Earth Day in the Garden – Be an Earth Friendly Gardener

(Photo: Deviantart, v-collins)
(Photo: Deviantart, v-collins)

Today we celebrate Earth Day, where we take a look at the earth and our place in it.  Though we must remember that every day is really an “earth day.”  It is not what we do on one day in April that makes the difference – it is what we do every day that makes the difference.

  We take pause to celebrate the goodness of the earth, the bounty that it provides, and the quality that it brings to our lives.  We celebrate the fertile soil, the life- sustaining waters, the cycle of life and of death, and all the plants, animals, fungi and other life forms that form the webs and networks and cycles that keep us in balance.

Earth Day is also a call to reflect upon our place on earth and our contributions to the goodness of earth and our impacts on the natural resources on which we rely and which make the earth the grand and glorious place of which poets speak and from which artists find their inspiration.  It is also a  call to action to evaluate our activities and practices as gardeners and make sure that we are following best practices that benefit the environment or at least cause the least harm to the earth and the environment.

By being good stewards in the garden, we take care of the resources that have been entrusted to us.  We also invest in the earth and the environment, rather than use or abuse those resources.  We can make a difference in our local environs, which, in turn, are a part of the larger global environment.  We are, afterall, taking care of the place where we live.

So, what are some things that you can do to be an Earth Friendly Gardener?  There are many simple practices to consider in the garden that will either be beneficial or decrease negative impacts or our direct interaction with nature.

1. Compost

By composting our yard wastes and kitchen scraps, we reduce the amount of wastes added to landfills and make one of the best soil amendments you can add to your garden.  Good compost also encourages a thriving micro-ecosystem of fungi, bacteria and other little critters that are good for the soil and the plants.  You can take it one step further and practice vermicomposting- a worm bin in or near the kitchen to eat those veggie scraps.  Cornell has more info than you can digest on composting in this handy guide.

A bee pollinates a flower.  Photo: creative commons via Mauro Moroni
A bee pollinates a flower. (Photo: Photopedia, Mauro Moroni)

2.  Feed the Pollinators

Pollination is vital to the health of the world food supply – estimates show that at least 75% of the food crops in the world require pollination.  As we have seen issues with honeybees in recent years, it is as important as ever to make sure that we have a healthy population of native pollinators (plus we can also help feed honeybees).  Pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and even bats can benefit from a good food source and other needs.  Check out www.pollinator.org to find a pollinator planting guide for your area.  They even have a pollinator gardening app!

3.  Conserve water

Water is one of our most precious, and most limited, natural resources.  Some areas of the country have water in abundance, while others are severely lacking.  Looking at water consumption in our vegetable gardens, landscapes and lawns is important, no matter where we are.  Some practices like mulching, using native plants, selecting water-wise plants, using drip irrigation instead of sprinklers and collecting irrigation water in rain barrels are all ways to help.  Be sure to find ways to conserve water in your vegetable garden and your landscape.

Teapots and mugs make fun recycled garden containers.  (Photo: Flickr, Vilseskogen)
Teapots and mugs make fun recycled garden containers. (Photo: Flickr, Vilseskogen)

4. Recycle

While composting is nutrient recycling, there’s room for recycling other things in the garden.  My favorite veggie garden mulch is newspaper, and some of my favorite seed starting containers are recycled plastic cups and takeout containers.  There is no limit to recycling in the garden.  There’s lots of garden art that can be made from recycled materials, and you can make a planter out of anything you can drill a hole in.  Check out this nifty list of garden recycling I found from the University of Florida.

5.  Be a Climate Friendly Gardener

There are many steps that we can take that reduce the carbon emissions of our gardens and their potential impact on the climate.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has a nice booklet on practices such as choosing low-impact products, choosing trees and shrubs, proper lawn management and more.  You can download the booklet or read the basics at their site.

6.  Practice Integrated Pest Management

IPM focuses on reducing or preventing pest problems, rather than reacting to pest problems.  Practices like using row covers to exclude insects, proper plant spacing, reducing overhead watering and using mulch to reduce diseases are great ways to prevent diseases.  IPM uses the least-toxic pesticides as a last-resort for pest control.  The National Pesticide Information Center is a great resource for IPM in the home, garden, lawn and more.

7. Love your soil

 Great gardeners know that you start with the soil – it is one of the most important things in your garden.  The first step is testing your soil, but it doesn’t stop there.  Adding organic matter to improve structure and rotating crops with different root depths and shapes can be great ways to affect the soil.  The Conservation Technology Information Center at Purdue has some good background information on what to do.  You can find out more about your soil using the NRCS Web Soil Survey.

8. Use least-toxic or organic pesticides

We know that there are problems that arise that do need treatment from time to time.  When making choices on disease, pest, or weed treatments, gardeners should always make the least-toxic choice to handle the situation.  Many gardeners also choose to select organic controls for pests.  Organics are usually produced from naturally-occurring sources, though safety precautions should always be followed – they can have some of the same impacts on health and the environment as their non-organic cousins.  I found a good list of least-toxic and organic pesticides from Oregon State University.

A wonderful backyard vegetable garden. (Photo: Flickr, Laura K. Gibb)
A wonderful backyard vegetable garden. (Photo: Flickr, Laura K. Gibb)

9. Grow Your Own Food

By growing your own vegetables, not only do you know what you are eating, but it can also reduce the amount of fuel used to get your food from farm to plate.  You can also practice edible landscaping and grow fruits, veggies and other tasty treats among the flowers.  The estimated travel distance for an item on the grocery shelf is 1200 miles, which could vary depending on where you live.  To find info on growing your food, check out the Ready, Set, GROW! section of my county extension webpage.  You’ll also find handouts from some of my workshops, including “The Sustainable Garden,” “Food Among The Flowers,” and more.

10.  Share your love of gardening

There’s nothing better than sharing the joys and benefits of gardening with your friends and neighbors.  Show your neighbors how to grow your favorite plant, adopt a school garden, help patients garden at a nursing home, or just find your own way to share your love of the earth.

John Porter
Extension Agent, WVU Extension Service
Charleston, WV

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