Maren gardens in PA, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry. She works for eco & climate health.
A Garden Can Accomplish So Much
Growing food for yourself through the Climate Victory Garden method helps the soil, water quality, and atmosphere. It is a practical way you can contribute to reversing or slowing accumulated bad changes in the climate.
There are actually garden methods which:
- mitigate global warming,
- promote water cleaning, and
- reduce waste.
It is so easy it makes me giddy. Green America, Grow My Own Food, and many other organizations are promoting the Climate Victory Garden style of home gardening. It’s very close to what most of us think of as just plain food gardening, with a change here and there. Here's how it works.
Climate Victory Garden: One Step at a Time
Climate Victory Gardens, a movement started by Green America, employ 10 recommended practices (see the list below). However, you need not follow all 10 practices in order to call yourself a Climate Victory Gardener.
However, let's be honest with ourselves. Someone who follows only one of the ten recommendations probably shouldn't be trotting around the block bragging about their expertise. Someone following four or five of the practices and planning to learn and add more—now you're walking the walk. This is someone whom I consider a Climate Victory Gardener. Individual circumstances steer each of us towards what we will embrace first. The great feature of Climate Gardening is that it can work for everyone.
Do you have
- a small yard,
- lots of shade,
- some physical limitations,
- a wonky Home Owner Association?
You can still jump in.
Don’t have a car or a friend with a car to help bring purchases of potting soil and so on to your home? Do not rule out growing a Climate Victory Garden. Some of this can be done indoors in sunny spots.
Look at the ten practices and see what is easiest for you to begin. Every garden great or small helps, just as they did during World Wars I and II.
1. Grow Edible Plants
There is so much benefit to growing food that you like and will eat. It reduces vehicle carbon dioxide exhaust (from the growers, shippers, and then you traveling to the store), reduces the carbon dioxide content in the air because plants absorb it, fights global warming, and more.
2. Rotate Crops
This is a "makes-total-sense" practice.
If you put tomato plants in the same spot in the ground year after year, they eventually use up all the nutrients tomato plants like. However, if you use a particular location for a tomato plant, then the next year plant a green bean bush, and the following year grow potatoes, each food plant takes different nutrients from the soil and replenishes its species’ own soil building chemicals.
3. Encourage Biodiversity
You encourage biodiversity by planting a variety of kinds of a particular food. The huge pay-off is that if one type of hot pepper, for example, falls victim to a parasitic invasion, your other varieties may not fail.
People who care for the living earth want mixing and matching of flora and fauna. Providing many versions of plants for many pollinators and creatures in the circle of life is one of our goals.
The contrasting practice is called monoculture: growing only one kind of wheat, or chestnut tree, or potato. Ireland learned about the imprudence of growing monoculture potatoes the hard way in the nineteenth century with a potato blight that had thousands of citizens starving and subsequently leaving the island.
Be wise. Plant with variety.
4. Make and Use a Compost Pile
Compost is partially or fully decomposed plant scraps, dead fallen leaves and grass clippings, and possibly shredded newspaper.
If you toss every apple core, celery top, lettuce bottom, orange peel, avocado skin, and leftover green beans that started going bad into a pile outside, it breaks down into fertilizer for plants.
Do not put in meat, fish, fats or bones. Think of compost as a pile of vegan leftovers and you will probably be right on target.
There is much help from your local garden societies, agricultural extension services, and online literature to guide you in creating your compost. Also, please check with your local government about any restrictions. (Some governmental bodies are still stuck in the 1800's regarding food scraps outdoors and attracting vermin. Back then, this was a serious public health issue.) Now that gardeners know about "vegan" composting, I hope that garden compost piles will be encouraged everywhere.
There are also ways to do composting in containers inside the home with beneficial worms. I have tried it and not succeeded. I probably did several things wrong.
After you have some good soil-looking stuff in your compost pile, spread it around the base of your food plants. All those super nutrient compost chemicals will ooze right down to their roots.
5. Keep Ground Covered
Plowing and tilling no longer hold favor. This is for large commercial farms and home gardens alike.
The scraping away of topsoil is now practically a crime in farm circles.
Large farms plant a cover crop which stays on the field. Each new food crop is planted by punching holes into the earth among the existing plants.
Home food gardeners can do a similar practice by either covering the garden surface with a mulch or permitting other plants (native weeds) to take hold. Make holes big enough for seedlings when you are ready. No more tilling and turning over an entire swath of land.
The huge goal is to avoid having bare soil. There are skyscraper-sized stacks of studies verifying the benefits of this practice. To simplify the reasons for the home food gardener:
- It protects a sophisticated soil structure we are only beginning to learn about.
- It prevents erosion of the soil and/or loss of soil nutrients from rains.
- It prevents sediment and yucky stuff from flowing into streams and rivers.
- It keeps moisture in the ground.
- It adds good nutrients to the soil.
This practice is highly recommended.
6. Plant Perennials
This habit complements the no-till knowledge procedure. A perennial comes back without requiring a human to disrupt the soil. Add a bit of compost around the plant as it grows, and over the bed in the spring. All should be well. If you like to save personal effort and also like a little predictability in your garden, perennials give you both.
In the edible plant realm, these are perennials to try: asparagus, horseradish, bee balm, rhubarb, blueberries, and raspberries.
7. Use People Power
For many home gardeners, this is automatic. We use a shovel to dig. We use a rake to collect and remove autumn leaves. The reel mower – that mower with the helix of spiraled blades that a person pushes without using electricity or gasoline – is making a comeback. Many companies are manufacturing light, sharp, easy-to-use models.
If you use a gas or battery-powered rototiller or leave blower, consider the CO2 (carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) that is put into the atmosphere when it runs. Yes, either the non-green power generation that charged the battery or the fossil fuel you are personally burning ends up in the atmosphere.
Avoid using these machines every time you can.
8. Ditch the Chemicals
This step uses an over-simplified phrase. Everything tangible is a chemical. So, does this step suggest eliminating water and compost? No.
Here the term "chemicals" refers to purchased killing sprays. Some people have been overly eager, in the past, to use the homeowner's versions of napalm and deforestation sprays (Round-up (TM), for example) to prevent a little leave nibbling by neighborhood insects or growth of native plants.
Unwanted dandelions in a grass pathway can be pulled by hand. An excess of tomato hornworms can be lifted off the stems and leaves of your bountiful plant.
Part of the larger ecological balance is to provide a bit of food for insects, which then become food for songbirds, and so on. A fantastic entomologist at the University of Delaware, Dr. Doug Tallamy, has explained this with humor and many examples.
9. Combine Animals and Plants
If you are also raising chickens or small animals, allow them to wander through your crops. They can forage for insects and perhaps eat a weed or two. In addition, their droppings will provide natural fertilizer.
10. Get to Know Your Garden
I listed this step last because it strikes me as a "duh" directive. However, I will try to put aside my own values. I am intrigued by garden plants. If I have intentionally put something into a pot or the soil to grow, I am checking on it at least once a day, and often more frequently because it is just so exciting to me.
Nonetheless, some of you may be adopting a Climate Victory Garden and haven't gotten passionate about watching its progress. That is quite okay. The recommendation to know your garden is sound and contributes to your success.
You will want to generally know where you have the most sunshine and the most shade, where the yard tends to stay soggy-moist and where it gets frustratingly dry. You can move your planting to have crops that do best in each sort of spot.
Takeaways for Climate Gardens
We can do this! YOU can definitely do this.
- Grow a little more food for yourself than you did last year.
- Adopt one of the ten steps you have not used before in gardening.
- One at a time is fine! Start with the easiest steps and praise yourself for all victories.
Every reduction of fuel use and better land use caused by home food gardeners contributes to a better world. Please comment below sharing what steps you are using.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Maren Elizabeth Morgan
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 11, 2019:
I love the idea of a climate victory garden as well as the steps and suggestions that you've included in this article. You've got me thinking about how to organize my efforts to grow plants this year.
Phil Holzinger on February 11, 2019:
I plant all of four hot pepper plants in my raised bed garden every year. It's not much of a garden, but it gets me into the club, so to speak.