Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Revisiting Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, reuse and recycle is a phrase that has been around a long time. It started as a government initiative to address the increasing pressure on landfill sites and reflected a shift in attitude that saw waste as a resource rather than a problem.

But long before the phrase was coined, necessity required people to be resourceful and thrifty. Those who lived off the land, whether farmers or native peoples, became ingenious at seeing nature as a resource and manufactured goods as worthy of many uses and reincarnations.
Manure - nature's way of restoring fertility to the soil
Straw, a byproduct of cereal products, remains after the grain and chaff have been removed. It adds carbon and organic material to the soil
For anyone growing food commercially it is a challenge to make a profit when food continues to be at an all time low as a percentage of annual income, at least in developed countries. Figures from 2011 show the lowest amount spent was in the US at 7% of annual income. (It is interesting to note that the statistics are reversed in poorer countries where feeding oneself can be the largest single annual expense. The highest cost for food was in Cameroon at a debilitating 48%!) For us in North America attitudes are that food should be cheap and so producers need to reduce costs as much as possible.

Because of the low profit margins in market gardening and farming (especially if you factor in paying yourself a wage) and also through the influence of my American depression-era mother, who has always been about good old "Yankee ingenuity", looking for ways to use what is "at hand" has been a life long habit.
Here raked grass clippings are used to mulch a new bed of salad greens. The mulch conserves moisture,  maintains an even temperature and adds organic material to the soil. 
Twigs from pruning the crabapples find new life as supports for the shorter peas

Each year strips torn from threadbare bedsheets are used to tie in the heirloom indeterminate (vining) tomato plants 
Old cans can be used to guard tender vegetables from the voracious cutworm
An old iron bed head and foot board are this year's cucumber support. The string is binder twine originally used for the straw bales and the wooden wedges are waste from when Josh finished the base of the tomato frames into points

Sometimes we have have used "waste" from other sources.
Hot boxes Alex and I made from used construction palettes

A mosaic wall in the bathroom Robert Dafoe created from old china
When we had the ice storm on Dec. 22 I broke up all the fallen branches and twigs and strew them over the beds in the back garden. Anything to try to add organic material and water retention to our incredibly sandy soil here in the city. I recently learned from the people at that our wild solitary bees are at risk because of habitat loss. One of the biggest contributing factors is that we clean up our gardens too well, leaving none of the hollow stems and twigs that the wild bees use for their homes. Along with autumn leaves and compost made from our own kitchen waste we can add tree debris to resources we literally have in our own backyards. Maybe the time has come for YIMBY?

Recently I was inspired to "edit" our back yard garden in the city. I wanted to divide some existing perennials and buy some new plants with interesting foliage. And recently the crown of one of our cedar trees broke off. So there was also that to deal with.  I managed to divide some hostas and heuchera and create two new beds with the divisions. They were planted with compost and mulched with the leaves I had removed from the downed cedar. To some people's eyes this may look "messy" but I am trying to create a woodland feeling. Who ever goes for a walk in the woods and thinks "How trashy the ground is"? Instead we relish the earthy smell of the humus earth, spongy and bursting with microbial life.
The fallen cedar after I've removed the lowest side branches
The side branches collected in one location. Now they're ready to have the leaves removed to use as mulch for the new  plantings
The new hosta divisions with their mulch of fresh cedar trimmings
The wine red heuchera yielded 7 new fledgling plants

The branches left after I trimmed the leaves for mulch were broken up for cedar kindling - if nothing else a change from splitting kindling.

A modest pile of cedar kindling
I still have the crown of the cedar to break up and I'm looking forward to mulching the new perennials whose bed, to my eye at least, looks, not neat, but naked.
A variegated knautia on the left and lavender on the right. The soil bare without a mulch yet

1 comment:

  1. Another thought provoking article!
    I had no idea that food costs were at an historic low here. Also I think that the practice of economy has been almost totally obliterated --- too much disposable income and love of shopping and new shiny things!
    Really enjoy your blog. Pat