There is a lot of talk on the Internet this summer about buying local food, and only local food as much as possible, because it is good for the environment. When you buy locally you are supporting small farms, you are decreasing your impact on the environment by buying things that do not need to be transported, and when you buy fresh there is less packaging to deal with. All great ideas.
Growing Your Own Food Lowers Your Carbon Footprint
The next step, though, is to grow as much of your own food as possible on your own homestead, in your own garden, with your own seeds. By doing that you create even less of an impact on the earth than just buying locally. You control what goes on in your food and can be sure that you are getting healthy, organic, fresh vegetables and fruit. It can become an enjoyable hobby for the whole family and also have a positive financial impact on your life. Yep…it’s frugal to grow your own vegetables!
Local Environment and Sustainable Design
The first thing to consider when designing a sustainable garden is your local environment. What is your weather like? What are the average highs and lows for each month? How much rainfall do you get? What type of soil do you have? By answering these questions you will have the knowledge you need to choose seeds that will flourish in your area’s specialized ecosystem. To be sustainable a garden should be part of its natural surrounding, it should allow its caretaker to live in harmony with nature and the cycles of nature.
Make It Part of the Landscape
There is no written law that a vegetable garden can’t be part of a beautiful landscape, or that flowers, fruit, and vegetables can’t be grown in the same garden. There are as many types of gardens as there are gardeners! Consider bordering a walkway with strawberry plants, spinach, or colorful leaf lettuce. Marigolds are a colorful way to repel garden pests and my parents always had a wide border of colorful flowers around their vegetable gardens. Rather than having the normal privet or holly foundation plantings, what about blackberries or raspberries? Shade trees add beauty and value to your home but there is no reason that the shade trees cannot also produce fruit or nuts!
Location, Location, Location
In considering where to place your garden try to change the land as little as you can. If possible find an area that is flat and in a sunny spot, rather than excavate and remove trees. Build the soil up with natural, organic products; well-rotted manure, and compost. Mulch with organic mulches to cut down on the need for water and keep the root systems cool.
Mulches also enrich the soil as they break down, doing double duty in the garden. Use companion planting methods to control pests and allow your plants to thrive. Use organic controls like diatomaceous earth to control soft-bodied pests as well as enrich the soil. In your gardening plans create habitats for beneficial birds, animals, and insects to interact with your garden and keep it growing in a healthy manner.
Heirloom varieties of plants are normally much harder than hybrid and modern varieties. These plants have been grown for centuries in some of the harshest conditions and are proven over time. A nice side benefit is that the heirloom varieties normally have more intense flavors than the hybrids as well. Do some research and learn how to save your own seed, because with the heirloom plants the seeds will be viable. Your initial investment will pay off for you for years to come!
Sustainable Water Management
The preferred method of watering your earth-friendly garden is sustainable water management. That is a popular term that basically just means collecting and managing rainfall. Simply, you can use your roof as a catchment system and divert the water into barrels with gutters and downspouts. From there it is a simple thing to water your garden whenever you may need to. A more intense approach is known as SUDS, an acronym for sustainable urban drainage systems.
In this very intense approach, the homeowner (or municipality) adopts a zero runoff policy and literally catches all runoff using french drain systems, tanks, and retaining ponds to divert and store the water. In this system water-permeable pavement is often used. This is an exciting option, being used more and more, that could have a huge impact on over-developed, flood-prone areas.
Make It Beautiful
For dramatic night lighting, solar lighting can illuminate the beauty of your garden and provide security. There are so many different types of solar lights, in so many different styles that it is hard to choose! It is a simple matter to pick a style that will complement the look of your house and garden. The cost is somewhat low, and the new types are very simple to install. The solar cell collects energy from the sun all day and then powers the light during the night.
Your garden paths should also be an earth-friendly material. Wood mulch is a good choice, as is gravel, or even pavers with low-growing herbs like creeping thyme growing between the pavers. You want to make sure that rainwater can seep through or around the material so that you are not changing the ability of your property to assimilate the runoff. In this way, you can collect free water as well as protect your small farm from flooding.
Small steps make huge differences when many people do them. The payoff in beauty, health, and savings are well worth the time it takes to create your own urban oasis. And, let’s face it, red, ripe tomato still warm from the sun has to taste better than an almost ripe tomato shipped in from 3500 miles away! Do the research and then have fun with it! What are some of your favorite varieties of heirloom vegetables? Let me know!