Looking for ways to make your garden more sustainable? Here’s a simple sustainability checklist to make sure your patch is up to scratch
Water-wise plants: tick. Companion planting to reduce bugs: tick. Solar garden lights: tick. Creating a biologically diverse and ecologically sustainable garden nurtures our world, which of course benefits everyone. We all know to conserve precious resources, but there are plenty of other ways to green up our gardens.
For starters, there are some things that are easy to overlook, such as repurposing that pile of cracked plastic pots sitting in the corner. There are also things we could be doing a little better, such as saving the starchy water from cooked pasta to pour on the vegetable garden. Pop on your gumboots, grab a cuppa, pen and paper, and take a stroll around the garden to do an eco-friendly audit.
1. Calling all earthworms
If these little guys aren’t one of your best buddies in the garden, they should be. Earthworms aerate the soil, which helps roots grow deeper and improves soil drainage. Worms’ nutrient-dense castings (or worm poo) improve soil structure. Ideally, worms will flourish naturally in a rich no-dig garden but in a vegie patch, it’s a different story. If you don’t already have one, create a worm farm.
2. Don’t skimp on quality
The mulch you bought in bulk at a discount might have saved you cash initially, but was it false economy? Purchasing cheap (and sometimes inferior) products can mean you’ll need more of them and they won’t go the distance, so you’ll be looking at replacing them a whole lot sooner. Don’t skimp on things such as soil preparation (the more you boost your soil, the greater the returns) or watering systems (an inferior system that springs a leak will cost you a bundle).
It also pays to buy natural materials that will break down, not end up in landfill like that cute and quirky plastic garden gnome. If you do need to buy plastic bottles and containers, use the bases for beer traps for slugs or get crafty and turn them into bird feeders, self-watering seedling pots or mini herb gardens.
3. Power up with eco-friendly garden tools
It’s time to retire that old petrol-guzzling mower. Every time you turn it on, it splutters, coughs and pumps out toxic fumes. If you’ve only got a small patch to mow, consider a push mower. They’re pollution and noise free, easy to store and care for and you get a free workout to boot. Keep your lawn weed free, as weeds compete for nutrients and water. When you mow, never take off more than one-third of the leaf tip or the lawn will get patchy and dry.
4. Go native
Planting exotics often equates to more: more expense to buy, more watering, more ongoing care. Switching to native plant varieties usually means less: less to buy, less water, less to care for and less impact on the environment overall. Natives also attract wildlife into your garden, along with birds and bees to pollinate plants and reduce the numbers of garden pests and mosquitoes.
5. Shades of green
Planting trees improves air quality and generates passive cooling for the home, thereby reducing energy consumption. Plant something fruity with a shallow root system, such as lemon citrus, or trees such as a beautiful deciduous Golden Robinia or Chinese pistache to provide summer shade and winter warmth when they lose their leaves. Trellised vines provide cooling shade for pergolas: try an ornamental grape or bower vine. Around entertaining spaces, plant herbs in pots on a timber screening wall for shade.
6. Grow more, buy less
The more food you grow, the less you need to buy elsewhere, reducing your food miles. If you don’t have the space for a bigger vegie patch, rethink what you’re growing and how you’re growing it. Raise your garden beds — you won’t need pathways so there’s more room to plant. Go vertical to increase your grow space with crops such as tomatoes, beans and peas. Supercharge your soil with rich organic compost. Make the most of your vegie patch with high-yield vegetables such as zucchini and salad greens. Freeze, dry or pickle excess produce and swap your more abundant crops with neighbours.
7. Cool composting
No matter where you live or how big your patch of dirt is, you can have a compost bin or pile. There are ample commercially viable bins, buckets and compost makers constructed from a range of materials you can purchase, or create your own with pre-loved materials from around the home. Composting bins are best located close to the kitchen garden in a shady area. Repurpose some timber pallets and make a compost bay by nailing three sides together and attaching a hinged door as a fourth side. The air flows freely through the open slatted sides and the hinged door keeps the chickens out. Use an old wheelbarrow as a compost bin. Make a few airholes for the compost to breathe and you can wheel it around the garden to where it’s needed. Give a new lease of life to a plastic laundry basket: turn it upside down in the garden and cut a flap out at the top to add materials for composting plus a flap at the base to collect your compost.
8. Work with your site
You wouldn’t shove a square peg in a round hole, so why try to grow a shade-loving plant in full sun? It’s human nature to want what we want and sometimes it just doesn’t jibe with what’s practical or, in this case, eco-friendly.
If you do try to grow things in the wrong areas, you’ll waste precious resources trying to prop up the plants and end up adding them to the compost anyway. So, rework your garden if necessary to position plants where they should be and pass on to other green thumbs any that just won’t grow on your shady/sunny site. Embrace the areas you have — plant your vegies in areas with good drainage, or build a pond or plant water-loving species in boggy areas. By following these simple tips, your garden will work in harmony with Mother Nature and be much happier and healthier for it.
Written by Carrol Baker
Originally in Good Organic Gardening Volume 8 Issue 3