Gardening can be a relaxing and healthy hobby, but for some it's much more. Growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs is a great way to avoid food waste, take back control of your family's eating habits, and help sustain local bee and wildlife populations.
But gardening, just like so many other popular activities, has been somewhat co-opted by Big Agriculture and other corporations. To create a truly eco-friendly garden, it's important to be aware of and avoid things like GMO seeds, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and gardening tools made from toxic, non-recyclable materials.
With just a few hours of extra planning, it's possible to plan a garden that will yield a wonderful harvest as well as a healthier planet. Here are some of our favorite ways to make your garden as green as your life...be sure to add your own suggestions in the comments!
1. BUY ORGANIC/HEIRLOOM SEEDS AND SEEDLINGS
This is the time of year when every home improvement chain store starts to put seeds, seedlings, and flats of flowers on display. While these products might seem like a cheap way to get your garden started, they should be avoided at all cost, as many (if not all) of these major brands are genetically modified or treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In some cases, these low-quality plants have caused disease outbreaks that threaten gardens and the national food supply. Seek out local farming operations for your seeds and seedlings. If none are available locally, check this list of certified organic seed companies offering their wares online.
2. COMPOST AND COMPOST TEA
Most garden plots (and even container gardens) depend on fertilizer to ensure a rich harvest. There are several different kinds of fertilizers now available on the market: traditional chemical fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium compounds; organic fertilizers that contain plant matter, animal waste or minerals that make nutrients more readily available in the soil; and biosolids, which are actually treated sewage sludge. If you can afford the higher cost of commercial organic fertilizers, they are quite convenient. But if you've got some extra time and space, it can be easy to turn your compost pile into compost tea: a super nutrient-dense food for plants of all kinds.
3. COMPANION PLANTING
Chemical sprays can be effective, but do you really want to eat vegetables that have been doused in something with a poisonous warning label? The basis of permaculture gardening is to raise plants in a balanced environment so they can maintain themselves with as little outside influence. Companion planting has been around for many years, and scientific tests show that it can help keep pests out of your garden without toxic chemicals.
Garden pests find their favorite plants through taste and smell. Companion gardening suggests that by mixing different crops together, or combining them with ornamentals, pests will have a much harder time locating the plants they want to attack. In addition to acting as a natural pesticide, some styles of companion planting (like the Three Sisters Method) can create a happy garden eco-system that reduces the need for weeding and mulching.
BethBuczynski is an environmental writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. Follow her on Twitter as @ecosphericblog.