Saturday, April 10, 2010

Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project

In honor of Earth Day on April 22nd, Jan at Thanks for Today invited garden bloggers to write a post sharing what we do in our yards and gardens in the name of sustainability. For more information please visit Jan's post Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project.

Early in childhood, I had a life-changing experience as my family raised a baby robin one spring. I won't retell the story since I've done it here, and it still hurts to think about. In short, our little Robbie was killed by the pesticides the landlord was spraying (unknown to us,) in his vegetable garden. We'd thought the fenced garden was a safe place for Robbie to hone his instinct for worm, grub and slug hunting. Robbie's death began to shape my environmental consciousness at an age when most kids didn't know what pesticides were.

Four years later when our parents bought our first house, we children were involved in the planning, work and pleasure of tending our large vegetable garden. My environmental values continued to be shaped by our parents' organic gardening practices. At ten years old I pored over Mom's copies of Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines, becoming ever more aware of environmental issues, and learning easy, inexpensive, earth-friendly practices for our home and garden. Mom was always frugal, and never bought into the avid consumerism that characterized life for many of us Baby Boomers growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. It turns out many of the skills, practices, and values she raised us with also happen to be environmentally friendly.

If I wrote about everything I do to honor those values, this would be a book. So I'll focus on just a few easy, cheap, or free garden-related strategies I practice.

Compost. I have a small bin, and a pile. We're fortunate to have the space for this. Another way to compost that doesn't require a bin or pile, and doesn't cost a cent, is to dig a small hole in the garden and bury kitchen scraps or garden debris as needed. This method of composting is clean, odor-free, doesn't attract bugs or rodents, and it's the quickest way I've found to turn crushed eggs, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings and other kitchen scraps into free, nutrient-rich organic matter that improves soil, enhances the health, beauty, and productivity of a garden, and reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizer.

Autumn leaves are used here instead of being bagged and sent to the municipal composting facility. I think it's great that many cities, suburbs, and small towns are now requiring yard waste to be separated from the trash stream and sent to these large composting facilities instead of to landfills. There are issues with these industrial-sized facilities though. I prefer to compost and recycle as much as possible of our yard waste, including leaves, right here. They're left where they fall in the garden. Leaves falling on the lawn are mulched and bagged with the mower, and spread in areas like the wayback yard, around hedges, and in the swale, where they reduce weeds, decompose quickly, improve soil, and reduce the mud George tracks into the house after it rains. Leaves make an excellent layer in raised beds, and a good mulch for vegetable gardens where they improve the soil, reduce watering, and prevent weeds.

I always had a vegetable garden before living here. Our yard is wooded and there's not much sun. I missed veggie gardening. In fall, 2008 I 'stole' a patch of lawn in a part-sun (about 5 hours a day) side yard, and built a raised veggie bed. Thick layers of wet newspaper were put down first to kill the grass - no digging, no spraying - cheaper, easier, and better for the soil. Over the newspaper went alternating layers of leaves, compost, and grass clippings, left over the winter to decompose into rich, crumbly soil full of worms, healthy soil bacteria, and high in organic matter. By spring last year it was ready for planting. Having grown veggies in less-than-full sun before, I knew it could be done. Our little bed was so healthy and productive, and our homegrown, organic veggies so delicious, I remembered what I'd been missing.

This spring to increase our veggie space, another bed was added in the other side yard. Growing our own vegetables is as local as it gets. No petrochemicals will ever touch the soil I worked so hard to build. No gasoline or diesel fuel is used to transport our garden veggies. And our veggie bed is a haven for all sorts of pollinators. Most of our veggies are heirloom, open-pollinated varieties. We're saving seeds for future years, a practice that's not only economical, it's also environmentally-friendly.
Native and native-friendly plants. As I've become more aware of the plight of bees, more native plants are finding their way into our garden. Not only is this environmentally friendly, growing native plants from seeds is a frugal alternative to pricey nursery exotics, which are often shipped long distances from growers, and unfortunately, often grown using less-than-environmentally-friendly methods. One might assume plant growers would be among the 'greenest' of industries, but sadly this is not the case in most instances. For me, growing plants from seeds is such a joy. I like knowing exactly what went into growing them.

Native shrubs continue finding homes in our garden, providing privacy and beauty for us, and food for birds, beneficial insects, and other wildlife.

These are just a few ideas for sustainability in the garden. For many more ideas, be sure to visit Jan for links to lots of great posts with lots more excellent, Earth-friendly hints that can easily be incorporated into everyday life - everything from saving energy in the home, environmentally-friendly alternatives to chemical cleaning solutions, to water conserving gardening tips and other earth-friendly gardening practices. If helping the environment isn't enough motivation, most of the ideas are not only environmentally-friendly, they're also money-savers. In these days of economic uncertainty, anything we can do to lighten the load on our wallets while lightening the load on the planet is worth checking out.


  1. Linda girl that was wonderful : )
    I'm sorry about Robbie .. we went through something like that when our son was about 7 years old .. it is heartbreaking indeed.
    You have made great points on all of the things we can do. I'm glad our city has gotten on the bandwagon quite a while ago in fact with more detailed recycling and yard waste .. the situation can't be ignored can it ;-)

  2. Great ideas, Linda! Isn't it funny how so many of our "progressive" environmental ideas today were actually nurtured by our parents. They had the right idea all along. I like your idea about pollinator-friendly plants and native shrubs and plants. That is something that I've been trying to do more of here, too, and those plants are just as beautiful as any exotic nursery specimen.

  3. Great post, Linda! I love how we were raised with many of the same principles. Some of them I'd forgotten, but my garden made me remember. My garden made me think. I think a healthy respect for life makes a lot of it common sense. Thanks for sharing some good and easy ways to help live responsibly!

  4. All great tips. I'm so glad you extended your veggie area this year. I too am challenged by not having enough sun but we gardeners must persevere!

  5. Thank you for this post, I enjoyed it immensely. Pointing out how easy it is to garden without the use of nasties will hopefully encourage others to try it out.

  6. Thank you Lisa and Robb, and thank you for visiting!

    Thank you Joy, I'm sorry your family had to go through one of those heartbreaks. I'm glad we learned from our experience.

    It's great that your city is taking action, and I agree, we can't ignore the harm our species is doing to the environment.

    Thank you Rose, yes, it is funny - reminds me of the old saying 'everything that's old is new again."

    I agree - there are so many beautiful native plants!

    Thanks Kylee, I'm grateful to our parents for teaching us those things.

    Thanks Tina, I'm glad for more veggie space too! One side gets more sun in the morning, the other side gets more sun in the afternoon. Between the two spaces, it's full sun! ;)

    My pleasure Jenana. Thanks for visiting. I really think it's easier, (and more economical) working with nature. It's certainly healthier for us, and for the environment.

  7. Dear Linda, Your post is truly wonderful...and I am sending you loads of thanks and hugs for joining in on this project;-) You were so fortunate to have parents who didn't 'buy in' to commercialism. That wasn't the case for me; yet, my mom was very into gardening. As I'm learning more and more about sustainability, though, I see that my mom's kind of gardening wasn't really sustainable. I am also seeing that a lot of my own isn't either;-( This project has really made me do, 'quadruple-takes' when it comes to what I'm doing in my yard! I'm so happy you've shared some 'basics' of your gardening style with us and some simple ideas on how to 'compost' if we don't have composters!! And, I'm sorry about little Robbie;-( Thanks so much for participating and hope you're having a wonderful spring;-) Jan

  8. These are all great ways to be environmentally responsible. Your story about Robbie is so sad! It's great that you are making positive contributions to the earth after something like that.

  9. Jan... For your readers who grow veggies, they may want to visit - a site that helps diminish hunger by enabling backyard gardeners to share their crops with neighborhood food pantries.

    The site is free both for the food pantries and the gardeners using it.

    Backed by and the USDA, more than 1,600 food pantries nationwide are already on it and more are signing up daily.

    It includes preferred delivery times, driving instructions to the pantry as well as (in many cases) information about store bought items also needed by the pantry (for after the growing season).

    If your community has a food pantry, make sure they register on

  10. Thank you Jan - I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    I'm very grateful for my parents, and the values they taught me. Mom especially, was, and is very wise. The older I get the more I appreciate what she taught us about what's really important in life.

    I'm glad you found the post helpful, and I think it's a wonderful project. I've been enjoying reading everyone's ideas, and I hope your collection of posts is read and referred to many times. Kudos to you for making a difference!

    Thank you Rose!

    It was really sad for our family. We were all devastated. We'd taken care of a few baby birds, and most died. But Robbie's death was so unnecessary. Being apartment dwellers, we weren't allowed pets, and he became a member of the family in his short time with us. In a way there's a happy ending, because we learned so much from him, and he made a difference through his short life, and especially, through his death.

    Hi Gary, thank you for mentioning that. There is actually a post in Jan's collection on her blog about Ample Harvest.

    It's a wonderful organization, and hopefully it will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, with many more food pantries, and many more vegetable gardeners sharing their backyard harvests with people who need those wonderful fresh veggies.

  11. Great tips Garden Girl. The things I like about your set of tips is that it doesn't cost the reader money to try these. It will actually save them money in the long run, unlike so many other Earth friendly/green/eco ideas out there.

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks MBT - I'm all for saving money!

    A lot of the other posts Jan's collecting offer environmentally-friendly tips that are free, and/or cost- and energy-savers to implement.

    One of the things I enjoy about reading your blogs is all the frugal gardening tips you offer!

  13. Hi Linda, thanks for writing this--I do all the same things, too. I want to participate in Jan's project, but writing to deadline reminds me too much of the paid jobs I had for 23 years... Hope we can meet up next week, no probs if not. I have a freelance gig this week. Hope all is well with you.

  14. Hi Monica, my pleasure. There was so much more I could have added, as I'm sure you could have too. I know you and I do some of the same things to save energy indoors. There are so many ways to be environmentally-friendly, and ecomonical too.

    I know what you mean about deadlines. I emailed you about next week. Good luck with your gig this week!

  15. Anonymous8:44 PM

    I enjoyed reading about your environmentally responsible garden practices. You do Robbie's memory proud!

  16. Thank you Avis. Happy Spring!

  17. That's a sad story about your little robin. With all the talk we hear, it's hard to believe so many people think that the poison they use on their gardens/lawns won't affect them in a negative way. The power of big business and advertising, I guess.

    Well, we can be proud of the steps we take to keep ourselves and our planet a little safer.

  18. Marnie, I find it mind-boggling that anyone would use that kind of stuff in a garden. It's hard to even imagine that people are still using poisons in their gardens.

    I like my hands in the soil, I like to touch the plants. I love seeing bees, butterflies, hummers, and other birds in the garden. I just can't imagine spraying or dusting anything that could harm them. I'll take my chances with pests. And why on earth anyone would poison their own veggies is simply beyond my understanding.

    Although, I must admit I do fantasize at times about squirrel and rabbit stew. ;) They wreak more havoc in our garden than anything, the varmints!

  19. Hi Linda,

    Although we live so far apart we were both raised on quite a few of the same principles.

    Excellent post with good sound advice that many can apply to their own gardens.

  20. I do all these, plus I collect gray water during the spring/summer/fall (winter is far too cold) to use in the garden instead of sending to the treatment plant (I use biodegradable/plant friendly soaps for this purpose), using corn gluten on my lawn for fertilizer/weeder, installed a rain garden w/rain barrels, and let my lawn go dormant instead of watering to keep it green.

    It's great that you found a piece of land for vegetable gardening :) It really doesn't take much sun for most vegetables.

  21. Hi Yolanda, kudos to our parents. They were ahead of their time!

    Great tips Sylvana!

    I wish the seed companies, and more people who write about veggie gardening, would ditch their insistence that full sun is needed for vegetables. More people might try to grow a few veggies if they realized it's doable with less-than-optimal sun. I froze and canned surplus veggies from one very small part-sun veggie bed last year, and ate fresh from that garden every day from May through October. Full sun's optimal, but not necessary for many veggies.


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