Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

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The end of last month saw Recycle Week 2020, organised by WRAP – the Waste and Resources Action Programme.  WRAP is working on UK wide initiatives to work with, for example, the packaging industry to reduce those layers of unnecessary plastic that we fight our way through even to open a packet of biscuits!  Eventually there will come a time when we all say, remember when we had all those plastic cartons lying around?  But for now, for the majority of people, convenience means that we continue to buy and dispose of more plastic than we would ideally like.  So can we be creative and use it for the benefit of our gardens and wildlife?  Recently I’ve stumbled across a few ideas that have merit and some which may even keep our younger readers occupied across the October half-term!

Encouraging insects (c) John Malone

The first is the fruit-juice carton birdfeeder!  This popped up on my newsfeed on Facebook recently and I thought, what a fun idea!  Although ideally you should be feeding your garden birds all year round, there is a tendency for us all to do that little bit more for them during winter.  Fruit juice cartons, you know the sort, are ideal for this as they even come with a ready-made sloping roof to protect seed from the rain!  Crafty website Pinterest has literally thousands of pictures of people being creative with their fruit juice cartons.  A fruit juice carton bird feeder may not be squirrel-proof, but then neither are many of the more expensive models on sale in garden centres so you may as well give this a go!

Juice carton bird feeder

Earlier in the spring I mentioned that I’d also used fruit juice cartons as additional seed trays.  I have to say that these worked remarkably well!  The were particularly good for large seeds, such as cosmos, which you can easily space out.  I’d certainly do this again.

Milk carton watering cans are another way to re-use one of those bits of plastic that are hard to avoid.  Again, there are hundreds of examples of how to do this.  I also saw one suggestion about keeping a carton of water to hand next to your most needy plants so that you can step in and water them at the drop of a hat!

Sadly the pandemic has meant that all those nice, reusable coffee cups that we were all getting used to carrying around with us, are generally no longer accepted at most coffee outlets.  This means that we’re starting to face a mountain of disposable coffee cups again so why not rinse them out, take them home and use them as plant pots?  The ‘rinse out’ bit is vitally important there as I doubt anyone wants to find coffee dregs in the bottom of their handbag!

Of course the best recycling you can do in your garden that benefits both plants and wildlife is composting.  Yet again the other Friday evening, Monty Don was extolling the virtues of composting on Gardeners’ World and talking us through his enormous 4-bin system.  As I’ve said before, composting on this scale is unthinkable for most of us!  Realistically most of us have to be content with either a small square bin or one of those council supplied ‘daleks’.  We are lucky enough to have one of each and equally each has been a learning curve. 

Council ‘dalek’ composter (with cat!) (c) Elizabeth Malone

To avoid the plastic dalek turning into green sludge, we decided to built a wooden bin to take most of our grass clippings, or at least to allow us to drip-feed them into the other bin.  To be honest, we rather ignored this heap until this spring when the pandemic caused our green garden waste collections to be cancelled at just the peak of the garden waste production cycle!  Consequently this bin was revitalised and brought back into weekly (or almost daily) usage to take both grass clippings and larger, woodier prunings.  To our surprise, it seems to be working ok and there might even be something vaguely usable at the end of it all.

Rogue tomato plants in my border with the roses! (c) Elizabeth Malone

The dry spring and an expanded hot border meant that we also took the brave (or foolish) decision to empty our dalek completely and start again.  It hadn’t been fully emptied for some years and so we were rewarded with surprisingly rich, dark compost at the bottom which, hopefully, will have enriched some of our dry soil.  What we had not bargained for, however, was the knock-on effect of all those split / slightly mouldy tomatoes that I’ve tossed in the bin over the years.  As a result, I spent most of the spring pulling up tiny tomato plants from all over the garden!  Inevitably I missed two … which have spent the summer growing rampant in the flower border!  They’ve had no feed and irregular watering and yet they are producing bigger and better fruits that those that I have spent time and energy fussing over in the greenhouse.  Isn’t that just typical? 

Cropping better than the cossetted ones! (c) Elizabeth Malone

Do you have a top tip for recycling materials in the garden?  Do let me know.