Reuse in the garden can yield healthy harvests and boosts the spirit. Imagine all sorts of typical materials and items that one might recycle or discard becoming useful, even whimsical, tools for cultivating plants and growing local food. When “reduce, reuse and recycle” are internalized habits, a gardener’s creativity hums with productivity. The results can be surprisingly effective.

That is what Kent, a local resident and home gardener—and avid bicyclist—discovered when he considered what value a used coffee container might have. This week he shared his invention. Kent recollected, “I’d saved the bladders out of a few Starbucks cardboard to-go carafes wondering what to do with them. As my figs started to come ripe, a light bulb went off. In past years the rodents and birds have left me few ripe ones. So far this year I have seen no evidence of poachers. They [the scarecrows] really dance in the wind! Wish I’d thought of this a month ago when my apricots were getting ripe.” Welcome, the “best scarecrows yet!”

Kent’s commitment and creativity are inspiring. So, too, are many of the ingenious reuses in the Santa Monica Community Gardens. Tim and Ishihara have reused mannequins as scarecrows, dressing them in fanciful, colorful garb that wave away crows or other hungry birds or pesky creatures. The mannequins did double-duty at the 2016 Coast event as charming photo booth companions, where Tim and Ishihara invited gardeners and visitors to be pictured in the comely, verdant habitat.

There are so many needs that reusing materials may meet. With all the coffee houses or cafes in the neighborhoods, a plethora of burlap sacks exists. Laid beneath mulch in garden paths, the sacks deter weeds and slowly break down into organic matter that helps give texture and nourishment to the soil. The burlap also can provide cover for a compost pile. Earthworms snuggle and wriggle in such a woven, warm haven.

The sacks may also serve as cover for newly planted seeds, retaining moisture and heat. Be careful not to leave the sacks on the beds for more than two or three days depending on the weather. Sprouts burst forth readily beneath burlap, and with too much warmth, they may start to wilt. Seedlings also need light. Left too long in the darkness, those seedlings stretch and becoming etiolated, which is the condition of being blanched, often long and stringy, because of not receiving light.

Containers off all kinds can be imaginatively repurposed. Spice bottles and filtered tops help broadcast seeds. Egg cartons are suited to plant seeds. So, too, are wood crates. Just add leaves in the crates or boxes beneath the topsoil to give the seeds a space to set roots. Make sure to provide good drainage. Obviously, containers with plants from the nursery can be reused for new plantings. Raised beds can be bordered with bottles—the prettier, the better. Milk, water or juice containers turn into temporary mini-greenhouses for seeds and seedlings in the cold. Upside-down fruit and berry baskets prevent birds or pests from digging up seeds and nibbling on plants. All kinds of possibilities of reuses arise once imagination energizes the garden.

The key is to be considerate. Reusing materials offers so many benefits. Good gardening is healthy and attractive. Remember that just as refusing to reuse ends up polluting the Earth, reuse is not refuse. Active, observant home and community gardeners know the difference.

Explore the possibilities with a mindfulness. That is the essence of growing.

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