I think gardeners have been recycling since people first began gardening.  Farmers spread the barnyard fertilizer on fields and on gardens; it adds tilth to the soil, as well as needed nutrients.

My chicken house ‘stuff’ is mostly straw, and it really makes my soil much lighter than it is naturally. Think of hard clay gumbo with some small rocks thrown in, just to make the tiller jump!

Several of our readers sent in some neat ideas for ways to recycle in the garden over the past couple of years.  I tried them and since they work, I decided to share them with all of you.

Tin can ‘protectors’
Some of my neighbors use old gallon tin cans around their tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and other similar veggies. Basically, anything that is set out individually as plants, instead of seeds. The tins protect against wind damage to the tender new plants and keep cutworms from chewing stems off at ground level. The plants grow over the tops of the cans and won’t be seen when the garden is fully growing.  In the fall, when the garden is stripped clean, the cans are piled up in the shed to be used next year and for many more to come.

Others use the gallon plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut off and the caps removed as sort of a hot cap for early planting. These are taken off after danger of frost is past, strung on an old clothesline rope and hung in the shed until the next year.  One lady said she can get about three years of use from each jug before the sunlight begins to break down the plastic and they have to be recycled.

Some take old newspapers to the garden and the flower beds.  The new transplants are wrapped in paper from the root system up to about 3 inches above the planting height.  This prevents wind and cutworm damage, and the paper just melts down into the soil over the course of the summer.

A friend lays down three to four sheets of newspapers around her newly transplanted tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, etc. She wets it down thoroughly and then puts about three to four inches of chopped straw mulch over the top of the wet paper.  She then soaks down the straw real well.  The damp straw holds down the paper and also holds the moisture in the soil.

This method works extremely well for her as she lives in a town with lots of tall buildings to slow down the wind.  I tried it here on the plains of Dakota one year. We had a 70-mile per hour wind one afternoon a couple of weeks after I’d planted the garden and laid down the papers and straw.  My shelterbelt looked like it was full of gigantic snowflakes with the newspaper pages hanging in them, and it took a couple of good hard rains to get all that paper back on the ground to dissolve. (I think the straw ended up in Kansas!)

I do recycle all of the cleanings from my chicken house. They sit in a compost pile all winter and then are spread in the spring.  I’ve never had trouble with ‘fertilizer burn’ because most of mine is straw and is used mainly as mulch for the plants.