ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GARDENING

Today, being natural is not only smart, it's also trendy! It's not all that hard either.

In the first place you need to look at how you do things in the garden. After this you need to buy and use the best equipment and materials. If you don't bring too many "unfriendly things" into your garden, then it's relatively easy to become environmentally friendly and stay that way.

 

EQUIPPING THE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GARDEN

When buying equipment, tools, fertilisers, and other additions to the garden, try to buy materials which won't become a problem later on. Try to avoid tools and materials which might pollute (eg. petrol mowers, edge trimmers, chainsaws, rotary hoes pollute by exhaust fumes, chemical pollution by petrol spilling onto lawn or garden bed areas, and by noise pollution). Plastics used for mulch do not break down, cause the soil to sweat, and don't allow the soil to breath. Incinerators are not a necessary part of the garden ass they are dreadful pollutants, and as a general rule, if you can burn it you can probably compost or recycle it.

Where possible use natural sources of energy and materials. Natural fertilisers are usually better than chemical ones helping improve the soil structure and as well as feeding the plant. They rarely harm the plant whereas chemical fertilisers, in large quantities, can kill the plant. Use solar heating to grow plants out of season (ie. under glass or in cloches). Heat energy generated from compost or lawn clippings used under trays of seeds or cuttings promotes growth and also warms up a greenhouse or cold frame. Energy generated from a little elbow grease can have amazing results in your garden, as well as improving your health!

Some plants can make a garden unfriendly. People with allergies or sinus problems in particular are often sensitive to highly perfumed plants, or plants which produce a lot of pollen. Some of the worst plants for these problems are wattles, boronia, jasmine and freesias. Even if you don't suffer, spare a thought for family, visitors or even neighbours.

 

AVOIDING PROBLEM MATERIALS

When you use poor quality materials, the following problems are more likely:

  • Avoid very toxic or persistent chemicals
  • Poor quality materials don't do the job, and need to be replaced.
  • Equipment and structures can corrode or break and have to be dumped and replaced.

If you use quality, you help reduce refuse in rubbish tips.

You also save yourself time and in the long term, money

  • Don't grow plants which are going to require a lot of work. If they need lots of spraying, avoid them; if they will need frequent heavy pruning, avoid those plants and save the wear and tear on tools.
  • Use plants where the prunings compost easily
  • Prefer plants which don't need a lot of watering or feeding
  • Build garden structures to last. (eg. Stone or brick are often better than cheaper materials which result in removing and rebuilding every 5 to 10 years).


AVOID TOOLS AND MATERIALS WHICH POLLUTE

Anything which doesn't decompose easily or produces toxic by products is a potential problem. Plastic materials (eg. pipes, containers, plastic film), will be problem waste when it breaks, but things made from timber or ceramic materials may be easier to recycle or dispose of. Non polluting paints available today are much more environmentally friendly than some paints. Avoid buying things which are over packaged. The more packaging, the more you have to throw away. Recyclable packaging is always best.

 

NATURAL SOURCES

If you can use natural sources for your garden needs, you will help the environment.

  • Where possible use natural sources of energy (Solar heating for greenhouses, Solar garden lights)
  • Water from a stream, well or collected in a tank or dam will reduce the strain on town water supplies, and maybe give you a cheaper supply. Just check the quality is good enough for plants.
  • Make your own pesticides and fertilizers from things which your garden produces; or buy products produced from natural products.

HOW YOU DO THINGS IN THE GARDEN

There are six things which everyone can do very easily:

  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Recycle where possible
  • Use man-power rather than machine-power where possible
  • Never use any more of something than is necessary
  • Always work with nature rather than against it
  • Use organic fertilisers and pest and disease controls

There are very few household waste products that cannot be recycled either in the garden or through a recycling centre. Kitchen waste is a valuable source of organic matter and nutrients which can be composted first or dug straight into the garden. Shredded newspaper, tissues, vacuum cleaner dust, grass clippings, leaves can be composted as well. Materials like plastic, metal, paper, and glass can be recycled.

Most handtools are environmentally friendly. The main ones to have include secateurs, shears, loppers, hedge trimmers, saws (pruning and bow), rakes (nail and leaf), spades, shovels, forks, hoes, push mower, and wheelbarrow. A sprayer may also be required depending on your philosophy on pest and disease control. You can get away with only some of these but having all of them can make garden maintenance much easier and thus more enjoyable. If you have to have a power tool then seriously consider electric rather than petrol.


 

DISPOSING OF WASTE

  • Kitchen waste:  Most food scraps (peelings, leftovers, tea leaves, coffee grounds, melon rinds, fish) can be put into a compost heap or bin. Do not use fat or whole bones due to slow decomposition rate and problems with animals. Have a bucket with a lid in the kitchen so waste can be separated out when cooking or cleaning up after a meal. When full, empty the contents into the compost bin. Tea leaves can be used directly as a mulch for acid loving plants like lemon trees, rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas. Many councils now sell compost bins made out of recycled plastic at a subsidised price to rate payers.
  • Non-compostable waste:  Reduce this type of waste by careful shopping. Buy household goods that have recyclable packaging or use refills so an original container can be used over and over again. The refill container may or may not be recyclable. When shopping reuse bags before recycling them or take your own baskets, boxes. Avoid products with excess packaging.
  • Recyclable material:  Glass containers, wine and beer bottles, many plastic containers like soft drink and milk containers (check for triangle with number), newspapers, magazines, clean office paper can all be recycled. Most local councils have organised pickups for these or have collection sites. If you are not sure what can be recycled in your area or where it can be recycled then you should get in touch with your local council.

Before recycling materials get some use out of them. Make terrariums out of soft drink bottles, use bottles for slow release watering of pot plants and establishing trees, use glass bottles as a building material (they can be mortared into a non-structural part of a brick wall to allow more light in), use glass jars with resealable lids, such as jam or honey jars, can be reused to store your own produce.

Newspapers and cardboard can be used as a mulch or under other mulches. Use thick wads of newspaper or a couple of cardboard widths to reduce light to weeds, yet allowing water and air to get to the soil needed for plant growth. They also eventually break down to add organic matter to the soil. There is some thought that the print from newspaper can help deter weeds from growing as well.

 

HOW TO MAKE GOOD COMPOST

Making compost is not difficult and there are varying ways to do it. A basic method is to layer natural ingredients in different proportions, provide necessary air and moisture, and turn the heap to provide bacterial action on all parts of the heap.

Any organic material that is of plant and animal origin can be composted, but firstly reduce it to the right size. Ground up bones and meat can be added. Large branches and tree trunks should be put through a chipper or shredder. Small tree branches, corn stalks, dead bedding plants need to be cut up or shredded to pieces shorter than 5-10 cm. Prunings, weeds (preferably only annuals), seaweed (wash off excess salt first), grass clippings, and leaves can be used. Avoid anything that has been sprayed with chemicals, may harbour plant diseases, or has thorny or spiky plant material.

Any hay or straw, especially lucerne hay, is a valuable addition to the heap. If it is shredded it will break down more quickly. It also seems to encourage more earthworm activity.

Animal manures are an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter. The most commonly used are sheep, cattle, poultry, horse, and pig. They need to be composted for a minimum of six weeks to prevent toxicity problems from ammonium, which is present in large quantities in fresh manure, and to allow any veterinary medicines present in the manure to break down.

Topsoil, especially urine rich, can be added for extra nitrogen, friability, and to encourage microorganisms necessary for decomposition.

The time taken for compost to be ready for use can vary depending on the temperature, method used, and materials used. Fully mature compost resembles a light rich loam. If half completed, it may not smell earthy and will still contain raw matter.

The best time to apply compost is a month or so before planting. The closer to planting time it goes on, the finer it should be shredded or chopped, and the more thoroughly it should be hoed into the soil.

For best results, compost should be applied liberally, from 2 - 8cm per year. There is no danger of burning doe to overuse as there is with artificial fertilisers. Apply it either one or twice a year.

 

COMPOST BINS

Compost bins are useful as a clean and less smelly way of making compost. In direct sunlight, the plastic can trap heat, speeding up the decomposition process. They also hold moisture in well. Bins made with wood or concrete are also worthwhile especially if they are covered with black polythene to help heat to heap up. Wooden sides can be built in such a way that they can be removed to help move the heap and turn it over. If there are two or more heaps built beside each other with wooden slats between then earthworms will freely move from one heap to another. This helps the decomposition process.

 

MINIMIZING USE OF MACHINES

  • Mow the lawn with a hand mower rather than a petrol mower if you have the time.
  • Grow creeping grasses rather than tall growing grasses so the lawn doesn't have to be mown so often.
  • Don't over fertilize or water grass or established shrubs. This can mean extra pruning and more frequent mowing.
  • Work with the existing shape of the ground instead of using heavy machinery to reshape it.


 ONLY USE WHAT IS NECESSARY

  • Mulch so that you don't water so much

*If you spray chemicals (natural or other), get the concentration exactly right and spray exactly as the directions say. This will give the best results and avoid the need to spray repeatedly.

*Don't spray or fertilize anywhere it isn't needed, or any more often than what is needed. This reduces the chance of excess chemicals building up in the environment.

 

 

WORK WITH NATURE RATHER THAN AGAINST IT

Pest and disease control does not mean you have to use dangerous chemicals. Organic products like pyrethrum, derris, bordeaux are safer than inorganic ones. Soil sterilisation by steam or methyl bromide are also worth considering for vegetable and flower beds. Companion planting is great for keeping soils free from harmful microorganisms and discouraging insect pests. Encouraging natural predators like ladybirds which help control aphids are also increasingly popular among natural gardeners. Not to be forgotten is the importance of management of the garden. This includes crop rotation; removal of diseased leaves, wood, fruit; mulching to reduce soil borne problems; choosing resistant or tolerant plants; only planting healthy plants; planting at the best time for the plant to minimise pest and disease invasion; and choosing the right plant for the right position.

Earthworms are terrific for plants and soil. They help aerate the soil by their burrowings and add nutrition to the soil from their castings (loosely packed product left behind as the earthworms work through the soil. The soil is passed through their bodies and mixed on the way). They also help to break down organic matter, turning it into humus which is an important soil conditioner. Encourage earthworms by regular mulching or spreading. compost.

If a plant proves difficult to grow, don't persist with it. Replace it with something better suited to that part of the garden

 

 

More Information

The Australian Correspondence School offers range of new, government accredited courses in herbs, organic growing and permaculture for anyone interested in getting more serious about natural living and gardening. For details:

A.C.S. P.O. Box 2092, Nerang East, Qld, 4211. Phone: (07) 55 304 855

 

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