Starting a sustainable garden is about protecting the environment by doing things that benefit or do the least harm. It is about reducing the number of resources we put into the garden and increasing the positives that we can receive from the garden like compost, mulch, and importantly, our food supply. Creating sustainability in a garden combines the use of organic gardening methods, the conservation of resources, and methods of mimicking nature’s ecosystem right in your garden bed. Here are some tips on how to start a sustainable garden that will continue to produce and thrive from year to year.
Proper Sunlight and Utilization of Shade
Ensure that you select a garden area in your yard that receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight for the best success in growing a sustainable garden.
If you have shadier spots in the yard that only receive partial sun, utilize that space for growing vegetables that enjoy those conditions such as kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cabbage, carrots, and various root vegetables.
Manually Till or Create a Raised Garden Bed
Once you have selected an ideal spot for your garden, either turn over, break up the soil and mix with compost, or create a raised garden bed. Both options work well, but a raised bed can provide better water retention and will allow you to better control the content of your soil. In either case, apply mulch around the garden bed after planting.
Mulching and Composting
Both composting and mulching are beneficial to the environment because they return essential nutrients into the ground, and they increase the water retention rate of the soil. Always use organic mulch around the plants in your garden and even in your pathways.
Create a compost pile in your yard and add plenty of green matter, ash, and kitchen scraps to it frequently. A compost pile that is fed regularly will deliver nutrient-rich black soil to your garden so that you can continually amend your soil naturally.
Plant a Mix of Annuals and Perennials
When planning a vegetable garden, we tend to think of the traditional annual food crops that we adore, such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, and corn. However, perennial plantings can be a vital component in creating sustainability in the garden. Perennials have a long lifespan and come back stronger every year, whereas annual plantings are finished in one growing season. Here are some reasons why it’s a great idea to add perennial plants to your garden in addition to annual favorites.
- Perennials increase the abundance of food that your garden can produce. Perennials are the first foods to pop up and produce a yield in a garden and can also produce for a longer stretch than annuals. Rhubarb, dill, horseradish, and chives will be ready for picking while annuals are still young.
- Perennial plants are less work to grow. You don’t have to plant and nurture them every year. They will thrive with basic maintenance.
- Perennials require much less water than annuals do because their roots penetrate deeper and deeper every year.
- Perennials have a more extensive root system, and they can gather beneficial nutrients from the soil more than annuals can. They also bring these nutrients closer to the surface of the Earth which helps their annual garden mates.
- Perennials improve the structure of the soil. When a perennial plant dies back each year, beneficial nutrients are released back into the ground which mimics nature. The roots that stay intact also help to prevent erosion in the garden.
Plant Trees and Bushes
Planting trees in your garden area can boost your garden’s sustainability significantly. Fruit producing trees and bushes can improve air quality via photosynthesis, store carbon from the atmosphere, and provide a permanent rotation of food to your garden. The presence of trees can positively impact water conservation as well, as the shade they provide allows water to evaporate more slowly from garden vegetation.
Some perennial favorites include blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pear trees, apple trees, cherry trees, avocado and citrus trees. They may take a couple of years to develop fully, but once matured, you will have tons of harvest that you can rely on year after year.
Collecting and Conserving Water
One goal of sustainability is to use the water naturally supplied by nature solely. You can harvest rain in buckets and watering cans or rain barrels for future watering needs in the garden. Any water that is not collected or absorbed into the Earth and is lost to the sewer drains is wasted. You can do your part to control runoff by amending for quality soils and natural pathways that allow water to be absorbed into the ground. The addition of mulch, trees, and ground cover also provides soil to retain more water. Other ways that you can keep water in your garden are to create raised beds, use mulch, and plant ground covers. It is also vital to protect the water supply by eliminating the use of herbicides or pesticides that contaminate the soil and runoff into wells and city water supplies.
Attract Pollinators and Beneficial Insects
There are a lot of insects that are extremely beneficial to gardens, and a wide variety of plants can increase the chances that they visit often. Butterflies, bees, and birds are essential pollinators for your garden’s healthiest growth. A diversification of plants and flowers with extended and varying blooming periods are sure to keep beneficial insects continuously visiting your garden all season long.
Select plants that work well together and implement companion planting as you create your sustainable garden. Plants will feed each other by releasing beneficial nutrients back into the soil and can even protect your plants from unwanted garden pests. Companion plants will attract pollinators to your garden and deter unwanted pests from munching on your leaves and decimating your garden.
Succession Planting and Crop Rotation
You can build sustainability and extend your harvest by implementing succession planting. This a way to make your garden work harder and more efficiently. Certain vegetables like tomatoes and squash will continually produce fruit throughout the growing season. Others, like beets and carrots, have completed their growing cycle once they are picked.
There are a wide array of plants that can be successfully planted in succession and different reasons why they are successful when using this method.
- Plants such as cabbage, corn, and broccoli, and are often planted in successive intervals so that they can yield multiple harvests.
- Cucumbers, potatoes, and summer squash produce high yields at their peak of production. Veggies like swiss chard, radishes, and carrots are great for planting in successions or sneaking in between plantings of other crops because they are quick to grow while waiting for other plants to produce.
- Cool-weather crops are excellent choices for succession planting because they can be planted early in the spring or fall before hot weather crops take over the prime real estate in your garden.
Succession planting also aids in the process of crop rotation. It is beneficial to your garden soil to rotate your crops from season to season to protect the soil from nutrient depletion. Regardless though, growing a large number of crops in the same garden bed each year will use more nutrients even with some plants releasing nutrients back into the soil. Be cautious not to over-work your garden. Practice crop rotation, compost amendments, and cover crops as needed.
Create Climbing Structures from Items that you Already Have
To get more out of your garden’s square footage, consider growing some plants vertically on obelisks, cages, teepees, and trellises. Indeterminate tomato plants, peas, beans, cucumbers, and winter squash are all great climbers that will thrive with vertical gardening.
Harvest Seeds at the End of the Season
Seed saving ensures that the seed you’ll plant next season has thrived well this season. Start with seeds that are the simplest to harvest and preserve: peas, cucumbers, bean varieties, eggplant, peppers, squash, pumpkins, and tomatoes are great places to start. Harvest seeds from flowers by allowing them to dry in the garden and then harvesting. Allow seeds to dry out completely and store in a cool dark place until next season when you can add to your garden all over again.