Redefining Waste

By Diane Schlindwein

September 6, 2016 4 min read

Farmers might spend huge amounts of money each year on fertilizer and pesticides, but home-based growers usually like to keep planting and harvesting simple and inexpensive. That's why homeowners often use "leftovers" to help their gardens grow.

Simple things like used coffee grounds and eggshells are especially effective and easy to use. Coffee grounds will improve your garden soils, fuel your compost pile and help out in many other ways, say gardening experts.

Coffee grounds are mildly acidic and provide a small amount of nitrogen. They also help create a looser, well-drained soil. Earthworms, who are present and "at work" in most gardens, benefit from the addition of the right amount of coffee grounds. Be careful not to coat the garden beds too heavily because that can negatively affect plants. In most cases you should balance the coffee grounds with greens such as grass clippings or dry leaves.

Coffee grounds are good for a variety of plants, including tomatoes, roses and bulbs you will be planting in the fall -- such as tulips and daffodils, says gardening enthusiast Hallie Engel. In the spring, coffee grounds can also protect flowers from predators like slugs. They also successfully keep weevils away when sprinkled around rhododendrons, she adds.

Meanwhile, eggshells are packed with a variety of minerals, especially calcium. Crush them in a blender or simply break them up and spread to act as a slow-release fertilizer in your garden.

Bobbi Ozanic might sit at a computer desk at work, but her heart is in the great outdoors. A gardener and motorcycle enthusiast, she has even persuaded her coworkers to share in her love for natural composting. Her garden features tomatoes, sweet corn, sweet yellow banana peppers, green peppers, beets, green beans, okra, lettuce and fresh dill.

"I have been composting for the 10 years or so that I have been a homeowner and able to have my own garden, which is modest 250 square feet," she says. "I plant additional vegetables in other areas of the yard as well."

Because she is both interested in growing plants and saving money, Ozanic welcomes the leftovers that her coworkers most likely would otherwise throw away. "I use coffee cans set out in the kitchen at work, with a note on top that tells what can go in the compost bucket," she says. "That's egg shells, coffee grounds, fruits and vegetables, but no meat, pasta or dairy. Many coworkers at my office put the scraps in the bucket, so I am able to take home approximately five coffee cans of compost material per work week. I add that to my kitchen scraps and take it out to the compost pile." Just add grass, mulched leaves and stir!

"On my small property, almost nothing goes to waste," Ozanic says. "I am fortunate that I can take scraps for composting and feed animals in the woods behind my property. Then what is left after feeding the creatures goes to the compost pile throughout the year so that by next year, after winter passes, the food scraps, mulched leaves and grass clippings are transformed into a rich dark compost."

Ozanic says that her successful yields are positive proof that natural is the way to go. "My garden grows so well that I am able to share a lot of with my neighbors and friends," she concludes. "Last summer, when nobody else around here was getting tomatoes, I had tomatoes. So I know it works."

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