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Master gardener in training: The joy of recycled tools

April 29, 2010 |  8:00 am
Pots1 I hadn’t realized how much my inner pack rat would love gardening. I now throw nothing away without considering its possible second life in the garden. Cardboard tubes get saved to build pest barriers around tiny seedlings; plastic bottles, milk cartons, yogurt containers -- even coconut shells and grapefruit rinds -- are reborn as seedling bassinets (after being washed with soap and water and rinsed in one part bleach to nine parts water). Especially prized are pint-sized plastic mesh baskets, the kind strawberries come in.

The strawberry baskets come in handy for the cucurbits (melons, cucumber, squash) that don’t transplant well. I’m desperate to grow some Charentais cantaloupe, a sweet, small muskmelon from western France that is too thin-skinned to travel easily to supermarket shelves. Amy Goldman, author of the 2002 award-winning "Melons for the Passionate Grower," calls them "refined."

Pots2To prevent transplant shock I'm going to sprout my Charentais in a container I can plant in the ground. I first put a couple of layers of paper towels into the basket, filled it with a light blend of potting soil and seeding mix, poked the fat end of the seed down and topped it with ¼ inch of seeding mix. Once it's warm enough, I'll plant the seedling -- still swaddled in its basket -- directly in the mound it will live in. I've been assured that its roots will grow through the plastic mesh.

Assuming I’m successful -- not a given -- and I get some Charentais, I’ll prop the little melons up on cat food cans with both ends removed. This will keep the fruit off the soil (and away from gnawing pests) and lift it into the heat of the sun, resulting in a sweeter harvest, sooner in the season.

These are just a few of the ideas I've gotten from a 50-item, nine-page list of recycled tools compiled by Yvonne Savio, the program manager of the Master Gardener class.

More after the jump...

Pots3For Savio, the “king of recyclables” is the ubiquitous plastic jug. It can be cut up to make plant markers, or used as a shallow seedling tray or a collar-guard against cutworms. It can be transformed into a mini-greenhouse; keep the cap on for cool nights, but take it off during the day or the plants will steam. Plant a jug so only an inch pokes above the soil line, and you can have  a root-level watering/fertilizer funnel.

Other tips? For my vining plants I can build a quick-and-dirty trellis by stapling chicken wire to a simple wood frame. Torn-up pantyhose can become a trellis cradle for ripening fruit. An old-fashioned rat trap can clip my gardening gloves in place.

Tip No. 50 on Savio's list spoke to my squeamish, compulsive hand-washing soul: Smear moisturizing lotion on your hands before you put on your gloves and go out into the yard. Your hands absorb the cream and are easier to wash at the end of the day.

That's one tip I’ll be using for my next foray -- deep into the compost pile.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Photo credits: Ann Summa


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