Wishing a Sustainable Year to All.
As we returned home in the late afternoon on Christmas Day, in the failing daylight, snow began to fall. It was the 'frosting' on this beautiful 'cake of a' day. It was a final and treasured gift. The feeling stayed with me. It helped set the tone for today's column. Seeking and sustaining serenity and peace in a time of doubt, I wonder how might one apply this concept to the garden?
The season is gray in many ways and dimensions. The daily news from many corners of the planet is bleak. The greed for wealth, power and media attention seems never to be greater.
The needs for: universal health care; an end to hunger; equitable housing and living wages; a deliberate and determined end to water and air pollution; truth and justice everywhere starting in our own government; a moratorium declaring all war abolished forever. These are vital if our grandchildren are to survive without great suffering and despair, if they are to survive at all.
On a brighter note, the days grow longer by increments welcome to any gardener, indoor or out. In G. B. Shaw's "Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God", published in 1932, the author states, "The best place to seek God is in the garden. You can dig for Him there." What a simple and profound thing to tell us.
The plant and seed catalogs are already piling up, waiting to be perused and sticky-noted or highlighted or dog-eared, as if preparing for a grand picnic.
In the grayest of seasons, thinking green is being promoted. Bravo. The word "sustainable" has become part of the vernacular. That which is sustainable will last; it will maintain itself; it will perpetuate itself and its productivity. Sustainability requires that things be done a certain way. The earth has to be respected. The environment has to be protected. Natural resources have to be preserved. Water and air, soil, wildlife, fossil fuels, and germ plasm bases need to be treasured and guarded against any and all harm.
Remember "Think globally, act locally"? You have the opportunity to take action very locally. You have the power to make your gardens truly "green". Your property can be as sustainable as you choose.
A "to do" list for a sustainable home and grounds landscape might begin with thinking about all the aspects of your gardening/landscaping endeavors. Consider lawn; flower, vegetable and herb gardens; fruit and nut trees and shrubs; ornamental trees and shrubs. What are the traditional measures you take to maintain each of these? Can you do a better job? Is everything being done to promote harmony in their ecosystem? Take a close look and I'm sure you'll find room for improvement. Consider yourself the steward for this piece of land. You are, after all.
Gardening is farming on a small scale. It is an activity practiced for personal pleasure and the rewards the work returns. These are the produce, flowers, fruits, nuts, herbs, and aesthetic enjoyment. Surely, one of the highest rewards might not be seen. It is interior. It is the knowledge that you are maximizing your land"s sustainability, its "greenness".
Since J. I. Rodale advocated organic gardening and it became popular in the '40s and '50s, the publication known today as Organic Gardening has become the most widely read gardening magazine in the world. What a great place to start! The tenets of this movement serve as a great blueprint for the homeowner.
Maintaining healthy soils means avoiding toxic inputs. This translates to no chemical insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, antibiotics, or fertilizers that can in any way impede the growth and vigor of beneficial soil microorganisms. The choice supplements to enhance soil fertility and microbial health include organic vegetative matter, manures, humus, compost, and green manure cover crops to be turned in. Minerals from natural sources rather than chemical processing plants are friendly to the beneficial bacteria, fungi, and animalcules in your soil. The above suggests that you already compost, or need to begin, if you wish to be on the road to a sustainable landscape.
Equally important is preserving the soil from erosion. You don't want to lose what you've built and nourished. There are many ways to do this, but all must involve proactive steps. Mulching with a natural material that will redistribute the moisture from the sky and prevent its splashing and running off the land. Compost, straw, pine needles, rocks, shredded bark, leaves or paper, as well as more expensive and exotic buckwheat hulls and cocoa fiber will all replicate what Mother Nature does on her own, and keep your valued soil where you want it.
Animal pests can also be controlled using natural methods that require a few proactive measures on your part. Rotating your crops will prevent the buildup of pest populations in a single plot. Physically removing insects or knocking them off with a forceful water spray will leave them on the ground where many beneficial insect predators will enjoy them as a meal. Get to know the good and bad insects. You might introduce lady bird beetles or other prey species, or interplant with herbs that attract beneficial predators or with plants that repel the bad pests. The bottom line is that two or three pest insects on a plant do not constitute an invasion or problem of major proportions. Leave the pesticides out of the equation unless all else fails, and there are many "elses", including repeating the above as often as necessary. Four legged pests, of course, need to be excluded or repelled without exception.
Weeds compete for moisture, light, space and nutrients and must be controlled. Chemical herbicides are not needed and should be avoided. Mulches can prevent the weed seeds from receiving the light they need to germinate. Mulches also keep the soil moist and make it easier to hand pull any weeds trying to get established. I still view this as a meditation exercise. A regular meditation will soon yield time for other activities.
Another planting practice that is very effective against weed establishment is no-till gardening. Taken from organic farming practices, the less the soil is disturbed, the fewer weed seeds are exposed to the air and light and moisture that helps then germinate. Don't turn over the soil. Plant transplants and mulch around them, period.
Did you know that trees in your home grounds could be protected from insect and disease attacks, as well as nourished to be their healthiest and most insect and disease resistant? And, it can be done without chemical clouds hovering over your property or drifting into your neighbors'. Modern technology has led to a vaccination style of protection: an injection into the cambium layer (the transport system) of the tree, a mere 1/4" under the bark. The material enters into and travels throughout the entire vascular system of the tree. By the way, the materials injected can be organic as well.
Avoiding all chemical pesticides has another great advantage. It preserves all insect life and the valuable predators of same, including our bird allies. All of these need to eat, so why not protect their food sources while you're at it? Feed the birds without stopping at this time of the year and be sure to supply with liquid water daily.
No matter how modest your gardening efforts, put in another plot (any size will do) that you can plant with a cover crop, and start a rotation next time around. Your soil and produce will show their thanks. Flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables are only a season away.
Remember, everything has a right to live; it feeds and it becomes food. Make your new efforts sustainable and your gardens will be "greener". Make harmony and biodiversity part of your new gardening vocabulary.
From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on January 10, 2007
© 2005 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.