Gardens are great conversation starters. We talk about their beauty and how lucky we are to have them. We talk about the food we grow, how to cook it and the immense pleasure of basking in the sunlight amidst the sounds and sights of chirping birds. We share the struggles of dealing with particular weeds and the solutions when we finally overcome.
Sustainable Gardening is gardening in a way that maximises the benefits of the garden while ensuring that our gardening practices don’t have a negative impact on the natural environment. The key to being sustainable is being aware of what’s happening in your garden so as to know what to add, improve, or do away with altogether. Here are a few areas to be mindful of, and tips to get you started.
A gardener should keep track of where waste comes from, its quantity and quality and use it effectively. Recycle all your organic and kitchen waste by composting and use it to enrich your soil. Composting reduces your garden’s carbon footprint as it reduces the amount of trash going to the dumpsite therefore less production of methane gas. Compost-rich soil also means less need for inorganic fertilizer which contaminates ground water and runoff. You can also use organic waste for mulching. This locks in moisture in the soil thus conserving water. Go a step further by reducing and reusing inorganic waste. Throw your cardboard egg trays, boxes and toilet paper rolls into the compost heap. They make excellent brown materials. Use discarded plastic bottles as pots for herbs and flowers. Plastic and coffee cups are great for nurturing seedlings before transplanting them.
Water use and conservation
First, understand your garden’s water needs by conducting a water audit. Let the data you collect inform your decisions. Trap rain water for use on your plants, and limit surface run off. You can achieve this by installing water tanks, water pans and creating perforated landscapes which allow penetration of water. You can also recycle your waste water. Consider reducing the size of your lawn and planting native, climate-appropriate plants that will naturally thrive in your climatic conditions. Lawns consume a lot of water. If you must water plants, say ‘no’ to sprinklers. Use a hand-watering can or a drip irrigation system.
Garden design and plant selection
A well designed garden is beautiful, productive and practical. Let your vision guide your design. If you want to grow vegetables, put the vegetable garden in a place with at least six hours of sunlight. Most of Kenya’s urban areas vegetables come from far. Growing your own vegetables cuts down on carbon dixide (CO2) emissions. Plant heat tolerant plants where the sun is hottest, and trees to act as windbreakers. Practise companion planting which boosts plant growth and plant for pollinators and wildlife. Climate change affects them too. As mentioned earlier, go local. Better a thriving local plant than a beautiful but struggling exotic plant. Be strategic about the time you plant. Planting just before the rains ensures plants are rain-fed eliminating unnecessary watering. Beware of weeds, especially local weeds. For example, the Amaranth is a nutritious weed but if left unattended, it will overtake your garden. Dealing with pests? Exterminate them using an Integrated Pest Management approach. Lastly, design a garden you can tend to by hand. Not only does it eliminate the use of fossil fuel dependent machines, there’s joy in getting our hands muddied.
Healthy soil equals healthy produce. A garden’s soil is an asset in combating climate change. It stores water, and sequesters carbon. It’s also home to microorganisms which play an important role in composting, soil aeration and soil enrichment. Do a soil test to know the gifts and the needs of your soil, then act accordingly. Regularly add compost to your soil to improve its fertility, thus requiring zero fertilizer. Plant legumes which are nature’s nitrogen fixers for the soil.
but don’t be afraid to add supplements to meet plant needs. Have cover crops to regulate the soil’s temperature, and avoid over tilling the soil as it destroys its structure and damages the fertile top soil. Finally, let the earthworms, soil fungi and bacteria mingle.
Doing most of these? Congratulations! If not, start small and start easy. The more you interact with your garden with a sustainability mindset, the more you’ll be able to turn it into a truly green haven.