A gardener by occupation is simpatico with the environment. We are therefore acutely aware of what we do in the garden having a direct impact on the environment. Likewise how any change or fluctuation in the surroundings and/or climate immediately affects the garden. There is much in the hands of the gardener to do his/her part in preserving and conserving their alloted corner of Eden.
One is often told what not to do. So working from a positive attitude, lets look at a few things one should do.
Do please compost – This is perhaps the single best thing to do. Yet, I constantly encounter gardeners swearing up and down the garden path their devotion to organic, environmentally conscious practices but not composting at all. Beats me why this is so. Composting is easy.
After all, at its very simplest, it is nothing but tossing garden and kitchen waste in a pile, stirring it now and then and making sure a splash of water is periodically directed its way. Set it up some place discreet and you’re cooking. Well, the compost is cooking. Granted an open pile can look unsightly but setting up a contained area or a commercially available compost bin will eliminate that problem. I compost garden waste in the woods at the back of my property and use a small compost bin for the kitchen scraps of veggies, fruits, egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. This bin occupies a corner out of direct view but is still easily accessible.
Apart from reducing the amount of weekly garbage and eliminating the need to bundle twigs or bag the leaves for pick-up, all of which makes for less work, obtaining one’s own compost to nourish the garden plants and suppress the weeds is hugely gratifying. And very kind to the wallet to boot. Applying compost to lawns, trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable beds puts paid to any need for fertilizers and herbicides.
A healthy compost bin does not smell foul. Like I mentioned, aerating and giving it some water permits the natural decomposition of the plant waste. The worms and microbes do their job quite thoroughly. There is no malodorous effect.
I have been composting for more than twenty years and have not had critters like raccoons, skunks and such raid the compost bin. I do believe they will if the composter is not kept healthy.
Compost is vital for recycling trace elements and replenishing the organic matter in the soil. So much good from so little work.
Do give up using fertilizers – this is a natural follow up to composting. All fertilizers, synthetic or organic, release some of the nitrogen into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, which has 300 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. In addition, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture synthetic fertilizers so the carbon footprint of a garden is increased.
The run off from lands using fertilizers is full of nitrogen which has become a serious environmental issue. Nitrogen pollution threatens the health of humans and all other animals.
So, why bother with fertilizers when you can use wholesome compost? After all, like a physician who attends to all manner of human health, a gardener too takes care of the health of the earth, environment and all living creatures. So the first motto of a doctor should be the same for the gardener – Do No Harm.
Do reduce water consumption – private spaces consume more water than public parks. That is a fact. To reduce water consumption, mulch everywhere! The aforementioned compost laid over a layer of old newspaper in garden beds acts as both mulch to retain moisture, smother weeds and enrich the soil to feed the plants better. Pine needles, chips of tree bark, cocoa hulls are all useful mulches.
Installing rain barrels to catch storm water run-off will cut down on that water bill. I can’t even begin to describe how virtuous you will feel.
Drip irrigation systems should be on timers so watering is done during the cooler hours of the day. These days, systems that register rainfall and will not get turned on if it is sufficiently wet are available. What a relief to save on wasteful watering.
Do stop tilling – that’s right, do not turn over the soil. Less work again! By leaving the ground undisturbed, the earthworms get to do their God-given work of decomposing the organic matter of plants as they die and return to the soil. As a result, much of the carbon is sequestered in the soil and not released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By allowing the garden to become a carbon sink, i.e. removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground, the gardener is doing the world good. Think local, act global.
Do change the garden tools – as much as possible get rid of gas-powered tools. According to the EPA, 800 million gallons of gasoline are used per year by the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend. Is that not shocking?
Here is another fact that ought to make you desperate to do something – one gas powered mower emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55mph for the same amount of time.
Instead, use battery-powered or better yet, human powered tools such as push/reel mowers, clippers, rakes and the like. Go one step further and cut down on the lawn by planting native ground covers, trees, shrubs, meadows.
There, you see, none of this is difficult. The problem of climate change demands that each of us become part of the solution. Gardeners can make a significant difference. Collectively, we have the power to make manufacturers, growers, nurseries and politicians listen. Garden by garden we can lead the way. And cover a whole lot of turf!
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The rain barrel
Another view of the barrel.
The only ‘lawn’ that gets mowed weekly by a human powered push mower.
My meadow with natives and bulbs
Alliums in the meadow
The compost bin for kitchen waste in the upper right corner. Do you see it?
(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar