How Gardening Fits Into the Root-to-Stem Movement

Here’s one of those statistics that just leaves your mouth hanging open in disbelief: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, people in the United States generate an average of 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.

Now, on the plus side, about one and a half of those 4.4 pounds gets recycled or composted. The bad news is that almost three pounds (per person! per day!) is destined for an incinerator, a landfill or the ocean.

This has led to increased interest in two of the new waves of environmentalism: “zero waste” and “root-to-stem.”

Zero waste is a philosophy that’s exactly what it sounds like – reducing the amount of waste you generate, aiming toward zero. And it goes beyond the traditional three Rs of environmentalism – reduce, reuse and recycle. The website recyclecoach.com suggests there should be a few more Rs added to that list – such as refusing to purchase products with excessive packaging, repairing items instead of throwing them out and buying new ones, and regifting. (That last one might need its own campaign, however: “Regifting – it’s not rude; it’s sustainable.”)

For gardeners, particularly ones growing veggies and tomatoes, you might want to check out the root-to-stem movement. The EPA reports that the largest item by far in landfills – more than diapers, Styrofoam and tires combined – is food.

Root-to-stem encourages consumers to rethink what parts of the plant are edible and use the entire fruit or vegetable in cooking. Carrot tops? Great for flavoring stocks. Broccoli stems? Puree them into soups. One high-end restaurant in San Francisco suggests that the stems of radishes, properly washed, make a peppery-tasting addition to your mixed salad or can be sautéed and eaten.

For those parts of the plant you can’t imagine eating, consider feeding them into a composting system. In addition to reducing your household waste by anywhere from 20 to 50%, composting gives gardeners lovely, nutrient-rich organic matter that you can use to amend your soil.

Whether you use a trench, a bin, a tumbler or vermiculture with worms, the basic rules are the same – use organic material that will decompose (with a few notable exceptions), stir, and in a few weeks, you’ll have compost.

The list of items you can compost is pretty impressive. The obvious things are fruit and veggie remains, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, the crumbs you sweep off your countertops, rice, stale tortilla or potato chips, pizza crusts and more.

But you can also move outside of your kitchen and garden and find items that can be composted. Pretty much any paper product, as long as it doesn’t have a coating, can be chopped or shredded and put in your compost pile. Items like cotton balls or cotton swabs with cardboard (not plastic) sticks, old cotton clothing, dust bunnies and latex balloons can be used.

Here’s what you don’t want to include in your compost: meat or fish scraps. Yes, they are organic and will decompose, but you and your neighbors will probably not like the smell or the many wild animals they will attract to your yard. And while you can use the droppings from your rabbit or hamster, do not include cat or dog poop. Unlike animals that live off plants, the waste of cats, dogs or any carnivore can include parasites that you don’t want in the soil you are using to grow fruits or vegetables.

If you have any questions about how you can reduce, reuse and recycle in your garden – from composting tips to rainwater harvesting – please stop by Warner’s Nursery and talk to one of our staff. We have a lot of expertise in methods that will help you grow lovely gardens – and help Mother Nature in the process.

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