It will be a sad day for gardeners if newspapers disappear….

It will be a sad day for me professionally and horticulturally if newspapers disappear. Much as I’ve embraced the digital age of information, I’ll lament their demise — and the garden will miss their mulching and weed control benefits.

They are a cheap and effective blanket for maintaining moisture in your soil, insulating the growing medium keeping plants’ roots cool and damp and minimising pesky weeds. (I say minimising, because I have not had a tabloid or broadsheet yet stop a determined nutgrass sprouting through, no matter how many layers go down.)

Those of us still with a two paper-a-day habit want to move their quick-growing piles out of the house, but baulk at tipping them straight into the rubbish, when they have great recycling value. The tree to paper to compost/ soil to feed and grow another tree or plant  is a simple cycle, really.

Newspapers are most commonly used in compost,  mashed up or shredded, to provide the dry matter (carbon) combining with the green matter (plant material), manures and water that produce a good compost mix.

Layering them through garden beds also adds carbon to the soil.

You can also fashion newspapers into small containers for growing seeds. When the seedlings have come up and the whole box and dice is put into the ground, the paper eventually biodegrades.

Use them as a great tracing template if you want to grow a patch of greens in a specific pattern or plan.

Here’s how: Prepare a raised, bordered bed with soil and enriched compost. Rake over the top to smooth the surface and lay down newspaper about five or six layers thick, overlapping the sheets. Dampen it thoroughly with a hose or watering can.

Mark out your planned rows, using a squeeze bottle filled with liquid fertiliser such as seaweed or fish emulsion.

Slash along the lines or poke holes in the marked rows to push in the seedlings, tucking the newspaper edges under.

Recently I grew parsley, kale, mustard greens, lettuce, rocket, spinach, pak choi and shallots in this fashion.

Place a light layer of grass clippings on top and stretch netting over pvc hoops to keep the pests out. Nail this at intervals along the outsides of the beds.

Here’s the result.

I also line hanging baskets with newspaper and add water crystals to the potting mix, because they dry out more quickly than pots or plants in the ground.

But newspapers aren’t good news for every gardener. Some purely organic growers fear the effects of chemicals newsprint could leak into the soil. Newsprint paper comes from wood, that’s been pulped and bleached with chlorine to make it whiter.Newspaper ink was once all based on petro-chemical substances and over the last 35 years, printers have moved towards more vegetable-based inks, with soy being the most common ingredient. Soy-based inks are predominantly derived from genetically modified soy crops.

Petro-chemical inks are highly toxic to the environment, while vegetable based inks are less so and more biodegradable. Most newspapers use a combination of petro-chemical and vegetable inks. The proportion of use may depend on how environmentally friendly the paper owner chooses to be, as vegetable based inks are more expensive than petro-chemical inks.

The newspaper inks have pigments in them give print colour, the most common of which are based on petro-chemical substances. These pigments combine with the ink to produce the black and colour print.

There’s a saying in the newspaper industry that yesterday’s news is just fish and chips, ie the wrapping traditionally used for takeaway. Well, it’s also a great catch for gardeners.