Old newspapers can be put to useful work in the family garden

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Old Newspapers can help you grow good plants. They can be used as a much, soil conditioner, and insect trapper, for example, or to help fool Jack Frost, as a mat for watering houseplants, and for storage.

At a time when old newspapers bring a mere $10 a ton on the scrap heap, and the nation's landfills are bulging with waste paper and paper products anyway, why not put last week's newspapers to work in the garden -- after you've saved any gardening stories, of course.

Here's what you can do with them:

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Mulch. A mulch is any material that is applied to the surface of the soil to hold the earth's temperature more constant, conserve moisture, and cut down weed growth. Mulches are true energy savers because they lessen the need for cultivation and save the country's dwindling water supply.

Newspapers, as a mulch, can be applied either in the flat folded form or they can be shredded and applied as leaves, hay,or straw would be used.

If they are left flat, you will want to apply them at least 30 or 40 sheets thick, but more will not hurt.

Shredded, they can be a foot ro more thick.

Most gardeners like to wait until the seedlings are up and given their first cultivating and thinning before applying the mulch. Then the papers are put between the rows. After the plants are thinned to the proper distance, more papers can be laid crosswise between the plants.

Some people lay several thicknesses of newspapers down first before putting in transplans. Then they make holes for the plants.

Whether you use the papers flat or shredded, you should make sure first that the soil is loose and watered thoroughly. It's even a good idea to soak the first few layers of papers before applying the rest.

You don't have to limit the paper mulch to newspapers. Any paper trash -- egg cartons, cereal boxes, wrappings, cardboard, and the like -- can be used. Squash everything flat and put layers of papers over them if you do not have a shredder.

In the fall these materias can be worked into the soil where worms, bacteria, and fungi break them down into valuable humus and nutrients.

Waste paper for soil conditioners. All organic mulches, including newspapers and other paper products, increase the humus content of the soil enriching it with valuable nutrients as it decomposes and adding to its water-holding capacity.

Paradoxically, it increases the number of air spaces as well, giving plants the needed oxygen around the roots.

Those gardeners who despair because they have a soil that resembles cement when dry and yet acts like heavy clay when wet can benefit especially from the paper.

In early fall, after tilling the plot, lay a number of thicknesses of paper over the soil and then cover it with straw or leaves. The soil will soak up the fall and winter rains. As soon as it can be worked, plow in the mulch.

Another trick is to add shredded or handtorn papers to the family garbage every few days. When the garbage can is fulled, dump it on the garden and spade it in. You'll be surprised how quickly you can work it into the whole garden area, solving not only the garbage-disposal problem but benefiting the soil as well.

If you don't want to bother with the spading each time you carry out the garbage, then start a compost pile, incorporating the papers as you fill the garbage can or when you empty it on the pile.

Newspapers are a natural deodorizer. Many gardeners use a garbage can or two as composters, keeping them indoors in winter and outdoors in summer. A breezeway or garage, if above freezing, is ideal winter storage.

Holes should be punched in the bottom of the can, then set on two cement blocks and a pan put underneath to catch the drainage.

A layer of soil and some shredded papers should be put in the bottom. More papers and some leaves, or a sprinkling of soil, can be added every few days. A few red worms (relatives of the earthworm and offered commercially in many organic gardening publications), help break down the garbage more quickly. There is no door.

We usually have two garbage composters going all winter in our garage and we never smell them.

Storage. Besides helping you grow better crops, newspapers help with storage. Fallpicked green tomatoes are ripened better if wrapped separately with pieces of newspaper and stored (one layer deep) on trays or boxes -- or with papers between and over the top.

Tomatoes should be unblemished and clean. They can be washed carefully in a solution of household bleach, 1 tablespoon to 2 quarts of water, and dried thoroughly. Store in a cool, dry place. Apples store well with newspapers, also.

Insect trap. Roll up a few sheets of papers and leave them in places alongside your house. Earwigs love to crawl inside. Each morning carefully shake the papers into a pail of hot water and destroy.

Damp papers or carboards around the edge of the garden will attract sow bugs and slugs (night marauders). Each morning collect and destroy your paper traps with the insect pests. Paper mulches occasionally attract slugs. Inspect beneath the layers from time to time.

Mats for watering houseplants. Place several layers of newspapers in trays and add enough water to soak the papers. Keep them moist at all times and they will automatically water the plants you set on them, even if you leave the house for a few days.

After several months, if algae from the water turns the paper gree. roll it up and replace it with new thicknesses.

Be careful not to use them in any container you do not want stained. Newsprint will make an almost indelible imprint or china, enamel, formica, and some other other surface.

Fool Jack Frost. Do not forget that news-papers are good insulators. Use them to cover plants in greenhouses or near windows on cold winter nights. Three or four thicknesses fashioned into cone-shaped covers can save plants in the spring and early fall.

People often ask if printer's link can harm plants. The answere is not. The black ink is harmeless.

There is a warming, however, avoid using the coloredm pages for either mulches or newspaper logs because they contain heavy metals, such as cadmium, zinc, and lead.

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