Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans2
Going Green with Gardening
An organic garden can supply you year after year with fresh and healthy organic food for a fraction of the price you would pay in a grocery store. While establishing an organic garden does take time and patience, there are ways to plan your green garden so that it practically takes care of itself. Let’s dig around and unearth the very best ways for going green with gardening.
As a whole, American homeowners use millions of pounds of fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns and gardens every year. The use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers is responsible for an alarming toxic buildup of chemicals in our soil and drinking water. Inorganic fertilizers often contain heavy metals and other dangerous ingredients disguised under the term "inert" on product labels. These ‘inert’ ingredients in our garden products are subject to little regulation and yet they abound in our most personal spaces, affecting our health and that of the planet.
A healthy and prolific organic garden takes time and effort to establish, but it teaches the green gardener valuable lessons about patience and provides a new appreciation for the subtle relationships that exist in nature.
Non-organic methods also often produce an effect opposite of the one intended—would-be pest control methods contribute to an increased incidence of pest problems that lead to an endless cycle of even heavier applications of toxic chemicals. Chemical salts and fertilizers cause an initial burst of lush and succulent growth, which is a veritable magnet for pests. Meanwhile the same chemicals are wrecking havoc on the soil below, weakening its natural defenses against pests and disease by discouraging earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms from inhabiting the area.
Successful organic gardening begins with healthy soil. By working to create a balanced soil, you naturally reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers. In healthy soil, nutrients, trace minerals, and helpful fungi are stored in the many organisms living under the ground that can be accessed by your plants as they need them. Compost is a superior alternative to chemical fertilizers because it improves soil structure and texture, allowing the soil to hold more water. Composting also promotes soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development. You can find compost from a local organic supplier or your local recycling center, or you can easily set up a compost bin for a composting operation of your own. Recycling your own garden and kitchen waste can provide you with a rich amendment for your soil at no cost whatsoever, while drastically reducing your contribution to the garbage that goes into the county landfill. The average person throws out 1,500 pounds of trash per year, says Mark Harris, author of Embracing the Earth. This excessive number is reduced to 375 pounds of trash annually when you compost!
Another organic gardening trick for preserving healthy soil is keeping it covered at all times. Sun and water wash away and destroy vital nutrients, harming the soil’s structure. Drastic fluctuations in soil moistness can also slow plants’ growth. Just consider what adding a 3-inch layer of mulch—weathered straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, bark chips—can do. Mulching:
- Helps keep the soil moist
- Conserves water
- Discourages weeds
- Prevents nutrients from being washed away
- Adds humus and nutrients to the soil as the mulch material decays
Avoid using peat in green gardens as peat bogs are an essential part of the ecosystem–taking peat from them destroys valuable wildlife habitats. So many great alternatives to peat are now available that there is no reason to diminish the dwindling peat bog supply and threaten the survival of wildlife species.
Plant foliage also acts as a living mulch by keeping the soil cool and providing shade for underlying plants. You can employ companion planting in your organic garden with plants that have different sun and shade requirements–you’ll be planting shade-loving plants beneath taller shade-providing ones. Gardens planted in this intensive manner conserve soil area and resources and allow green gardeners to take advantage of the chemical and symbiotic interactions between plants. Every plant releases different chemical agents through its leaves and roots that in turn affect plants growing in close proximity. Plants that promote each other’s growth may be planted together to boost the health and productivity of the garden as a whole.
Successful Methods for Organic Gardening
Intensive intercropping, by which one crop is grown between rows of another, has multiple benefits. It maximizes your garden size while minimizing your water and nutrient requirements, allowing you to grow the healthiest plants. Your garden’s immunity to insects if further increased when you plant herbs and flowers—including basicl, chives, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and mint—known to help keep pests away. Using disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants, in addition to plants that attract natural predators such as ladybirds, and rotating the crops in your garden also help to deter pests from returning while adding varied nutrients to the soil.
Successive planting allows you a continuous supply of produce throughout the growing season. By timing your crops to provide a constant harvest you keep your organic garden busy and active all season and you save money all year. Planting pollinator-friendly plants such as wild lilac, goldenrod, and lemon balm attracts butterflies, bees, and moths to your garden. Pollinators affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production and are directly linked to the pollination of 87 of the leading food crops. By growing a variety of native flowers that pollinators are drawn to, you positively contribute to the output of food crops worldwide. Planting local species is also important for ensuring the vitality of your garden. Choosing well-adapted plants for your soil, weather, and sun or shade exposure increases plants’ ability to deter pests and requires less effort from you to grow and maintain.
De-Lawning and Water Conservation
Approximately 40 million U.S. acres are covered in lawns. An estimated 238 gallons of fresh water are needed per lawn, per day, to keep them green, making lawns the largest irrigated crop in the nation. To conserve water and decrease your monthly lawn-related expenditures, consider de-lawning a portion or all of your lawn space by replacing your turf grass with an organic garden. This will also give you a lot more to show for your efforts!
Other excellent methods of conserving water include rainwater harvesting—by which runoff rainwater collects in rain barrels or a rain chain throughout the year—and recycling household bathwater to water your eco garden. Copper rain chains that guide runoff rainwater to a large basin or underground holding tank provide a decorative accent and soothing sound quality to the exterior of your home. By collecting these forms of "grey water," you’ll reduce water costs as well as stormwater runoff, which helps to prevent erosion and flooding. Be sure to properly install and implement a grey water system that conforms to and meets all local regulatory guidelines in your area. Also remember that watering your garden deeply encourages deep rooting, and that watering in the evening or early morning cuts down on evaporation, leaving more water for the roots that need it.
A healthy and prolific organic garden takes time and effort to establish, but it teaches the green gardener valuable lessons about patience and provides a new appreciation for the subtle relationships that exist in nature. Going green with your gardening is physically and mentally rewarding, and it also provides you with an endless supply of the freshest produce and most delicious organic food at the lowest possible cost.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid