ST. ANDREWS, NL – It’s another crisp and clear autumn afternoon in the Codroy Valley and, as usual – when she’s not cutting hair – Bernadine Ryan is puttering around in her garden.
Today she’s filling one compost bin with some freshly raked leaves and emptying another into a wheelbarrow.
“One is for flowers and one is for everything,” said Ryan, who tends the flower garden while her husband David grows about a quarter acre of various vegetables. She has a third on rotation as well, for use as needed.
“This one here I emptied this morning for my flower pots and my flower garden.”
After a decade and a half, Ryan has picked up a lot of tips and tricks about recycling and reducing her environmental footprint.
She only puts out one bag of garbage a month from her household, and one a year from her side businesses cutting hair. Ryan says she does a lot of reading and used to watch a gardening show to educate herself.
“I’ve been composting hair for 15 years,” says Ryan, who has been cutting it for at least 40. “Hair is really high in protein.”
For the Ryans, composting isn’t just about environmental impact, but a total necessity.
“I find even the leaves are more vibrant,” she says about the difference composting makes.
She also used a wood chipper to make her own mulch until David asked her not to use it anymore over worries she might injure herself.
“He said it was too dangerous.”
A tree that got blown over went into the chipper, except for the huge logs that wouldn’t fit. She burned those in the fire pit and then used the ashes to scatter around her gardens, particularly the hostas. Ashes, eggshells and salt are the best slug repellents, Ryan advises.
Most cardboard and paper go into the fire pit in the summer.
While she does the bulk of the composting work, Ryan sometimes finds herself running unexpectedly short. She once opened a ready compost bin and found it completely empty – David had used the entire lot in his vegetable garden.
“We grow turnip, carrots, potatoes, beets, peas, beans, Swiss chard, rape, and spinach. This year we had zucchini, cucumber and I grow my own tomatoes.”
She had a bumper crop of those.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with all my tomatoes.”
Ryan also does her own bottling and makes jams.
“If I buy a chicken every blue moon or a ham that’s about all I buy. We have our own meats. David raises his own pigs.”
They also use moose instead of hamburger – Ryan figures she hasn’t bought hamburger meat in close to four decades. The most she spends on groceries a month is about $100, and she buys as much as she can, like eggs, from other producers in the valley. She only wishes there were more producers with a bigger variety to buy from.
“Groceries aren’t cheap.”
She doesn’t just focus on organics either. There’s not much Ryan doesn’t try to reuse or recycle.
“You know the Styrofoam that comes in boxes? You can chop that up and use that in your flowerpots.”
She once bought a bunch of ceramic tiles and smashed them up to make a mosaic for her basement floor. It’s strikingly original and, like most of what Ryan does in her spare time, a lot of hard work. Currently she’s renovating her kitchen, painting cupboards and switching out all of the hardware.
Ryan doesn’t expect much to change in her household when the new waste management recycling system comes online next summer. She’s been well ahead of the curve for a while now.
“I compost, I recycle, and I reuse.”
She thinks people just need to be properly educated and that if bigger cities can adapt, so can Newfoundland. Bernadine says landfills are just rodent catchers, and that folks can easily do better.
“I go alongside the road and there’s people around here – there’s only one in the family – there’s more garbage in their curb for one week than what we put out for the summer.”