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Gardening can be a healing endeavor, the ultimate reward as you literally taste the fruits of your labor, a good workout to relieve stress and a way to build community while feeding those in need. It can also add to the toll taken on ecosystems near and far in the process. This is evident at every stage of your garden’s development, but our focus here is on when you take steps to improve its productivity.

Don’t let us scare you. You should never be afraid to make a mistake – trial and error is the only way you are going to turn your brown thumb green. It is important to be informed, though. Please be as conscious in your choices as a gardener as you are when buying food. Let’s go through a few garden tips that give you all the benefits of growing your own food while doing good by the planet. They’ll allow you to reduce the amount of plant food you buy, the water you use, and the pests you need to keep away while improving your yield too!


With any purchase you make, you are also voting on which practices you Support. If you would like to avoid using animal products, then pay close attention to the soil, compost, and concentrated fertilizer you are buying. Many contain manure, bones, shells, and blood. If you are okay with using these, then make sure they are from animals who had happy lives without hormones and antibiotics, or that the poo isn’t from an unsustainable source such as phosphate rock from ancient bird droppings. Garden amendments are now typically offered in veganic forms (vegan + organic) in a store. Or you can make your own! Use coffee grounds for nitrogen, seaweed and kelp for micronutrients, and food and yard scraps for composting. The most sustainable source of phosphorous (P) is pee.

Integrated Pest Management

Be careful about which sides you take when managing pests in your garden. Just the other day, I learned something amazing. Hornworms, who love eating your tomatoes, are controlled by a healthy wasp population. I’ll spare you the horrifying details, but the lesson is that everything is connected. If you kill off the wasps, the hornworms will kill your tomato plants. If you spray weeds with particular toxins, pollinators will die and you will have less fruit. Use chemical fertilizers and you will kill off the microbes that feed your plants efficiently as well as worms and other micro invertebrates that till and fertilize your soil for you. Instead of trying to destroy any life we see (and don’t see) in our gardens, we need to encourage a balance between our needs and our ecosystem’s. Work with nature the permaculture way.


Never take good mulch or regular watering for granted. Mulch, or dried plant matter, is used to simultaneously maintain cooler, wetter soil underneath while providing more nutrients to plants as it decays. It reduces the amount of water you need. Plants love regularity as much as we do. Irregular watering leads to damaged fruit and lower production. If you can afford it, drip irrigation is a blessing that saves you even more water. This is especially important going forward as fresh water becomes scarcer.

Cover Cropping

Continuously planting crops with high nutrient demands in a given plot will utterly exhaust the soil. If you are going to encourage more life in your garden and avoid using chemical fertilizers, then giving it time to refresh is extremely important. Planting legumes and plants like clover for a season is incredible because it puts more nitrogen in the soil than it takes! Till this crop into the soil for the next season and you’ll need less compost and fertilizer than usual.

Companion Planting

Plants dig plants. They chat and help each other out. Some encourage their buddies to grow by taking different nutrients. Some protect their buddies from pests. Welcome to the world of companion planting. The plant kingdom has its own array of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that you can employ in your garden.

Image source: jeffreyw/Flickr