What Food Scraps Can Be Helpful for the Garden

As the landfills in more municipalities begin to swell, resourceful gardeners are reducing their household waste by reusing items that would normally be tossed into the trash. Scraps from the kitchen, such as banana peels, eggshells and coffee grounds, contain vital nutrients that can be used to fertilize plants and improve the condition of the soil.

  1. Buried Bits

    • Solid pieces of unwanted food can be buried near established plants, providing them with a long-lasting source of nutrition. Cut banana peels, potato peels, leftover vegetables or fruits that are past their prime into 1-inch pieces and bury them near the base of the plant. Place the scraps beneath at least 6 inches of garden soil, as this will discourage rodents and other garden pests. As the scraps decompose, they slowly release nutrients, such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and nitrogen, into the soil where they are then taken up by nearby plant roots.

    Scattered Scraps

    • Feed acid-loving plants, such as rose bushes, ferns, evergreen shrubs, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, by sprinkling used tea leaves or old coffee grounds around the base of the plant. Cover the materials with a thin layer of mulch, then add water. As the water flows over the waste products, it removes beneficial compounds and releases them into the surrounding soil. In addition to lowering the pH of the soil with their naturally occurring acids, coffee and tea are both rich sources of nitrogen, which is essential for healthy plant growth.

    Homemade Sprays

    • Young plants with developing root systems are sensitive to fertilizers and can be easily overwhelmed by heavy applications of organic compounds and plant foods. A weekly foliar feeding is more appropriate for seedlings and sprouts; it allows immature leaves to make the most efficient use of any available nutrients by bypassing the majority of the root-based vascular system. Use the cooled, leftover water from any steamed or boiled vegetables to lightly mist new leaves or make a calcium-rich plant spray by boiling crushed eggshells in water.

    Compost Piles

    • Creating a compost pile is a common way of using kitchen scraps in the garden. Composting is essentially controlled decomposition. A combination of organic materials, such as non-meat kitchen scraps, plant clippings, paper and shredded leaves, are placed into a pile. Soil-dwelling microorganisms work their way through the materials, turning them into humus, a rich, black substance loaded with organic material. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, improving its structure, composition and drainage, and it costs nothing to produce. While compost can be used before it totally breaks down, avoid spreading large amounts of unfinished compost in the garden as this tends to attract microorganisms that remove nitrogen from the soil.

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