14 tips for sustainable gardening

Posted on April 22, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun


With the climate crisis looming, the good news is there are simple steps you can take in your own backyard and garden that can reduce carbon emissions, and even capture carbon, while also nourishing your soil, conserving water, and fostering a healthy eco-system that attracts and protects all kinds of native species. As Wendell Berry wrote, “to cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.”

  1. Jody Donaldson of La Vida Buena Nursery in Sebastopol says, “The number one thing people can do for their gardens is add two inches of organic compost to their beds every year. This acts as an amendment and mulch at the same time, feeding the plants, conserving water, and preserving the soil’s nutrients. This also helps pull carbon out of the air and gets it back into the soil. “
  2. Andrea David-Cetina of Sonoma’s Quarter Acre Farm suggested, “Plant vegetables together that have similar irrigation needs, and mulch your garden to conserve water and reduce weeds. For mulch you can use straw, wood chips, or dried leaves. To reduce water evaporation only water in the early morning or late evening. And don’t use herbicides or pesticides.”
  3. Replace pesticides and herbicides with safe, non-toxic alternatives, such as neem, safer soap, organic sluggo, and white vinegar.
  4. Choose native, drought tolerant plants. This is as effective for water conservation as creating an arid, dry landscape of gravel, and protects the topsoil. Plant native flowers and herbs, and bee-friendly plants.
  5. Mulch your garden to conserve water and reduce weeds—you can do this inexpensively with straw or dried leaves from your trees.
  6. Ditch the gas-powered lawn equipment, which the Air Resources Board reports will be responsible for more carbon emissions than cars by 2020. Replace with rakes, brooms, and hand tools, and battery-powered equipment when needed.
  7. Plant seeds from sources you can trust to be free of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used in large-scale commercial nurseries but are toxic to bees.
  8. Rachel Kohn Obut, manager of Flatbed Farm in Glen Ellen, suggests sheet mulching as a great way to convert a lawn to a productive garden. Cover your water-thirsty grass with a layer of cardboard, a layer of compost, and a layer of mulch. Plant low-water flowering native perennials (such as ceanothus, manzanita, or redbud) or flowering perennials from Mediterranean climates (such as lavender and salvias). Or plant food-producing plants.
  9. Growing your own food, while requiring medium watering – preferably with an irrigation drip irrigation system — has many health benefits, and avoids the carbon footprint of buying produce shipped from far away.
  10. Even a small yard can accommodate a compost bin, and there are countless ways to create one, easily found online. Balance wet and dry ingredients, and turn it regularly.
  11. Beware of shredding your leaves for mulch as many moths and butterflies build cocoons under leaves. Consider simply raking leaves gently under your trees and bushes to decompose, nourishing the plants, while harboring beneficial insects, moths, and bees as well as native lizards and frogs.
  12. Bare soil releases carbon into the atmosphere – use a cover crop in winter such as peas, beans, and other legumes, which can then be tilled into the soil in spring to supply its nitrogen needs, reducing or eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.
  13. Plant trees, which sequester large quantities of carbon dioxide for long periods of time, and cool nearby buildings in summer.
  14. If you have a lawn, choose native grasses, which usually require less water, and set your mower blade to three inches or higher to encourage deeper, less thirsty roots. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to increase carbon storage. Mulching mowers are ideal for this as they create fine clippings.

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Photo: A home compost pile is easy to maintain, and a great way to recycle fruit and vegetable scraps – but don’t include citrus peel or onions.

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