Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gardening on Small Budget sometimes misses Big Picture

It seems that everyone is interested in saving money these days and with the economy the way it is, who can blame them? Family budgets, State and Local budgets, and the USA's government budgets have all taken a beating. Gardening funds have shrunk as well.  So, what's a gardener to do?  "The Small Budget Gardener" written by Maureen Gilmer (Cool Springs Press, 2009) has many answers to that question.  It contains a plethora of tips, ideas and examples of how to have a great garden while still watching the bottom line.

A few weeks ago I was given the book to review by Cool Springs Press and I took it upon myself to not only review the book for the money it might save a gardener, but also how the choices made to save a buck could affect the bottom line of garden's ecosystem.  For the most part, the tips and ideas Maureen writes about definitely fall into the eco-friendly category and I commend her on educating her readers on the values of composting ("Free Dirt"), watering wisely ("Never Thirsty"), reusing materials ("Don't Throw it Away: Recycle & Reuse Everything"), and taking care of the environment.  Her detailed accounts of designing to save energy ("Nature's Climate Control"), and propagation ("Making Babies: How to Propagate Free Plants") are very well thought out and will certainly help gardeners of all experience levels create better gardens.

Through out the book Ms. Gilmore has two recurring themes called "Tightwad Gardening Tips" and "Green Choices". "Tightwad Gardening Tips" are great, simple ideas to refer to again and again and will definitely help the new or experienced gardener.  However, after reading many of the "Green Choices" I got the feeling that being "green" and "organic" was something that was great to do if you could afford it but if you're strapped for cash it's okay to choose an alternative, not-so-friendly to the environment solution. That seems to me to be taking the easy way out.  Shouldn't all of our choices be "green choices" when it comes to designing, building and maintaining our gardens?  Using railroad ties seems to be all right if you can't afford something else, using lawn fertilizers with herbicides is ok if it costs less than hiring someone to weed your lawn, and buying the over-fertilized, GMO'd plants at the big box stores are fine because they are so much cheaper.

So, when is saving some "green" not really being "green"?  I guess for me "The Small Budget Gardener" misses the big picture when saving gardening dollars for short term gains - in my "book" ecosystem sustainability is a long term investment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Every Little Bit Helps



Do you ever wonder how much effort you would have to put into your gardens to make a positive difference on the environment and climate change?  What if I told you that "every little bit helps"?  Last fall I participated in Blog Action Day 2009, which focused on Climate Change. This month Jan over at Thanks for Today is encouraging all of us gardeners to participate in her "Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living" project, and I hope that all of you do!  As more of the world tries to live more sustainably, even some of the most powerful voices on earth are bringing us new ideas.  Last week at TED 2010, Bill Gates himself announced that his top priority out of everything is to get the world to zero climate emissions. That is an immensely bold statement, and goal for our world.  The Worldchanging blog has a post on this with all the details.

What I wrote last year about how we can help still holds true for myself and all other gardeners out there, so here they are again.  There are millions, maybe even billions of people who call themselves "gardeners" here on earth. If each and every one of those people changed just one thing in how they garden, think of the profound effect it would make on helping to reduce global warming and environmental damage.

What would some of those things be? Things as simple as:
  • composting yard waste instead of putting it out to the trash,
  • watering your gardens and landscapes one less day per week or month,
  • watering only when and where your plants need it,
  • using soaker hoses or drip irrigation instead of sprinklers,
  • growing your own food (even a little) instead of buying it at the store,
  • leaving your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them and putting them in the trash,
  • accepting that the perfect lawn, flower or garden does not need herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers,
  • using the rain that falls naturally from the sky to water your gardens instead of sending it down the sewers and into the streets,
  • planting flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that provide nectar for the pollinators of the planet,
  • most of all, remembering to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose.
What if you already do all of these things? Well, be proud of yourself, as you are being a good steward of the earth. And the most important thing you could do next would be to convince just one other person to garden as you do. After all, gardeners help many things, including people, to grow.

Remember, every little bit helps, so get out and start doing it!

P.S. Please remember that this year Earth Day is Thursday, April 22nd.  Do something good for the earth that day, and every day!  Check out Earth Day 2010 for events in your area and lists of things you can do to help out Mother Nature.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How Green does your Community Garden Grow?



My good blogging friend Carole Brown, at Ecosystem Gardening, recently posted about "Gardeners Unite to Save Wildlife" and talks about how gardeners banding together in their neighborhoods can make a big difference in what we attract to our yards. She focuses on backyards and how to collectively plant for the benefit of wildlife and nature. But what about the Community Gardens? These days, it seems like they're everywhere, but how much do they really help our ecosystems? Don't get me wrong, I think community gardens are awesome for growing your own food, providing for community involvement, reclaiming unused or demolished property, and for teaching people where their food comes from. But, how "green" are they, and how much do they encourage wildlife and nature?

Community Gardens face a dilemma - they want to grow lots of food, and to teach people how growing food is better for them then buying it at the grocery store. At the same time they put up fences and other barriers to keep local wildlife and insects out. In some of them, artificial fertilizers and pesticides are accepted as a necessary part of gardening to produce the desired food people want to grow. While understandable, what does this teach our children and newly gardening adults about nature and the ecosystem and how does it encourage long term sustainability of their gardening plots?  Since organic gardening is the focus of most home gardeners today, shouldn't our community gardens focus on the same principles?

To see what guidelines are available to the average group wanting to start a community garden, I went up to look at the "American Community Gardening Association" website, the first link I found when Googling "community gardening practices". I wanted to see what they had for tips on creating community gardens while encouraging nature. What did I find? Not as much as I had hoped. In the "Best Practices Section" it has very good tips and fact sheets on how to start garden groups, get community involvement, garden with children, and other necessary information for starting a community garden. Only the tips for gardening with children brought up things like insects, no chemicals, getting dirty, and nature while a separate section on general gardening articles contained some information on composting, organics and feeding the soil.

I have to ask myself, is it better to be polite and too generalized in order to get everyone involved, or should organizations make a stand and educate participants on the long term effects of short term choices in the ecosystem? My hope would be the latter; my first reality is showing me otherwise. We all want to help people learn about growing food and gardening, but do we also have a responsibility to our "students" to make sure they are equipped with all the "right tools"? If our answer is yes, then we must teach as well as organize. Hopefully community garden organizers are doing this on a local level.  After all, what we do in our garden plot affects the ecosystem of the community at large.

Do you have a good example of a Community Garden that is nature and ecosystem friendly? I know that there must be many of them out there. Send me your links, your comments, or pictures. I would love to have you show me what is possible!
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