Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sustainable Gardening

I wanted to dedicate one post to sustainability in gardening.

What is sustainability? Sustainability is based on the simple principle that everything we need for our survival and well-being depends on our natural environment.

What is sustainable gardening? Sustainable gardening means making a thriving garden by using naturally occurring elements that are good for the garden and for the environment.

For me, it means using natural fertilizers, such as compost. It also means that when I start my seeds indoors I try to use as many naturally occurring sources of heat and light as possible. It's not always possible, but I alternate my seedlings between a grow light and the back of my car, which serves as a greenhouse, depending on the weather. Once it's warm enough, I open my windows and the plants naturally harden off.

Sustainable gardening also includes companion planting. For example planting basil at the base of tomato plants helps to deter insects. Or planting garlic or leeks near carrots to deter pests.

Another idea is to rotate your crops. If you plant tomatoes in the same spot every year your soil will always be deprived of nitrogen because tomatoes take all of their nitrogen needs from the soil. You could rotate your tomato plantings with bean plants which are thought to add nitrogen to the soil. Or plant them interspersed. Obviously not every gardener has the luxury of multiple garden beds, but sustainability is about creativity sometimes.

It may also be possible (or not) to introduce beneficial insects to your garden. I have not tried this yet, but I hear that worms an toads are very beneficial, as well as lady bugs and obviously bees. Planting any type of plant that may attract lady bugs or bees is a simple start.

Some gardened gather rain water to water their garden. For a relatively small investment you can set up a rain barrel to collect rain water and water your plants from collected rain. For a larger investment, you can set up your houses water system to collect what is called "grey water." Grey water is water such as shower or sink run off (not dirty water like from the toilet) and you can water your garden with this. It is much more expensive and requires a commitment to using non chemical products. It's an interesting idea!

Another simple idea is to maintain perennial herbs or vegetables. Check your USDA gardening zone first to see what is considered a perennial in your annual, but there are many for even colder climates.

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