Green Guide to Gardening: Reduce, Refuse, and UpCycle

Green Living

In the final day of our Green Guide to Gardening Series,  our novice gardener, Loralie, shares some of the “green” techniques her family will be attempting in their own (and first!) garden patch this year.  It’s entirely possible to grow healthier, tastier food without the use of expensive, synthetic, and often toxic pesticides and fertilizers. So put on a big floppy hat, hand your kids a trowel, and join us in her journey!

So far our Green Guide to Gardening has covered:

Today we’re going to talk about the 3 R’s in the garden:

Reduce, Reuse and Refuse in the Garden

rain barrels
© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012


In order to be sustainable, a garden needs to make the best use of water possible. Reduce your water usage and save money on your utility bill by installing a rain barrel.  A rain barrel is a collection system that diverts the rainwater from your roof directly into a barrel that can be used to water your garden. Even small children can learn to fill their watering cans on their own to help water your plants. While the name of the game is water conservation, you won’t feel as bad when your little one spills.

Another way to reduce water usage is to incorporate native plants into your landscape.  Native plants are naturally adapted to the soil and rainfall levels of our area.  As such, they are extremely low-maintenance and allow you to conserve water.  They can also help to break up the heavy, clay soils our area is known for without eroding it.  Natives to our area include prairie grasses like Indian Grass or woodland ferns like Cinnamon Fern.

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012


The next key to your sustainable garden is refuse, as in trash.  Food scraps make up about  12-13% of space in our landfills. SWALCO (Solid Waste Agency of Lake County) is pushing for an initiative to help reduce the amount of food waste Lake County folks throw away.  You can help by turning your own family’s food scraps into compost. 

Fruit and vegetable scraps like banana and onion peels, normally destined for the garbage, can provide essential nutrients to your garden in the form of compost.  Compost acts as a mulch to help the soil retain water, keep down weeds, and enrich the soil.  To make compost at home you’ll need some sort of receptacle to contain your kitchen waste along with yard clippings that will make up your compost.  For a complete how-to see the Univerity of Illinois Extension: Composting for the Homeowner.

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012


Upcycling is the new buzzword in green living.  Rather than recycling an object back to its original state, which requires energy, give that object new life and repurpose it for different use.  In the garden, this can take shape in lots of fun ways, such as turning an old rubber tire or worn-out boot into a flower planter.  It can take practical shape by using old egg cartons or toilet paper tubes for planting seedlings.  When the plants are ready to be transplanted, the cardboard along with its contents can be buried in the ground, and the cardboard will decompose.

I love the idea of using yard waste such as fallen or pruned branches and twigs.  A fallen log can make a beautiful garden border edge.  I took advantage of some dead bushes my husband tore out earlier this spring to fashion teepees for my pea vines to climb up, as well as a trellis for my cucumbers, using nothing but branches, twine, and some zip ties.

I even put together a branch arbor to serve as the entranceway to our soon-to-be-completed children’s garden (see Day 3 for ideas).  We just planted morning glory seeds underneath, so it will be covered in lovely blooms come summertime.

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Green Guide to Gardening Series! Do you have any gardening tips of your own? 
Please share in the comments below.

By Loralie

When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home.

Green Guide to Gardening: Reduce, Refuse, and UpCycle

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