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Sustainability And Gardening: A Guide To Growing Your Own Organic Food

Gardening has been a necessity and a hobby for thousands of years. While the practice of subsistence farming is still alive and well today, the majority of gardeners are now hobbyists. 

Gardening is appealing because it’s achievable by anyone, provides tangible fruits of your labor, and teaches you many valuable life skills. In addition, gardening can teach you valuable lessons in biology, chemistry, and sustainability. 

Gardening as a hobby is widely appealing because it is achievable for virtually anyone, provides tangible fruits of your labor, and can teach you many valuable skills. Cultivating your own food can be essential in times when healthy food is scarce, but it can also provide valuable lessons in biology and chemistry, as well as sustainability. 

In the past, subsistence farming was often pursued due to poor urban development, food shortages, or high food cost. Today, modern gardeners can also pursue subsistence farming as a means of sustainability. 

As climate change continues to affect our lives, in particular increasing food scarcity, food sustainability will become increasingly necessary. 

Why Grow Your Own Food And Practice Sustainable Gardening?

Sustainable gardening is a practice that is meant to put virtually every element of cultivation into the hands of the consumers themselves. Consumers can carefully control the environment and limit various sources of pollution and waste. As a byproduct of such sustainability efforts, consumers can simultaneously pursue the cultivation of organic food to their personal standards. 

Environmental Benefits

Environmental benefits that may result from sustainable gardening efforts include:

  • Reduced emissions: Smaller, local gardens do not require as much heavy machinery to cultivate and transport plant-based foods.
  • Reduced food waste: In the case of mass-produced plant items, unsightly produce items are often discarded
  • Reduced materials waste: Items such as bags, boxes, and plastic ties are often used and discarded during the distribution of mass-produced food items.
  • Reduced toxic runoff: Smaller local gardens require fewer additive chemicals to manage. Some gardeners may choose to eschew them altogether. This may result in less damage to the soil and local waterways.

For these reasons, many consumers have turned to local and sustainable farmers and other local sources. However, it is equally, if not easier, to grow your own food at home with sustainable practices. 

Health Benefits

Many people are increasingly concerned about the effects that chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers may have on the surrounding local flora and fauna, and by extension, the people who eat them. 

Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that modern farming practices have done damage to the soil and other elements of the ecosystem, which in turn has reduced the average nutritional value of plant-based foods. When you cultivate your crops, you may be able to control or eliminate these damaging factors.


How To Get Started Growing Your Own Food

To begin, you must make sure that you have the necessary information and resources to be successful in your efforts. If you have little to no experience with gardening, it may be best to start small or learn from more experienced individuals in your community. By doing so you can reduce possible waste and frustration that could result from over-investing in failed early efforts. 

Learn the Basics of Growing

It is important to have a strong understanding of gardening best practices before you begin. The following are options you can pursue to learn more about the basics of gardening:

  • Books
  • General internet research
  • Gardening forums
  • Magazines
  • Newsletters
  • Online classes
  • Community gardens
  • Knowledgeable friends and family

Once you understand the basics of how to garden, you will need to make sure that you understand how your local climate may impact your efforts. 

Understand Your Hardiness Zone

A hardiness zone is a category that helps gardeners determine what types of plants will most likely thrive in their area. Hardiness zones are determined based on a variety of local climate factors, particularly average temperature. This is likely to become increasingly difficult to determine or forecast as a result of ongoing climate change. 

As such, while it will be helpful to determine what your hardiness zone is, it may also be helpful to look into climate-controlled gardening structures such as greenhouses

Select Your Space

Choosing the right spaces to utilize for your gardening efforts can have a great impact on your success. When selecting your space or spaces, consider the following factors:

  • Surrounding sunlight
  • The depth, area, and quality of the soil
  • The proximity of the closest water source
  • Air circulation
  • Absorption and drainage management
  • Methods to prevent animal intervention
  • Protection from harsh weather conditions

Luckily, a lot of these factors can be achieved by establishing a protected planting area such as a garden bed or a hobby greenhouse. You can also adjust an existing space you have in an empty area of your yard or a sunroom

Get the Right Tools and Equipment

In addition to evaluating your space, it’s best to consider what tools you should have on hand. The right tools can mean the difference between a successful planting season and an unsuccessful one. Some basic tools and equipment that are often helpful for gardening efforts include:

  • High-quality soil
  • Compost
  • Hand trowel
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Pruning shears
  • Watering can
  • Gardening gloves
  • Non-toxic pesticides

Depending on your specific needs, it may be helpful to acquire further supplies such as grow lights, mulch, and fencing. Furthermore, as you become more invested and expand your efforts, you may benefit from investing in supplies such as wheelbarrows, composting equipment, and polycarbonate greenhouses from the most popular greenhouse brands on the market.


Choosing What to Plant

When choosing what to plant, you should consider a variety of factors, such as the local climate, the soil composition, your personal experience, your planting area, and your goals. For more seasoned gardeners, it’s also best to know what crops you’ve planted in the past to decide which ones to plant in the future. Planting the same crop every season in the same soil, similar to a monoculture planting practice, will eventually deplete the health and nutrients in the soil. As such, it’s best to rotate your crops in different areas.

Furthermore, it is important to determine what you will be planting before you make other preparations, as you should ideally set up the space and system to best suit the needs of your chosen plants. 

Crops for Beginners

The following crops can be easier to manage for beginning gardeners:

  • Beans
  • Bell peppers
  • Blackberries and raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cabbage
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumbers
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Strawberries
  • Squash
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes

However, it is important to keep in mind that the relative ease of growing these plants will still depend on the suitability of the soil and climate.

Crops that Suit Your Space

To receive the most fruitful planting season, it’s best to ask yourself the following questions about your planting space beforehand: 

  • How much room is there for each plant?
  • How much light will the crops get?
  • How warm is the area?
  • How deep is the soil?
  • What is the pH of the soil?
  • How much humidity is there?
  • Is there an irrigation system?
  • What else are you growing in the gardening space?

Ideally, you should strategically determine which plants will be planted where in the gardening space. This will maximize the success of all crops planted in the area. 

Crops that Fit Your Goals

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran of a gardener, you most likely have varying goals in mind for your planting season. However, there are plenty of goals you can focus on if you want to increase your sustainable practices. Some examples of typical goals are:

  • Supplementing your food supply
  • Complete subsistence
  • Access to organic plant options
  • Gardening practice
  • Revitalization of an existing garden

Once you have determined what your goals are, you can use that information to decide what plants you would like to cultivate, the scale of your garden, and how much time and money you would like to invest.


Tips For Composting

With any level of gardening you take on, it can be particularly sustainable if you incorporate composting into your regimen. Composting is an extremely valuable element of sustainable gardening efforts, as it allows you to recycle food waste while supercharging your garden. The specific manner in which you choose to approach composting may vary, but the following steps can support your success:

  • Build or find a good compost bin. Ideally, this bin should be enclosed, at least one cubic yard in dimension, with holes to aerate the materials and release moisture at the bottom.
  • Choose a good spot for your compost bin. Ideally, this should be a warm area where the smell won’t be a bother and animals cannot gain access.
  • Consider using worms. While worms are not necessary, they can significantly expedite the process. Red wigglers are the variety of worms used for composting, and you should introduce approximately 2,000 worms per pound of average daily food waste.
  • Create a good ratio of browns to greens. Browns are carbon-rich materials like leaves, sawdust, and paper, while greens are nitrogen-rich materials like coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, and eggshells. An ideal ratio for composting is thirty parts browns to one part greens. 
  • Maintain enough moisture. You should add water approximately once or twice per week. The compost should be damp, but not watery.
  • Regularly aerate the compost. How often you should stir or turn your compost will depend on a variety of factors, such as the size and activity of your pile. However, typically you can properly aerate your compost by stirring or turning it once every two weeks.
  • Avoid adding items that could damage the compost’s ecosystem. For example, meat products or animal waste could introduce harmful parasites.

You can easily DIY a simple compost bin or buy a composter. What size of compost bin you will need will depend on your typical output of household waste. 


Other Options for Getting Involved with Community Farming

Not everyone has the desire or ability to garden on their property. However, if you are still interested in participating in local gardening or farming efforts, the following options may be available:

  • Community gardens: These are gardens that are cultivated by local communities or other groups. If there is one in your area, you may be able to volunteer to participate.
  • Local farms: Local farms in your area may be interested in accepting extra help.
  • Farmers’ markets: Farmers’ markets are places where local vendors sell various items. Farmers and gardeners who are selling wares may be able to give you tips or point you to valuable opportunities.
  • School programs: Some schools offer gardening and farming classes.