Most people probably think that gardening is a “green” or eco-friendly activity. However, there are certain choices gardeners make that can be harmful, as well as choices that can be extra-beneficial to the environment. As a guide to action, read on to find out about the wide variety of beneficial choices you can make in regard to five different aspects of gardening.
Save the Bees!
Bees are disappearing and dying at alarming rates, and they’re key to our agriculture system, as they’re needed to pollinate plants. About a third of our food supply is all thanks to bees! Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can help bees by making mindful choices in your garden.
Perhaps surprisingly, bees thrive in an untidy garden! Mow your lawn less and don’t kill the nectar-producing dandelions, clover and creeping thyme that can help sustain bees. Manicured lawns aren’t good habitats for bees or any other wildlife, and actually have a history of being just a status symbol.
It’s better for the environment to plant native types of flowers, shrubs and trees, instead of planting grass seed. Woody plants are incredibly important to bees, as they provide habitats for them, as well as sources of pollen and nectar.
It’s a great idea to make a bee bath that will not only help bees, but can also help other “good” insects such as ladybugs and butterflies. A shallow dish on the ground, with some stones to serve as “islands,” can make a perfect watering hole for our helpful pollinators and their friends.
Most importantly, be sure to buy organic plants and avoid the use of herbicides and insecticides (especially neonics), as these are very harmful to bees. Herbicides and insecticides aren’t good for the environment or humans, either—we’ll talk about some alternatives directly below.
Pests and Weed Control
Most chemical pest control options are extremely harmful, and end up killing more than the pests. Roundup by Monsanto is a popular choice, but is toxic even for humans. Even chemical products that claim to be biodegradable or all-natural may not be, so you need to choose wisely.
Here are some safe and organic substances that will enable you to get rid of pests and weeds without harming humans, bees or the environment:
- Bacillus thuringiensis – A naturally occurring pesticide that bees are immune to
- Vinegar – A classic herbicide that’s quite effective at killing weeds (Just remember to leave those dandelions and clover plants for our bee friends!)
- Epsom salt – It’ll keep slugs and snails away from your veggies, and is also an excellent fertilizer for tomatoes and peppers
- Chrysanthemums, marigolds and lavender plants – A few examples of plants that repel pests and are pest-resistant
- Corn gluten – Can be used as a weed killer
- Kaolin clay – Mix it with water and spray the stems of plants to deter pests
- Neem oil – An effective repellant for aphids, mites and even fungal diseases
- Essential oils – Oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary are good insect repellants that can be used on people, as well as in the garden
Birds are also a natural insecticide, as they’ll eat slugs and grubs that can harm your garden. Install birdfeeders to encourage birds to visit your space and manage the pests in your garden. An added benefit is getting to birdwatch from the comfort of your own home!
Even though there have been many options for bee-friendly pest control provided here, remember that an imperfect garden or landscape is actually more beneficial to wildlife. As suggested above, this type of garden or landscape is also ecologically friendly, and involves so much less work than keeping a perfectly manicured lawn or garden!
Chemical fertilizers are harmful to bees, “good” insects and wildlife, and aren’t really good for humans, either. You could argue that a domestic garden or veggie patch doesn’t need much in the way of fertilizer, but if you must have it, consider using compost and manure exclusively. However, you should use manure sparingly. If it isn’t absorbed properly by the plants and soil, then it’ll seep into the groundwater supply via the runoff from rainwater.
You can make your own compost by getting a compost bin that you can turn periodically, and putting some soil and worms in there to help process your food scraps. You’ll even have the option of getting a dual-compartment compost bin, so that while one side is “processing,” the other side can be used for your garden.
Home compost systems serve a dual purpose, as they help homeowners process any food waste, and after it’s been composted, this waste can then be used to fertilize gardens.
Having a rain barrel (or another rainwater collection system) is an important way to collect water to use in your garden. In most cases, using freshwater is wasteful, especially when rainwater is free and can be effectively collected and saved for later. Some greywater can also be used in the garden, if you happen to have a greywater collection system.
During the gardening season, some municipalities offer rain barrels for free or at a fairly low cost. They can also be found at virtually any hardware store with a gardening department, or you can try finding a secondhand one online (check out local trading groups, Kijiji or Craigslist).
Fruit- and vegetable-bearing plants and trees are a great addition to any garden. Some don’t require much maintenance, but any effort you put into maintaining food-producing plants will pay off when it comes time for the harvest.
Growing your own food will save you the travel costs and emissions associated with frequent trips to the grocery store. It will also allow you full control over the types of chemicals that your food is exposed to—no pesticides or harmful chemical fertilizers will be necessary!
Fruits and vegetables that are grown seasonally can be preserved in jars or dried into jerky for off-season times. Alternatively, they can be cooked or baked into meals that can be frozen for convenience at a later date.
Remember—In a Green Garden, Less is More
Gardening—and eco-friendly gardening, in particular—doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive chore. Keeping up a lower-maintenance garden, without a lot of weeding, spraying, mulching and such, is ultimately a far more environmentally friendly pursuit than maintaining a perfectly manicured and weed-free lawn (otherwise known as a barren wasteland for bees, butterflies and ladybugs!).
To read more about gardening, visit How to Build a Simple Greenhouse With Recycled Materials»
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