Sustainability means using fewer non-renewable resources to ease the burden of extraction, production and consumption of these resources puts on the environment and on society. Starting a garden is one positive step you can take toward living a sustainable life, especially when you focus on low- or no-waste methods of growing food.
You can easily start a sustainable garden and grow the majority of your own food using these six simple strategies for getting a bountiful harvest with a minimum of resources.
Choose the Right Plants
Learn the unique “microclimate” of your area before planning your garden, and pick plants suited to the local weather patterns. Focus on perennial varieties and those requiring the least amount of water to thrive. The perennials will provide a new crop each year without needing replanting, and drought-tolerant varieties cut down on the number of times you have to pull out the watering can or hose during the growing season.
Minimize Water Use
Reduce your reliance on outside water sources by collecting as much water as you can in rain barrels or large buckets. In the garden, use mulch around plants to allow water to soak in when it rains and help the soil hold onto moisture after natural or manual watering.
Know the Timing
Prior to planting, determine the length of your growing season. Plan out when you’ll put in each type of seed or plant, including a blueprint for succession planting so that you can get the most out of your garden by sowing crops according to the weather in which they thrive.
Aim for Self-Sufficiency
Growing more food means buying less, so focus on crops with the greatest potential for a large harvest. Imagine being able to get your family through the winter purchasing little or no food grown on large-scale farms or transported halfway around the world. It’s possible if you plant foods like:
- Cruciferous greens
- Dry beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
All of these crops can be frozen, canned, stored or processed into ingredients. Instead of going to the store when you need a staple food, you can “shop” your own freezer, pantry or root cellar and continue reaping the benefits of your garden throughout the cold months.
Reuse and Recycle
Start thinking of every food scrap in your kitchen as compost. Vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds and eggshells can all be saved and added to a compost pile or put in a compost bin with worms and other masters of decomposition. You can also use leaves, grass clippings, hair clippings and even fingernail and toenail clippings as long as they’re free of chemicals.
Preserve the Soil Balance
Soil is literally alive with thousands of organisms large and small. There’s even a thriving community of fungi under the surface, and the balance of all these living things is crucial to the health of your plants. Going organic removes the destructive influence of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and lets soil life do its job of sustaining what you grow. If pests become problematic, consider environmentally friendly methods of control instead of disrupting the soil.
When you garden sustainably, you get an exponential return on your investment of resources. Relying less on the large farms supplying grocery stores means your meals require less fuel to grow, store and transport, and you reduce the chemical burden on the planet. You also get the benefit of enjoying some of the freshest, most delicious produce you’ll ever eat while knowing you did your all to minimize the environmental impact of your garden.