Once the organic seeds are sewn, and the first few seedlings emerge, it’s easy to believe the hard part is over. Garden pests, droughts, and unexpected weather would say otherwise.
Even self-sustainable gardening is not without its headaches and occasional needed intervention to solve problems like insects (the bad kind), mold, disease, and nutrient deficiency.
Fortunately, there are plenty of sustainable gardening ideas to solve these problems without sacrificing the purity of your outdoor sanctuary. There are tons of ecological gardening solutions, but here are some common ones:
A nearly full head of cabbage suddenly infested with aphids rots my rutabaga.
Companion planting is the practice of interplanting different plants with known benefits to each other (and avoiding those with adverse interactions).
Companion planting is sustainable gardening 101 because it allows your garden (and beneficial bugs like ladybugs) to thrive without harsh chemicals or industrial practices. If a plant cannot deter the bad bug, it may attract its nemesis.
Pop a border of marigolds around your garden beds as a deer-deterrent and beneficial insect landing pad.
If an overzealous aphid family is intent on ruining your prize-winning cabbage, a trap crop of nasturtiums will keep them safe.
Fertilizers are used to provide needed macronutrients to the plant, especially during its fruiting stage.
The problem with synthetic fertilizer is that it possesses the required nutrients in excess, mixed with a laundry list of harmful chemicals.
These chemicals slowly leek (get it?) into your garden and water supply.
The persistent algae bloom in Lake Erie, for example, is believed to be caused by runoff of local farms at a huge detriment to wildlife in the area.
Instead, try natural fertilizers that rely purely on plant, animal, and mineral sources for their nutrients. Get your pitchforks ready; it’s time to work some compost magic—AKA the single most effective of all eco-friendly gardening tools.
Homemade compost—using your own indoor compost pin or outdoor compost pile—allows food waste to be recycled into the food system by breaking down animal manure, kitchen scrap, yard waste, and even weeds (if hot enough) to create humus: a deep, rich soil blend full of nutrients that it feeds plants and maintains healthy soil.
Other natural fertilizers are bone meal, alfalfa meal, kelp, fishmeal, and feather meal. While the large selection may be confusing, knowing which groups of plants require higher concentrations of certain nutrients help narrow down which is best.
Natural Pest Control
Synthetic pesticides are used to kill garden pests, most notably in large mono-crop operations, as a single species of bug could decimate a farmer’s entire crop (and bank account) in one season.
The four main classes of synthetic pesticides are organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids—all of which have been linked to adverse effects on wildlife, bee, bird, and insect populations.
Even at the top of the food chain, the dangers of synthetic pesticides don’t stop, with numerous linked human health problems within the reproductive, immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems.
To garden sustainably, stay away from synthetic pesticides. If companion planting doesn’t tackle all your bad bug problems, opt for more natural solutions, like diatomaceous earth, garlic, eucalyptus oil, cayenne pepper, and citrus oil, to name a few.
For non-creepy-crawly pests—like birds and deer—using netting to keep them from stealing your soils instead of chemical sprays and soaps.
Mulching & Sustainable Garden Weeding
Mulching is used primarily to retain water and reduce weeds. Using natural mulch (like lawn clippings) that breaks down and feeds the soil is best.
Even with heavy mulch, an obnoxious weed will still be attempting to take over. Hand weeding frequently can reduce overwhelm of the space (and you.).
Harvesting & Resowing Techniques
A sustainable living garden is just that: alive. From the tip of the flower to the root base, the garden is teaming with life.
With more microbes in a spoonful of soil than people on Earth, it’s easier to understand why each plot of land or patio pot’s soil makeup should be carefully considered.
Eco gardening techniques and regenerative practices prevent as much soil disturbance as possible.
Did you know there are several cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties?
This means one seed can produce several cuttings. When you finish the lettuce, cut at the base (taking care not to disturb the roots) and interplant radish or onions. As the lettuce base and roots break down, it feeds the soil microbiome.
As you harvest, be sure to save seeds, too. Saving seeds is sustainable horticulture at its core, as it guarantees organic, heirloom seeds for next year without needing to purchase.
At the end of a busy gardening season when plants begin to die, the best sustainable gardening practices are… do nothing.
Yep, you heard it here first. Cover your compost-filled beds with a heavy mulch and allow them to rest, break down, and prepare for next year’s plans.
When next spring rolls around, don’t get the jump on tilling your garden too early, as insect larvae are still sleeping there after wintering over in your soil and should remain undisturbed until the soil is warm enough to plant in.