Sustainability involves three practices that ensure the wise use of water, materials, and other resources to make sure they last from one generation to the next and in harmony with nature. What are the responsible practices for the urban gardener ? Sustainability boils down to the following three questions:
Am I being environmentally responsible?
Is what I want to do economically feasible?
Can I have my community involved?
To make it easier on you, in this article, we’ve provided you with ten tips to help you maintain a sustainable garden.
Know Your Soil Conditions
Many urban gardeners are correct in thinking they have poor soil. The urban garden area is likely to be compacted and poor in structure and quality.
Once you have selected a garden area, test the soil to determine the soil type, pH, organic matter content, and available phosphate and potash. You can buy soil-testing kits at garden centers or send a soil sample to a soil-testing laboratory.
The key to improving the soil is to do it before you begin any planting. If you incorporate the proper amounts of organic matter and soil amendments, your soil will provide nutrients and make air and water more available to plants.
Compost Is Key
Aside from the conservation aspect of reducing our waste and not filling up our landfills, compost is a valuable key soil amendment and an effective mulch.
Compost improves soil structure, promotes plant growth, and helps soil store nutrients to keep them available for plants. Research shows that plants mulched with compost are more disease-resistant and sturdier than plants grown without compost.
Compost also improves all aspects and types of soil. What organic matter you use depends on local availability and personal preference. If you have enough homemade compost, use that. Otherwise, check garden centers or the Yellow Pages for companies that produce compost in bulk. Visually check the compost for weeds, insects, and foreign material.
Conserve Water and Harvest Your Rain
Clean water is a very precious commodity and in some regions of the world a scarce resource, especially in our urban communities.
A sustainable urban gardener will employ numerous methods and strategies to conserve water. From installing rain barrels and rain gardens to simply adjusting your mowing height, there are several easy steps to reduce your water use at home and employ sustainable conservation strategies.
Use Organic Fertilizers
Being a sustainable urban gardener requires you to be environmentally responsible. Organic urban gardeners avoid using chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are carried into the soil via salts, and this part of their chemistry threatens the living creatures that work every day to build your soil.
You may think of chemical fertilizers as fast food. The plants respond rapidly to it, but because the salts dehydrate essential bacteria and fungi in the soil, its impact is short-lived and so must be repeated often to get the same effect.
Organic fertilizers add to the ecology in the soil because they are not carried by salts and have both short- and long-term impacts. Going with organic fertilizers is one simple choice that you can make to manage your garden’s sustainably.
Preserve Existing Agriculture and Natural Resources
You may have heard the term sustainable agriculture, but what does it mean? In essence, it means putting as much back into the land as you take away, so that the land can continue producing indefinitely. Techniques include cover-cropping to add nutrients back to the soil to replace those harvested in crops, recycling nutrients by applying farm animals’ manure to crop fields, and minimizing off-farm inputs. It also means minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources, because by definition these resources are finite and their use cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Advocates of sustainable farming — and sustainable living in general — feel that our mainstream consumer culture is not sustainable: We are using up our nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels. We are living on borrowed time, until the day that the earth’s resources can no longer support us. Only by adopting more sustainable lifestyles can we conserve these nonrenewable resources and expect our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to enjoy our high standard of living.
Urban gardeners can employ sustainable management practices to help gather community support and preserve remaining open lands available in our cities for continued agricultural and urban farming uses for the next generation.
Know Your Microclimate Conditions
The urban climate is influenced by a variety of factors including solar radiation, surrounding air temperatures, air movement, sun orientation, humidity, topographical location, proximity to lakes or waterfront exposure, paved surfaces such as roads and parking lots, buildings, and existing rooftop conditions.
Understanding how to appropriately develop your landscape to mitigate the impacts of light and wind can help you create a microclimate that is beneficial to the urban environment and your wallet.
Being sustainable requires you to be economically responsibly as well! These green design initiatives can help reduce summer cooling costs and lower your winter heating bills. What a great incentive to be a sustainable urban gardener!
Select “the Right” Plants for Your Area
“The right” plants are well adapted to your urban environment and require little to no maintenance whatsoever. Native plants are pretty good candidates since they have evolved and adapted to local conditions. Natives are vigorous and hardy, able to withstand local weather patterns including winter’s cold and summer’s heat.
Once established, native plantings require no irrigation or fertilization. They’re resistant to most pests and diseases. All these traits mean native plants suit the sustainable needs of today’s urban gardener.
Consider Hydroponic and Aquaponic Gardening
Hydroponics involves growing plants without soil, however hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply in a nutrient solution rather than through the soil. Growing plants hydroponically helps gardeners and farmers grow more food more rapidly in smaller areas (greenhouses, living rooms, classrooms, and rooftops, for instance) and to produce food in parts of the world where space, good soil, and/or water are limited.
In order for the plants to grow successfully, the nutrient solution must contain several elements, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, and sulfur.
In Aquaponics, the nutrient solution is water containing fish excrement. Aquaponics is the integration of hydroponics and aquaculture (the cultivation of the natural produce — like fish or shellfish — of water). Live fish are raised in a traditional fish tank. The fish excrete their waste into the surrounding water, which is used to supply nutrients to the growing plants positioned above the tank. Bacteria living in the water and on the growth medium eat the fish wastes and unlock nutrients for the plants. The plants absorb the nutrients, and the filtered water is returned to the fish tank.
Because hydroponic and aquaponic gardening can be done in small spaces, they are great options for urban gardeners.
Minimize the Costs
In order to meet the goals of being sustainable, you need to keep your costs low, and develop eco-friendly products that are financially reasonable so that the community as a whole can afford to take the steps they need to be sustainable urban gardeners.
Lighting is a good example: When energy efficient rated lighting products were first delivered to the market years ago they were generally too high in cost; However years later these prices have drastically fallen and today, many people are now purchasing and using energy efficient light bulbs in their homes. They are doing better for themselves and the environment because they can afford to do so.
Of course saving energy helps you save money on utility bills and helps protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the continued fight against climate change. But cost is a huge consideration for most of us and as stated at the beginning of this article, we need to ask ourselves: “Is what I want to do economically feasible?”
As our urban gardening products continue to become economically feasible, you will definitively see increased community interest to grow locally in urban centers.
Involve Your Community
Whether up on the rooftop or between buildings in a vacant lot, opportunities abound in your city to grow together with your community.
Urban gardening is about growing — growing flowers, growing vegetables and fruits, and growing a community of people who can share their love of gardening while taking good care of the earth.
Community gardens provide a place to meet new friends and to share gardening experiences. In fact, many community gardens offer workshops to help gardeners learn about seeds, crop rotation, companion planting, and organic pest control solutions to help keep the soil and their plants healthy.
Sometimes gardeners have their own plot, and sometimes the work and the harvest are shared by all the gardeners together. Some community gardens encourage other gardeners to grow a row for neighborhood food banks, kitchens, or local urban shelters.
Each community garden has its own personality, its own flavor, and its own pace, but all the gardens share the same general focus. Urban gardens are places where families can come together to produce their own food, help one another by sharing their experiences and enthusiasm for gardening, and beautify their neighborhoods in the process.
Sustainability is not an outcome, it’s a process of responsible maintenance. In order to manage your urban gardening practices well, you must succeed in all three areas, including environmental, economic, and community involvement. A collaborative effort and responsible management of the city landscape will grant you a successful and beautiful urban garden now and into the next generation!