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For those of us who love being outside in the garden, tending veggies, and sniffing flowers, the winter can be especially brutal. There are a few evergreens out there to supply some color, the odd winter-blooming flower to bring some joy, but for the most part, the garden goes dormant.

Winter, in that sense, can feel long and dreary, as if none of the important tasks of soil and seed are being accomplished. In fact, gardens have usually been tucked in with a nice layer of mulch and purposefully left in a state of rest. A few pot plants may have been moved indoors, but they don’t require much attention. They just seem to be waiting to go back outside.

That’s why it’s good for us gardeners to focus on something else: preparing for the spring. We can be hoarding up materials to bedazzle our spring garden with fertility, weed prevention, seedlings, and more. Not only that, but these materials all come from common household items that might otherwise be considered trash or destined for the recycling bin.

Coffee Grounds

Hot drinks make the winter just a tad more bearable, so it should be a time at which lots of spent coffee grounds filter our way. Rather than tossing them into the compost bin (or, goodness no! the trash), we can save them in a separate bucket to add texture and fertility (nitrogen) to the garden soil. Sprinkled around the base of plants, coffee grounds will also repel common garden pests like slugs and ants.

Wood Ash

Winter is also more likely to involve a fireplace, and for those of us who burn natural wood (not chemically compressed logs), we can collect that ash for the garden as well. Wood ash has lots of minerals and nutrients in it, so it can replenish a lot of those micronutrients we hope our crops will have. Those make plants healthier and add flavor to our fruits and vegetables. Notably, wood ash is alkaline, so it can help with neutralizing acidic soils but should not be added to alkaline soils.

Banana Peels

Step One: For those out there buying bananas, it’s time to step up the game and go for the organic bunches. The additional cost is minimal, and it’s better for people and the planet. Once organic is in the kitchen, it’s time to start saving the banana peels, drying them out, grinding them, and putting them in the garden. They add vitamins and minerals to the soil.

Cardboard Boxes

With the holidays coming and going in December, most of us accumulate an impressive collection of cardboard boxes. The plain, brown corrugated cardboard boxes, those used for shipping stuff, are great in the garden. They can be used for lasagna beds, which is an easy, no-dig method for make fertile, low-maintenance gardens.


Not nearly as many of us read print newspapers anymore, but over the course of a year (or even just the winter), we do manage to accumulate flyers and other print materials. It just happens. In fact, if it doesn’t in our homes, we probably have family members or friends where physical newspapers still make the scene. Those newspapers can be used in lasagna gardening (in place of cardboard boxes), or they make great biodegradable/compostable seedling pots.

Cardboard Tubes

Whether it’s toilet paper, paper towels, wrapping paper, oatmeal, or whatever else, there are many products we buy nowadays that come in cardboard tubes. These tubes make great biodegradable/compostable seedling pots. They can also be used to water and be fertilizer capsules at the root level of plants: Every couple of feet in the garden, a tube can be filled with homemade natural fertilizers and buried vertically just a bit above the ground. As the tube breaks down or the rain soaks through, it’ll release the nutrients into the soil.

Wine Bottles

When the nonalcoholic hot drinks aren’t flowing in the winter, mulled wine might be, or just straight up cabernet for that matter. We use it to celebrate. We use it to wind down. We use it to while away the hours.  Wine bottles can also be useful in the garden. They can be filled with water and shoved in the soil upside down for an efficient watering system: the liquid comes out when the soil dries up. Upturned and lined in a row, they make attractive garden borders, or they can be stacked into a pretty garden fence. For the really industrious, they can be cut in half, the neck turned into the bottle, to make self-watering planters that are perfect for growing herbs and little plants, like lettuces.

In other words, gardeners fear not as there is meaningful work to be done. The shed needs a spot cleared. There are buckets to fill with wood ash and coffee grounds. There are banana peels to dry and carboard boxes to pull the tape off of. We’ll need space for storing cardboard tubes and wine bottles. We can get those newspaper seedling pots put together. That’ll just leave more time to be out in the garden when spring arrives. We should be saving these materials!

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