Top 10 Sustainable Gardening Methods
Organic Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Your Backyard with Urban Agriculture
Sustainable, organic gardening and permaculture are big topics! Everyone wants safe, organic fruits and vegetables and even eggs, which means many of the old "Victorian" practices of backyard gardens and keeping poultry and other animals are making a comeback. Many people are practicing urban agriculture in vacant lots and in backyards all over the country.
Here are 10 methods that will make it easy to go green and create your own organic, sustainable garden system in your own backyard. You'll soon be growing your own healthy, inexpensive food and, at the same time, you'll be minimizing the time and money you spend on maintaining an exotic lawn and/or ornamental plants.
Sustainable Gardening Is Good for You and Is Good for the Environment
1. Reduce Lawn Size
Many years ago, we decided that we would rather spend our free time enjoying the little backyard sanctuary that we had created instead of toiling at the weekly ritual of cutting and maintaining a lawn. We began whittling away the lawn by replacing the grass with islands of multi-purpose trees, shrubs, ground cover and mulch. We were always careful to make gentle curves, so that the grass could be cut without having to back up the mower. We also used hardy ground covers and ferns in areas under trees. Pretty soon instead of taking hours, mowing time was reduced to an hour or so and we did not have to water or fertilize, because the grass that we left was in the "right" place for it to grow.
What sustainable gardening techniques do you use?
2. Catch, Conserve and Use Water On-Site
The old folks used to say that rainwater did magic on the plants and I agree. There is nothing like rain water to really get your garden growing. So why do we let it run off of our property before it has a chance to soak in?
Rain gardens, swales, French drains and rain barrels or cisterns are inexpensive ways to harness and control rain water. For areas of your rain gutters where a spout won't work, try attractive and decorative rain chains, combined with other control methods. You can even make your own rain chain from easy-to-find materials. By keeping storm water on-site, you not only benefit from the precious rain, but you help to alleviate flooding down stream and help to keep harmful contaminants out of the aquatic food chain.
Rain Water Recovery System
Most rain barrels are easy to install on a standard rain gutter down spout. It's best to get one that has a screen included so you don't have to worry about mosquitoes laying eggs in the water.
How to Make a Rain Chain
Water Conservation Poll
What water conservation methods do you use?
3. Make a Compost Pile
Using non-meat kitchen scraps and other excess plant materials to make rich black soil is something that all gardeners should do. Instead of putting leaves and grass clippings on the curb to go in the landfill, it makes so much more sense to put them into a compost pile or do sheet composting in the garden. Compost piles are easy to make or you can buy ready made ones.
If you don't have many trees, then just go through your neighborhood the day before the trash is picked up and collect the nicely bagged bounty that the neighbors put out.
Another good composting option is worm composting. By adding red wiggler worms to your compost pile or setting up a separate worm bin, you will have even richer soil than with regular composting methods.
Worm Factory Composter
I have a Worm Factory vermiculture composter. I like its tray design and the container with spigot to catch the nutrient rich "worm tea." A detailed instruction book, shredded paper and coca fiber brick comes in the kit. Once you get the composter and get it set up, then you can order your red wiggler worms. This adds another rung to the sustainability ladder, because the worms can also be used as bait to catch fish.
4. Mulch With Available Materials
Mulching with leaves, pine needles or wood chips (or other materials that you have on hand) helps to keep the soil moist, enriches it and keeps the weeds down. Cypress mulch is not recommended because in most cases, it is not made from the by products of cypress lumber, but from harvesting and grinding whole young trees.
It is much better for you and for the environment if you use mulch from your own yard. In fact, when we lived in the city, we used to pick up the neighbors' bags of leaves to use in our yard and compost pile.
How to Mulch a Garden
Compost and Mulch Poll
Have you tried composting or mulching with on-site materials?
5. Use Native Plants
Sneezeweed, stiff-leaved verbena and coreopsis attract honeybees, native bees and butterflies to the garden.
Plants that are native to your area are already accustomed to the seasonal changes and the periods of drought and/or flooding. They are hardier and require much less maintenance time than the imported exotic plants. They will also save money, because they won't have to be replaced ( they can usually with stand fluctuations in the weather).
Many native plants have edible fruit, berries, nuts or roots. Examples include pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, plums, crabapples, red mulberry, ground nut and many others.
6. Plant Perennial, Multi-purpose Flowers
Old-fashioned double orange daylilies are a favorite perennial in the South.
Perennials and especially native perennials are the sustainable gardener's friend. They come back every year and multiply. They are low maintenance and cost less because they don't have to be replanted each season like annual bedding plants.
Many perennial flowers are edible, too. Examples include daylilies (shown above), roses, violets, monarda (bee balm) and many more.
7. Intersperse Fruits and Vegetables Among Ornamentals
In sustainable gardening, vegetables and other edible plants are not planted in masses as with traditional gardening. By mixing edibles in with ornamental plants, pest and disease damage is reduced because the pests are attracted to the large mass plantings of the traditional garden.
Planting good companion plants near vegetables can also aid in growth, taste and help repel harmful insects. Plants that have clusters of tiny flowers, like parsley, will also draw predatory wasps as well as small pollinators to the garden. My favorite combinations are basil with tomatoes, savory with beans, oregano with peppers and French marigolds sprinkled throughout the garden.
8. Don't Use Chemical Pesticides, Encourage Natural Predators
This green anole hunts for insect prey among native goldenrod flowers in fall. Goldenrod is an important plant for honeybees, native bees and butterflies.
Organic pest control techniques go well with sustainable gardening and are beneficial to the environment. By not using chemical pesticides, the predator and prey cycle remains unbroken. The natural predators are able to do their job and rid the garden of pests.
Controlling Slugs Organically
Filled with accurate and practical information from bird seed and bird houses to bird-friendly shrubs and trees, the book, Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds: Creating Natural Habitats for Properties Large and Small, is an encyclopedia of everything you need to know to make your property a more welcoming and more beneficial habitat for wild birds.
Pest Control Poll
What type of pest control do you use?
9. Make a Lasagna Garden
When we first got our hens they lived in a chicken tractor, which we move around the garden. We also let them out each day to forage. In front you see the giant pumpkin and squash vines growing where the chicken tractor was parked last fall.
Lasagna gardening is a fabulous way to garden. It is a "no dig" method. If you have a chicken tractor or movable coop, you can park the chickens there, first and they will help till the soil, get rid of the grass and fertilize, too. If you let them out, for a few hours each day, they will remove weed seeds and insects like grasshoppers from your yard.
Even if you don't, in early fall, you can layer newspapers, Starbuck's coffee grounds, grass clippings, leaves, hay, manure, kitchen scraps and other compostable materials over the grass where you want your garden to be. Then by spring, you'll have a nice planting bed for your garden.
Key hole gardens were designed to save water in arid regions, the concept combines lasagna, raised and organic gardening with a permanent compost bin. Traditionally the individual gardens are ciircular with a 6-6 1/2 foot diameter. A wire cylindrical compost bin sits in the middle. The sides and soil depth is 2 to 3 feet. A pie shaped wedge is cut in one part so that the compost bin is accessible.
The theory is that the garden is self fertilizing via the compost bin. The rich compost tea filters into the soil every time the garden is watered. This type of sustainable garden has been successful in many areas including Africa and West Texas.
We are in the process of installing a modified key hole garden, using the materials that we have on hand. Ours will be more rectangualar because we have some boards from a deck that will be repurposed to make the sides. Small sticks and dead branches will be on the bottom layer to aid in drainage. Cardboard, newspaper and other non shiny paper will form the next layer. Chicken manure and soil plus leaf mold, hay and pine needles will form other layers. We'll top it off with some topsoil. We hope to have it done by fall so that it can age and be ready for spring planting.
Lasagna Gardening Vid
I have been using the gardening techniques from this book for years and my plants (as well as my back and knees) appreciate it.
Lasagna Garden Poll
Have you tried a lasagna garden?
10. Get Some Chickens
A few hens in a movable coop are great additions to the sustainable garden. In addition to the fresh, organic eggs, the chickens can help you till the soil and weed in areas where you'd like to have a patch of fruit trees or vegetables. You just park the "chicken tractor" there for a while and the hens will clear the area and fertilize it for you. Then you move the coop to another location.
We also let them out for a few hours each day. The chickens eat many insects and weed seeds. This makes both the chickens and the garden and yard healthier.
Backyard Animals Poll
What farm animals do you keep?
The Beauty of Pollination - Everything is Related
Amazing photography of our pollinators including hummingbirds, various bees, butterflies and insects, also bats. From flowers to fruits and vegetables, night and day the native pollinators are at work in this enchanting video excerpt from TED.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Yvonne L B