Become a Garden Recycler by William McCaleb

Become a Garden Recycler

By William McCaleb, Master Gardener Coordinator


Here are some creative things that will help build soil structure and health, and it will even repel some pathogens.  To improve garden soils, instead of just buying additives for the soil, why not use discarded wastes and materials from the kitchen and landscape, reducing both cost and waste that would normally go to the landfill.

Recycle and save a couple of bucks.  Compost is the primary example of this recycling.  Some kitchen waste also can have more specialized uses in the garden.  And, some don't even have to be composted to utilize their thrown away nutrients.  Here are five household and landscape wastes to recycle in the garden and how to use them:

     Eggshells can be used as a slug barrier or a soil amendment.  Coarsely crushed eggshells sprinkled in a ring around plants can keep slugs away.  The soft-bodied slugs don't like to drag themselves across the sharp-edged eggshells.  Finely ground or decomposed eggshells also will add calcium to soil.  While calcium gets less attention than the Big 3 of garden fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), it's vital to the health of plants, helping plants wtih water uptake and cell development.

     Calcium is apt to be deficient or unavailable in dry, acidic (native soil) or high potassium soils.  Calcium-deficient tomatoes and peppers are susceptible to blossom end rot.  Calcium-deficient potatoes are small and susceptible to brown rotten spots.  And, don't forget the health of broccoli as calcium-deficiency may cause the lack of head production.

     To give a quick calcium boost, grind eggshells finely by pounding them with a mortar and pestle or drying them well, putting them in a plastic bag and pulverizing them with a hammer or rolling pin.  Hand-crushed eggshells added to the soil, or large pieces of eggshell added to the compost, will boost calcium in the long term when they break down.  It is a long-term process as the egg shells do take a while to break down.

     It takes a lot of eggshell to make a difference.  Putting pulverized eggshells in the bottom of each planting hole before setting out tomatoes is a good practice.  Many know the effects of blossom end rot.  Eggshells also have a mild liming effect, raising soil pH and reducing acidity.  Once again, eggshells must be finely crushed to see quick results.

     Save those discarded coffee grounds as they are a good source of nitrogen.  Some serious composters collect grounds from coffee shops to use in their compost piles in place of manure.  The pH of most coffee grounds is usually near neutral (7.0).  Mix them well with high-carbon materials like leaves or straw, so they'll break down well.  Composted coffee grounds improve soil structure and attract earthworms.  Fresh coffee grounds, like fresh manure, can "burn" plants on contact, so be careful.  All garden plants need some nitrogen.  Nitrogen-loving plants that especially will benefit from the addition of composted coffee grounds include lettuce, spnach and cold crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale or brussel sprouts, just to name a few.

     There are more foods from the kitchen pantry and table that can be recycled and used such as table scraps (no meats) that do not contain large amounts of salt.  Salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, etc. make good compost.  Don't forget to toss tea bags in as well.

     With all of this cold frigid winter air, those wood stoves or a wood burning fireplace will have ashes to get rid of.  Wood ashes are used both to provide nutrients to the soil and to raise pH and reduce acidity.  Ashes are a good source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus.  Ashes can be added to compost piles or mixed directly into soil.  Do not use wood ash as a fertilizer if soil is already slightly alkaline.  Not many in Halifax County face that problem, but there are a few.  Also, make sure that the ashes are cold with no cinders active before applying.

     Moving outdoors to what is available, pine needles (pine tags) offer a treasure trove of good organic matter to help soil structure.  Pine needles can be used to lower soil Ph, making it more acidic.  They can be used as mulch around acid-loving crops like blueberries and strawberries, or added to compost in areas with overly alkaline soil.  When adding pine needles to the compst, increasing their surface area (mowing over them) will greatly speed up the time needed for them to breakdown.

     Once spring emerges and it is not that far away, grass clippings will be available to use as an additive to a compost pile where they will breakdown rather quickly if kept moist.  Lawn clippings are nitrogen-rich, therefore they decompose quickly.  Just don't apply them in layers more than one-inch thick, or they may start to break down anaerobically and stink.

     To correct that, use a pitchfork to turn the compost and let the pile breathe with the additional air pockets added by turning the pile.  Do not use clippings in compost if herbicides have been applied to lawns.

     By chewing up leaves and adding them to compost, along with the grass clippings, it makes for a working warm compost pile that will be well degraded and ready for use in the vegetable garden in the spring.

     To learn more about what can be recycled from home or landscape to enhance and improve soild using these natural methods, contact a local Halifax Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 434-476-2147 and ask for a Master Gardener or the coordinator or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Master Gardeners Annual Plant Sale May 7th


Get Ready for the Master Gardener Plant Sale

            The annual Southside Master Gardener Association Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, May 7th from 7:30 until noon in the parking lot outside the Halifax County Extension Office, 171 S. Main Street, Halifax. All types of plants will be available including annuals, herbs, perennials, vegetables, shrubs and trees. The sale will offer some special features such as draped hypertufa containers, rain barrels and a bake sale.

            New this year will be a special Mother”s Day table. Since Mother’s Day is the day after the sale there will be potted containers suitable for a Mother’s Day gift. Garden art will also be available -- including the famous “wine chimes” as well as fairy gardens. Visit this table to select that special gift for Mother.

            “Hypertufa” is the name of a process of making garden containers, ornaments, sculptures or stepping stones using Portland cement, perlite and peat. This year the Master Gardeners will offer containers made in a new process called “draped hypertufa”. Come check out the new look of these containers. A regular hypertufa class will be offered at the Halifax Farmers Market on July 9th.

            Herbal vinegars are a tasty way to get calcium into the body. Herbal vinegars are loaded with good stuff like protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, Vitamins A, C, and D and some of the B vitamins. Vinegar promotes growth of beneficial bacteria and keeps disease-producing germs in check. Herbal vinegars support the immune system, help digest food and maintain a healthy pH in the intestines. TThe herbal display will demonstrate how to make herbal vinegars and will have bottled herbal vinegar for sale.

            Rain barrels collect rainwater runoff from a roof. One inch of rainfall from a 20’ x 40’ roof can yield 500 gallons of water. Although rain barrels generally only hold 50 gallons, one small rain can fill a barrel, giving you enough water to take care of your containers or a small vegetable garden for several weeks. Hand painted rain barrels will be offered for sale. With only five of these to sell, get there early if you want to purchase one.

            Master Gardeners are known for their good food. The bake sale will offer home baked cookies and cakes. Ham biscuits can ease your hunger while you are looking for the perfect plants to take home.

            Garden tools are an extension of the home gardener’s arm.  Good tools are an investment, one that needs to be protected especially when money is tight.  We all know that sharp tools, especially pruners, are easier to use, but did you know sharp tools are better for the plant?  Dull pruner blades can tear bark or mash a stem, leaving a wound that is open and susceptible to diseases or insects.  The plant has defenses to heal from a sharp clean cut at the proper place. Bring your small gardening tools for a free cleaning and sharpening.

            Of course there will be lots of plants at rock bottom prices. Featured this year are hellebores, lily tubers, water lilies and lotus. Organic vegetables will also be offered. You will find a good selection of perennials, herbs, annuals, shrubs and trees.

            Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions throughout the sale. If you want more information or are interested in the Master Gardener program visit, contact Bill McCaleb at the Halifax Extension Office at 434-476-2147, option 0 or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Caption for picture: “Draped hypertufa” is a new offering at the Saturday May 7 Plant Sale from 7:30 a.m. to noon on the lawn in front of the Halifax Extension Office. Join the fun to get new plants and a gift for Mother.

Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Training

VDOT Traffic Alert - 651 Road Closing During Railroad Track Repairs

Spring Clean-Up Scheduled for May 20th & May 21st

The Town of Halifax Solid Waste Department will conduct its annual free spring clean-up for town residents and businesses by appointment only on Friday, May 20th and Saturday, May 21st. This service will be subject to the following conditions:

  1. Residents and businesses are required to call the Halifax Town Hall (434-476-2343) for notification to remove discarded household/business items and yard debris too large for regular trash pick-up and must give their name, telephone number and physical address (notification for sign-up must be made prior to 12:00 noon on Wednesday, May 18th).
  2. Only household/business items that can be lifted by two grown men will be accepted, and no caustic solvents, toxic or hazardous materials or petroleum based liquids will be permitted.
  3. Tree limbs and brush must be cut in lengths no greater than 4 feet and neatly piled by participant along with qualifying household/business items near the curbside of the property or customary pick up site to be easily visible and accessible from the road by Town Solid Waste personnel.
  4. Town employees will not be responsible for cutting or removing tree trunks or tree limbs with a diameter of 4 inches or greater.
  5. The Solid Waste Supervisor will not be required to remove the qualifying material mentioned above if resident or business owner has failed to notify the Halifax Town Hall to schedule a pick-up.