What Are Your Best Tips for Sustainability in the Garden?

| 8/10/2010 3:51:11 PM

Tags: sustainability, garden tips, question to readers,

ShovelMy guess is that organic gardeners already have sustainability on their minds. After all, growing your own food is a huge first step in leading a sustainable lifestyle. Plus, nontoxic, chemical-free methods are inherently more sustainable — for health, for the soil, for the water supply — than non-organic techniques.

But being a sustainable gardener goes beyond food. An organic gardener could fertilize with homemade compost, but could also choose to feed plants with certified organic fertilizer that was shipped thousands of miles in its plastic container to wind up on a garden center shelf.

Considerations of sustainability factor into countless other supplies, tools and methods present in your garden. Whether it’s your garden gloves, pots, garden fence, shovel or raised bed lumber, questions arise: Where did it come from? (Or ship from?) What raw materials were used to make it? Was anything reused or repurposed? How long will it last? Was a lot of energy used in its making? What was it packaged in?

Fertilizers, weed-prevention supplies and techniques, and insect-prevention supplies and methods all have their own sets of questions. How is this method or product affecting the earth? Other creatures? The long-term health of the soil?

Water usage is yet another area that offers great opportunities for choosing more sustainable options.

What do you do in your own garden to be a sustainable gardener? Please share your tips with our readers! And feel free to think big. Sustainability in the garden can go way beyond what’s mentioned here. We’re hoping to publish an article sometime next year with great advice on this topic, and we can’t wait to hear your creative ideas.

4/20/2014 9:00:12 AM

I save water by catching much of the water when I shower. I place a roasting pan in the center of the shower above the drain to catch the water as I am waiting for the right temperature. When I step into the shower I kick the pan to the side. When I am finished I then pour the water into a bucket. I use the water to water plants or to flush the toilet (it usually takes the water from two showers to flush). Another recycling tip is to take a small container to restaurants for my left-overs instead of using theirs.

mandy lange
2/12/2011 7:37:07 PM

For my sustainable garden, I have a large compost bin for enriching the soil. I use my paper shredder as a tool for my garden by using the bags of paper strips it creates for mulch and/or weed control in the garden. All my trellises are made from repurposed "waste" wood from my husband's work that would have gone to the landfill otherwise. It is untreated wood so it will not leach chemicals into the soil. I have a rain barrel system that collects all the rain runoff from the roof of our garage and that gives me the free, untreated, natural water that the plants absolutely love. Just a 1/4" of rain creates 30 gallons of water! That always amazes me! As for adding acidity to soil where acid-loving plants are, such as blueberries, I put used coffee grounds around the bases of those plants because coffee grounds are naturally acidic. For a lime substitute for my lilacs, I use crushed, cleaned egg shells around the bases of those plants which encourages them to flower because lilacs do not like acidic soils. I use sheer curtains to protect fruiting bushes such as blueberries from birds. This is a cheap alternative to expensive bird netting that can tear off leaves and fruits when you take the netting off to harvest fruits/berries.

ralph r.
2/12/2011 9:19:44 AM

Free mulch for flower beds, garden and areas we do not want weeds to grow, provided by tree trimmers for power line co-op; They are always happy to have a location to empty trucks 7 year old Goat manure compost from a goat ranch nearby is free; They really appreciate we bring in a Bobcat and cleaned out 50 cubic yards of old manure. We also add all non protein food items from home to compost pile. Free firewood from an 800 acre ranch ; They love for us to come and clear out downed trees to let more grass grow; We have heated out 2400 sq ft house when temperatures got down to 8 degrees this winter with only wood (saving $100 - $250.00 per month on electric usage). All ash from fireplace is going in our in ground garden to help hold moisture in soil We have 35 container bins for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, cantaloupe and spices; We use these over and over adding compost to soil. These containers produce 3 to 5 times more produce than out in ground plants do. No weeding; Less water usage. We have four 330 gallon water recovery containers on our shop building and home to capture rain water. This is used in or garden and containers to prevent city water added chemicals from being introduced into our food. We raise orphan calves for our own beef , as well as selling these every six months to provide beef for others.

2/12/2011 7:52:37 AM

I live in Florida and well it is hot, I collect all the water from the Air Condition unit that drips out from condensation. On a typical Summer day I collect almost 15 -20 gallons of water, it is labor intensive, as you have to empty the bucket every few hours, but it is worth it in savings from using city water. If I am not at home the air is off so that keeps from waste. I also get all my plastic pots from other peoples trash. Any plants I put in pots, I look for them in the garbage pickup. So many are thrown away when people landscape their lawn. When they get old I recycle them. I reuse all glass jars from store bought sauces for my veggies I dehydrate from the garden. When these too have seen better days they are recycled at the landfill.

carmen ortiz
2/12/2011 5:53:33 AM

Lots of great ideas if you are starting out. I still have the first ten years of MEN. They have travelled many thousands of miles and now reside in a bin under my bed. For me the number one thing is read. It's amazing how much things have changed since I first started gardening organically. Of course, use common sense because many well known organic gardening "experts" have never grown a tomato. Much of what you read is just something the author heard someone say years before. About a year back, I read an article in another well known gardening magazine about "freaky vegetables" that covered 15 "strange" vegetables like asparagus with completely inaccurate information on 9 of them. The other thing you need is lots of patience because few people get it right from year one but it will get better (and almost easier).

john duffy_3
2/11/2011 8:37:27 PM

Worm poop is the best fertilizer I've found. Anyone can make a worm bin. Worms love vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, newspaper, cardboard and will turn these into humis-rich compost.

mary burch
2/11/2011 6:02:37 PM

We have a fair sized garden plus fruit trees. We live in CA, so we plant a winter garden that needs little water. This year my husband built a greenhouse from glass panes and lumber he scrounged, so I will start everything in that except parsley and celery. Although we have large compost piles, we also get a few tons of compost from the dump, a mile away. Each bed gets about 6 inches of compost twice a year. We tried mulch and carpets for garden paths, but eventually built stone paths in the lower half. The stones provide early and late heat for our tomatoes, etc. also, no mud. Because we have 5 months with no rain, we built our beds level with the ground instead of raising them. We use weeper hoses on timers to control how much water the garden gets, then mulch over the hoses. I dry everything and vac-seal it for later use. I also get veggies on sale at the store and dry them. We have a few chickens, but still buy eggs from the local egg ranch where they take good care of their hends.

2/11/2011 2:08:30 PM

We have chickens that eat and compost everything from our kitchen. The coop is on a slight grade and we created a "catch" area at the bottom for soil that has washed down. It is rich in manure and well aged. The chickens also plow for us in areas to be planted. We have heated the last two winters with free wood that we get by asking, cleaning up down trees and have a permit for getting dead wood out of the forest. We hunt for wild game and stopped paying the processor by learning to do it ourselves. The garden terraced and we do more and more no-till each year to save gas and time. We have worm bins in a warmed area that also serves as an indoor greenhouse and fermenting area for home made mead and other wines. To reduce power needs, we have our breakers marked and certain ones get turned off each time we leave for a few hours or go to bed. Our barn will be built this year will reclaimed tin and beams that were cut from trees we took down for the garden and our septic line. We cut the beams with a chain saw and saved the saw mill fee. I get fabric samples that are thrown away by a design house and we have some of the nicest pillows, coverlets and padded coasters you have ever seen! Ash from our fireplace and firepit go to the garden. One of us is working full time and the other is in school full time...so there are a lot of things you can do. Add one at a time. We are always looking for more ways to reuse, save and cut down on waste!

emma dorsey
2/11/2011 11:15:03 AM

My husband and I have been growing organically for some time now. We have gone to our local pallet recycle center to get materials for out raised beds.We had many trees cut down in this area and we asked the tree shredders to drop off the mulch by the tons on our hill for future use. I save seeds from everything we grow. This year we are going to put to use gray water to water the garden, and use rain water off the roof. We also have and orchard that has never been sprayed and a huge blueberry patch that is also organic and we have a huge crop every year. We are environmentalist and we want to help others to change their way of thinking. No till gardening and crop rotation is a great thing to keep in mind.We are getting ready to build an earthship home and it will have a greenhouse built into it and it will be completely self sustaining! It will be built with tires, bottles and cans.

mark kidder
2/11/2011 10:44:21 AM

The only fertilizer we use is made from "Texas tea bags". Dried cow patties in a burlap bag with the end tied with a piece of rope looks like a giant tea bag, and is used much the same way. You hang it in a 55 gallon water barrel for about 30 minutes then use that water to water your plants. The "Texas tea bag" can be used 5 or 6 times befor you need to add new dried patties. Works great.

amanda m_1
8/26/2010 9:48:58 AM

Instead of buying new things for the garden, find out if your area has a local freecycle network (check online). People post things they are looking for or have to give away and the network helps folks connect to pick up the giveaways. I have used our local network to get red wigglers for vermicomposting, old windows from a demolition site to build a greenhouse, and straw. I see people exchanging everything from seeds and produce to scrap metal, tires and construction materials, to clothing and furniture. If you need something specific, it's just a matter of taking five minutes to post your request and you'll be surprised at what you can get; usually you are doing a favor to the person who wants get get rid of their stuff. It's a great way to keep things out of the dump and circulating in the community. One man's trash is another man's blessing. If there isn't a group in your area, start one!

elaine duff
8/23/2010 5:11:08 PM

PL - If you're getting the EBT card use it to purchase seeds and seedlings. Check out construction sites for lumber - ask first. While your talking to the site manager might as well ask for the nails they shoot (lots of small sections they throw away. I separate them with a screw driver and use when needed. And though harder to get free nowadays - pallets. I use reclaimed deck wood, reclaimed barn wood, limbs from trees that are cut down or fall out for tomatoes and other climbers. Currently have an old rusted out bed frame that I've primed and painted for cucumbers. Though I don't do this often enough, I've also gone out the day before trash pick-up and picked up useable lumber, wire, remnants of roofing paper or house wrap, etc.

8/17/2010 4:12:40 PM

garden soil is different in every area around the world. mine just happens to be a bit sandy. i felt that my garden veggies did not produce near average. talking to an old local farmer i often get advice from, told me that chicken manure was a good thing to help with sandy soil. i visited a few local farmers who had chicken coops trading a free coop cleanning for the chicken dodo in return. none of them had a problem with this and were happy with the results. i also was veary happy with the results in my garden the year after!

8/15/2010 2:47:51 PM

PL, your soil sounds a lot like mine--very sandy and rocky. For years I tried to garden in it, with very little luck. This year, I used old planters and bought some good soil, and in those few pots and planters, grew more than I ever did in my much bigger garden. I grew tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, parsley, basil, lettuce, etc. most of which is still growing despite the heat wave we have been having in Texas. Next year I plan on growing onions, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and pole beans that way as I believe they will do better than they will in my sand and rocks. Uses much less water, too. Water went through our sand like a sieve. Hope this helps someone. Almost any container with good drainage should work fine.

8/15/2010 12:48:06 PM

We have a small garden in Brooklyn, NY. Over the years, we have created a raised bed from the City's compost project (before it was shut down). We have also composted ourselves (total of 5 apartments) grass, egg shells, tree clippings, fruits, veg waste, newspaper, hamsters/ guinea pig cage waste, worm bin waste, etc.. We use fishtank water to water our beds, also shower water (water that is being wasted while it is being heated up). Our garden has many 2 liter bottle upside down with the bottoms cut off to help the water system. As for weeds, we put newspaper all over the garden and cut holes into it for each plant. We also collect trash off of street corners including drawers for pots/raised beds and baby bed railings to use for tomato, cucumbers,or other climbing plants.

roy fritz
8/14/2010 10:19:39 AM

Before things changed I raised a garden that was 25ft by 150ft. It took me 3 years to get the garden to produce. It was a pasture for decades. I planted my vegtable rows about 40 inches apart and then went between them with my roto tillar for weeding. After the plants came up I took the hay from my lower pasture that the nieghbor would cut for his horses. He got 3/4 and I got the rest. I would then put it between the rows for cover and weed control. When the heavey frost was getting close I would then cover the root plants and the tomatos plants with about 10 inches of the hay keeping them safe. I could go out when it was covered with snow and pick still rippening tomatos and be able to easily dig up the root crops as needed. By the time spring came most of the hay was already rotted and then everything was tilled into the soil. I sold the tomatos, squash, and corn to pay for any seeds that I wanted for next year. Then I usually gave the pumpkins away at the grade school the week before halloween. It was pretty fun to see a kid trying to carry about twice their size. The local stores didn't like it but tell that to the kids.

8/14/2010 10:18:24 AM

I still work part-time outside of the home, so I have access to shredded paper and use that between my seedlings in my raised gardens. It forms a thick mat after the first few rains and then I turn it under when winter comes. As for composting; it has to get past my ducks (who eat the bugs in the gardens) before it gets on the compost pile. So mine is mostly fruit rinds, coffee grounds and eggshells with whatever weeds the ducks missed thrown in. However it seems some raspberry canes have seen to take a liking to the compost pile which can be a bit of a bother as I can't get down far enough to cut them out. (Don't like the thorns).

8/14/2010 8:22:33 AM

Much failure in the world of gardening comes from the tedium of maintaining the garden, mostly weeding and watering (I understand many find this part calming and therapeutic). I have used the following for many years for an almost effortless gardening experience between planting and harvest. Find a carpet store and take old jute backed carpets from their disposal to cover your entire garden area, don't forget to ask permission. Role it out upside down (jute up) and cut slots 2-3" wide for your plants. The carpet suppresses weeds, provides a clean surface to walk on, and helps retain moisture in the soil. Watering may still be necessary depending on rainfall but you can target the slots so not as much is done. The carpet lasts a long time (mine has lasted 5-10 years depending on how bad it was when I got it,), gives you relatively simple/worry free gardening and as a small bonus reuses something headed for the dump. Enjoy.

john duffy_3
8/13/2010 10:03:11 PM

If there is such a thing as too much compost, I have yet to experience it. A properly maintained compost pile will reward you with one of the best soil ammendments Mother Nature has to offer. If you can introduce red worms into your compost pile and maintain a suitable habitat for them, your compost will be enriched exponentially. You can use your vegetable & fruit waste for worm food. The little buggers really like melon rinds. Some aged horse, rabbit,goat or alpaca manure makes a nice treat for the worms as well.Keep your compost pile moist & shaded & turn it frquently to incorporate oxygen & your worms will be happy little campers. Try to recycle as much as you can. There is no reason for paper or cardboard to go to a landfill..It makes great worm bedding!

kat pages
8/13/2010 5:36:18 PM

Well, I call myself a weedaholic. We moved here to our 3/4 acre "estate" 16 years ago from an alley corutyard space which I had spent 10 years "beautifying"! This was a jungle of shrubs and weeds. Now, it is home to many gardens and native plantings. My secret? HAND-CULTIVATE! PULL PULL PULL. Don't mow the grass until you at least pluck the flowers and seeds from those nasty weeds. Diligence has paid off. I now know, at 60, that I will never get rid of them, but they are completely under control, and easy to spy in their youth - PLUCK! We make a run annually to the local roadside pine needle piles, harvest into garbage bins and throw them on open areas and paths. We gather our sycamore bark for free mulch. Their leaves are great shredded...found a mulcher at the auction. Mulching beds keeps the weeds down, then easy to pluck, and keeps the plants moister. Compost, of course. Our local tree man has dumped chippings for us in the past, which are great for pathways, as are pine needles. Diligence pays off!

8/13/2010 8:35:45 AM

The compost I make all summer gets spread over the area I will garden in the spring (it grows yearly) along with horse manure I get for free in exchange for helping with the barn cleanup occasionally. I also add the straw and wastes from the chicken coop and run then tarp it for the winter. Come spring I turn the garden and discover the abundance of worms that have spent the winter developing my garden. Many are moved to my raised bed strawberry patch or my summer worm farm. The garden gets better yearly. I find myself supplying basic vegies to about five families. A good feeling.

joyce zandri
8/12/2010 5:29:05 PM

My garden is about 33'x33. I dug a hole about 2'x2'x3'deep in the middle that I throw garden weeds and some food scraps into. I added a little horse manure in early spring and I turn it over once a week or so. It's very handy while weeding the garden. It's about ready for a tomato plant or I might put potatoes in it. At the same time I'll dig another hole to start over.

c in ireland
8/12/2010 4:35:25 PM

Lots of mulch, cardboard, newspapers, kids old copybook material etc to cut out light and grass, seaweed, hay, spent silage, weeds that haven't seeded, manure/compost (cover with weed suppressing cardboard/hay layer for the last two) around all your permanent plants (berry bushes, trees etc)and to make new beds (no digging!) Then drench it all with compost teas or biodynamic 500 or effective microorganisms available from organic suppliers. Let the worms build your soils and be amazed at the fertility and growth. Wormbins are great for cooked food waste and perrenial weeds and the castings are brilliant in your homemade potting compost. The soil food web will help you if you just feed it :)

8/12/2010 12:05:20 PM

I think the best thing, for beginners especially- start small, and just do it. I've found, what I can maintain is anything I can do with hands- from starting seeds to weeding. I think I've been most wasteful when I overshot my capabilities. Later this month a couple friends and myself are going to put on a first biannual wild harvest (we missed a spring harvest). I'm really excited about it.

8/12/2010 12:03:37 PM

I think probably the single biggest thing people can do to make their garden sustainable is to start composting their own humanure. Otherwise the nutrient cycle is broken, and nutrients have to be brought in from outside of the system, which is inherently unsustainable. I would also say the using dynamic accumulators in the garden, which mine subsoil nutrients which are then accessible to other plants after decomposition, are useful for building topsoil and maximizing your land's full potential.

kay hughes
8/11/2010 12:18:18 PM

I started this year putting in a fruit garden on a slope by digging away and putting raised beds to level the slope. It has been very slow going, I'm 68 and live alone, most of the summer has been very hot in Ky. Two years ago we had an ice storm, I have now carried home, each trip to town, 7 of the piles of bark cut from the trees that fell during that storm, my dream is to feed myself with healthy fruit and veg. and Never cut another blade of grass. I have organic garden since the 60's and square foot garden since the 70's, all I'm short now is the fruit, so hopefully in a short time it will be producing enough to feed me. I'm so thankful PL is working towards a garden, I live on my SS which is less than SSI or welfare and know its tough trying to make changes. I move thing with buckets and watch for anything I can pickup and use, I would like to add chickens to get my eggs, but haven't got that far yet.

jo _4
8/11/2010 9:47:05 AM

We just moved into our house in April. The previous owners had an above ground pool with a deck around it. We had the pool removed. We pulled down the deck and have been reusing the wood for other projects. By the time we are done with the wood, I expect we will have a large arbor with benches (we did have to purchase 4 new 4x4 for one side), a fence around the vegitable garden, edging around the raised beds, and a clothes line. The stairs went to someone on freecycle. Whatever deck boards are left will to to a freind to repair some damaged boards in his deck. We put no chemicals on our lawn. Many of the "weeds" are ediable anyway such as dandelion, plaintain, ground ivy, violets, and purslane. They make great additions to salads, stir-frys, and pasta dishes. It also allows us to compost the clippings with no worries. They go straight around tomatos without composting.

p l
8/11/2010 9:42:09 AM

It is frustrating, when living basically on welfare right now and trying to be self sustaining. I dug a garden pit on this property, and it is all rocky, sandy ground. There's so many rocks here, you can't hardly get a shovel in. But the good news is that the temperature is pretty mild. It hardly gets an inch or so of snow here in the winter, mostly just rain. This town is like the gateway to our coast here in Washington State. So I dug a pit thinking I could make a raised garden bed eventually by turning over the sod. I just didn't have any logs, or blocks, or big enough rocks (but they're in there, you just gotta dig them out... UGH) to make a border, so it's kind of piled up rocky... stuff. Nothing grew in it. The water drains out so fast, nothing gets wet. The soil is not working. So I have been filling the pit with the cut down "hay" from the yard. We don't get money for gas to weed-eat or mow often, so when we do, I rake it up and put it in that garden pit. I'll at least have potatoes, I guess. They'll grow in anything. The second addition was kind of expensive due to materials, but I got three hens from my cousin and built a movable chicken coop. Home Depot wants a LOT for lumber and chicken wire, and I'm still not done. And my husband-to-be is upset w/ me that I want to use his tin that he has slated for the back room addition... for my chicken coop. But his cats are already stalking my chickens! They give us 3 very nice eggs a day, though.

rosalie learmont_2
8/11/2010 8:44:26 AM

Finances keep me from digging a well so I dug a huge pit about 200' from my home, into the "swamp" area. This area collects run-off from rain. The pump was one of the cheapest-$94. Now there is water! The berry orchard is thriving. The garden is a garden again. The fruit trees are growing and all my animals have water. This was a miracle move on my part to chop, saw, hack my way back in there to the right spot to dig out. I am 53 and alone so snakes are my biggest scare about this set up. There are 3 bathtubs, 20 or so 5 gallon buckets and many 30 gallon tubs and a few 55 gallon containers. Mosquito dunks go in the water collection containers. I collect rain adamantly. I no longer cut grass, but use the "hay" my neighbor cuts in his 4 acre front yard to have a totally mulched front area and gardens and poultry area. The flower beds are really fancy vegetable growing areas and bees are abundant. It is beautiful here, and well worth the effort to hang in here and see my dreams become fruitful. Water is so very very precious, and many people in this world already know it.

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