Using the four Rs, gardeners can be good stewards of the environment|[03/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2008

Did you know Americans throw away more than 60 million cans, 28 million bottles, 4 million tons of plastic, 40 million tons of paper, 100 million tires and 3 million cars every year?

Betty Thornley knows she can’t single-handedly save the planet, but she believes in recycling many items that most Americans throw away. And, some of those items are put to good use in her garden.

Thornley’s conservation initiation began when she was studying biology in college. She made eight trips as part of a research team to San Salvador in the Bahamas for a class called Ecology of the Bahamas. There, she witnessed first hand how the natives recycled fresh- water that, otherwise, would have drained off the island into the sea. She also learned about the interdependence of the people, land and animals in an environment.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“We do not have expendable resources. Our ancestors understood the importance of conserving and recycling,” Thornley said.

Many of her recycling activities aren’t new but have been used for generations and, not only do they help to save the environment, but they are also cost-saving.

Thornley is a composter.

Grass clippings, kitchen scraps, leaves and coffee grounds from the school where she works as an assistant librarian all go into the compost heap. To chop leaves for her pile, she partially fills a metal trash can with leaves and inserts her Weed Eater to chop them. She finds that smaller pieces decay faster, and excess leaves can be stored more easily until needed.

Shredded newspaper makes excellent mulch around her fruit trees.

Last year, she tried something called lasagna gardening. Newspaper and cardboard were placed on the ground in fall and covered with shredded leaves. Black plastic goes over everything to confine heat created by the decaying matter and to sterilize the soil, Thornley said. In spring, the plastic comes off and the ground is ready to plant with no tilling. Earthworms love the paper, and the soil is enriched in the process. It’s a good way to start a new bed for flowers or vegetables.

Plastic buckets have many uses. Storing potting soil and amendments, they can be taken into the garden when picking vegetables or weeding. Plastic buckets work well for catching and storing rainwater for garden use. Thornley’s mother, who lives nearby, recycles her cat litter buckets for this purpose. Dishwater is often reused when watering container plantings.

Thornley and her husband often scavenge discarded bricks, concrete blocks, glass, lumber and pieces of concrete. They have built retaining walls and walkways and hope to build a patio. Her husband is in the process of building a greenhouse using recycled glass from a building that was being destroyed.

Plastic garden pots are never thrown out and can be reused. Thornley often refills them with fresh potting soil and uses them to root stems from trees and shrubs. Packing peanuts are excellent for the bottom of large pots because they make the pot much lighter and improve the drainage. Compacted aluminum cans can also be used in the same way.

Seeds can be germinated in egg cartons, paper cups or cardboard boxes filled with potting soil. Egg cartons house the caladium bulbs Thornley takes up in fall to over-winter. She has also found it’s easier to retrieve caladium bulbs planted in recycled plastic containers buried in the soil in shady areas. She digs the containers to remove the bulbs for storage.

Plastic milk jugs and soft drink bottles — minus their bottoms — are recycled as cloches to cover newly planted vegetables and flowers. Milk jugs can also be used to deliver water to the roots of a specific plant, such as a tomato, if buried beside the plant with holes poked on the side facing the plant. The jug can be refilled periodically and the water goes directly to the plant roots.

The four Rs

Conservationists worldwide follow these rules:Reduce the amount of trash you discard.Reuse containers and products or give them to someone else.Recycle whenever possible.Reject excessive packaging and environmentally harmful products.


Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg,