Garbage for the Garden

In the past week I've been witness to well over 2' of snowfall.  Thankfully, not all of that snow fell on my garden, but even so, it can make me feel as though spring is still a million days away at times.  While I wait for spring to slowly make way for that day when I can finally get back into the garden, there are some things I am doing now to prepare for my spring gardening, like saving some of my garbage and recycling for the garden.

Yep, you read that right: garbage for the garden.  From yogurt containers to egg cartons, and from chopsticks to twist ties, there are a lot of household "waste" items that you can start saving now to use in your garden later this spring.  Here's a look at a few of the items I'm saving for my garden this year:
Egg Shells
Egg shells are a quick and easy way to supplement calcium in your garden.  Tomatoes (paste varieties in particular) are especially sensitive to calcium deficiencies, so in addition to making sure your tomato plants receive consistent watering throughout the season, sprinkle some ground egg shells into the hole before you transplant your tomatoes to help fight off blossom end rot.  I save my egg shells by allowing them to completely dry on the counter (it takes about a day and will eliminate any "science experiments" from developing during storage), and then I add them to a container in the refrigerator, crushing them a bit so they take up less space.  When the time comes to transplant my tomatoes, I'll use a coffee grinder to make a fine powder out of the dried egg shells for my little tomato plants.
Milk Jugs
When it comes time to move those seedlings out into the garden after weeks of careful nurturing indoors, you can use milk jugs (or any large, plastic beverage container) to help ease the transition.  After hardening off seedlings for transplanting, cut off the bottom of a milk jug to place over the transplant to help regulate moisture and temperature until the plant becomes established (this is particularly helpful if the spring weather hasn't quite stabilized yet).  I thoroughly rinse out empty milk jugs and then store them out of the way in the garage until I'm ready to start transplanting.  If you transplant a lot of seedlings (and have the long-term storage space), the plastic will usually hold up for a few seasons before it becomes brittle and destined for the recycle bin.  
Coffee Grounds
Coffee grounds are incredibly rich in nitrogen, which is about as essential to plants as water, light, and air.  You can use them to amend heavy soil that is lacking in organic matter and as a mulch for your heavy feeders, like brassicas and cucurbits.  Worms love coffee grounds, so mixing a light layer of grounds into the soil is a great way to encourage worms to work some magic on your garden soil.  They also make a great addition to your compost, so if you do nothing else with them, add them to the compost bin on a regular basis.  If you're not composting them, the easiest way to save coffee grounds is to add them to a covered container in your freezer, which will easily control the odor of wet, aging coffee grounds.  I have a couple of full, frozen containers out in my garage right now that I will be mixing into my west garden this year in an effort to loosen up the soil.  Laying off the caffeine? Stick a container and a note in the break room at work and have what you need in a matter of days.
Instead of tossing the Sunday paper in the recycling bin, stash it away to use in your garden as mulch.  Mulching with newspaper is a simple two-step process: put down a layer of newspaper and cover it with mulch or compost.  Not only will it help retain moisture in the garden soil, the newspaper will block weeds and grass from growing through it (once the weeds are long gone, it will eventually break down and enrich the soil). This method is great for garden paths and the space between garden rows (sheets of cardboard will work in the same way). With a little time and patience, it's also a great way to turn a grassy area into a new garden space.

How are you preparing for spring gardening this year?

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