For my first adventure as a recycling Jacksonian, I went all out. Everything got tossed in the bin: egg cartons, cup lids, Styrofoam take-out containers, various bottles, milk jugs, aluminum cans, and basically anything marked with the little circular-arrow recycling symbol. Later that afternoon I was shocked to see our green bin still mostly full, with the exception of the milk jugs and our many aluminum Coca-Cola cans (we have a slight caffeine problem in our family).
After a heated phone conversation with Jackson's recycling hotline—I had, after all, carefully spent a lot of time rinsing out all those things to recycle—I discovered Jackson does not recycle everything. They thanked me by mailing me a nice little brochure outlining which items they are equipped to recycle (basically newspapers, aluminum cans, milk jugs, metal cans and plastic soda bottles). Feeling weird about tossing so much Styrofoam in the regular trash, I decided to apply it to my new obsession—gardening. While pondering this dilemma, I discovered many ways to recycle, horticulturally speaking.
My mother uses a nifty trick for her car-stopping window boxes, which deliver bright bursts of color to the front of her house in Arkansas. She uses Styrofoam packing peanuts as filler in the bottom half of her planters, then she pours the soil on top to make it full (larger pieces of Styrofoam from stereo or computer equipment can also be used if cut up). This keeps her window boxes from getting too heavy (try to move a large container full of soil after a heavy rain). Plus, it conserves money by using less potting soil. It's much easier and cheaper to get your soil line to the top of the container so you can get to the fun part: planting colorful flowers, and making your neighbors jealous in the process.
Tip: Make sure the Styrofoam doesn't clog the drainage holes.
Egg cartons can make excellent seed-starting containers. I recently planted some zinnia seeds that almost immediately popped up where fragile eggs once nestled. Here's how you can, too.
Carefully rinse out the egg carton with warm water (baby seedlings don't like bacteria). Poke several drainage holes in each egg cup with a small screwdriver or a nail to ensure proper drainage. Fill the cups with potting soil, then plant a few seeds in each one. Put in a sunny spot and water well. With the recent heat and humidity, you'll probably see sprouts within a few days. Don't forget to label your cartons with a permanent marker. And make sure to water them regularly. I've even used the top part of the egg carton for a small soil scoop or for bins to organize seeds or tools. (I know it's a little Martha-like, but why waste a perfectly good egg-carton lid?)
Smashin' with Passion
Dropped a terra cotta pot lately? Thrown a fragile item at your better half in a fit of rage? No worries (unless you actually made contact, or they threw something back). While I don't recommend injuring loved ones even for the sake of recycling, shards of clay are perfect for covering drainage holes in planters. They will keep the soil from falling out while allowing water to flow through (which is vital for establishing a healthy root system).
If you have a cracked or broken pot, you can lightly tap bigger pieces with a hammer (make sure to wear gloves and protect your eyes) to get the desired size. The best pieces are the arched shards, which should be placed arch side up to avoid clogging the drainage hole. Pour your soil and/or filler carefully to make sure the clay shards don't shift away from the holes.
Many of you gardeners out there have heard of compost. Webster calls it "a fertilizing material consisting largely of decayed organic matter." But for all of you beginners (like me), remember: composting does not have to be complicated. Some composting culinary components include: vegetable and fruit scraps (like potato peels, apple cores, zucchini ends, wilted greens, etc.), eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and basically any kitchen waste that hasn't been exposed to fat or oil (no meats, either—your backyard critters will find it in no time).
You could spend hundreds of dollars on contraptions that promise to speed up the process of composting. But it's much easier to save up a bag of kitchen scraps, then dump them under a couple inches of dirt for a future flower bed (less hassle for us and the worms don't mind doing all the work). Be sure to cover it with a good layer of mulch. Another option is to start a compost pile at the back of your yard by adding leaves and grass clippings to the mix of kitchen scraps. You might want to put a makeshift fence around your pile, especially if you have curious animals.
Note: you will need to turn your compost pile frequently to keep it aerated. Either way, your flowers will thank you for the natural fertilizer and aerated soil.
"Retired Pots" and Other Recycled Art
Garden recycling can also be an artistic process. My friend Jerry Palmer recycles old tires into colorful "retired pots," which have appeared in several Mississippi museums. Jerry magically contorts old tires into dainty flower-shaped containers, covers the bottom so they can hold soil and plants, then tops them off with a shiny coat of paint. The result: unique recycled works of art perfect for any deck or patio.
I like to reuse vintage-looking coffee cans as planters. My favorites are made from French Roast or Chock Full of Nuts coffee cans. Drill the cans with plenty of drainage holes (or a hammer and nail works too if you don't have a drill), then fill with soil and your plant of choice. These are also great for holding herbs. They are guaranteed to brighten up the most dingy back porch, giving it a bit of a French flair.
You can recycle even the most mundane things into artistic creations. Turn scraps of metal into funky garden sculptures. Use colorful bottles for vases for your clippings. And don't forget to share your flowers with others—the most expensive bouquet can never beat a vase full of hand-picked blooms from your personal garden.
To find out more about how to recycle in Jackson, call the recycling hotline at 939-2221. For more information about "retired pots," e-mail Jerry Palmer at [e-mail missing].