New to gardening? Want to make yours more sustainable? Whatever the case, here are four tips I advise for creating a sustainable garden you can be proud of.
Grow Organic Food
It seems like a no-brainer, but growing organic food is definitely the first step in creating a more sustainable garden. When you grow organic food, using organic means you’re not exposing your food to any harsh chemicals. This does wonders for the earth, along with your own health. Also, growing your own food in general helps to reduce the distance your food travels before it hits your plate. When we buy food at the supermarket, or even at the farmers market, it has to sit in transit to get to us, which produces emissions. The more locally grown, the better, and you can’t get more locally grown than your own backyard.
There’s also the fact that eating organic food is better for you, too. According to some research, organic foods may have a higher nutritional value than conventional food. The reason for this is because in the absence of pesticides and fertilizers, plants boost their phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) that strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds. Pesticides in our food have been linked to everything from cancer to headaches, so it’s definitely best to just avoid food grown using these means when possible. Growing your own food gives you full control over how you manage your crops. There’s no mystery as to how they’re grown, no questioning if they’re secretly sprayed with pesticides or artificial fertilizers, because it’s your backyard.
As far as the environment is concerned, organic gardening also protects wildlife which depend on plant life to live. Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are especially important in this role as they keep our plants flourishing. Without them, most of the foods we love today wouldn’t be around. When we garden organically, the bees and butterflies won’t be poisoned by harsh chemicals. Instead, they’ll help pollinate your garden and make it even more beautiful over time. When you avoid using any chemicals in your garden, it also helps make your soil healthier and keeps water clean because there won’t be any chemical runoff flowing into nearby lakes, oceans, or streams.
Plant Native Plants
We really should have more native plants in our gardens. Too many people plant invasive or foreign plants in their backyards nowadays. Not many of us take into consideration if a plant is actually native to that area, or if it originated somewhere else. But we really should! Native plants are so important to our local ecosystems and creating sustainable habitats for wildlife. Unfortunately, native plants have been on the decline for a while now, thanks to urbanization. What we do plant in these urban areas is usually imported from other parts of the world. That’s a problem for our local insect population, as they aren’t adapted to eat non-native plant species. For example, monarch butterflies absolutely need to feed on milkweed as caterpillars, and milkweed alone. Without milkweed, there’s no way for this beautiful butterfly to exist. If that’s the case, then this will eventually trickle down and hurt other animals in the food chain that depend on the monarch butterfly’s survival. For this reason, we should all be planting more native species, like milkweed, and less foreign species. I suggest looking up which plants are native to your area and finding out where you can purchase or obtain seeds. Local outdoor Facebook groups are a good place to start—see if anyone growing native plants would be willing to swap with you.
Minimize Use Of Powered Tools
While mowers, blowers and brush-cutters can make life easier, think about their environmental impact. Conventionally, you need to use gas to power them, which creates emissions. Your best bet is to go electric and use energy efficient power tools. However, even better than that is to mow even less. Try keeping your grass 4 to 5 centimeters—it’s better to have a slightly overgrown lawn anyway, because this lets beneficial weeds grow, like clovers and dandelions, which can help feed and sustain beneficial insects such as ladybugs, butterflies, and bees. You might want to rethink having a traditional lawn entirely, honestly. Most lawns are made from imported grass and are a “status symbol” that require lots of upkeep simply because they’re not supposed to even be here to begin with. You’re better off replacing your lawn with a pretty wildflower patch that the pollinators will love, or using it to garden. After all, who says you can’t garden in your front yard as well as your backyard? Regardless of what you choose to do, keep power tools down to an absolute minimum.
Start A Compost Heap
I can’t say this enough: Compost is amazing. If there’s one thing you decide to do on this list, and one thing only, let it be starting a compost heap. You’ll save so many food scraps from ending up in a landfill by doing this. When food scraps go to a landfill, they produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. They cannot properly break down in a landfill because there’s no aeration. However, starting a compost heap certainly helps them avoid this fate. You’ll be giving your food scraps a second life and turning them into nutrient-rich compost. Compost is fantastic because it acts as its own fertilizer, giving your plants a much-needed boost. It will also enrich your soil, encouraging beneficial fungi and bacteria to grow.
To start a compost heap, you just need some sort of bin or container. You can make one from scratch if you’d like—you can use a plastic bin or make a bin from old wooden pallets. If using wooden pallets, you’ll need 4 pallets, ideally of matching size. To join the pallets together, you’ll need four corner brackets, a box of screws, a drill, a screwdriver, and a saw. The front pallet should be cut in half and attached to create two hinged doors. Attach them to the walls by using four steady hinges and use two pairs of hook and eye latches to keep them shut. First, you’ll need to assemble your compost bin walls. Begin by joining the pallets together to create the back and sides. Stand them up, lean them against each other, then screw them together to hold them in place. Then, simply screw two brackets to each corner—one at the top and one at the bottom. Use as many screws as necessary to secure it. Now, make your door by sawing a pallet in half, making sure to cut across as evenly as possible. Then, attach the doors to your walls, using two hinges per door, attaching the hinges on the outside so the door can swing open more easily. Leave a slight gap between the bottom and top doors to stop it from catching. Screw the latches into place, towards the top of each door. That’s it! If you want to make your compost bin extra sturdy, you can always screw in additional plate brackets at the corners. If you’d like, you can also add an outside wrap of chicken wire or netting to stop any stray content from escaping a bit. Just attach the wire or netting with u-shape nails or a staple gun.
When it comes to actually using your compost bin, you’ll need a good balance of green and brown material to balance out your heap. Here’s how to get quality compost you’ll be able to use in your garden in no time.