Friday, 15 November 2013

Becoming more sustainable - things you can do in the garden

There are plenty of ways to become more sustainable in your garden. Here are just a few ideas:

1) Grow some of your own food.

Okay, this one is a bit of a no brainer.  Growing your own food organically means you have control over how it is grown. You have the ability to grow healthy, chemical free food, and to have it on hand when you want it.   A home-grown tomato or strawberry tastes great and gives a real sense of accomplishment. Growing some of your own food is cost effective too - a packet of lettuce seed costs very little and will produce a large amount of lettuce. For the price of a bag of lettuce from the supermarket you can buy a packet of heirloom seeds and grow lettuce all summer long. If you let some lettuce plants go to seed and save some of the seed from them you can keep growing lettuce indefinitely. Same goes for cane fruit like raspberries. They can be big producers - we often get a bowl of raspberries a day in the growing season. Goodness knows how much that amount of organic raspberries would cost to buy!

Silverbeet and perennial spinach growing at base of nectarine tree

Growing your own fruit and vegies also makes a huge reduction in the energy used to grow and transport food. Walking out to the garden to get a home-grown lemon is more food feet than food miles. Compare this to buying a lemon that may have been trucked in from interstate, and stored for an extended period in a cool room...... or worse - a lemon that has come from all the way from the USA. Garlic from another continent - why buy that when It's super easy to grow your own?

If the idea of growing your own food seems a bit daunting then the best way to get going is to start off small - try growing herbs in pots. Then, bit by bit as you build up confidence and experience, you can expand your activities into your garden.  Just take one step at a time.  Don't worry if some things don't grow so well at first. It happens to everyone - just don't give up!

2) Catch and redistribute your own water

Installing rainwater tank is a good way of sustainably managing your garden.  Remember the days of water-restrictions?  It was our 18,600 litres of stored water that got our extensive garden through those hot summers.  The price of water tanks has come down and down,  so they are no longer an unaffordable option and are a good investment against rising water prices.

Our water tanks being delivered

3) Someone else's waste can be your gain

You can often find local sources of free stuff for your garden that is someone else's waste. In our case one of the things we get for free is woody mulch.  We source some of our woody mulch from an arborist in a neighbouring suburb. They leave the chipped mulch on the nature strip outside their business for people to help themselves to. All you need are some sturdy bags (free at the local produce store) and some transport, and you can help yourself to as much as you need.  We also have a few arborists who will sometimes drop off a load. Other sources of free mulch are street trees. Many of the trees in our suburb are deciduous so Autumn is the time for leaf collection. Rake up the leaves, maybe give them a bit of a run over with the lawn mower...and you have more mulch, or substrate for your compost bin. And we all know mulch is good for the garden - it helps keep the moisture in the soil and reduces the need for watering. Helps control weeds too.

Free woody mulch from the arborist

In our suburb people sometimes put unwanted goods on the nature strip for someone to take for free. Often these items are garden related - landscaping rocks, pavers, trellis, pots, plants, even old bathtubs that can be turned into worm farms etc. We've found a lot of useful garden items this way. It can also be a good way to obtain firewood. Keep your eyes peeled - you never know what you'll find.

We miss the good old days of the yearly hard waste collection. That could be a great source of garden and household items. Good way to meet the people in your neighbourhood too! We would swap all sorts of things with our neighbours. Now, in our suburb, the hard waste collection is a thing of the past. We have an individual household collection scheme that is arranged through the council :(

4) Make your own compost

This is another no brainer.  Turn all of your food scraps and garden waste into soil enriching compost.  It's not hard. You're saving stuff from going to land fill and your garden is the winner.  The addition of compost over several years has made our soil unrecognisable from what it used to be. It's dark, crumbly and full of worms - a far cry from what it was when we first moved in. The improvement in the soil translates directly to increased productivity in our garden.  All due to the power of home-made compost. You can also use the weeds from your garden to make weed tea. This is a great plant tonic - we posted about making weed tea here.
5) If you need to buy things, try to buy second hand

With ebay, Gumtree, trash 'n treasure markets and other places, it can be easy to buy second hand garden/landscaping items.  It's cheaper than buying new and you're doing something good for the environment. You might even get items for free on Freecycle if you're quick.  Recycled timber is pretty widely available these days and can be the perfect option for raised garden beds (just make sure it's not treated pine if you plan to grow vegies in the beds)

6) Join a local permaculture or garden group

This is a great way to swap seeds and plants. People in these groups grow an amazing variety of things and because they are grown locally they should cope with your local growing conditions. These groups are also often great source of knowledge about all things garden-related and you can get some great tips.

These are just some of the ways you can become more sustainable in your garden - it's not an exhaustive list, just something to get you started. If you have some other examples then we'd love to hear them.

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