Plastic Fantastic ?

When I first got my allotment I was faced by what friends termed a field – a field of couch grass and brambles, and no shed. It was slow work, clearing and turning the ground over, bit by bit reclaiming the land. I was realistic I gave myself a couple of years, after all it’s a hobby, I’m not retired and I wasn’t about to break my back.

With no shed I used to carry my tools up to the plot, as the ground was covered in weeds and grass I grew seeds at home and would transport my precious efforts up to the plot and create planting holes, and generally I had successes. Yes there were outright failures, but mostly I would get something, a return for my love and labour.

The first couple of years, I got into a pattern, sow seeds at home transport them up. Whatever I did it had to be cheap and cheerful. No expensive tools and garden centre trappings for me. A focus on the practical.

Slowly but surely I got the tools together, I worked out what I needed to garden and grow. I’ve always gardened, but at home, pottering around, with a shed nearby, water on tap and at the ready, bags of compost delivered. Having an allotment made growing at home look like a picnic in the park.

The site is exposed to sea winds, potential thieves and vandals and local wildlife. I was aware of all of these and so gardened around these “threats”. And as I’ve continued to garden and grow I’ve become more aware, maybe a bit more knowledgeable about where I buy my seeds from, what types of seeds I like and prefer, the methods I now use (like mulching and no-dig), and recently my thoughts have turned to what I’m doing to the environment in general with my gardening. Yes, the reasoning behind the title of this post.

Over the years I’ve amassed a collection of pots, tools and garden ephemera, a lot of them plastic. I’ve avoided buying the cheapest of the cheap – I need sturdy. I’ve tried to buy things that are bio-degradable. I re-use wherever possible, like using toilet roll inners as replacement plant pots, making paper pots like Celia over at the Kitchens Garden or re-using yoghurt pots, egg cartons. You name it, I look at everything twice maybe three or more times before I throw it away. I always ask myself, can I re-use this or that item in any way?

Mushroom boxes

But as I gather my seeds and bags of compost around me I find myself questioning the plastic that has accumulated in and around my garden and allotment. How good is it for me or my world? Is it necessary?  I read a great post by a blogging friend Sharyn over at The Kale Chronicles, A Word About Plastic where she discussed the use of plastic in the kitchen and pointed us in the direction of another blogger My Plastic Free Life who is attempting to live life without plastic, like not buying food that has plastic to contain it etc. Think about a bit more, it’s a real challenge, and not one I’m sure I’d be able to achieve. But just that mere act of thinking is a step.

Is there a way I could reduce the plastic on my plot and in my garden without the mini plastic mountain I seem to be individually creating?

I don’t use chemicals on my crops, wouldn’t dream of it, besides there is no need just a bit of wising up and awareness needed. So why would I, a reasonably bright woman blindly keep on buying and using items that involve heavy chemical processes and resources, who hates the thought of trashing the planet, thinks about what she does and the impacts, buy plastic pots of all shapes and sizes? Yes a fair few of them come from garden centres – they have a bad habit of using pots once and throwing them away, an act of re-using on my part.

So it’s time to start changing. The changes will be slow, I’m not about to clear the decks and throw away all the plastic pots. But one step I can make, and at the same time realise a long-held ambition is to create a seed bed up on my plot. An area set aside for sowing and starting off plants that are then later transplanted into their final positions. In one stroke I can eliminate the need for plastic trays, the compost needed to fill them, the holding mini-plastic greenhouse in the garden used to harden them off. Simple but effective.

But life and gardening is complex, creating a seed bed won’t solve everything, I will still need to start some plants off early and indoors – tomatoes and chillies spring to mind, but maybe over time I will find a way to grow these delicates without the need of plastic. I will have to find a way to cover my seedlings to protect them from the harshness of frosts or hungry pigeons; at the moment I use plastic netting or fleece material. Then there is the plastic coated wire netting that the cucumbers love to trail up against. I have plastic based frames and sheeting. The more I look and consider the more I seem to find.

I need to take a pinch of that realism that I had when I took my allotment on and approach this bit by bit, in small bite sized chunks. Creating a seedbed is one way and one step.

One step at a time, one seed at a time.

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