Gardening is a great way to spend time outdoors and grow healthy foods for you and your family. However, your garden may not be as environmentally friendly as it could be. After all, water isn't an endless resource and chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides can have health and environmental impacts that go beyond your backyard. These tips can help you sow the seeds for a more sustainable garden.
Use organic fertilizers
Organic matter improves soil structure and moisture retention. Organic fertilizers also last longer than chemical products and release nutrients more slowly, which is good for healthy plants. Organic products are available at your local garden center. They include plant-based materials, such as alfalfa meal and corn gluten, and animal-based products such as bone meal.
Start from seed
Ensure your plants are organic from start to finish by growing them from seed. You'll need suitable containers, a growing medium — potting soil or compost — and fertilizer. You'll also need to provide adequate light, moisture and appropriate temperatures. Some plants lend themselves to home germination better than others. Good bets include cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower. See Seed Starting from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more information.
Why throw away table scraps when you can use their nutritional value in your garden? They create a rich soil additive with no harmful chemicals. Composting bins can be purchased for as little as $50, although larger units with more features may cost $300 or more. Better yet, build your own bin. All you need is a small amount of lumber and plywood, some hardware, plastic sheets and a pound of worms.
Set up a rain barrel to collect and store water for use in your garden or flower bed. It provides a supply of soft water that's free of chlorine, lime or calcium. A rain barrel can save you up to 1,300 gallons of water during the summer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Also, use drip hoses instead of sprayers; they use up to 70% less water. Water in the morning when it's cooler and less windy, and less water will be lost to evaporation.
Organic and bio-based pesticides protect your plants from insects without adding harmful chemicals. Common sources of organic pesticides include bacteria, such as bacillus thuringiensis, and plants, such as pyrethrin. Organic brands with these and other ingredients are available at your local garden center. Carefully follow the instructions on the label when using any pesticide.
Remember, if you're planting in a new area, call 811 to have your underground utility lines marked before you dig. Knowing the location of underground lines on your property will help you avoid injury, service outages and costly repairs.
Now that you have the tools to make your garden grow greener, grab a shovel and get started today!