What do you do with broken crayon bits? Don’t toss ’em!

Ya know when you’re using a box of crayons and they break into little bits to the point where they are just hard to use anymore? Well Julie A. C. Wilson of Jactra Studios showed me a way to re-purpose or re-use them without tossing them. You could do it too!

How to make new crayons out of old ones: a DIY project

Check out Julie’s Video:


Finished product: crayons in fun shapes!

You can try it yourself or check out Julie’s collection on her website. A good handmade local rethink waste kind of gift for the holidays, perhaps? Here‘s the link to her Star Wars crayon series!


Deadline Extended! Rethink Waste Community Waste Reduction Grants Still Available

In light of COVID and the holidays, we are extending the deadline for our grant applications to Wednesday, January 20.

The Environmental Center’s Rethink Waste Project is to provide $500 – $2000 grant awards to individuals, businesses, or organizations in Deschutes County to help with materials, infrastructure, or time that contribute to waste reduction in the community. Work should plan for continued success beyond the grant period. The project must have measurable results. For example, the project could measure the amount of waste prevented, the increase in waste recycled, or the amount of waste composted, etc.

Application Guidelines


  • Businesses, individuals, and organizations in Deschutes County or a project that largely impacts Deschutes County and/or its residents.
  • Projects should be completed by December 31st, 2021.

Selection​ ​Criteria:

  • The application is complete, submitted, and all questions are answered completely. If you can’t submit the application online, please contact Ani to let her know.
  • The applicant submits a simple budget (a bulleted list is sufficient) to show the use of funds and a general timeline of implementation after submitting application.
  • The project is clearly defined through goals, objectives, and a reasonable budget.
  • The project has measurable results.  The project application must describe how many resources are being conserved. For example, the amount of waste prevented, the increase in waste recycled, or the amount of waste composted, etc.
  • The application must demonstrate how the project will be sustained past the first year of funding and will contribute to waste prevention at the community long-term.

Ideas of What Can​ ​Be​ ​Funded:

  • Materials or infrastructure needed for waste reduction
  • Incentive prizes for community members for participation in waste reduction program
  • Reusable dishware to reduce waste at staff events
  • Compost tumblers or equipment to support food waste reduction
  • 2019-2020 Grant Winners

Please submit application online through google forms, if possible. Please submit any questions and application materials with e-mail subject “Fall 2020 RW Community Grant Application” in the subject line to:

Grants Timeline

Applications Due: January 20, 2021
Grant Winners Announced: February 2, 2021
Grant Progress Report Due: June 25, 2021
Grant Work completed by: December 31, 2021
Final Grant Report Due: January 14, 2022

If possible, please apply online here. Or click here to download the complete application and guidelines.

*Header image shows the coffee bar at Sunriver Owner’s Association with the reusable mugs they bought with the Rethink Waste grant money to replace their single-use styrofoam cups.

Jacob Turkey Drawing

Use the WHOLE Bird!

I don’t know about you, but my Thanksgiving plans were thwarted by Kate Brown’s newest COVID-prevention orders. My outdoor buffet-style gathering of 7 from 6 different households is no longer ok. Sigh. And we already bought the turkey. In the spirit of #nofoodwaste, in honor of the life that was taken to feed me and my friends, and taking into consideration all six ways I’m making myself more aware this November, here I will talk about how to use the whole bird.

Note: if you haven’t bought your food yet, think hard about the quantity that you buy. Only buy what you will be able to eat or store! It’s a fact that people in the US produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Can we reduce that number?

  1. Roast that Bird.

    –A traditional roast is just fine, but “spatchcock”  is more fun to say. This is when you flatten the carcass after cutting out the backbone. (Make sure you save the backbone for your stock!) You roast it for a shorter time at a higher temperature.
    –On the plus side, it makes more crispy skin, which is one of my favorite parts! Another plus: a 10-pound bird will cook in 45 minutes compared with the 4 hours it would take to roast whole.
    –Downside, the high oven temp does cause a little grease splattering. But it’s not terrible

  2. Eat your fill.

    –I  got a 10-pound bird to feed my party of 7 and I know M and I can’t eat the whole thing in one sitting. So there will be leftover meat.
    –Save all your bones! Bones from a roasted bird still make a great stock.

  3. Package up your meat.

    –Refrigerate what you know you will be able to eat in the next week.
    –Set aside some to make some soup!
    –Shred and freeze meat in small packages for later.
    –Set aside all the bones and cartilage pieces for stock!

  4. Make some stock.

    –Hopefully, you saved some vegetable pieces and ends as you were making other dishes. If not, you can use bones only. Simmer your veggies and bones for a few hours. Strain and jar it up! Use some for your soup and freeze whatever you know you can’t use up!

  5. Make some soup!

    –Eat some, freeze what you know you can’t eat.

  6. Compost!

    –If you live in Bend or Redmond city limits, you can put all wasted food in your yard debris bins including the bones you boiled for your stock!
    Here is more information on composting.

And there you have it. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Don’t cook more food than you are prepared to eat or store.
  • Your freezer is your friend (especially if you already bought that turkey-for-12).
  • Use all the bits and bones!
Jacob Turkey Drawing
Jacob’s Turkey Drawing

A few thoughts about waste, awareness, and November.

Imagine your perfect 4th-Thursday-in-November holiday scenario. What does it look like? In the year 2020 (an election year, at that), the economy isn’t doing great and many people have lost their jobs due to a global pandemic. It’s unsafe to travel and gather in large groups. And we are in the midst of the biggest civil rights movement since the 1960s. There is a lot of hard stuff going on in the world. Does that change the image of your November holiday?

I encourage folks to gather (safely) and be grateful and waste less during this holiday season but to have awareness around historical and current times while it’s happening. Should you choose to celebrate in some way (traditional or not), do so with appreciation, intention, and reflection during this unique moment in time. Here are six ways to Rethink the November holidays in the name of waste and humanity:

1.) Give yourself a history lesson.

The 4th Thursday of November is a national holiday with an ugly, violent history. If you need a refresher, here is a good place to start. Take time this month to learn about the history where you live, whose native land you’re on, and how you perpetuate ongoing colonialism. If you’re not Indigenous to this place, have these sometimes uncomfortable conversations with your peers and family. Truth is powerful! 

2.) Give back, get involved.

Be an active part of the community, not a sideline observer. Acknowledge your own privileges AND the suffering of friends, neighbors, community members, and family. This year, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted historically marginalized communities, especially Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and neighbors of color. Learn about people and places in Central Oregon that need support and find a way to give back, whether it’s time, money, a social media share, or otherwise.

3.) Don’t waste food.

Before COVID-19, approximately 40% of the food that was grown to be eaten ended up going to waste. The upset in our food supply chain, as Michael Pollan wrote about in the June 11, 2020 edition of the New York Review, caused an enormous amount of extra food waste AND an increase in hungry people. As you’re creating your holiday meal plan, think about that. Learn about how to stop wasting food at home.

4.) Buy less stuff.

  • Make some holiday decorations from found items.
  • Getting ready for gift giving? Think about handmade options and giving the gift of experiences.
  • If you are going to participate in Black Friday, read this.
  • Appreciate the stuff you already have.

5.) Gather with loved ones (safely).

Please, by all means: eat, drink, and be merry! But when you do so, be cautious. Consider COVID-19 protocols and remember that we’re still in this thing and people are vulnerable. Find creative ways to gather virtually, outdoors, or in smaller groups than usual. Consider the health and safety of the greater community. And consider the health of the planet. Here are a few waste reduction tips for parties, even small ones:

  • Choose reusable plates, cups, and silverware.
  • Have a compost bin in case there is wasted food.
  • Set up a waste station with GOOD recycling signage.
  • Encourage people to bring reusable to-go containers so you don’t get stuck with more leftovers than you can eat!

6.) Have gratitude…

…for the place you live, for the people who were here before you, for the food in front of you, and for those around you who you love and who love you back. Coming from a place of gratitude can help you be open to growth, ideas, perspectives, and traditions that honor and appreciate.

DIY Composter: How-to with TEC’s Youth Education!

Our Eco-Hero STEAM students got to make their own composters this fall!

What is compost?

Compost is decomposed organic material that can be used as a nutrient-rich soil amendment for indoor and outdoor gardens. This decomposition of organic material needs moisture, oxygen, and heat, which may not happen in a landfill: did you know a head of lettus can take up to 25 years to decompose in a landfill? Organic material does not decompose into compost in a landfill, but rather into methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. We can divert organic material from the landfill and create compost to help lower our carbon footprint. Composting harnesses nature’s process of decomposition to create something that benefits our yards and gardens!

Three Reasons to Compost!

Whether it is in your back yard, through a pick-up service, or through drop-off, participating in composting is important. Here’s why:

  1. It diverts thousands of pounds of garbage from the landfill.
  2. It is the ultimate closed-loop system – turning garbage into something we can reuse.
  3. When used in the yard, compost boosts plant health, helps soils retain water, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Here’s how we made home composters with the Eco Heroes:

  1. Gather materials: old plastic bottle (like a 2L soda bottle, clear milk jug, or spaghetti sauce jar), pushpin, scissors
  2. Prepare container: use the scissors to cut off the top of the bottle at the taper line, unless your container already has a large opening. Use the pushpin to make drain holes in the bottom or your container.
  3. Add compostable materials: some dirt (not potting soil), plant scraps, fruit and veggie scraps, a little coffee grounds, a little shredded paper
  4. Stir and moisten your compost using water in your spray bottle! Not too much, you don’t want it soggy.
  5. Add sunlight and time! Moisten and stir periodically. Your compost should be ready in about 2-5 weeks.
  6. Mix it in with your plants to give them nutrients!


Learn more

Although we want to do our best to reduce our waste (especially food waste, in this scenario), waste does happen. The most important thing is to keep the organic waste our of the landfill! There are many options for composting in Deschutes County: backyard composting, worm bin composting, yard debris / composting service.

3 Tips for a Low Waste Halloween

Halloween! Such a fun fantastical holiday when you can really be whoever you want to be:

  • Storm from the X-Men?
  • Willy Wonka?
  • Or popular and scary Freddy Krueger?

Well, even scarier might be the incredible amount of plastic waste generated during this holiday. One study estimated that the UK tossed over 2,000 tons of new plastic waste from throwaway Halloween clothing alone during the 2019 holiday. Whaaaaa? That’s scary. And that isn’t even counting waste from candy wrappers and jack-o-lanterns.

Good news, though. This is avoidable!

In any case, there is a good chance that some waste will be avoided this year because of COVID since trick-or-treating won’t be allowed in many places. But here are 3 easy things to do to reduce waste during Halloween.

1.) Make a Jack-o-lantern!

Get your pumpkins, everybody! But roast the seeds. Also, when your pumpkin starts to go, put it in your yard debris bin or compost pile to be composted instead of throwing it in the trash.

2.) Get creative with your costume. Say no to single-use.

Tim as Alastair Moody!

Do you have your costume or your kiddo’s costume dialed in yet? Here’s a reminder to get creative rather than buying a brand new packaged plastic firefighter suit.

  • Can you buy a second-hand suit from the thrift store?
  • Can you avoid using costumes with pieces of plastic that will just fall off and end up in the yard?
  • Can you use non-toxic face paint and makeup?
  • Channel your inner DIY ninja!

We wrote a whole blog about DIY costumes a few years ago!

Tess as the Loch-Tess Monster!
Kailey as Guess Who’s Maria!

3.) Can we green-up the trick-or-treat candy?

Even if you aren’t going trick-or-treating, there are better ways to buy candy to reduce waste. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • AlterEco has compostable wrappers.
  • Choose candy that comes in cardboard boxes or foil so that you have recyclable wrappers.
  • Can you find your favorite candies in the bulk section at Bend Food 4 Less, Market of Choice, or Fred Meyer​, for example?

5 quick tips: how to reduce waste during construction

The EPA estimates that 548 million tons of construction and demolition (C/D) debris (concrete, asphalt, steel, wood products, drywall, brick and clay tile, etc) was generated in the U.S. in 2015 alone — more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste. The reduction, reuse, and recycling of C/D can be accomplished through deconstruction and reclamation. Keeping the materials in the loop is an important part of reducing waste in Deschutes County.

During this year’s Green Tour you can catch a panel discussion all about rethinking construction waste. We will hear from homeowners who are salvaging materials, getting creative (like stenciling their old tile floors to give them a whole new modern look!), and utilitizing great finds from the Restore. We’ll be joined by the Habitat for Humanity Restore too so we can learn what types of materials can be salvaged and donated to be reused in the community. On the new construction side, we’ll hear from two builders who are reducing the their waste footprints with panelized designs.

Register Here

Did you know: 25% or more of Deschutes County’s Knott Landfill consists of construction and demolition waste?

This seems daunting, but there are simple ways to reduce this number. Are you thinking about a remodeling or construction project? Here are some ways to rethink construction waste:

Are you remodeling? Take the time to deconstruct.

  1. Getting rid of old kitchen cabinets? Call the ReStore’s reclamation services. They will remove the old ones out for you and then take the ReStore where someone else can buy them. Keep it in the loop!
  2. If you’re getting rid of appliances that still work, try to sell them or donate them.
  3. Gently remove old wood and trim rather than using the sledgehammer. Satisfaction will come from passing materials on and you can go hit the punching bag at the gym to get your energy out!

Set up a recycling station at the construction site.

  1. Get a good idea of what you will need: what materials on site will be good for donation? What different recycling streams can you contribute to?
  2. Outline a recycling area on the construction site.
  3. Obtain containers for each donatable and recyclable.
  4. Make sure you have clear signs for each area!
  5. Educate everyone on site so folks know what goes where.

Kor community land trust models this well. Check out their recycling station below. If you want to see it in person, you can sign up for an in-person tour for Saturday, September 26 through our annual Green Tour event!

When designing your new look, take the following into consideration:

  1.  Use non-toxic options like natural flooring and low or no VOC paints.
  2. Can you find the building material you need at your local ReStore?
  3. Choose classic designs and finishes that work well over time rather than the trendy new look. (Green shag carpet, anyone?)

Time to paint!?

  1. Try a sample before you commit.
  2. Buy only what you need! Try a paint calculator.
  3. Only need a little paint? Can you find a good color at the ReStore?
  4. Don’t toss old paint! Recycle it: donate usable paint, all else take it to Knott Landfill for proper disposal.

Get inspired by other people’s reuse ideas:

Check out the Porter bathroom from the 2020 Green Tour! In this segment, Michelle talks about redoing surfaces instead of trashing good materials in order to update a dated space. Watch the whole video here.

Do you have any fun reuse ideas?

10 Quick Rethink Tips for Every Day!

There is a lot you can do every day to reduce your waste and Rethink your relationship to your stuff. Here are a few for you to ponder:


1.) Say no thanks to single-use utensils and paper napkins with your take out!

If you order food for delivery, ask the restaurant to hold the disposable silverware and napkins and use your own at home. Since delivery is on the rise because of the COVID epidemic, that means more single-use disposables are ending up in the trash. Do your part by using reusables!

And if you order from an app, let them know!

2.) Sign up for Loop to reduce new container purchasing and reuse the existing ones.

Have you checked out TerraCycle’s Loop shop? You can buy your consumable products in a reusable container that you return for a refill. The products are currently available online, but Loop has partnered with some brick and mortar stores to offer a reusable experience without the shipping.

The pandemic seems to be helping Loop grow even faster since people aren’t shopping in stores as much. And more and more big-name brands are getting on board the Loop train. Have you tried Loop? What do you think?

3.) Love your clothes til the very end of their life.

Ok well, this one is Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle all in one. Did you know it takes 1,500 gallons of water to manufacture just one T-shirt and pair of jeans? So let’s keep those jeans that you loved SO much out of the landfill. How?

Here 3 ideas:

  • Buy clothes that are either second hand or well made so they last longer
  • Turn older pants into shorts!
  • Sew the cut legs into a reusable bag.
  • Too loved to wear? You can also recycle them into building insulation: Recycling with Zappos

Reduce – Wasted Food

4.) Refresh your floppy carrots, don’t toss them!

Have you ever experienced squishy, flaccid carrots from leaving them in the fridge for too long? Do this to your carrots to crisp them back up: simply place them in a glass of water!

You can get more food waste prevention tips here.

5.) Preserve your food.

Food In JarsFood preservation is amazing:

  • It prevents wasted food
  • It makes GREAT homemade gifts
  • It can be a creative outlet!

Check out this long and thorough list of how to preserve different all different kinds of food through canning, pickling, drying, and more! Thanks, Oregon State University Extension Service!!


6.) Make reusable “water balloons”!

During HOT summer months, how about a good old fashioned water balloon fight to keep cool and have some playtime? Watch these kiddos toss over and over and over because…here’s the kicker: Reuseable “Water Balloons”!

Why? Less waste, fewer bits of microplastics entering the environment in our parks, gardens, and waterways. Plus, a good activity to put them together with the kiddos?

Here’s what you need:

  • Sponges
  • Scissors
  • Something to tie them with (string, rubber bands, zip ties)

Here’s how to do it:

  • Cut sponges into strips
  • Stack them on top of each other
  • Tie together: tada!
  • Here‘s a how-to video if you need more

Another method on the interwebs if you have some yarn and crochet hooks. Google it, test it out, let me know how it goes!


7.) Recycle cardboard: break it down, put it in the bin, and keep it clean and dry.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is less recyclable corrugated cardboard sent to be recycled because the suppliers (mainly large commercial entities with big cardboard recycling collection programs) are not selling as many wares.
Meanwhile, the residential sector is ordering more for online delivery and receiving more packages that can be recycled.
Rachel Kenyon, senior vice president for the Fibre Box Association said, “When commercial collections stalled because of COVID-19 shutdowns, the corrugated industry recognized the need to encourage greater residential recycling,” she said, adding the industry “needs clean, dry corrugated to ensure we maintain our balanced system.”

8.) Plastic lids are not recyclable in Deschutes County.

Q – Why aren’t plastic lids recyclable?

A – Your curbside commingled recyclables are collected, baled, and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility — in Deschutes County’s case: to Portland. There, thousands of pounds of mixed materials are poured onto conveyor belts and physically sorted by hand and sometimes by robots. Because of the massive quantities of materials, it is difficult to efficiently and effectively sort small pieces. Also, the small lids can get caught in the gears of the conveyor belts.

Flat plastic lids like those from yogurt tubs can get caught between stacks of paper on those conveyor belts and cause contamination.
And as for why we don’t just keep the caps attached to the bottles so they don’t get lost in the conveyor belts? When the materials are baled before shipping, they are compressed to save space on the trucks. That compression will cause bottles with lids to explode which can be harmful to workers in the facility — little bottle cap rockets shooting who knows which way.

SO: please toss your plastic lids in the trash!

9.) Put your receipts in the trash.

Did you know most receipts are NOT recyclable? This is because most are printed using thermal paper that contains a toxic chemical called BPA (and sometimes, even if it’s BPA free, it could contain BPS). There is no good way to tell whether or not the paper is thermal or not, so it’s best to toss your receipts in the garbage. Also, it’s probably best if you don’t lick them.

Here are a couple other tips for Deschutes County recycling:

  • We do NOT recycle by number here. Just because it has a recycling symbol on it does not mean it is recyclable.
  • Clamshells, paper coffee cups, and plastic (both petroleum and compostable) cups are also not recyclable here.
  • Curious about what else is and isn’t recyclable? Learn more here.

10.) We do NOT “recycle by number” in Deschutes County.

The chasing arrows symbol does NOT inherently mean a container is recyclable.

Did you know we do NOT “recycle by number” in Deschutes County? The universal recycling symbol is deceiving because it does not mean something is recyclable. The numbers tell us what kind the chemical composition of the plastic. While they do recycle by number in some places, not in here!

What plastics are accepted curbside here? Bottles, tubs, and jugs — no lids. Not sure if your item can go in? Ask us! Or throw it out. It’s more important than ever not to contaminate the recycling.

Learn from the kids: reusables!

Reusables! They are the best. Sometimes they do require an upfront investment, but over time, as you use, the costs equalize. Yes, costs. You won’t have to buy single-use disposables over and over AND the tax on the earth also lessens.

Reusables are great for:

  • Camping – You can just set up a dishwashing station. More about camping here.
  • Parties – Holiday parties, kid’s birthday parties, bachelorette parties, weddings. Don’t have enough of your own for the number of guests? You can buy dishes from a second-hand store, ask a friend if they have a set, or encourage your guests to bring their own. More about holidays here.
  • To go containers – BYO to the restaurant and pile in your leftovers.
  • Kid camps – Check out these kids below who are showing how easy it can be to use reusables.

Use and wash and reuse and wash and reuse and wash…

Below some kids demonstrate a good way to wash dishes whether or not we’re in a pandemic!

Here are some kids bringing reusables to camp, but we can also bring our own to school, work, or on the go:

A note about reusables during COVID-19 pandemic

There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there about reuse during the time of COVID. But here is a fact supported by a quote from Dr. Ben Locwin, epidemiologist:

Reuseable materials do not inherently give you coronavirus.

“You can’t be innoculated by the coronavirus by just touching a surface that has it on it. It has to not only be on the surface AND viable AND in enough quantity, but then you ALSO have to bring the vector to your eyes, nose or moutn in order to introduce it.”

The likelihood of getting COVID through a reusable surface is technically equal to getting it through a single-use disposable surface and THAT likelihood is very low. We just need to make sure to wash our reusable before we reuse them and wash our hands before touching our faces.

Rethink Waste in and around your garden with Bend Urban Gardens

There is so much waste that can happen in backyard gardening: building materials, toxic chemicals from herbicides and pesticides, not to mention water, energy, and food waste potentials that can occur. I had a chance to sit down with a professional to learn about some best practices around waste reduction in the garden. From non-toxic alternatives to building and decorating with found materials, Ashley Joyce (in header photo) of Bend Urban Gardens tells us what’s up.

And some exciting news: it isn’t too late in the year to plant stuff! There are plenty of crops that go in for a fall harvest. Read on.

RW: Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What’s your company called and who do you serve? 

AJ: I am Ashley Joyce, the founder, lead gardener, and vegetable enthusiast of Bend Urban Gardens LLC. Our mission is to bring research-based information to local gardeners through personalized on-site coaching, offering guidance for success in growing nutritious and delicious food in the high desert. Growing vegetables in Central Oregon can be intimidating and overwhelming, but we make gardening in our climate accessible through inspiration, education, and ongoing support. We serve aspiring vegetable gardeners with little to no experience growing food as well as folks who are looking to expand or improve their existing edible landscapes.

RW: What is your history with Central Oregon? How long have you been involved in gardening here and how did you get started with gardening?

AJ: I moved to Bend when I was eleven years old, but it wasn’t until my AmeriCorps VISTA service, in my early twenties, that I developed an interest in where food comes from. During that time, I volunteered on an urban farm and cared for a small container garden on my rooftop. Even though I lost my first tomatoes to city squirrels, I persevered and spent a few growing seasons interning on diversified organic vegetable farms. It was at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz (CASFS), a training program for organic farmers and gardeners, where I led farm field trips for kids, that I realized applying my food production knowledge to educating others about growing and preparing food was my niche. In 2009, after completing the program and earning a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture, I moved home to Bend and spent nearly nine years teaching nutrition, cooking, and gardening, as an educator with the OSU Extension Service SNAP-ED Program in Deschutes County.

Once back in Bend, I started gardening on a very small scale, amending patches of soil in the backyards where I lived. I was a member of the Hollinshead Community Garden for a season before finally landing at my current home, where I’ve been since 2012. In 2015, my husband and I were honored to share our garden with the community on the High Desert Garden Tour presented by the OSU Extension Service and the Central Oregon Chapter of OSU Master Gardeners. We showcased the possibilities of using season extension to grow a CSA share in a back (and now front, too!) yard in Bend, despite our unpredictable, short growing season. 

RW: In regards to material waste, what are some ways you see excess pertaining to gardening, and what are some suggestions you have for creative reuse in the garden? 

AJ: There are so many creative ways to upcycle materials in a garden, whether it is for building garden beds or trellises, or for decoration, depending on the aesthetic you are going for in your outdoor living space.

Old lumber: Repurposing old lumber into raised beds for edible plants is a popular way to reuse materials. However, be sure the wood isn’t treated or painted with lead paint if you are using it to grow edible plants. 

Pallets: If you are going to plant directly into a pallet, look for pallets that are heat-treated instead of chemical treated, and make sure you are comfortable with where they came from. 

Old tires: Also a popular material for repurposing into garden spaces, especially since they can retain heat well and offer warmth to your plants when they are in direct sunlight, although there is some evidence that chemicals in tires can leach into edible crops over time, so we don’t recommend planting food crops in tires, but you could use them for a flower garden. 

Trellises: Branches, old bike wheels, and even headboards can make great trellises for viney climbing plants. If you are spending more time at home and engaging in home projects, think about the ways you can repurpose materials instead of sending them to the landfill. This season I took apart a portion of my chicken coop (to convert to more garden space, of course!) and reused the gate as a trellis for my peas! 

Check out what these two Bend Urban Gardens clients did with upcycled bits for their gardens:

One easy way to reduce waste is to get bulk soil for your raised beds instead of bagged soil.

In our household, we have accumulated a variety of bike parts over the years and have decorated our raised beds with chainrings and also used busted bike tubes as a durable protector to cover the area where our greenhouse plastic is attached to our hoop house hoops.

Cloches decorated with a bicycle chainring. Used bike tubes line the outside of the hoops for protection.

RW: What about on a smaller scale? Like just a pot of herbs?

AJ: Growing herbs in containers can be a great gateway into urban gardening. New pots can be expensive, especially large ones, but virtually any food-safe container that is at least 12 inches deep and 8 inches in diameter can make a good home for most plants. As long as there is some way for the container to allow for drainage, you can get creative. The Environmental Center has some innovative examples of rain gutter vertical gardens. Hanging shoe organizers that no longer have a clear purpose in your home after you’ve embraced a more minimalist lifestyle can be converted into gardens! Even old furniture, like dressers, can be turned into gardens. 

For seed starting on a home scale or growing microgreens, try reusing plastic clamshell containers with openings at the bottom, or even making drainage holes in tofu, yogurt, sour cream, and rotisserie chicken containers (also great for an easy greenhouse). 

RW: There are a lot of chemicals out there that people can purchase for use in their garden for both pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. What kind of non-toxic alternatives do you recommend? 

AJ: Building healthy garden soil is the best thing you can do to prevent the need for pesticides and supplementing with a lot of fertilizers. Of course, even in a vegetable garden with healthy soil, there are still creatures and plant diseases that can come along, and weeds can easily outcompete your plants if they aren’t managed. Our local garden centers have a variety of non-toxic products to choose from depending on your issue. 

Pesticides: For new gardeners (especially those spending a lot of time watching their plants during COVID times), it can sometimes be challenging to judge the severity of a pest issue. Simply being ok with sharing some of your plants can help you reduce the need for interventions in the first place. But, when pests are really making an impact on your ability to grow food, then some sort of intervention is usually needed. This spring, for example, cutworms devoured my spring greens. The bugs eat the bottom of the plant stems thereby killing the plant. I could’ve applied diatomaceous earth (a non-toxic pest control) once I realized that handpicking them out each day wasn’t reducing their population enough to save my plants, but I know that diatomaceous earth could’ve also done harm to beneficial insects. So, I pulled used toilet paper rolls out of my fire starting bin and made plant collars for the remaining bok choy and spinach plants as well as around my basil starts. I used coffee cup sleeves for my tomatoes. The collars protect the plants (and their stems) by being a physical barrier around the base!

Toilet paper roll and coffee sleeve collars to prevent insects from eating young greens!

I try to minimize the chance of having an infestation in the first place, by rotating my crops from season to season and attracting beneficial insects by planting flowers near my vegetable garden. Companion planting with fragrant herbs and flowers can deter some unwanted pests or become trap crops, sacrificial crops to help protect the plants you are growing for food. If those actions fail, I have had success with making a homemade insecticidal soap spray of 1 tablespoon dish soap and 1-quart water.

Herbicides: I don’t use herbicides. Solarizing and mulching are techniques I’ve practiced while apprenticing on farms to keep weeds down. Vinegar can be an effective weed killer, but I typically recommend simply using hand tools to remove weeds when they are small and easy to uproot. The hula hoe and hori hori are my favorites. 

Fertilizers: Nutrients aren’t typically as accessible to plants in a new garden (or in colder spring weather), mainly since microorganisms haven’t yet had the chance to turn the nutrients in your compost and the minerals in your soil into a form that your plants can use, so a balanced organic fertilizer can really help give your plants a boost at the beginning of the season in new garden beds and throughout the season for your heavy feeding plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

RW: Watering is also a big issue, especially in the heat of mid-summer in drought conditions. What are your tips for the best time to water your vegetable garden?

AJ: First, I would definitely suggest reaching out to a licensed irrigation professional to help you use water most efficiently in your landscape. Many new vegetable gardeners choose to hand water or they place their vegetable gardens near existing overhead irrigation and end up putting down way too much water at once. I recommend watering in the early morning and practicing a cycle and soak approach, watering for short intervals of time, more frequently. This helps to avoid run off and to ensure that water is getting down to the roots of your plants. Feel your soil regularly to check the soil moisture to determine if you need to adjust your watering schedule. Investing in a drip irrigation system for your veggie garden will not only save you time, but is very effective at applying water. I recommend 1/4” drip lines with emitters every 6”  with lines spaced 8” apart in a garden bed. This should allow for enough lateral movement of the water to reach all of your plants right at their roots. 

RW: What about some good plants for Central Oregon xeriscaping? What’s your take on lawns? Is there a responsible way to do it or should we just get rid of them?

Bend Urban Gardens specializes in edible gardening. In our demonstration garden, there are a variety of flowering landscape plants near our edible annuals and perennials to help attract pollinators. We have chosen some natives, like Oregon Sunshine and penstemons that have low water needs. Everyone has different preferences and goals for their personal landscapes. In mine, if I’m going to consume water, I want it to be helping to grow food or pollinator habitat. I know that my puppy would love to have a patch of grass to roll around on, but it motivates us to get some exercise and walk to the park for that!

RW: Would you mind highlighting one plant that does well in Central Oregon?

AJ: Just one!?! Cold tolerant greens tend to do great in Central Oregon, and growing your own salad mix can definitely help you avoid the packaging that greens tend to be sold in. Choosing more heat resistant varieties for summer and planting them to the north of tall crops or covering them with shade cloth can help you continue your harvest through the heat of summer. 

It’s not too late to plant some vegetables for the fall and even to overwinter! This month, try sowing short-season varieties of beets, carrots, and leafy greens, as well as transplanting broccoli and cabbage. Plant garlic in October. At the end of August and into September, you can plant successions of spinach. It won’t grow much over the winter, but it could hold if covered with row cover and greenhouse plastic, for some fabulous early spring greens. Brassica family plants do very well in Central Oregon because they are so cold tolerant and can offer a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, boy choy, radishes, and Hakurei salad turnips are some of my favorites.

RW: Anything else you would like to add about waste in the garden? 

AJ: First off, growing an edible garden, in general, is a great way to reduce food waste for families because kids are often more likely to eat veggies that they helped grow or harvest. 

Also, plant spacing is really important in the garden because plants that are spaced too close together often don’t thrive and this can impact the other plants growing around them, wasting water and energy to grow plants that aren’t able to reach maturity. Bend Urban Gardens offers personalized crop plans to help you maximize your space and increase your chance of getting a bountiful harvest from what you grow. We also offer garden lessons to help you learn when to harvest your food, so that you don’t end up wasting the food you are working so hard to grow!