Sustainability refers to the ability to sustain the use of a resource without depleting that resource permanently; and this includes minimizing the environmental effects of our daily actions.
What does Sustainable mean to you, and what are some ways you can increase your household's Sustainability?
Part one of my Sustainable Family series kicks off with Starting a Garden. There are many reasons to start growing your own fruits & vegetables and plants & flowers. Gardening is therapeutic, raises children's self-esteem and awareness of nature, improves indoor and outdoor air quality, and can provide a family with fresh, pesticide and chemical-free produce. You can start a butterfly garden, a hummingbird garden, an herb garden, or fruit & vegetable gardens.
You'll have to start with an organized plan. Sketch your vision of what your garden will look like, taking into account the amount of sunlight that hits each area of your garden. Some plants will require full sun, and some can use less sun once they have sprouted. If you have children, allowing them to be a part of this process will get them excited about nature and teach them a few things about the world around us.
Things to consider when planning your garden:
- Place plants in an area with plenty of sunlight, 5 hours a day is ideal,
- Take into account whether you want bees near your entry doors and plant accordingly,
- Place Hummingbird and butterfly-attracting flowers near your windows or high-visibility areas,
- An in-ground garden bed is the easiest way to get started but is harder to tend to and weeds may creep in,
- A raised-garden bed requires more construction, but is easier to maintain and allows the best soil drainage and accessibility,
- Inspect your area for burrowing pests, you may need to dig a little deeper and place chicken wire about 16" deep,
- Plant trees - like fruit trees - 5' or further away from your root vegetables, greens, and herbs,
- Begin composting now - even if you can't afford the personal composting bins which run about $100.00, you can compost your kitchen and yard waste in a variety of ways - keeping in mind that you need to turn it often, water it, and maintain a proper balance of brown, green, and kitchen waste to maintain the proper 50/50 Carbon/Nitrogen balance. (Home-composting is not only good for your own garden and budget, it is also a great way to be more considerate of the earth by keeping green waste out of landfills)
- Check your local circulars for the best deals in garden soil and potting soil, and get ready to get dirty.
What to Plant:Choosing what to plant is one of the funnest parts of the process because you get to choose what kinds of fruits and vegetables you like the most. In my case, I absolutely love all vegetables, so this is easy. Choose a variety of colorful flowers, root vegetables, squash, greens, beans, peas, herbs, berries, and citrus and fruit trees. Some of these, like citrus trees, are easiest to plant when purchased as a tree from the store. But vegetable, flower, herb, and flower seeds sprout quickly and the results are more rewarding.
Themed GardensIf you'd like to create a Butterfly Garden or Hummingbird Garden here are some of the flowers and plants they prefer:
- Succulents: like cacti
- Fruits: currants, gooseberries
- Red Thistle
- Sage, Salvia
- Verbena, Mint
- Colorful, bright Red, Pink, Orange clustered blossoms
- And most importantly, do not use insecticides!
Seeds to sow in early Spring (after last frost date):
- Root Vegetables (Carrots, Potatoes, Onions),
- Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Lettuce, Arugula),
- Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Asparagus,
- Cherries & Berries,
- Parsley, Cilantro, Basil
What you will need:
- 3 - 6 cubic feet of garden soil (you can start sowing your seeds in small pots first, and will need the garden soil within 4-8 weeks unless you want to sow directly in the ground if you have no pets, or rain in the forecast which can displace your little seeds),
- 3 - 6 cubic feet of nutrient-rich potting soil mix,
- small peat pots for starting seeds (you can sow 1-2 seeds in each and transfer straight into the ground within weeks),
- trays for placing the peat pots while sprouting your seeds,
- a high-sunlight area to place your seedlings ,
- a watering can with a soft rain flow.
Sowing your Seeds
Set aside a workspace and fill your pots with potting mix, then place one or two seeds into each pot, making sure you label each and follow instructions on how deep to sow. Smaller seeds, like carrots and onions must be sown at a depth of only 1/4 inch whereas squash and garden beans can be sown deeper, between 1-2 inches deep.
Once you've filled all your pots and covered the seeds with the appropriate amount of soil, carefully water each one without directly pouring a heavy stream of water on them which will displace the seed or uproot a small fragile plant. It is important never to let them dry out completely and also never over-water them. Make sure the pots are placed in an area that gets a lot of sunlight and raised on a planter's table or racks to avoid pets or critters coming in contact with them.
In one to two weeks your greens, peas and beans, herbs, and flower seedlings will start to poke through the soil. Keep them watered, and well-drained. When your plants are about 2-4 inches tall, you can transplant them into your in-ground or raised-bed garden.
Watching your Garden Grow
This is the most exciting part of the process of starting your own garden because watching the beauty of life sprouting through soil and knowing you were responsible for it is extremely rewarding! Children take pride in watching their seedlings grow and will be more likely to eat vegetables and fruits that they grew themselves. Your children can give away potted herbs to their friends or neighbors! You can eat your basil, mint, or cilantro leaves straight from your plants!
- Space: If you have limited space for a garden or live in an urban setting like an apartment or have a small yard, you can still have a productive garden! Window boxes are a great way to grow flowers and even herbs. You can have large potted lettuce gardens or hanging herb gardens as well, and when you move you can take your pots with you!
- Pests: Organic methods of pest control are best! I recommend using salt and diatomaceous earth for slugs and snails and other crawling insects. Remember that some pests control others so don't kill all the little critters in your garden--I love most of the little spiders, bees, and ladybugs I find in mine. Rodents and burrowing animals are best kept away using chicken wire laid 16" or deeper under your garden bed.
- Soil: Use a soil test kit to test the pH balance of your soil and mix your soil with garden soil if needed. Most plants need a neutral pH to thrive.
There are so many resources available to you, from your local garden center to the many online how-to guides. You can start your own garden this Spring and begin providing your family with wholesome organically-grown produce and spend quality time together while doing so.Happy Gardening!