containers you have littering your backyard and bring them into service. I use recycling bins (on the off week), garbage bins (the bags can sit on the curb alone for short periods, if necessary), garden waste bins, even cardboard boxes.

In so doing, I drastically reduce my bag consumption. Not to zero, for sure. I have five large trees on my property and neither the time nor space to mulch all the leaves, so I certainly get through a number of bags at this time of year. But on an ongoing basis I manage very well with my motley selection of plastic. Not pretty, but it works.

CowPots: gardening with cow poo

The time for planting seeds and potting-on has passed, but I wanted to tell you about an eco product that will make your gardening life easier next year: the CowPot.

CowPots are a new type of seed starter pot made entirely from cow manure. Being a farmer’s daughter that does not phase me, but before you city types get anxious, let me assure you that they do not smell.

CowPots are similar to the peat pots the you see at most garden stores: you can start seeds in them or pot-on into them, and then bury the whole thing in your garden, thereby not disturbing the plant’s roots (and making your life easier).

CowPots have two main advantages over traditional peat pots. First, they actually do biodegrade over time. Peat pots are supposed to break down, but this is often an unfulfilled promise. You need to rip or shred them to enable the roots to penetrate. (Or, you can do as I do, and treat them as plastic pots that you reuse year after year). If you don’t do that, your plants suffer.

Second, they are not made out of peat. When I first came to north America, in 1998, I was shocked to find that the anti-peat message had not yet reached this great continent. During my 14 years here, not much has changed.

Extracting peat destroys biodiversity and releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere (the peat acts as a carbon sink, when disturbed the carbon is released). In the UK, the government is looking to phase out the horticultural use of peat by 2020. Here in Canada, gardeners continue to use peat with gay abandon, but I hope that will change.

Other eco advantages of cow pots are that they provide an outlet for excess manure (getting rid of animal waste is a big headache for farmers) and that energy is extracted during the manufacturing process. But if you imagine they will also fertilize your baby seeds, think again. They are 1-0-0 (so contain a bit of nitrogen, not much else).

CowPots come in various sizes (round, square and seed cells) and are widely available in the US. For stockists, see here. In Canada they are harder to find. Some natural products stores stock them (I bought mine at Rainbow Foods in Ottawa and they are available at the Big Carrot in Toronto). A limited range of pots – all square – are available on-line through Lee Valley Tools and West Coast Seeds.

If you are in Europe, you are also in luck (see here) though I do have some reservations about the shipment of cow poo over the Atlantic.

I wanted to wait to write this posting until I had seen how my CowPotted tomatoes did in the garden. I can assure you that they are doing very well. I may not spring for these year on year (my tomatoes that I transplanted naked – pulled out of plastic pots – are doing equally well), but if you go for ease, these are the pots for you. Better than peat on every axis.

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