As gardeners, we have a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. We nurture the soil and plants in our garden, and are given delicious food, medicinal herbs, and beautiful flowers in return. Our physical health is directly affected by the health of our soil and our environment. If we implement eco-friendly gardening techniques, and avoid harmful practices, we can make a positive impact on our environment. If we all pull together, our impact can be massive.
Make Your Own Compost
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, municipal waste includes 13 percent yard waste, 12 percent food waste, and 34 percent paper, most of which can be composted. By composting your waste, you can significantly reduce how much trash you send to the landfill.
To top it off, you’ll be rewarded with black gold to fertilize your garden. Compost is a significant source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with a broad range of micronutrients. It improves the tilth, aeration, and water-holding capacity of your soil, and regulates soil pH. Compost promotes beneficial microbes in the soil, which play an essential role in nutrient uptake. It is the supreme slow-release fertilizer and soil conditioner.
Read also: Backyard Composting Made Easy
There are many ways to create your own compost, even if you don’t have much space. If you live in an apartment, you can start a worm bin for your kitchen scraps. You can purchase a barrel composter if you have a small yard and want to keep things looking tidy.
If you have a larger yard, you can set up a three-bin composting system. And if you have room for a chicken coop, you can use the deep litter method in your run to make a nitrogen-rich compost from chicken manure, animal bedding, yard waste, and kitchen scraps.
Garden with Chickens
That brings us to gardening with chickens. Chickens add an entirely new dimension to the garden. First, they will make your compost for you. No more turning the compost pile twice a month. When you use the deep-litter method in your chicken run, your chickens will aerate the compost as they scratch and peck for food.
You can throw yard and garden waste, weeds, kitchen scraps, and their bedding into the run and they will mix it all up for you while they look for bugs to eat and add their manure to the mix. If their run ever starts to smell bad, just add a layer of “browns” like straw, shredded leaves, or arborist woodchips, and the smell will disappear completely. Whenever you need compost, you just screen it over a wheelbarrow and add it to your garden.
Your chickens always benefit from having access to a lot of bugs to eat. You get healthy chickens, a place to put all your waste without having to turn a compost pile, and a continuous supply of fresh eggs that taste better than anything you can buy from the grocery store. Plus, chickens can be used in your garden at the end of the season to help clean up weeds, add their fresh manure to the soil and eat up the pest populations that made their home there over the summer.
Use Natural and Organic Pest Control
For those gardeners who use poisons for pest control, I hate to break it to you but you’re doing a lot of damage to the environment. Those poisons may be effective and make your life a little easier, but they are causing a lot of harm.
Some of the main concerns around pesticides include pesticide adsorption to soil particles, volatilization of pesticides harming nearby vegetation, harming soil life, contaminating surface water and groundwater, and having carcinogenic effects on humans. Why devastate your soil health and put your own health at risk when you can simply use natural and organic pest control methods instead?
The simplest way to tackle some pests is to manually remove them. This is especially true with slugs and caterpillars. For other pests, along with many fungal diseases, neem oil gets results without harming you, the soil, or beneficial insects and pollinators. One application a week for a few weeks should suffice for most issues.
Depending on the pest attacking your garden, there is a wide array of natural methods you can try. These include soap sprays, beneficial nematodes, beneficial predatory insects such as ladybugs and predatory mites, and beneficial microbes such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
Read also: Bacillus Thuringiensis in Horticulture
Although some companion planting techniques are more folklore than fact, some companion planting techniques are very effective and backed up by science. Planting trap crops, such as nasturtiums, will attract aphids away from the rest of the other plants in your garden. Intercropping garlic throughout your garden will repel many pests.
With so many natural and organic options, there really isn’t a need for toxic pesticides in your garden. And if you still get a few pesky critters chewing on your plants, remember the sage advice that has been passed down to new gardeners for generations: If the bugs aren’t eating your plants, then your garden isn’t part of the ecosystem.
Attract Pollinators to Your Garden
It isn’t news to anyone that our pollinators are in trouble. Bees are suffering from colony collapse disorder at alarming rates. We need to do our part as gardeners to take care of them because when our pollinators are gone so is our food supply.
You can make an impact simply by planting flowers in your garden to feed the bees. Just one pot of flowers is enough to make a difference, but a variety of flowers blooming throughout the year will let the bees know they can always grab a meal in your garden.
Some of the best flowers to plant for your favorite pollinators include borage, bee balm, calendula, nasturtium, lavender, borage, yarrow, and sunflowers. If you give them a mason bee house and a water source, they might just move in and call your garden home.
Read also: The Best Plants for Pollinators
Use Natural, Recycled, and Upcycled Materials
It’s easy to spend too much money on our gardens (is there really such a thing?). Whether it’s construction materials, fencing, soil amendments, or garden decor, there is always some new project brewing in a gardener’s mind. If you want to save some money and be eco-friendly at the same time, try using natural, recycled, and upcycled materials for your next project.
Logs or large rocks can be used for raised bed borders, and cut limbs and branches used to make trellises. Any number of old items can be used for planters, from old garden boots to rusty wheelbarrows. Broken dishes create beautiful mosaic stepping stones. By using your creativity, you can save money and take care of the planet at the same time.
Mulch protects your soil and prevents it from getting too wet or too dry.
The easiest way to conserve water is to collect rainwater. You can put a rain barrel in your garden and water your garden with the water you collect. If you’re on city water, then rain water may actually be healthier for your garden than tap water!
Another way to conserve water is to mulch your garden. You’ll be amazed at how much less you’ll need to water your plants. Mulch protects your soil and prevents it from getting too wet or too dry. This helps the overall health of your plants since many diseases, including blossom end rot and powdery mildew, can be caused by inconsistent moisture levels in the soil. Ideal mulches include arborist woodchips, seedless straw, compost, and shredded leaves.
Try No-Till Gardening
This may sound like a risky proposition to some gardeners who spend every spring tilling their garden, but hear me out. When you till your soil, you destroy all the helpful critters and completely disrupt the soil food web. Beneficial microbes, earthworms, nematodes, and mycorrhizal fungi all are essential players in creating rich soil. When you till, you have to rebuild these populations every single year. Over time, your soil health will degrade to the point where you are completely reliant on fertilizers and pesticides to grow a healthy garden.
However, when you stop tilling, and add layers of compost and mulch on top of the soil instead, the soil life will thrive and create a healthier garden than you could possibly imagine. The ecosystem is given a chance to mature. The soil life creates a nutrient recycling system so that fewer inputs are needed over time.
As the years go on, your garden will become like the forest, with an ecosystem that takes care of your garden for you. Just as the forest is self-sufficient, your garden will become much more low maintenance.
These gardening techniques are great ways to grow an eco-friendly garden. By adopting these practices, you can take care of the Earth while she takes care of you.