For the most part, we are all familiar with organic gardening, but what about sustainable gardening? Sustainable gardening is nothing but an extension of organic gardening. Actually, it’s better, sustainable gardening focuses on using natural resources to nourish the garden rather than filling it with chemicals and pesticides. Sustainable gardening also takes advantage of natural vegetation and planting methods in order to maintain the local ecosystem and create a more resilient garden.
Gardening with sustainability in mind is like going back to your roots. Our ancestors didn’t use any pesticides or herbicides, nor did they fill their plants and soil with chemical fertilizers.
They worked with their local ecosystem and took advantage of what was already there, and you can too. The goal of sustainable gardening is to create a balanced ecosystem in a controlled environment. All you have to do is keep it simple and keep it natural.
Why Have a Sustainable Garden?
Your health is important, and a sustainable garden allows you to take ownership of your health. Growing food in your own yard reduces the kind, and amount, of chemicals you put in your mouth. Growing our own food is not only healthy, but it’s also fun, and the food is tastier and fresher, and it brings us closer to nature!
Most of the vegetables and fruits we get from the stores are filled and coated with pesticides and preservatives. A familiar example would be an apple, they are wax coated to give that extra shine to make them seem fresh. Apples naturally have a wax coating given by Mother Nature to lock the moisture in, which is easily digestible and better for our body. But the store-bought, non-organic apples, are costed with additional wax to extend the shelf life and make them look fresh. This type of wax may not be easily absorbed by our stomach and can be harmful in the long run.
Even organic apples are coated with wax. The USDA only allows certified organic apples to be waxed with carnauba wax or wood rosin which is a natural form of wax that is generally safe for human ingestion. However, there can still be side effects associated with them.
A sustainable garden can also reduce your “carbon footprint”. Let’s go back to the apples. If we plant an apple tree in our backyard we are saving a trip to the store which saves us fuel and reduces our emissions. Not to mention, the reduction of packaging, storage facilities, and transportation needed to provide apples for you to buy from the store. It might seem like “little things” but at the end of the day, it all adds up.
A sustainable garden doesn’t have to be an organic vegetable garden, it can be an ornamental garden too. A sustainable ornamental garden protects biodiversity and can provide a beautiful haven for bees and butterflies. Aside from attracting fauna, gardens also help improve the quality of our air, and can even help regulate the temperature of our home.
A sustainable garden also teaches our children to appreciate nature more and learn how our eco-system works. They will learn how important it is to live in harmony with our environment and carry this knowledge into the future, help to create a better world.
How to Create Your Sustainable Garden
Let’s discuss some of the factors you should consider when designing your sustainable garden.
- Sunlight - One of the main factors is sunlight. Plan your garden according to the amount of sunlight your garden gets throughout the day. If you get too much sunlight, consider plants that love sunlight and require less water. Similarly, you can add plants that need more water in a shady or moist area in your garden.
- Native Plants - Plant native plants for a low maintenance garden. Check your local nursery for more information on your zone and recommended plants. Native plants are the plants that will thrive in your weather conditions and soil. So you won’t have to put too much effort and other resources in order for them to thrive.
- Design - When designing your garden, add plants in different layers. For example, plant taller plants in the back, medium-sized plants in between, and shorter ones in the front so they can enjoy equal amounts of sunlight. If your plants struggle to get sunlight, adding a raised garden bed will give your plants more sunlight as well as a good drainage system.
If you are considering container gardening, try re-using household items like old dishes, mugs, containers, etc. This will save you some money and reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. Plus, you will end up with unique and fun pots.
- Collect Seeds - Collecting seeds for the next growing season will help you save money. So next time when you munch on your favorite fruits, save those seeds. I grew my watermelon plants from the seeds I had collected from my store-bought watermelon. Challenge yourself not to go to the garden store to buy seeds.
- Conserve Water - Water conservation and garden designing go hand in hand. It’s better to start with a design when you are planning on water conservation methods.
Rainwater can be collected from roofs, and by other means, and reused for non-potable needs, such as irrigation purposes. Unfortunately, due to water rights issues, rainwater harvesting may not be legal in your area. So be sure to check with your local government before installing a rainwater harvesting system. If you want to learn more about water conservation please check out our blog post "How to Save Water in Your Home."
You can conserve water by designing your garden wisely. Plants that need more water can be planted in moist and shady areas under trees. Drought resistant plants require less water to thrive, so adding them to your garden means you don’t have to worry about watering them often.
Drip irrigation is a good way to water your plants, it prevents overwatering and saves you some money. Since water drips slowly to the roots it prevents nutrients from washing out. You can install a drip irrigation system either above the soil surface or buried below the surface. Installing it closer to the roots will minimize evaporation.
When looking into options for your lawn, choosing “no-mow grass” for your lawn will save you money, fuel, water, and effort. Reducing the size of the lawn will help you save water and effort, as well. Instead of grass, use stones, or other natural materials for your yard.
If you have space, consider having a greenhouse. With a greenhouse, you can create a perfect ecosystem for your plants. Your greenhouse can save your plants from extreme weather, in addition to saving water by reducing evapotranspiration.
- Start Composting - Nothing is better than feeding your garden with nutrient-filled, chemical-free, natural fertilizer. Composting can be done by using things from your garden like your grass clippings, leaves from your yard, flowers that lost their glory, etc. You can also use all the food waste and scraps from your kitchen, preventing unnecessary wastage of resources. Composting is good for keeping your soil rich in nutrients so your “fruits” of labor tastes better than the store-bought ones. You can add more value to your composting bin by using worms to make the pile even more fertile. Most nursery stores sell wiggler worms, their castings are very rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium.
- Eliminate Herbicides From Your Garden - Using pesticides is not only harmful to the ecosystem but also for human beings and pets. We treat our lawn with weed killers and our plants with pesticides because it’s easy. But when you look at the big picture, it’s definitely doing harm to the ecosystem. Our children and pets play in our yards. Why would we fill their haven with harmful chemicals?
You can also use beneficial insects to get rid of pests. This is Nature’s way of balancing and maintaining the ecosystem. If you have aphids, mealybugs, and mites in your garden, try using neem oil instead of pesticides.
Inorganic fertilizers actually do more harm than good. They can contaminate our groundwater and other water sources, give us cancer, and kill off species beneficially to our ecosystem. If you have livestock, use manure as a fertilizer. If you don’t have livestock, check with local farms for deals.
- Use Mulch - Mulching is a very important part of a sustainable garden. When you use natural mulching materials, it adds nutrients to the soil as they decay. Mulching helps to prevent soil erosion, slows down evaporation, helps prevent weeds, and increases the water holding capacity of the soil.
If you see earthworms in your garden that’s a good sign, they thrive in organic soil. Mulching invites earthworms to your garden, they build tunnels that help water and air to reach the soil.
Always use biodegradable material for mulching. There are so many organic mulch options you can consider for your yard. For example, you can use lawn clippings, dry leaves from trees, wood chips, pine straw, pine cones, hay, and even compost.
When you put mulch around your plants and trees, keep it at least a couple inches away from stems and trunks. This will prevent pests infestation and allow water and airflow to continue to reach your plants and trees.
- Plant Trees - Last but not least, plant some trees. Planting trees in your sustainable garden is like an investment and a contribution to future generations. Trees help to clean our air, provide us with energy saving shade, and provide food.
An acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people a year.
If your goal is to have a sustainable garden with multiple types of food sources, consider fruit trees.
Planting shade-loving plants under a tree is a great way to save space in your sustainable garden. You can even grow vegetables like potatoes under a tree, you don’t even have to dig! Just plant them under the mulch and they will be happy.
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