Picture, if you will, a backyard in Anywhere, USA. A carpet of green grass stretches out before you while vibrant flowers dot the fence-line. Plump, juicy tomatoes are suspended over a zucchini plant that meanders through a raised garden bed. It sounds picturesque and divine and yet there are a few things wrong with the scene. There are no birds chirping in the trees above, or buzzing bees bumping along from one flower to the next. A steady stream of water trickles away from the home and, a mile away in the local creek, tadpoles die in a toxic sludge. Sounds like Rachel Carson’s worst nightmare, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is a scenario that is too often a reality due to the ignorant actions of gardeners.
You may already be aware of the damage that industrial agriculture is doing to the planet. Acres of land cleared for a new housing project or large-scale conventional farming operations stick out like a sore thumb to activists. But we must ask ourselves if we are caring for the tiny plot of land we have at home in a sustainable manner. Whether it’s a sprawling backyard or a few planter boxes on the roof of an apartment building, is your garden an eco-nightmare?
Environmental Concerns in the Garden
Some of the conventional methods to maintaining a home garden can be very destructive to nature. Yards treated with fertilizers are at risk for damaging the local environment with phosphorus runoff and nitrogen leaching. A commonly used household herbicide, glyphosate (Roundup), has been shown to cause high mortality rates in amphibians and can disrupt the behavior of honeybees. The EPA estimates that as much as 50 percent of water used in home irrigation is lost to evaporation or runoff. And ignorant gardeners can introduce invasive plants species that will eventually spread and become a nuisance to the local ecology. Gardening is a wonderful hobby to take up, but it is important to keep the environment in mind when you’re planting. Otherwise, it’s possible to do more harm than good to the planet.
Use Your Green Thumb
Obviously you don’t want to be one of those gardeners that turns their little plot of land into an eco-nightmare. So take a few things into consideration to make your hobby a green one.
Consider making food a feature in your garden. Buying local produce is one way to reduce the footprint your diet has on the planet, but anything you can grow in your backyard cuts down on even more resource inputs. In fact, you can save roughly two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for every pound of produce you grow at home. That’s a tasty way to combat climate change!
Be Careful With Your Water Use
Now, growing food in your backyard is all well and good, but consider exactly how you grow your food and whether it is eco-friendly. You certainly need water for irrigation, so consider a variety of ways to water your plants while conserving the valuable resource. Pay attention to your plants’ water needs and only water when they actually need it. Water earlier in the morning when you’re less likely to lose water to the sun and wind. And, if you live in an area where rainwater harvesting is feasible, consider utilizing rain barrels to save water for a sunny day.
Make sure there is no runoff when you water- you don’t want to send anything that’ll wash pollutants from the streets into a storm drain. Also, if you happen to live in an area that gets less precipitation, it may be wise to consider plants that are more adapted to such a climate. Green grass and lush vegetation will rely on increased irrigation when they don’t get precipitation, so you will want to keep in mind what you’re planting and maintaining in regards to your local water resources.
Managing Pests, Naturally
In addition to your garden’s water use, you’ll also want to pay attention to how you manage pests and disease. Little monsters like powdery mildew, aphids and weeds can really put a damper on your garden plans, but there are ways to manage some of these common problems that won’t involve spraying poisons all over the place.
There are several homemade treatments for powdery mildew including diluted milk, baking soda and even garlic which can replace harsh fungicides. Aphids can also be addressed with eco-friendly solutions including the application of diluted dish soap, or the planting of plants that attract natural aphid predators. You may find that weeds need a variety of treatment plans to keep them at bay. Hand weeding, using homemade organic herbicides, applying mulch as a barrier for weeds, and composting to kill weed seeds are some of the more common options. In addition to the garden pests you’re trying to control, make sure you aren’t creating any pests yourself. Avoid planting common garden invasive plants that can wreak havoc on the local ecology.
Call in the Pollinators
Surely you’ll enjoy having a garden for the benefit it brings to you, but don’t forget about the nature you’re surrounded by! Make your garden an inviting space for the birds and the bees. The Pollinator Partnership can help you select plants for your region that will attract and benefit local pollinators like bees and butterflies. You can also provide nesting sites and food sources for birds by carefully selecting the trees and shrubs in your yard.
Dream Up The Perfect Garden
Since each garden is going to be unique to the local climate and ecology it exists within, it’s important to give some very individual thought to your garden in light of the local environment’s needs and characteristics. You’ll want to keep in mind your USDA Hardiness Zone to avoid losing your plants to frost. Consider contacting your local Master Gardeners group to get gardening information relevant to your locale. You may find space to garden or even just a little inspiration from others at a local community garden. And you can search for local plant nurseries to supply you with gardening materials as well as offer the chance to chat with local gardening specialists.
Gardening can be a fun and rewarding hobby. And with some careful thought and consideration, you can guarantee that your garden is a dream come true for the planet!
Image source: Defkreations/Flickr