In honor of Earth Day, Thanks for Today is sponsoring a Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project in which garden bloggers share how they incorporate sustainable practices into their garden.
Anytime you get outside and into the dirt you become more aware of your affects on the environment, and there are many ways to make a difference. You'll notice a considerable amount of overlap among all of these steps taken in my garden.
1) Water conservation
Does this rain barrel meet all of my watering needs? No, but it does help, and it prevents runoff from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. I'll soon add another rain barrel because even though my house is tiny (less than 900 sq ft), this bad boy fills to overflowing after any hard rain. Smart watering (in morning or evening) and practices like mulching also conserve water. Finally, I just don't care about my lawn, I don't water it and I let the weeds thrive. I won't let it die, but I will never have a perfect expanse of grass.
2) Planting more plants, including native plants
Also related to preventing runoff is planting more plants. (By the way, Plant More Plants is a nice local campaign.) This was a bare patch along my driveway when I moved in. It may not look like much here, but it is just about to fill with blooms. And all it took was a packet of seeds.
I was fortunate to pretty much get a blank slate with my yard, and I am slowly filling it, adding large shrubs and small trees (so as to keep a sunny patch for the vegetable garden). I am not a native-only gardener, but I do make a concerted effort to buy native plants because I like them, they are a good fit for the space, or because animals like them--which leads to the next point.
3) Encouraging pollinators and other wildlife
I have been making a concerted effort to attract pollinators. The clover (and lack of chemicals) in my lawn helps a lot, because I actually see honeybees. I also spotted a mason bee last summer so will be putting up a house. I planted lots of small flowered plants like the yarrow above, as well as fennel, because these attract the tiny predatory flies and wasps that keep garden pests in check. I also don't try to remove every last weed because some of them provide food or homes for beneficial insects.
I feed birds, but I also plant their favorite foods like this sunflower and the new serviceberry tree. It is worth any effort to see woodpeckers and hummingbirds feeding in my garden.
4) Composting and avoiding chemicalsWell, who wants to see my compost pile? Instead, here is the native Viburnum that blocks it from my view, Most of my food and yard waste go into the pile, keeping it out of the landfill. Because it is a cold pile that does not kill weed seeds or diseases, I keep this out of my vegetable garden, but when it eventually breaks down I use it throughout the yard.
Needless to say, I avoid the use of petroleum based fertilizers and herbicides. If I have a problem with a weed, I pull it. For fertilizer, in addition to compost I use fish emulsion/seaweed extract and am fond of Espoma products. I have some battles with the squirrels, rabbits, birds, and voles, but nothing too serious yet. We'll see how the nets work when berry season begins. The local cat and hawk are hopefully taking care of things.
It is hard to imagine not taking these issues into account when gardening, for my health as well as the health of the environment. Eating fresh food that I grew myself is really rewarding, but I try to take some time to just sit and watch the flowers, birds, and insects as well.
Happy Earth Day!