You’re desire for some garden innovation – but what of the environmental impact? Under every major renovation is the cost to our eco-system. It’s a price that’s making an increasing number of people uncomfortable. There’s smog on the streets, fracking threatening the countryside and pressure groups denying the existence of climate change.
Do you want to be part of the problem? With that in mind, we’ve come up with a few renovations to your garden decor that won’t increase your carbon footprint. Try a few of these, and it won’t just be your grass that’s green.
Give Your Garden an Eco-Makeover
Let there be light
You might not instantly think of a conservatory as eco-friendly, but it will slash your carbon footprint in the long run. In the summer a conservatory will act as a suntrap, sending heat wafting through your house. In the winter it will provide an extra layer to protect you from the cold, keeping the freeze at arm’s length and saving you on heating bills.
The average conservatory will cost you a few thousand dollars, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. Enjoy your glass paradise in the summer – knowing all the while that your carbon footprint is plummeting.
A toast to compost
Where does the muck and the dirt and the crusty remnants of food go in your home? If the answer is “straight in the bin”, then you’re missing a trick. Compost bins are great for the environment, finally giving your waste some purpose. Fill your bin with leaves, mud, twigs, leftover food (although don’t use meat – it’ll turn toxic) and almost anything that you have on hand.
Be sure to layer different types of mulch – the mixture of different chemicals will improve the veracity of your compost. Once you’re done, you’ll have healthy compost to top-off your soil whenever it’s weakened.
Solar panels always get a bad rap – mainly from energy companies who don’t benefit from their customers using them. Panels have, however, been consistently dropping in price over the past few years. They’ve moved from expensive and impractical to affordable and doable.
Admittedly, users in the grey skies locations might find the power they gain is minimal. But in the summer, panels are an effective auxiliary power source to slice your energy bills.
Water, away from your pipes
We all waste more water than we’d like to admit. Giving your toilet that pointless second flush, keeping your taps running as you do the washing up, etc. However, doing the same thing in your garden is unnecessary.
Instead, collect rainwater in a bucket and use your collection to water your plants. You’ll be using natural resources to give your garden a natural lease of life. And all without poisoning the atmosphere.
There are small, easy steps you can incorporate into your everyday life that will yield big returns. In addition to saving money, you will be doing your part to conserve, reuse, and lessen your environmental impact.
Green Gardens, Green Gardening
There is nothing more attractive than a beautiful garden. However, your garden can place a heavy burden on nature unless you take steps to keep it environmentally friendly. Here are some of the best ways to keep your garden green, both figuratively and literally.
Gardens need lots of water, and that can have a major impact on the environment. However, there are several simple ways that you can dramatically lower the amount of water they need. To start with, water your lawn in the morning and at night when it is cooler – this will reduce evaporation and allow the water to soak into the soil.
Also, most lawns only need watering every 4 to 8 days, so there is no reason to have the sprinkler heads running all of the time. In fact, if you water your lawn less frequently but more thoroughly, you will encourage it to grow deep roots – which will make it much stronger and more resistant to disease.
If you really want to save lots of water, install a greywater system. This will collect relatively clean water from your shower, bath and wash basins, and then treat it so that it is clean enough to be used in your garden. You will need to have some plumbing done, as well as have a tank and filtration system installed, which will cost some money.
However, if you are serious about reducing the impact your garden has on the environment, then the investment is worthwhile. You can also collect rainwater and use this to supplement your greywater, but make sure that you check with your state government before you do – some states regulate or prohibit this.
Fertilizers can do a lot of damage to the environment, particularly if they get into rivers or streams – think about all of those noxious algal blooms. To reduce the amount that you use, buy a good mulching lawn mower from a supplier, rather than picking up your grass clippings when you mow.
This will feed your lawn and reduce the amount of fertilizer you need to apply. Some people worry that clippings make an unsightly mess, but if you mow your lawn regularly and only cut off about a third of the height, then you only have fine clippings – these will sink into your lawn quickly without leaving a trace.
Also, don’t assume that you need to apply fertilizer every year. In fact, most lawns only need fertilizing every 3 to 4 years, particularly if the clippings are mulched. Get your soil tested every couple of years, and then check with your local garden shop to see if you need to do anything – and, if you do, make sure that you buy organic fertilizer.
Finally, the best fertilizer for your other garden plants is compost. Save your garden waste and put it on a compost heap, along with appropriate household waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps. You may still need fertilizer for some plants – roses, for example – but overall you will drastically reduce your fertilizer usage by composting.
Our Growing Garden
Now that summer is in full effect, so is our thriving garden. (And so are the earwigs, ew.) This is our third year having a garden and each year we keep increasing the size of our garden. At the beginning it was a lot of work.
My husband spent many weekends digging up the areas that were soon to be pea patches and squash rows. He also spent a lot of time weeding and planting the seed. It has paid off so far with all the spinach, lettuce, collards, and peas we have so far enjoyed. Coming soon are summer squash, winter squash, bush beans, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and leeks.
The only bust we have had this year (after many failures in the past two years) was kale- it was just too far in the shade. But this just makes me more determined to learn from my mistakes for the next year.
While working in the garden, I began to understand why so many Americans don’t have a garden. My husband goes to work early, so he gets to return early and has more daylight time to work on the garden. Many Americans work 9-5 jobs, get home, make dinner and it is practically dark by the time they are able to take a breath. W
hen would they have time to weed, water, etc.? My other thought is that we would never be able to sustain ourselves on our own garden unless we were actually farmers and spent our 40 hour work week working the land. We may have a good amount of veggies for the summer, but there is usually little left to preserve for the other times of the year.
It is crazy to think about this, and understand a bit more about why our food system is the way it is today. I also better understand what society cares more about since most people don’t have massive gardens. We spend it with technology, working (making money), driving to our jobs, etc.
Maybe if we reconsider what is most important to us we would not be living our current lifestyles (and a paradigm shift in our society would occur). Or if we stopped watching so much TV we would have time to garden.
Have you ever looked in a compost bin at a restaurant or cafe? Though it’s not the most glamorous of tasks, I don’t mind digging through trash. I’d even offer that it’s one of my favorite pastimes.
And, well, sometimes you have to–like when there’s a coffee cup lid or plastic wrapper just sitting there in compost bin, threatening to contaminate the whole operation.
Because it will. And so will foil, yogurt cups, and sugar packets. Or maybe those are okay? Composting isn’t complicated, but it’s not the simplest thing either.
San Francisco mandated curbside compost collection in 2009 and since then it’s been a resounding success. The city estimates that it diverts 80% of all waste from landfills, and that composting collection has increased by more than 50% since 2010.
There’s no doubting that New York can also succeed when it launches its own composting program in 2016. But while some Californians would argue that composting is in their DNA, it likely isn’t. And if it’s not in a Californian’s DNA, it’s probably not in the DNA of New Yorkers either.
How do you teach the do’s and don’ts of compost?
In addition to the many years of efforts to teach people to source-separate their food scraps for composting by cities like San Francisco, colleges and universities all across the country have started compost programs– and with it have compiled a whole list of best practices. One of the biggest takeaways is that if you want non-contaminated compost, it comes down to good signage and what I affectionately refer to as “compost-concierges.”
Colleges and universities that have started composting programs are careful to make detailed signage that lists exactly what can or cannot be placed in the compost bin—going so far as to inventory the items in a school cafeteria or restaurant and explicitly list on the signs what goes in what bin.
They also employ “compost-concierges,” i.e. students who love trash so much they are willing to monitor (read: defend) compost bins during high trash times. While this may seem like overkill, I’ve served many a shift as a “compost-concierge” and, trust me, it is not innate which bin the wooden coffee stirrer goes in.
The fact is, for many people, composting is an entirely new phenomenon. An entirely new, awesome phenomenon that they’re more than willing to embrace, and often do, just not always 100% correctly. And as great as it is that individuals and cities are starting to think beyond cooking and buying food responsibly to considering how to discard food responsibly as well, an effective compost program is really reliant on an effective, informed consumer.
The majority of the restaurants and cafés I’ve been to in the San Francisco area don’t rely on signs to help their customers navigate the semi-complicated world that is composting. In an ideal world we would learn about composting in elementary school, along with the unit on recycling. But for those of us for whom elementary school happened long ago, a little education could go a long way into ensuring the perfect compost.
Kristen Watkins, the Sustainability Program Specialist at Recology, a company in San Francisco that provides collection, recycling, compost and disposal services, informed me that Recology and the City of San Francisco staff put in a lot of effort to educate customers about using the composting bin.
The City’s Department of the Environment spends significant amounts of time in San Francisco neighborhoods reaching out to residents and businesses alike to help them learn how San Francisco’s composting program works. Recology also has checks at the transfer station and compost facilities to ensure that the material used to make compost is free of any contaminants.
Watkins continued to point out that a lot of what can and cannot be composted (and recycled, for that matter) actually varies by city, depending on what the composting facility is setup to handle and what the city government advocates for. For example, can’t handle greasy pizza boxes or colored paper, but San Francisco has no problem composting these.
Watkins also pointed out that San Francisco’s Department of the Environment has led an extensive outreach and education campaign and that Recology’s truck drivers are even in on it, helping their customers learn the do’s and don’t of what goes in the compost bin. Still, Watkins pointed out that if this whole endeavor is going to work, it’s important to explain more than what is accepted in the program; it’s also necessary to get at the why of composting– the circle of life, good for the earth, thing.
Education is a key component of making composting work. Many people are eager to compost- but we shouldn’t overestimate their ability to do so. A little education- a sign, a concierge, and maybe, one day, a mass media campaign- can do a lot to make sure this whole endeavor doesn’t go to waste.
Rethinking Food Waste
I recently read an article in the Urban Farm magazine that discussed how to reduce your food waste. I found it very informative. Since we are currently in a season of consumption, we can all learn some new tips on reducing our food waste.
We also need to reduce our food waste since according to a New York Times article, Americans waste one pound of food per day per person. That is a staggering number.
Here is what Urban Farm suggests:
- Shop smarter and smaller: Make a grocery list and stick to it. If you make a grocery list, you know exactly what you need and what you will use (hopefully everything on the list). Making a weekly meal plan can help with knowing what you need. If you have leftovers you can plan accordingly by reusing them in another meal or enjoying them as is; there are even phone apps that help with this problem. By making a grocery list and meal plan and sticking to them, you can also help your wallet.
- Store your food well: By having your food in clear containers you know exactly what is in the fridge. Unknown items do not get overlooked and forgotten, then tossed out after a couple of weeks. Also make sure to give your fridge a thorough look through often so leftovers don’t get lost in the back and forgotten about.
- Watch portion size: Know how much you eat and how much you need to eat. By doing this you are less likely to cook too much. Cooking too much leads to unwanted leftovers, that are then tossed out and wasted. Also, if you are eating out make sure to know how big portions are before ordering. Either plan on sharing or taking home leftovers if portions are too big (they most likely are) to finish in one sitting.
- Be creative with leftovers: If you know you are cooking a dish that will yield a lot of leftovers, try to plan ahead on ways to re-use those leftovers. Try re-working them into another dish instead of just eating the same leftover over and over again. For example, black bean soup can be cooked down for quesadillas or made into chili.
- Your freezer is your friend: Don’t be afraid to freeze leftovers. Soups, bread items and burger/patties are great item for freezing. This also makes it easier for you down the line when a quick dinner is needed. Freezing is helpful for when too much food is purchased and you are unable to find ways to use it.
- Dates are not regulated by any agency
- They are meant for the grocery store not the consumer. Grocery stores need to sell fresh products and dates help to ensure that.
- We have all had milk be bad before the date or last long after that best-by-date, so don’t worry too much about them. Use your best judgement and your sense of smell to know if something is worth saving or chucking.
- Compost food waste: When excess food is not salvageable, compost it if possible. This allows you still ‘use’ it in a way without having to throw it in the trash. This is also helpful for scraps when cooking. If you garden, composting is a must.