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.


Jason said...

I do compost and most years I use very little supplemental water. This year's drought was an exception. A rain barrel or three is on my to do list. I have to make a habit of returning pots - sometimes I throw them away, sometimes I store them in the garage in the hope that I'll use them. When I give plants from my garden to neighbors I do use up some of the pots, but not enough.

Claudia Fugate said...

Jason - thanks for the comments. I have 2 rain barrels that were empty most of the summer. The containers got returned to the nursery - then one day I needed some, I went back to the garden center and 'raided' their bin. Sorta embarrassing.

Collapsible Bulk Containers said...

Rain water is very useful for soil, as it increases the water level. Still it can be used in various tasks. Like watering plants, store it for house hold use.

the blonde gardener said...

I love to reuse at my house. I have 4 rain barrels and even during our drought was able to water frequently. Love the fact the Lowes is taking back plastic pots. I'm thankful we have a very resourceful recycling center that allows people to bring items like pots and 6 packs for other people to take if they want. Since I start the majority of my plants from seed, I usually take them, wash and soak in bleach water and reuse. I have not had to buy pots in years! They also recycle shredded paper from local companies and I'm able to take bags of that for mulch. Once you get in that recycling mode, it's easy to find things to reuse.

PJ Girl said...

I tend to re-use the plastic pots for seedlings in the spring as far as possible as the nurseries around here won't accept them back! I'm hoping to grow more things myself from seeds in order to save money and getting more plastic pots!

Anonymous said...

I do most of what you covered. I myself write on sustainability quite a bit. Unfortunately, to be a sustainable individual, we have to have a sustainable home; then we need a sustainable city; that requires a sustainable nation; and that, a sustainable world. Would this not be the best if it were possible?

I have tried to approve you as a friend on Blooming Blogs and it keeps getting rejected. Do you have a clue why?

Claudia Fugate said...

Donna - I certainly agree that the sustainability needs to cover every aspect of our lives. The topic can indeed be expanded by us to remind folks of the bigger picture. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! Just found you on Blooming Blogs and really happy. I completely agree about recycling and my new favourite term from the states - upcycling! Sustainability is the way forward and something I strive for. I think it's great you're sharing tips and encouraging others. I will return to your awesome blog!!

Claudia Fugate said...

Digtheoutsider- Blooming blogs is new to me, but I am glad to meet you and others. Spread the word on sustainability, and recycling - every little bit helps. Thanks.

sensiblegardening said...

We practice all of the above. I know the pot thing can be a problem. Many nurseries are reluctant to accept pots back due to the great risk of bringing disease into their area. Working in the nursery trade I totally don't blame them. We need an off site recycling depot for pot plants.