Posts Tagged ‘biodegradable’

Gardening Without Plastic

October 31st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Seedlings growing in a cardboard egg carton container

As gardeners, we try to work with nature where we can, and that’s one of the joys of growing your own – fresh food without the nasty chemicals and pesticides.  But what about that artificial material we’ve been hearing a lot about recently – plastic. It gets just about everywhere, doesn’t it, including the garden. Well if you’re looking to purge your plastic use, then this one is for you. Read on or watch the video for some great ideas for growing and storing food without the plastic.

Sowing and seedlings

Let’s begin where most of our plants begin – with sowing. Swap seedlings flats or seed tray for wooden alternatives. They’re heavier and need watering more often, but will last for many years and are simple enough to make and repair. Wood also improves conditions around the roots because it allows the potting mix to breathe.

Replace plastic plug trays with ones made from pulped cardboard or pots pressed from fibre or coconut coir. Better still, make your own seedling pots from strips of newspaper. You can make pots of different sizes too. Cardboard egg trays are handy for most seedlings, or save toilet paper tubes to start off crops that prefer a longer root run, including corn, peas and beans. If you’d like to learn how to make your own biodegradable pots then check out this video. All biodegradable pots need to be watered a little more frequently,  but on the flip side they encourage healthier roots and can be planted whole, pot and all, avoiding disturbing the root system.

Pots and labels

A bunch of small biodegradable pots filled with potting soil with wooden lollipop stick labels sticking outIt’s easy enough to replace plastic pots with all manner of terracotta, metal, wooden, even slate alternatives, most of which look significantly more eye-catching anyhow. Remember that terracotta and metal pots take a lot of energy to manufacture, so a sturdy plastic pot may have less of an environmental impact over its lifetime, especially if it can be recycled locally.

Labels are easy to make from lollipop sticks, which you can buy in bulk from craft stores. Wood naturally absorbs moisture, which may cause ink to become blurred over time. Use a soft pencil instead, or try labels made of bamboo. For larger labels, opt for lengths of wood batten cut to size and painted with non-toxic paint to give a more durable, decorative finish.

Buying plants

Plants are typically sold in plastic pots but look out for fibre alternatives, often made with quick-growing sustainable grasses. Most trees, shrubs and perennials can be purchased bare-root over the winter months while they are dormant.

Some mail-order nurseries now dispatch young plants and seedlings with minimal packaging, just carefully laid between layers of newspaper or straw. And of course remember that the cheapest and most effective way to raise lots of plants is to propagate them yourself by sowing seeds, taking cuttings and dividing established plants.

Potting mixes

Potting soil or compost typically comes in plastic bags. These can be reused in a multitude of ways around the garden, but if you want to avoid plastic altogether, the simplest way to start is by making your own garden compost and leaf mould. Bear in mind that plastic composters tend to have a longer lifespan, so this is one area where you might want to relax the rules.

Compost and other soil amendments can often be bought in bulk bags which require less packaging per unit of product and can often be returned to the supplier, or make your own potting mixes by thoroughly combining garden compost, leaf mould, topsoil and organic fertiliser.

Looking after your plants

A close up of some brown natural fibre garden string or twinePlastic twine is out, replaced by string or twine made from natural fibres such as hemp, which is also less likely to cut into stems as they grow. Plastic netting is easily swapped with sturdy, long-lasting metal or wooden alternatives. Keep on using your plastic watering can, but when it finally needs replacing go galvanised with a traditional-looking steel can.

Water barrels have many metal or wooden alternatives which are pricier but look very attractive. Cold protection necessitates a return to glass, which is more durable and less likely to scuff, shred or blow away compared to lighter weight plastic cloches or row covers.

Storing produce

There’s really no need for plastic in or around your harvested fruits and vegetables. Use crates of damp sand to store root vegetables like carrots, boxes of straw to insulate fruits such as apples, or breathable hessian sacks for maincrop potatoes.

Keep just-picked leaves fresher for longer by washing then wrapping them in a damp towel destined for the refrigerator. Bunches of herbs should be popped into jars of water like cut flowers, a method that also works for asparagus spears. Twist of the leaves from roots like radish, beets and turnips, then store in a container in the fridge with a damp towel or cloth laid on top. Carrots should be placed into containers of regularly changed fresh water, while tomatoes and aubergine are best left at room temperature out of the sun in the dry.

Finally, store bananas well away from all other produce. It emits ripening gas ethylene which can lead other fruits and vegetables to quickly spoil.

Of course, plastic isn’t always bad and can sometimes form the most sensible and even sustainable choice. Nevertheless, we could all do with reducing our addiction to plastic, especially single-use plastic. Share your tips for a plastic-free gardening life – we’d love to hear your experiences! Have you managed to kick the plastic habit? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.