Monday, August 19, 2013

Is Your Garden Sustainable?


Gardening Ideas to Reduce Our Environmental Impact

November 15 is Recycle America Day in the US.  And I think this is a good time to look at our gardening habits and perhaps reduce our environmental impact - if even just a little bit.

Sustainability is one of those words that encompasses so many elements.  The concept is to reduce our use of natural resources of  water and fossil fuels. Conserving water goes in tandem to maintaining clean water.  Air pollution goes hand in hand with fuel emissions and manufacturing.

So I was trying to reduce this huge subject into a more meaningful conversation – What can I do, as a gardener to achieve more sustainable living practices?   Here are some of my ideas. 
Create and maintain a recycled garden.
Compost – Is the ultimate sustainable thing anyone can do. Recycle grass cutting, plant debris, food scraps,and paper. 
How does this reduce usage of natural resources? 1) No trash truck needs to use fuel to take your garbage to a landfill. 2) No plastic bags are needed to wrap up you garbage - Plastic that can stay in landfills for decades; and making plastic bags uses petroleum products, which are not renewable.
Plastic Bags of Refuse

  Recycle plastic pots
images (2)
Pots Pile Up in the Potting Shed
This is a tough one for me, as my trash recycler does not take the black pots. Not the right code number - too dirty – whatever. So I take the containers back to the garden center where I bought the plants.( HINT: buy quart size plants. They use less plastic, and the transportation for more small containers, than costs for transportation for the fewer, larger ones. )
The containers should be washed out of soil.  The shredder that reduces this plastic for reuse gets bogged down if mud binds up machinery. 
Since some trash haulers do not take nursery containers, businesses are stepping in to take this huge source of plastic out of the landfills.  Lowe’s is one such company.
Once the pots and trays are returned to the store, they are picked up by local vendors and sorted. The reusable material is sterilized and reintroduced to the production cycle. Serviceable trays are recovered and reused in the growing, shipping and sale of live plants. Material not deemed reusable is crushed, banded and sent for recycling.

Rain Barrels capture free water
Collected rain water can be used to water plants. Rain water runoff is reduced. Reducing runoff lessens erosion, and reduces chemicals that get into the sewers, streams, and rivers. A typical 1 inch rain fall on a standard roof  of 1000 s/f can collect 600 gallons of rain water.  I have a Fiskars rain barrel as one of two I have in my yard.
fiskars rain barrel
Rain Barrel by Fiskars
Use newspapers as mulch
Newspaper as Mulch
Recycle Newspaper
Recycle with thick layers of newspaper, or cardboard. This effectively blocks weed seeds from germinating by blocking out the light.  The paper will decompose and add nutrients to the soil.  Cover with a layer of compost or decorative mulch for a more finished look. 
Reduce Water Usage
Forego (some of) the lawn.  Just because everyone has one, is not a reason to have one.  Up to 50% of home water usage is used on the lawn.  Rain water is not well absorbed by turf – only about 10% -  and runoff is high.  This can pollute area watersheds especially if chemicals are used for fertilizer and pest controls.
Water Runoff

Use Native plants – once natives are established, they need little supplemental watering. I have discussed Native Plants in a previous article. (Read it here.)
Native Echineacea
Use Mulch on Beds – Mulch can reduce water usage by keeping the sun and wind from drying out the soil.  Plants are not stressed by extreme soil temperatures either, since the mulch keeps the soil in a more even range.  Mulch in the fall only after the soil is near frozen as the insulation of the mulch may allow the soil to remain too warm and keep plants from hardening off sufficiently which can cause tissue damage in freezing temperatures.
Add Mulch to control Weeds and Conserve Water
Obviously, there is much a gardener can do to be more environmentally friendly.  Recycling plastics, recycling newspapers, reclaiming water, and reducing water use, are all key elements to a sustainable environment.  Sustainable living is multi-faceted, and these gardening ideas as just a few. 

What sustainable practices do you feel are important?  Tell us about them.  I love to get comments.  Thanks.
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