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Weedless fall gardens? Newspapers have an app for that
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/25/2010 12:00 AM

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On my first day in journalism school the professor ordered all of us students to write papers on "The Purpose of a Newspaper." We rolled some cheap paper into the manual typewriters on our desk and banged out something about a newspaper being democracy's watchdog, pithy observations about the need to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, and a few words about truth, justice and the American way.

We all got Fs.

"The purpose of a newspaper," our professor told us, "is to make money. If it can't do that, it won't last long enough to do all that other stuff."

This newspaper, which has been around in some form or another since 1872, doesn't just acknowledge that bottom line, we stick it in our motto of "To fear God, tell the truth and make money."

But I would argue that newspapers save readers money by giving them (for only pennies a day) a wealth of information on hundreds of subjects from news about U.S. durable goods and health care laws to opinions about whether the Bears backup left tackle is ready or whether Sesame Street should allow Katy Perry to show that much cleavage. Then there are the money-saving coupons and the sales alerts from advertisers.

But wait, there's more.

I just read a gardening story by Anne Raver in the New York Times headlined "Fending Off the Weeds With Newsprint," which says that newspapers make a perfect mulch for people planting fall gardens. Even for those who wait until spring to plant, newspapers put down in the fall prepare the ground so you can be treated to a no-till, weedless garden ready for planting next April.

If you have plants you want to live through that first frost, you can buy contraptions to protect them, or you can just cover them with old newspapers. The newspapers insulate the plants the same way newspaper strips artfully tucked in windows and doors can protect you from drafts.

When I see stores selling rags and paper drop cloths, I am reminded about how I've used newspapers to be my economical floor protection for every leaking car and painting project. Last Sunday, I used the freshly read sports section as a coaster for my coffee as I watched the Bears game on TV.

I use newspapers as a pad for hot tongs or greasy spatulas when I grill. I use newspapers to wrap up fish, rib bones and lobster shells. I'm guessing my column mug has looked up at the backsides of pets from cockatoos to cockadoodles.

My old prom glasses and fraternity mugs are somewhere in the basement, still safely wrapped in newspapers containing stories about President Reagan, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the war in the Falkland Islands and the Chicago Bears hiring a coach named Mike Ditka.

This looks like another of those weekends when we'll use newspapers to dry out wet soccer shoes and sneakers. A wad of paper left in wet shoes overnight dries out shoes better, cheaper and much more naturally than spending 30 minutes trying to do the same job with an electric hair dryer.

If it's not raining tonight, I'll roll a newspaper into a funnel so I can pour fuel into our outdoor torches without spilling on the patio. That soggy paper will then help me start a blaze in the fire kettle so the kids can make s'mores.

It used to be cute (and cheap) when our kids would use the Sunday comics as wrapping paper. They also used rolled-up newspapers to make hats, sturdy light sabers and swords. Add a little flour and water, and kids can turn newspaper strips into papier-mache art projects, which you'll get a kick out of decades later when you find them in the attic in a box stuffed with the newspaper that helped the art keep its shape.

Granted, newspapers may give you only crossword puzzles and Sudoku while you can play Call of Duty or watch the new Harry Potter trailer on your tiny cell phone screen for which you pay more than $70 a month. However, you might wish it was a newspaper, and not your new iPhone, that you dropped on the tile floor or into that mud puddle.

If you think this column is a total waste, you should remember that, in addition to using newspapers as mulch, a good gardener might also want to add a little manure.