Let’s start out by first acknowledging that gardening is an inherently Earth-friendly activity. The basic acts of turning the soil, sowing seeds, watering, and nurturing the plants literally consists of acting in a loving, gentle and kind way toward the Earth. Gardening is also eco-friendly in less direct but as conspicuous ways. The most obvious way being that our food is not shipped all over the world to get to us. It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezuz_-eZTMI). Organic gardening takes this a step further by reducing the amount of chemicals released into our ecosystem.
So we get all this and feel great about it, but who has dared to look any deeper? What are you doing to not just reduce but REPLENISH?
Here is a list of ways you can look further into the impact your choices for your garden are making and, if you dare, do better!
- SOIL: We are so used to getting our food in neat packages that when we switch to homegrown food we forget to drop the habit with our soil. Imagine what it costs in fossil fuel emissions to ship ton after ton of soil around the country, not to mention the energy investment involved in sourcing, sifting, mixing and plastic bagging it all. Stop your addiction to packaged goods, get your soil locally, in bulk and build, mix and add to it at home with locally sourced materials. Learn how to make your own seedling mix, start composting if you don’t already, and invest in some worms. Sourcing your soil locally and building it up with locally sourced, non-manufactured materials is the number one way to give back to the Earth.
- FERTILIZER: The same goes here as for soil. Shipping bags, bottles and cartons of fertilizer results in more fossil fuel use. In addition, it is hard to discern the practices of the factories where the fertilizers are produced. Do you know if the waste or by-products from production of the fertilizer are disposed of responsibly? Do you know if the working conditions at the plant are healthy and safe for the workers? We let the fertilizer manufacturers convince us that they know better about soil than us, so take some time to learn what they know. Become your own soil scientist or find a friend that can be for you. Then you can use your own compost and compost tea, worm castings and tea, and other local materials to feed the soil yourself. The reliance on manufactured fertilizer is a main reason why we don’t advocate for hydroponic gardening. With manufactured fertilizers, yes, you are feeding the soil and the land, but there are hidden costs. Gradually move your dependence on fertilizers to an independent system and know you’re making a difference.
- AMENDMENTS: A bit different than fertilizers, amendments include mulch, peat, coir and more. These amendments break down in your soil to add needed organic matter and nutrients over a longer time period. Stay away from peat. It is being stripped from fragile bog ecosystems at an unsustainable rate. As with soil, consider what amendments you have locally before going to the bag. Grass clippings and leaves are great amendments especially if you can compost them before adding them to the soil. Grow crops such as buckwheat or fava beans as a cover crop or green manure that can be tilled back into the soil.
- PEST CONTROL: This goes without saying, but, in case it doesn’t, please only use sprays approved for organic growing to control pests in your garden. The same hidden costs of manufacturing fertilizer apply to chemical sprays plus a great deal more danger in terms of the risk to the environment. When you use or make organic sprays you will find they are not as effective as the chemical sprays, which in turn will encourage you to learn how to prevent infestations in the first place. In the same way you don’t fall ill when you are well fed and rested, your garden will be healthy when it has what it needs. This will make you a better gardener and a better caretaker of your local ecosystem.
- WEED CONTROL: Same goes here as for pest control in regards to the dangers and costs, but instead of making your own spray become an expert at manual removal. If you have a chance, build raised beds that have a weed cloth at the bottom. Even with the nastiest of weeds, consistent hand removal over several seasons results in a significant decrease in the population. Weeds are opportunistic pioneers that thrive in less than ideal conditions with few other plants to out-compete them. As you build your soil and the health of your garden the biodiversity will increase. What a wonderful and direct way to rebuild an ecosystem!
To learn more about how organic gardening produces better yields while reducing energy consumption read the results of the Rodale Institute’s 30 year Farming Systems Trial: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/farming-systems-trial-fst-fast-facts/
How many of you are doing all of these things? What is the rating you would give yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the friendliest)? Do you feel you are giving back to the land more than you are getting? Where can you improve?
Author: Stacey L. L. Couch