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How To Practice Sustainable Backyard Gardening

Author: Agatha Croft

How To Practice Sustainable Backyard Gardening

Book Series: Green Fingers Series


Planting a sustainable backyard garden is a great way to save money on fresh produce, while avoiding the myriad of chemicals and toxins that are present in commercially grown fruits and vegetables. The best part is that sustainable backyard gardening isn't hard to do, and with a few useful tips you can soon be on your way to growing organic, GMO free produce of your own! The best part is that it isn't hard to do, and by using your environment, wise planting tips and tricks to get rid of pests you'll be dining on nature's best, and reaping the fruit of your labor!

Understanding Sustainable Gardening

Sustainable gardening is a method used to plan and grow produce by drawing on nature and relying on the natural environment to grow fresh produce. This is done by using natural elements to irrigate, repel insects and provide nutrients to your plants. By avoiding the use of all chemical additives, including chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and by making your own compost you can grow truly organic, GMO free fresh produce.

Relying solely on helpful insects, specific diversities of plants and organic compost, this method of gardening aims to create an environment that encourages a healthy garden without harmful toxins. Although this might sound like a very complex idea, the reality is that sustainable gardening is just that: sustainable. In many ways this style of gardening is much less work intensive than traditional gardening. Once you have established a good sustainable garden you essentially create a micro-ecosystem, minimizing the amount of intervention needed for healthy plants.

The best part is you don't need acres of land to create your own sustainable garden, or to grow your own foods. In this book we will cover some basic principles to help you plan your garden, choose your plants and planting time, as well as give you tips to help you protect your plants from insects and disease naturally. This book will also provide some basic information to help you enrich your soil naturally with organic fertilizers, and create your own fertilizers for ongoing soil conditioning and replenishing.

A basic sustainable garden will make use of the environment in a few ways.

-Planting only plants that are suited to the zone and climate.

-Catching and saving rain water and run off, piping it thru drip irrigation to water the garden.

-Save seeds of annual vegetables for planting next season.

-Have a compost area, worm farm, or both, to provide nutrients and good bacteria to the soil.

-Rely on good insects and organic control methods for disease and pest control.

-Inter-planting or co-planting, avoiding using one bed for a single type of plant or crop. This helps to maximize pest control and create a permanent feature for agriculture in your back yard.

-Rotating beds for winter and summer plantings.

What is the Difference between a Traditional Garden and a Sustainable One?

While a traditional garden relies on the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to care for its plants and keep them growing, sustainable gardens take the environment into consideration aiming for minimal negative impact. By avoiding the use of toxins, chemicals and GMO plants, the sustainable garden creates a microenvironment that promotes plant health, and boosts production naturally. Everything from irrigation to pest control are thought of during the planning and planting process, fomenting naturally vigorous plants.

A sustainable garden also aims to avoid waste and minimizing the environmental impact of the garden by recycling, and replenishing the earth organically, catching and using rain water and creating an environment that promotes soil regeneration and healthy plant growth. Some gardens also include ways to harness rainwater for use in irrigation, avoiding the toxins found in city water. By careful planning, gardeners can successfully create a garden that is self-sufficient for the most part, cutting down on chores needed to care for it and producing healthier food in the meantime.

Planning Your Garden: Know Your Space

The first step in creating a sustainable backyard garden is planning the layout of the garden to make the most of your space by carefully taking note of what you have to work with. It's a good idea to measure the space you have to use in order properly to plan what you can plant and where. This is a very important process, as poor planning can lead to a failed crop and problems with pest control and disease control.

Before beginning your plan, it's important to understand the goal of a sustainable garden. The goal has succinctly been defined as a "design that aims to eliminate any negative impact on the environment thru careful design, eliminating waste, and creating a project that is sustainable in the long term." This differs from traditional backyard vegetable gardens that are usually temporary or seasonal, in many ways.

Designing your garden with the idea of a long-term commitment in mind is the key to ensuring that your investment will work for you for many years. This isn't to say that certain seasonal vegetables, like tomatoes, for example, will not need to be replaced, but it does ensure that the garden maintains its purpose in an independent way – that purpose being to supply fresh, organic produce for your household.

With that in mind you are ready to start your garden plans! Don't worry if you don't have a lot of space or are planning on using containers for growing, as long as you plan for the long term, you can be sure you'll get the results you want. It's important to go in with a clear understanding of what will work, and avoid design flaws that will require additional work and maintenance.

Before you begin planning it's a good idea to get a notepad or notebook for your gardening notes and plans. Keeping your plans on paper, and your notes organized is important to ensuring everything goes as planned, and nothing is forgotten in the shuffle.

Assess Available Space

Measuring your planting space is the first step in the design process, and is the key to planning what you will be able to grow, and what you will need to ensure your garden succeeds and produces well. Measure the usable area of your yard, and make a note of the shape of the area as well as any unmovable objects or plants you want to keep. Measure all the sides so you can determine the area of your garden, as this will help you calculate quantities of many things in the future.

You don't need a huge area, and even a 100 sq. ft. garden, if heavily planted, can supply a lot of organic produce for the family. If you have more space, an area of about 500 sq ft. is ideal as it's large enough to grow a variety of plants and will produce enough to share with family or neighbors. The key is to avoid planting a garden that is so large that maintaining and planting it is difficult, and cuts into your already precious free time.

It might be helpful for subsequent planning to draw the area on your notepad, writing down the measurements of the usable area. If you are planning on using containers for some plants, make sure to note that as well, including the size of the container you have so you can plan what to put in them, and where they can be placed. Knowing how much space you have for planting will ensure you give your plants enough space, and provide the optimal environment for growth.

Another thing to consider is the slope of your land, if the garden area is on a hill, you will have to crate beds to level out the garden area. If not you will run into issues with wash, water not reaching all areas evenly, and the loss of the good soil you used. This will add to the time needed to tend the garden, and could lead to less produce in the end.

Don't worry if you aren't an artist, a rough sketch is all you need to get started with your garden plan. Include any trees in the sketch, as well as any structures that produce shade. This is very important as the next step is to decide on the best place for your garden and the most efficient layout, making sure the environment is optimized for the best results.

Sun and Shade

The majority of vegetables and herbs need at least 5 hours of sun and some need up to 8 hours, so make a note of the areas of your yard that are shady. If you live in an area with a temperate climate it's normal to start planting in early spring or late winter. The problem with this is that the trees still have no leaves, meaning that you could easily miscalculate the amount of sun an area gets. It is essential to the project that you plan to plant in an area that is full of sunlight, getting at least 5 hours of direct sun a day.

Many homeowners like to incorporate their vegetable gardening into their landscape, and this is a great idea. If that is the way you plan on doing it, make sure to plan for canopy growth and place your produce plants in the sunniest locations, using ornamentals for the shadier areas of the garden. This can help ensure that your garden isn't only functional, but is also aesthetically pleasing. This can be especially helpful if you don't have a large yard, and want it to double as a social area as well as a sustainable garden.

Sun plants will turn to face south to capture as much light as possible, so be sure to plant them in a way that allows for that fact. Don't forget to account for shadows cast by fences, large trees, walls, structures or houses, as the time they block the sun can be detrimental to the growth of your garden. Sunlight calculators are a great investment, and can help you determine where to plant for optimal results.

The idea it to plan to place plants in the optimal area where they will receive the light they need to grow and flourish. By being aware of light needs and planning for them you give your garden the best chance possible, and produce abundant food for your family to enjoy.

Soil Quality and Root Systems

When choosing the best location for your garden make sure to consider the root systems of surrounding trees, as well as the quality of soil in the area. If your garden is small this might not even be open for discussion, in which case modifying the soil and using barriers to protect against root invasion are a good idea. Knowing what to look for when it comes to soil quality, and proximity to trees will help making soil prep easier and less of a guessing game.

If you have large trees in your garden, it's a good idea to place your garden a good way away from the edge of the canopy to avoid roots that make soil preparation difficult, and might end up leaching the nutrients from the soil. The best practice is to place your beds at least 10 feet from the edge of the canopy of large trees, which minimizes problems with roots in the ground. This will ensure your plants get enough sun, and aren't competing for nutrients with the trees in the area.

Some types of trees, like pines for example, have a long tap root and don't provide a lot of shade making the space around them better for planting. It is important to consider that pine needles raise the PH of the soil, so avoid planting plants that prefer a more alkaline soil, like oregano or lavender. Taking that into consideration is important.

Another thing to consider is the type of soil in the area you are hoping to plant. If the ground is clay, rocky or sandy, you will need to add the missing elements, like sand, loam and compost, to make the soil plant friendly and promote quick growth. This is especially important in areas with a short growing season, and can help ensure you get the most out of the time you have available.

Modifying the soil with natural, organic material can also help ensure the garden is healthy and sustainable in the long term. By selecting an area of your garden that has good soil, or that can be easily and naturally enhanced is the best practice, and can help you grow organic greens that flourish, bearing to their full potential. The soil is, after all, the backbone of the garden and starting out with poor soil will make the journey more expensive and more work intensive.

Planning Your Garden Layout

The final step in planning your garden is to make a blueprint of how the garden will be laid out. Make sure to include paths, sun and shade areas, as well as an area for compost, worm farms, or any other needs you will have to help your garden be truly sustainable. Making definite plans is the best way to ensure you make good use of the space you have, and gain the most from your garden.

When drawing out the plans it's a good idea to be as detailed as possible, include measurements and distances in the plan. This will help ensure your plan is functional and doesn't over crowd the area, or waste space. Adding the exact measurements will help ensure your walkways are wide enough, and the beds, shallow enough that you can comfortably reach your plants without stepping in the beds.

If you are creating a designated vegetable area, with traditional planting beds, it's important to make sure not to make them too deep in order to allow for harvesting without compressing the soil by walking in the bed. A good rule of thumb is to make beds no deeper than 36 inches, or the length of your arm times two.

If there are shady areas that can't be used for growing, it might be a perfect place for your garden shed, compost pile or cuttings. Making sure all the spaces in the garden are used efficiently, and avoiding wasting precious sun on things that don't need it is one way to make sure you have as much planting space as possible.

Although at this stage you don't need to pick out your plants, you should make a note of the planting area, and if the soil needs to be modified, how much of each component you need. This can help to simplify shopping and can help you avoid having to make several trips for compost, manure, sand or other components.

Another consideration is crop rotation, and several beds that can be rotated to allow the soil to be replenished. If you are incorporating a vegetable garden into an already established landscape this might not be an issue, as the plants can be swapped out and more organic matter added. But if not, it's important to make several beds to rotate for summer and winter crops.

The final stage in the planning process is to mark off the beds and transfer your plan to the land itself. The easiest way to do this is with the help of a walking wheel tape, measuring tape, and a bag of white sand. Measure carefully, using the white sand to draw lines, and borders of the features in your garden plan. The easiest way to do this is to put the sand in a plastic bag, and snip off a corner, then simply walk along the borderline letting the sand fall to draw a line.

Soil Prep and Modification: Enhance Your Soil

Once you have a solid plan in place, have marked out your planned beds and walkways, the next step is to prepare the soil for planting. Every successful gardener knows that good soil is the key to a lush, beautiful and productive garden. Taking the time to make sure your plants have an excellent chance at flourishing by providing them with the nutrients they need is well worth it!

Preparing the soil includes tilling the soil, making the beds or terraces, leveling the soil, and modifying the soil as needed for optimal root growth and irrigation. If you need materials for the projects, such as boards for the terraces or beds, this is the time to get it done. It's important to make sure the products you purchase are organic and aren't treated, and don't have additives or chemical enhancers. This will promote a healthy environment, and will ensure that your vegetables and fruits are free of dangerous toxins.

If you are new to gardening you might be wondering where to start. How do you know what your soil needs? Testing your soil is the easiest way to determine exactly what is needed to ensure your garden soil is renewable, and optimal for natural, organic growth. Testing your soil might involve some cost, but it is usually more than worth the investment as it takes the guess work out of the equation, and can help provide definite direction when it comes to soil enhancing and modification.

Analyzing and Modifying the Soil

Of course, there will be some situations where it simply isn't possible to make that investment if for example soil-testing kits aren't available locally. But it is essential to know what to look for when examining your garden soil. Most gardeners agree that the optimal mixture is 50% topsoil and 50% compost, and although there are many fancy formulas, this simple one is perfect for new gardeners.

With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

-What color is the soil in my garden?

In general, healthy soil should be dark in color, the darker the better, as darker soil usually has more organic matter in it, meaning more nutrients for your plants. If on the other hand the soil in your area is red, tan or gray, then you will need to modify your soil a lot to make it plant friendly. Of course that majority of garden soil will need 'healed' and amended for optimal growth.

-Is there a lot of clay?

If I squeeze a lump in my hand does it stick together?

Although clay has a lot of nutrients in it, the texture, drainage, and water penetration issues can make it very difficult for your plants roots to grow in it, and absorb nutrients. A smaller root system means smaller plants with less produce. If your soil has a lot of clay in it you will need to either amend it by adding sandy loam and organic material or replace it in order to grow a successful garden.

-What is the drainage like?

Ensuring your garden soil allows for good drainage is essential to avoiding root rot due to sitting water. In many cases, drainage problems can be solved by building raised beds and amending with large amounts of organic material, like compost, peat moss and sand.

-Is the soil sandy?

Soil that is too sandy and lacks substance will also need to be amended. If the soil on your property is sandy you will be able to see the grains sitting on top of the dirt, and it will not hold water. Although some produce, like certain aromatic herbs, love sandy soil, adding organic matter is essential if you want to grow vegetables and non-desert plants. Adding a good amount of peat moss and organic compost to your soil will ensure that your soil is renewable and lower the environmental impact of constantly having to modify the soil.

- Does it have organic material in it, like leaves, fibers, etc.?

Soil with high levels of organic matter is darker, lighter and airier than other soils. This is usually easy to spot, and fibers and small bits of leaves can usually be seen in the dirt on close inspection. If you are one of the rare, lucky, individuals with lots of organic matter in your soil without modification, then very little will need to be done to establish a great sustainable garden.

Once you have determined what you need to ensure your garden can stand the test of time, and you have successfully gotten what you need in the way of organic modifiers, you are ready to begin turning and tilling your soil in preparation for your plants.

Turning and Tilling the Soil

Turning and tilling the soil is essential to aerate the ground, loosen up the soil, and promote good root growth. This can be done with the help of a rotor-tiller, a gas powered garden plow, or with a shovel or garden hoe. Even if you are going to create raised beds, tilling the soil beneath will help with drainage and can avoid problems in the future.

If you are planting directly in the soil and not making a raised bed with a custom mix, then it's important to till the area several times to ensure that the modifiers are mixed into the soil well, and ensure that there are no large, hard clumps of soil or clay, and that the organic matter, sand or other modifiers are well combined. Going over each bed several times is the best way to ensure that the soil is soft and the plants will flourish in it.

A good rule of thumb is to go over the bed twice with no modifiers, then three more times with the compost, peat moss, topsoil or sand added. If the soil is very poor it might be a good idea to let it sit unplanted, with the organic compost mixed in for a week. Water the bed so the nutrients leach into the soil, and till again before planting for optimal results.

It's important to remember that the goal is only to plow or turn the dirt when you are establishing new beds. After that your approach should be to provide an environment that promotes natural soil health and keeps the soil open. This will be covered later on, but the basic idea is to keep the soil covered with organic mulch, leaving inedible root systems in the ground, and intercropping or rotating your plants. So, while tilling the soil might seem like a lot of work at the beginning, understanding that this is a one-time task makes it well worth the time investment.

Enhancing and Enriching

Even if the soil in your area is rich, and good for plants, adding extra compost to enrich the soil will help you get the most out of the growing season. Although in many areas the soil is rich, and your garden will grow well, to really help it thrive you need to provide not only good, but also optimal soil for rapid growth and a flourishing garden. Although at the beginning of your gardening journey you might need to purchase organic compost, creating a compost area to recycle old plants, clipping, leaves, and organic matter can give you a constant source of free, quality, organic compost for your garden.

Another way you can naturally enrich your soil is by adding organic manure, worm dropping and worms themselves to your garden. If you use natural means to ensure that the soil renews itself, and isn't sapped of nutrients during the growing season, then you will ensure the longevity of the sustainable garden. Creating an ideal balance in your soil is the best way to avoid problems with the health and growth of your plants.

Creating a worm farm is another way you can create a steady supply of worm droppings for use in your garden. Worms are generally available for sale from most fishing stores, and can be found online as well. There are many ways to set up the 'worm farm' but the simplest way to go about it is with a large barrel or bucket. Place your purchased worms in the bucket and supply them with a steady diet of dead leaves, organic kitchen waste (like vegetables peels and ends or leftover salads), as well as leaves and clippings.

This will provide you with a steady stream of soil enhancers, and organic matter or it can be turned into organic mulch, and used to renew your garden. Not only will it save you money, but also it will lower the environmental impact and will help you create a garden that is self-sufficient, organic and which provides food and fun for your family.

Choose Your Plants: Beginner Plants and Herbs

Choosing the plants for your garden is an important step, and plays a big role in its ultimate success. If you are new to sustainable gardening, it's a good idea to start small, choosing foods you know your family will enjoy, and herbs that are used regularly for cooking. Avoid going all out and making a complex garden that might prove too much when you are just getting started. Remember, as a permanent part of your landscape you can always add to it over time, as you become more familiar with its concepts.

Of course, there are many factors that go into choosing plants, including your planting zone, length of growing season, availability and personal preference. It's important to ensure that the plants you choose are able to grow and produce during the growing season, and that you have enough space for the plants of your choice. This is especially important if you hope to incorporate fruit trees in your garden, as although they start off small, many fruit trees can become massive over the years.

Choosing dwarf fruit trees is a great way to get the fresh, organic fruit you want, without taking up too much space in your yard. The shorter size also makes picking the fruit much easier, and less dangerous, and makes it easier to integrate it into your garden plans. By creating an area for fruit trees you add another nutritional element to your garden, and provide an essential habitat for local animals as well.

Before you begin choosing the best plants for your situation it's important to do a bit of research in order to make informed decisions. For example, while all tomato varieties might not thrive in your particular planting zone, there is usually at least one that works regardless of your zone. With a little research you can ensure your plants are well suited to your area, and your garden, so that they will thrive with little effort on your part.

Planting Zones

Planting zones, or hardiness zones as they are known in Europe, are divisions made based on climate changes throughout the year as well as average highs and lows, and growing season length. Although it isn't written in stone, for the most part choosing plants that are for your zone will give them a better chance at thriving, and producing well. Knowing your planting zone is essential to choosing good plants for your garden.

Finding your planting zone can be done simply by searching online for a zone map, or searching by your city name for the planting zone. Once you have a little more experience you will learn what works and doesn't work in your area, as many factors can alter what thrives in your yard. If you live by a lake for example, this can affect the climate of your garden, in some cases, keeping temperatures higher during the winter, and in some lowering it during summer. This can affect what plants will thrive in the environment you create.

Once you have managed a few planting seasons you will soon get a feel for what works and what doesn't for your space. Don't be discouraged if some plants for your zone don't thrive: that is just part of the process of learning about sustainable gardening and making it work for you. Of course, zone isn't the only factor to consider when choosing plants, light requirements, ultimate size and pest resistance are some of the factors that should also play a major role in your decision-making.

Planting Pairs – Co-Planting

One principle of sustainable gardening that is unique to it is co-planting: avoiding large areas of the same plant or vegetable. The idea is to pair plants that complement each other, and help balance the soil, while providing pest and disease control. This is a concept that is unheard of in traditional gardening, but, once you understand it you'll be surprised that you didn't think of it yourself!

There are many advantages to co-planting, and one of those is that it lowers the instances of pests obliterating your plants. One common example of this is when Luna Moth caterpillars invade a tomato plant, they can obliterate it in a night, easily! If all of your tomatoes are in the same bed, then you can be sure they will all be affected and there goes your tomato crop. If on the other hand, you co-plant lavender or other plants with your tomatoes, then the chance of them all being destroyed at one time is very remote.

Although it's always the goal to choose plants that are pest resistant, there are some plants that are simply loved by wildlife and insects. Understanding which plants go well together, and how to plant wisely to help give your plants the best possible chance at survival is key to a sustainable garden. After all, the entire idea is to plant a garden that feeds your family, without taking up all of your spare time to treat and care for it.

One example of excellent plant companions are aromatic herbs and tomatoes. Aromatics like lavender are natural insect repellents and stay relatively low to the ground. Tomatoes on the other hand, are insect magnets and tend to attract butterflies that lay eggs and eat the leaves of the plants, and they are also relatively tall plants. So using the space around the base of your tomato plants for thyme, lavender, or oregano is a great way to make use of the space, while helping protect your tomato plants from insect infestations at the same time.

Another thing to consider when planting your beds is to intersperse the edibles with marigolds that attract bees and pollinators while providing a distraction for slugs and snails that can attack your plants during the night. This can help maximize the pollination level, reduce product loss, and help your plants produce more efficiently, while proving you with a steady stream of fresh flowers for the house. By adding a few ornamentals you also help add aesthetic beauty to the space so you can enjoy it more.

Planning To Maximize Space

When choosing the plants, it's important to plan for the space you have, and avoid over planting or overcrowding. If, for example, you decide to grow pumpkins, make sure you make allowances for the amount of space they will require to grow and their final, mature size, giving them the space they need without interference. In many cases space can be saved by using pots and trellises for vegetables that creep or climb.

Planting cucumbers in a large, ornamental pot with a trellis is a great way to make use of vertical space, while creating a nice element in the garden. Adding a few aromatic herbs to the base of the plant will help protect against insects, and will be a great use of space as well. Many other plants make excellent potted options (potatoes for example grow well in pots) and this also makes harvesting much simpler as it won't disturb other plants in the area.

Tomato plants, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, green beans, peas, squash and lima beans can all be grown on trellises or in posts to save on space. Taking advantage of and using vertical space can increase your garden’s yield exponentially without expanding the garden. Another way to use the vertical space is with hanging baskets.

Tomatoes, herbs and strawberries are only a few of the plants that do really well in hanging baskets. This can help you add another level to your garden, taking advantage of the sun and producing more for you and your family to enjoy. Peppers are another great option for hanging baskets, especially if you have young children that garden with you, as this can help protect them from messing with the peppers and getting it in their eyes or mouths accidentally.

Making a Planting Schedule

Planning your planting carefully is essential to ensuring you get the most out of your garden and don't waste precious growing time. In many cases a basic planting schedule can be found online, and is based on our planting zone and the length of the growing season. Of course, as discussed previously, over time you will learn what works for you and your yard and when the optimal time is for your planting.

It's important to remember that planting schedules are based only on planting in the ground outside, so if you have a short growing season you might want to do your best to get your plants growing a little earlier so you are able to reap more. This is especially true with sustainable gardening, where you will be using seeds you have saved from previous years to start a new garden By pre-sprouting and starting the growing season with established plants you can get your garden producing faster and more efficiently.

This can be done by using a warm, southern facing window, or you can use a small green house if you have one or you can make one out of recycled materials. Plant your seeds in small, recycled containers about a month before the beginning of the planting season to give them time to mature and develop strong root systems before being moved to the outdoors. The key is to create a detailed planting schedule to ensure that you aren't caught off guard and that you have a steady stream of fresh organic produce year round.

The best planting dates vary depending on the state, zone and part of the world you live in, and a quick Google search can usually provide you with a basic idea of when to get started. With a little experience you will soon learn to recognize signs that indicate it is time to start planting, to reap or change certain crops. This is especially important if you are planning a winter garden as well. If you are rotating beds or changing out plants, then plant early enough that they are well established and have time to produce, but not so early that they fade before they are able to be of use.

Why You Should Plan Your Season – Succession Planting

Succession planting an important tool for the organic, sustainable gardener to use, and can help ensure yearlong produce and maximum production. This is one of the reasons why planning your season is so important, as it will help you make sure you don’t miss important deadlines, and that none of the food is wasted due to late harvesting. Although some crops can be harvested as needed, there are some that must be harvested within a relatively small window of time.

Radishes and carrots for example, have a few weeks during which they are viable, so, if you want to ensure that you have them available during the entire season, it's a good idea to stagger planting, making a note of the planting dates. This will help ensure that you have the products you need, and don't find yourself with 10 lbs. of radishes that need to be eaten before they go bad! By staggering and planning your season, you ensure that nothing goes to waste and you don't find yourself eating the same thing for several weeks at a time.

Of course, in order for this to work properly planning is needed, and a record kept of what was planted when and what needs to be reaped. It's also important to ensure you plan at least one or two plants to be allowed to complete their life cycle and go to seed so you can collect the seeds for next season. Keeping a detailed garden log is important and will help ensure your family has the food they need when they need it.

Mulch and Ground Covers: Weed Control, Temperature Control and Erosion Prevention

Once you have your plants in the ground, weed control is very important and will help minimize the amount of time you spend tending to the garden. Using organic mulch and ground covers is the best way to do this as they not only protect against weeds but they also help moderate the temperature in the soil, provide nutrients and help retain moisture. This is very helpful to worms and other good bacteria that help break down organic material, aerating the soil and providing essential nutrients for your plants.

Remember that a big part of sustainable gardening is promoting healthy soil without disturbing the natural ecosystems that are there, by turning it constantly, and mulch is a big part of that equation. It's a good idea to put a thick layer, at least two inches, in order to effectively stop weed seeds from growing and protect the ground from the direct sun. The mulch also provides food for worms, helpful insects and bacteria, who then work the organic matter into the soil, replenishing the nutrients and promoting root growth.

Types of Organic Mulch

There are many types of organic mulch, and some, like leaf mold, can be made or purchased very cheaply from local governments. Leaf mold is simply chopped, semi decomposed leaves. In some cases it is mixed with wood chips or compost, but it is by far the best mulch for vegetable and sustainable gardens. Not only can you make it yourself in many cases with the help of a rotary mower and leaf back, but also it is the perfect food for helpful earth dwellers.

Although whole leaves are used at times as well, you should be cautious as they take a long time to decompose, and can smother the seeds if used on new beds. Chopping them is a much better solution, and provides a more attractive look, while providing great benefits and no risk to your plants. When it comes to sustainable gardens, this is definitely one of the most popular options as it is made locally, and is completely organic.

Hay is a common choice for vegetable garden mulch, and although it is natural it isn't very attractive and usually comes with a good amount of weed seed. This can actually be a step backwards, and can lead to more work instead of less. In most cases avoiding using hay as mulch is the best practice.

Another common type of mulch is pine needles as they are available relatively cheap, and are attractive. It's important to make sure your plants like acidic soil if you want to use pine needles as they do raise the PH of the soil exponentially. Another downside to pine needles is that they usually need to be purchased, making an un-renewable item in your garden. Pine needles can also bring in ticks that can be dangerous to yourself and your animals.

If you can afford it, bark is an attractive option. There are, of course, many types of bark and certain ones are better than others. Hardwood and pine bark are the best options, so avoid using cedar or redwood as they can lead to problems with watering and retaining water as they age. It's also important to make sure the bark you use is aged, as fresh bark can be toxic to some plants, and you could end up accidentally harming your garden instead of helping it.

It's important to avoid mulch that draws nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes, doing more harm than good to your garden. The worst offender is sawdust, while some others such as pine needles, wood chips or wood shavings, draw helpful nutrients out of the soil, ultimately harming your garden and throwing the delicate ecosystem off balance.

Avoid Treated or Dyed Mulch

Of course it goes without saying that avoiding dyed mulches is a good idea as the toxins leach into the soil and can harm your food, or add toxins to the organic food you are trying to grow. If the mulch is said to be treated, don't use it at all for edible gardens, opting instead for natural alternatives that are organic by nature, containing no harmful additives.

Rock and gravel mulches are also available, but can be problematic unless you are growing succulents, and let's face it, not many vegetables fall under that category. The reason for this is that the stones tend to get mixed into the topsoil when it comes time to remove the plant or add new plants. Although they are natural, they add no nutritional value to the soil, or prevent weed growth.

The best option is to get in the habit of turning your fall leaves into mulch in preparation for the following year, or finding a place to get organic leaf mold inexpensively for use in your sustainable garden. This will add to your soil, while retaining moisture and maintaining even soil temperature to promote healthy roots. As a completely organic option, it is one of the best things you can do to help your garden grow healthily and strongly in the long term.

Mulching your garden is one of the most important steps in maintaining soil health, promoting root growth and keeping your garden weed free. By adding a few inches of organic mulch to your beds you not only beautify the garden, but also provide nutrients for the soil promoting the renewal for long-term healthy plants. Avoiding non-organic or treated mulch is essential to growing an organic, sustainable garden.

Organic Fertilizers: Continued Nutrition for Healthier Plants

Even with an awesome layer of mulch, and epic starting soil, there will usually come a time when you start to notice signs of malnutrition in your plants. This might include discolored or yellowing leaves, small leaves or stunted growth. This is because some nutrients that are essential to good plant growth, such as hydrogen, aren't easily replenished, and providing regular nutrition to your soil will ensure that the soil stays in good condition in the long term.

The traditional approach to the issue is to go out and buy some miracle grow or similar, synthetic fertilizer, and while that might seem like a great quick solution, it will do more harm than good in the long term. You see, one of the keys to sustainable gardening is promoting healthy soil, and synthetic fertilizers, especially the quick release ones, throw off the balance in the soil, leading to a die off of good bacteria, fungus and destruction of the delicate ecosystem. Using slow release, gentle organic fertilizers are the best way to ensure the health of your soil in the long term, while replenishing the essentials that are missing.

Thankfully, many of the best fertilizers can be made, or farmed, at home and can provide a natural, safe and chemical free alternative to traditional fertilizer. Making it a point to add organic matter anytime you plant something new, and providing regular feedings, you can help ensure your garden maintains its ability to produce bountifully.

Compost Tea & Other Liquid Fertilizer Options

There might be times mid planting season when you notice your crops are looking a bit sad, and adding compost while tilling the ground isn't an option. That is when organic liquid fertilizers are great to use and provide a way for you to deliver essentials to your plants without disturbing the ground. Learning to make compost tea and other liquid fertilizer options is an important thing for gardeners to learn.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is actually very easy to make, and can be done overnight and used the next day. Although there are fancy, and costly, tea-making systems available, they aren't really necessary unless you are running a massive operation. All you need is some fully mature compost - compost that is completely broken down and ready to use.

There are many different ways to make compost tea, but the simplest is with a bucket. Fill the bucket about half way with compost, avoid packing it in allowing it space to breath, and then fill it up with water. If you are using city water be sure to let it sit for at least a day to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Let it sit for about 8 hours, before adding a little molasses, just a spoonful or two.

The molasses helps the good bacteria to multiply quickly, making for a more effective fertilizer. Let it sit, stirring it a couple of times a day (morning and night is fine) and then let it sit for two or three more days. At that point your compost tea is ready for use, strain it and use it to water the plants. For optimal benefits use it in the early morning or at night to avoid evaporation and maximum soil penetration.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a well-kept gardening secret that is fully compatible with sustainable and organic gardens. Not only is it completely natural, providing essential components to the soil, it also can be used to help control fungal infections on leaves, and repel bugs and insects that harm the plants. But before you run outside and dump a bottle of peroxide on your plants keep reading!

Peroxide is watered down and sprayed on plants using a hand or electric sprayer. The concentration that you use is important as it can also be used as an effective weed killer, so beware. For most uses, such as fertilizing and bug repellent, 8% is the best strength that provides all the benefits but won't harm your plants. You will notice that it comes in a wide variety of concentrations, from 40% and up, so make sure you pay close attention so you don’t harm your plants accidentally.

It's also important to avoid spraying them during the day: late evenings is best and will allow it time to dry before the sun comes up again. It can also be applied directly to the soil to boost growth and add hydrogen to the soil, an essential nutrient that is hard to come by naturally.

Unlike many other organic solutions to hydrogen deficiencies in soil, Hydrogen Peroxide is very inexpensive, and can be found in beauty stores relatively easily. Peroxide can also help your seeds sprout faster, and grow stronger, giving them a good start to the growing season. This is a great addition to your sustainable garden arsenal, and provides you with a simple alternative to traditional synthetic fertilizers.

Worm Castings –Multi Vitamins for Your Garden

Worm castings are the richest and most valuable natural fertilizer known to man, with as little as a tablespoon providing enough nutrition for a six inch potted plant for up to two months. Although they are available for purchase in most garden centers, creating your own worm farm to feed your sustainable garden isn't hard to do. With worms for sale online and in fishing stores you can start your own worm farm to recycle waste and produce the worm castings you need for your backyard garden.

Starting a worm farm is simple and can be done with a simple Styrofoam box with a lid, some kitchen scraps and shredded cardboard or newspaper. By adding a few holes for drainage and ventilation, one at the bottom for draining, and two on top for drainage you can effectively produce all the castings you'll need for your garden. Remember, only a small amount is needed to replenish and revitalize your plants.

It's a good idea to start this project in early spring to ensure you have what you need during the growing season. Bring your worm farm into a warm area during the winter to avoid them freezing to death and having to restart the process. Because worms generally burrow deep into the ground during winter, they escape the cold on the surface, something that isn't possible when they are confined to a box.

As with any other animal or pet it's important to feed the worms every couple of weeks, avoiding over feeding that could lead to composting and heat that could kill the worms. Instead blend up the scraps and paper you plan on giving them to allow them to eat it easier and faster, giving you the castings needed to nurture and feed your garden, providing concentrated, organic essentials your plants will need.

Manure, Compost & More

Adding a topping of compost at the beginning of the growing season, as well as mixing it with the soil when planting good plants is an important part of ensuring your soil stays healthy. Every gardener should have a compost area that is large enough to produce the soil they will need throughout the years. By recycling and reusing all the wasted parts of plants, and using them to create a steady supply of nutrition rich soil, you eliminate the environmental impact that would be had from purchasing compost that has been shipped in from other states.

Place your compost heap in a shady area, and use organic compost starter to provide a boost of bacteria to get the process rolling. This will help the compost break down faster, and provide you with quality soil much more quickly. This is essential to sustainable backyard gardening, and will prove an invaluable source to replenish your garden beds with.

There are many ways to set up a compost area, but the most efficient provide you easy access to the mature compost at the bottom of the pile. In some cases a lever or door at the bottom of the bin allows for a shovel to easily remove the amount of compost needed without accidentally mixing it with the compost that isn't fully broken down. This will make it much easier to use, and will ensure that all the compost you use is completely decomposed and broken down to be used by your plants.

Manure is also a great addition to your compost pile, and any waste from herbivores can be added to it or stored in a separate area to promote break down for use in your garden. Rabbits, horses and cow manure are all rich in hydrogen and provide a great boost to plants throughout the growing season. It's important to make sure the manure sits and is broken down, as manure can be 'hot', chemically burning plants unless you are careful.

Adding manure to your compost pile will provide a lot of essential bacteria that help with the break down process and will produce mature compost that is top notch. Kitchen scraps can also be added to the compost pile, but avoid adding meat products as it will attract rodents to the pile. Instead add any fruit or vegetable based scraps, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and used tea bags to recycle and replenish your garden.

Organic Pest and Disease Control: Organic Pesticides and Pest Control

One of the biggest challenges many gardeners who are new to sustainable gardening face is learning how to control pests and blights without relying on poisons and insecticides. Avoiding poisons and insecticides is key to a sustainable organic garden, as not only do they kill the bad bugs, they also kill the good ones as well as the good bacteria and fungus that are key to healthy soil. After all, avoiding chemical soaked food was the primary reason for starting garden in the first place!

Thankfully having a pesticide free garden doesn’t' have to mean learning to live with swarms of aphids sucking your plants dry, in fact, by learning how to control them naturally you create an environment that is balanced and doesn't need constant rescuing at your hands. By encouraging and providing an environment that is friendly to good bugs and helpful critters you take the work out of keeping your garden from being the local bug buffet.

Planting in pairs is one important tool that will help repel insects naturally by masking the smell of the delicious vegetables with their strong aroma they make them invisible to many insects that would finish them off in no time. Of course, this is only one tool that can be used to help repel insects: others include adding good bugs to the garden, and the use of natural insect repellents.

Pest Control with Helpful Insects and Poultry

Ladybugs are one of the best critters that help rid your garden of pests that kill and harm your produce, and providing an inviting environment for them is a great way to control the pests in your garden. Ladybugs are also available for sale online and can be shipped to your location to provide a natural way to rid your garden of unwanted pests.

Another way rural gardeners control the bugs in their yard is with the help of chickens. Because they eat bugs, small chickens can be loose in the garden and will help pick the bugs off plants, soil and can serve the double purpose of providing eggs as well as eating your bugs. This is of course, not a good solution if your garden is in a suburb where having a chicken in your yard might well be a problem.

Organic Pesticides and Fungus Remedies

Although there aren't many organic pesticides, there are a few organic insect repellents that will keep your plants safe and minimize the instances of fungus related problems. This is an important part of keeping your garden healthy, and controlling blight. Many companies also provide commercially available organic pest control solutions if you really need it.

In Conclusion

Building a sustainable backyard garden isn't hard to do. In fact the entire approach to gardening is one that is meant to help you create a garden that will work for you long term, without leaching too much of your time. This is done with careful plant selection, planning, and creating an environment that promotes soil health and the growth of a micro-ecosystem that supports and protects your garden.

And that's not all, with careful planning and selection you can create a space that produces for years to come, recycling and reusing as many materials as possible for minimal environmental impact. This means avoiding the use of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that throw off the balanced, delicate ecosystem in your soil. Opt instead for a natural means of pest control, in order to grow organic, toxin free produce.

For your garden to stand the test of time and produce well in the long term, it's essential to plan carefully, ensuring that the area you choose for you garden gets enough sun, bearing in mind that the majority of vegetables, fruits and herbs require a minimum of five hours of direct sun daily. With that in mind choose an area that is far enough away from trees that root incursion won't be a problem, avoiding forcing your plants to compete with the trees for nutrition. This will simplify your life a lot, minimizing the need to feed and add organic matter to the soil.

Good soil is the backbone of your garden, and 90% of your success will depend on how well you prepare your beds for planting. It's important to ensure the soil has good drainage, and boasts at least 50% compost. If you live in an area with clay or rocky soil, making raised beds might be the best, and most efficient, way to ensure you garden is a success. Taking the time to prepare your soil is a long-term investment, and once your garden is planted you should avoid retiling or disturbing the soil unless you are planting something.

By allowing the soil’s complex ecosystem to develop undisturbed you provide a solid foundation for your garden, one that can be used year after year, as crops are rotated and seasons change. This is a key element to a sustainable garden and one of the most important differences from traditional gardening in which the soil is turned and tilled at least once a year. Allowing your soil to age, and providing added nutrients through compost teas, organic mulch and caps of compost at the beginning of the planting season will ensure you a flourishing, productive garden.

Choosing the right plants for your area is almost as important as the soil quality, and it can mean the difference between sickly plants and ones that flourish and produce abundantly. Choosing the right plants for your zone, as well as plants that are non-GMO and hardy will give you the highest chance of success. Another aspect of choosing the right plants for your sustainable garden is co-planting and planting supporting plants together.

By carefully planning your beds you can help prevent the need for pest control, and protect your plants from harm. Using aromatic plants and flowers can mask the smell of other attractive options, like tomatoes, and can protect them from bugs, slugs and snails. This is an important skill to learn, and once you have it down, your garden will flourish with little help from you.

Scheduling your planting season is also very important and can extend your growing season exponentially, ensuring you have the fresh produce you need season by season. Starting seeds indoor, staggering planting and designating several beds for seasonal gardens are a few of the ways you can get the most out of your backyard.

Once your plants are in the ground, adding organic mulch is essential and will help keep in moisture, protect from wash, maintain an even soil temperature, and provide added organic matter for the worms and good bacteria to replenish the soil with. This is said to be one of the most important parts of a sustainable garden, third only to soil and plant choice. Mulching your garden is for more than simple aesthetics, it provides an important function protecting your plants from drying out, and helping promote healthy roots.

There are many types of mulch, and choosing the right kind is very important. It's important to remember that some organic mulch, like wood chips and shavings, leach nutrients from the soil and can actually harm your plants. Choosing mulch that adds to the ground, while protecting it from the sun is the key to a good working, organic mulch.

Using organic fertilizers in the way of compost tea, worm castings and manure can help maintain healthy soil and provide a natural source of nutrients to potted plants. Designating an area for composting will help you avoid waste by reusing the parts of your plants that aren't eaten, such as old tomato plants or other annuals. By chopping them and adding them to the compost pile you create a renewable source of nutrients for your garden without growing your carbon footprint.

Starting a worm farms is also a great way to create organic fertilizer without spending money or relying on outside sources. A simple Styrofoam box can be used to create the casting you need to feed your potted plants and boost growth. When you consider that a single tablespoon can feed a plant for two months, you can see how much you can do with a boxful!

Hydrogen peroxide is another natural fertilizer that can help add hydrogen and oxygen to the soil, without harming the resident bacteria or messing with the ecosystem. Make sure to mix it carefully in order to avoid burning your plants accidentally. This can also be used for insect and fungus control, making it an inexpensive and valuable tool in the sustainable gardeners pack!

If you are thinking about starting your own backyard garden, going sustainable is the best way to ensure the garden will last the test of time, producing the food your family needs without sapping all your free time. This is extremely important, especially if, like most people, you work during the week and want to enjoy the fruit of your labor and not be a slave to the garden. If that sounds like you, sustainable gardening is the way to go!