Eco-Friendly Gardening: Sustainable Practices for Your Green Space

Take care of the planet while you garden

It doesn’t make sense to garden if we are not approaching the practice in a sustainable way. Why steward land if we are contributing to its demise at the same time? The good news is that it’s easy to be environmentally sustainable in the garden – and it often means being sustainable for your budget!

If you want to start a garden, it’s important you understand this: You don’t need to buy a million tools, gadgets, and accessories to get started. When I started my garden, I was limited in budget and time, but I didn’t let that stop me. I found ways to make my front and backyard flourish by using things I already had, and opening myself to my community’s resources. 

Using what you have

While traditional tools like a watering can and some planters are great, they are not necessities to growing your garden. I filter my drinking water with one of those two part pitchers; a section for the water on top, and the main jug that holds the filter + filtered water. The top of my filter broke a couple of years ago, so I lost a filtering system but gained a pitcher for my garden. It holds as much water as many watering cans, and gets water from the source to the plants!

You might be surprised at how many things can become a planter: Coffee mugs, drawers from dressers, jars, old trash cans. I often get asked about one of my compost bins (pictured below). It’s actually an old hamper that found a new purpose in my garden! I put a worm composter on top, and it’s a great place for old food to decay and worms to populate. Plus, seeds in the compost will germinate & grow through the holes in the hamper, and it’s fun to see what grows. 

Do you have any scrap wood and some power tools? If so, there’s no need to buy plant stands. Drill/cut a couple holes in a plastic planter, thread some kitchen twine through it, and now you have a DIY hanging planter. Old peanut butter jar? Perfect container for your propagations! Start seeds in egg cartons. Once you get started, you’ll see that the garden is a place for repurposing just about anything with a little creativity. 

Invest for the long run

When I do buy tools for my garden, I consider the price for the longevity of that tool. For example, a plastic watering can may be cheaper than a galvanized steel watering can, but the plastic watering can is more likely to break, and you’re more likely to spend money replacing it. 

This doesn’t mean you should throw away the plastic watering cans you already have, but when it’s time to buy a new tool, consider the one you won’t have to repurchase anytime soon. That will be good on both your wallet, and your environmental impact. Although quality materials are more expensive up front, their long-term durability can balance out the cost.

Where do your plants come from?

Plants can lead to… More plants! There are many environmental taxes to buying a plant from a store, for example: Let’s say you want to buy a canna bulb. In a very general overview, this needs to be grown at a nursery, planted in a plastic planter, sent to the store, and brought home by you. If the plant doesn’t look good at the store, it might not sell and get thrown away (even if it’s still alive). If the nursery can’t sell it to any vendors, there’s a high chance it will get thrown into a dumpster and burned (yes, burned).

I’m not saying it’s bad to shop at nurseries, but when we gardeners consider the plants we all have between us, it becomes clear that by sharing plants between us, we could eliminate a high degree of environmental waste (and save money!). I was given several bags worth of canna bulbs early into my gardening journey, and they took root in my garden, leading to many more canna bulbs (more than I anticipated, actually, which became a problem I had to solve). 

Between propagating, digging up plants that grow prolifically, and sharing seeds, we can increase the plant life around us while using less waste & energy. 

What we can learn from sustainable garden practices

We should be sustainable because it makes sense. The opposite of sustainability is rushing, cheating, and working for a short reward at the expense of long-term success. What good is short-term success if there’s nothing to look forward to later down the line? As you work toward achieving your goals in life, I encourage you to think about some of the themes discussed in this blog. 

Are you going the “cheaper” route, and more likely to have to stop to fix a problem (like a broken watering can) in the future?

Are you focused on durability, and choosing tools that will make it so you can reliably make progress on your goals for a long time?

Are you thinking about what you want your life to look like when you do achieve your goals, or just focused on achieving your goal even if it means everything else in your life has fallen apart?

Choose to be sustainable because it means you are working in a way that will avoid burnout, promote long-term success, and create ideal conditions for your goals to continue growing – both in your life, and in your garden. 

Plant-Based Diets: Growing Your Own Health Food

My experience with growing edibles

I have several major goals for my garden. One goal is to create a vibrant space I can enjoy along with local wildlife. That’s right – I welcome the possums, anoles, hummingbirds, bees, and even the pesky squirrels and mosquitos. Another goal is to foster a natural space full of plants growing together in harmony. Lastly, I like to grow plants I can consume. 

Growing fruits and vegetables enhances my diet and gardening experience, and the herbs I grow provide me with culinary and medicinal support. Right now, I have nectarines, peaches, blueberries, blackberries and grapes fruiting and flowering. This is the greatest harvest I have ever seen coming to fruition in my garden, and I am looking forward to eating some home grown fruit!

I have tomatoes and peppers growing, but it’s still early in the season for their harvest. Many of my herbs are flowering, like lavender and cilantro, and others are newly planted and taking root. 

Growing your own food is a wonderful way to connect with nature as well as eat fresh & nutritious food. In this blog, I will share some of the key lessons I have learned from growing food in my garden.

I grew this massive cucumber in my garden

The key lessons I’ve learned from growing food

One of the major lessons I learned is to be aware of what you can manage and what you can’t. Early in the season, it can be exciting to start hundreds of seeds or buy dozens of life plants and get them in our soil. But, the work doesn’t end there. Will you need to protect them from birds and squirrels? Will you be able to take the time to address an infestation if one develops? When it’s time to harvest, do you have the space required to process what you collect? Will you be prepared to eat or preserve what you grow? 

These questions might seem unnecessary, but I know many people who have let potential harvests go to waste because tending to the plants became too much between work and responsibilities. Some people simply forget about their edible food when they get busy! Growing nectarines sounds like a great idea, but you have to be faster than the squirrels! This year, I took time to wrap my ripening nectarines in mesh bags in hopes of keeping them out of reach from interested wildlife.

It’s important to know what will grow where you are. For example, people in northern Canada might be able to get a pineapple propagation to root in water, but it’s unlikely to grow to the point of producing fruit in that cold climate. It’s one thing to propagate the pineapple for fun, but if your goal is to truly grow your own fruit, you need to be deliberate with what you plant. 

I had a mature pineapple plant come to fruiting here in Texas, but since we started having annual freezes, the plants don’t do well here and none of my plants have made it that far. So, I grow pineapple plants because I like how they look, but not because I plan to enrich my diet with home grown pineapples. 

This is a pineapple top I propagated & rooted in water

We also must consider what our plants or trees need in order to fruit. For example, some trees and plants need a partner to produce fruit. Not everything is self-pollinating or able to produce on its own.

My recommendation to people who want to grow food is to visit their local nursery and talk to the staff. They should be able to tell you about what will grow best where you are, and how you can optimize the process with your space and resources. 

How to start growing food 

If you’re new to gardening and you want to begin growing your own food, I think you should start with a couple herbs such as basil and rosemary, and a vegetable plant like sweet pepper. Once you start flavoring your omelets, salads, soups, or bread with home grown herbs, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner! The pepper plant will take more patience and monitoring, but the experience will increase your understanding of what edible plants entail. This will also help you get into the routine of monitoring your edible plants, using what you grow, and figuring out what you can fit into your schedule. 

I encourage everyone to grow their own food in the space available to them (backyard, balcony, spare room, rented plot), while reminding everyone to pace themselves. The last thing we want is garden burnout, which can lead to wasted efforts or feeling discouraged. 

I also think that growing edibles is the perfect opportunity for people to come together and share the labor and the reward. If growing food seems daunting, talk to your friends and family – you might have somebody in your life who is interested in getting started with you.

This is a hydroponic growing system

The Soil of the Soul: Nurturing Your Inner Garden

Think of yourself as a garden

Have you ever thought of yourself as a garden? It may seem strange, but follow me on this thought.

Your mind is like a garden, your hobbies, habits, and routines are like plants, and your thoughts are like the water and sunlight you give your plants to grow. 

When the plants are tended to, the garden flourishes. When the plants are neglected, the garden suffers. You, as the gardener, are responsible for the success of the garden. You choose what grows and the level of care the plants receive. When invasive weeds (such as negative thoughts) pop up, it’s your job to manage them. If an infestation (like a depressed mindset) develops, you need to address it; the longer you wait, the greater the problem will become. 

Now you can see that you have more in common with a garden than you initially thought. So, how do you nourish the soil of your soul?

Nourishing the soil of your soul

Your soil is the foundation of your garden. The quality of soil and amount of nutrients present determines the health of your plants, if they can get what they need to grow and flower, and if wildlife can be sustained. In the perfect garden, the soil is rich, the plants are strong, and the wildlife has healthy sources of food (some people consider wildlife to be enemies of their garden; for me, gardening is about life coming together in a balanced way). 

Where do the nutrients in soil come from? Believe it or not, they come from “what has come before.” Dead leaves, old sticks, grass clippings, and compost are full of the nutrients necessary to healthy soil, and they pass them onto the soil as they decompose. This is why it drives me mad when I see plastic bags of raked leaves on my neighbors’ lawns, left out to be picked up by the trash collectors. By taking away the leaves, we take away a key source of the soil’s health! And, insects and critters need the leafy environment over winter to prepare for spring. 

Anyway, soil is constantly building upon itself in the cycle of life. The old becomes the new, and this is what happens with us. 

Think of all of your experiences, positive and negative, as the dead leaves, sticks and compost that nourishes soil. You can learn from your past experiences and use those lessons to grow in the future – the same way your food scraps as compost support the plants in your garden. 

If you want to nourish the soil of your soil, pay attention to the choices you make and the experiences they yield. Learn from those experiences, and use them to guide your choices in the future. Turn every experience into a lesson, and your soil is sure to be nutrient-rich and healthy. 

Using your soil for continued growth

With a healthy foundation, you can focus on your plants. What do you want to grow in the garden of your mind? Kindness, patience, and positivity are good “seeds” to plant. Seeds of negativity are likely to take over your garden and stunt your overall growth, so I recommend doing your best to keep these out of your soil. 

Remember – your plants grow together, just like your mind, body, and spirit. Plant seeds of dedication to your well-being, resilience in the face of challenges, and perseverance to finding solutions to problems that develop. The seeds you plant and the sprouts that ensue represent the person you want to be and the level of well-being you seek to maintain. 

As you tend to these growing seeds, remember to continue nourishing your soil with the lessons of your experience so your soil is constantly getting new nutrients. After a plant absorbs nutrients from the soil, the soil needs new nutrients for future plants. 

A good practice for learning lessons from your experience is journaling. Write down what you learn from your experiences so you always have them to review, and I bet you’ll find a new lesson in each experience as time goes on!

The benefits of a vibrant garden

By tending to the garden within, you set yourself up for success in mind, body, and spirit. You will notice that you are less intimidated by challenges because you are energized, confident, and motivated. You will have improved relationships with those around you because you are focusing on positivity, which yields patience for others. Have you ever noticed how people are drawn to genuine positivity like moths to a light?

If more of us took the time to tend to the gardens within, I think we would have fewer problems in the world, happier people, and a healthier planet. Thankfully, this reality is more than possible. It starts with us, and it starts now.