Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

The Importance of Sustainable Soil Management

Your garden harvest starts with healthy soil. How much produce you get, whether your plants are affected by disease, and even how many pests you have can be affected by how you treat your soil. But how you manage your soil can also affect wildlife and the environment.

Algal Blooms

On this blog, we’ve frequently discussed the importance of mulch and cover crops. They are two simple ways to help prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff. While these effects are obviously bad for your garden they also have more far-reaching consequences. When soil and nutrients erode they contribute to algal blooms in streams, lakes, rivers, and eventually the ocean. 

Algal blooms can be green, red, blue, or brown. They affect both marine and freshwater environments and produce toxins that have a variety of negative effects. The toxins can sicken or kill people and animals, create dead zones in the water, raise treatment costs for drinking water, and hurt industries that depend on clean water. One way we can prevent these algal blooms is to practice good soil management.

Good Soil Practices

Sustainable soil management means using practices that build healthy soil, reduce erosion, and reduce the need for fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. They include:

  • Planting cover crops, especially in the fall to prevent erosion and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
  • Using mulch around plants whenever possible to prevent erosion, suppress weeds, hold moisture, and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.  
  • Rotating crops to disrupt disease and pest life cycles and reduce excess nutrients.
  • Reducing soil compaction which helps fungal and insect life in soil thrive. Whenever possible reduce tilling and using equipment. 
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects like cover crops, mulch, wildflower patches, and insect hotels.

While small gardeners and farmers are not the biggest contributors to this type of pollution every little bit helps. Making these small changes can improve your garden, improve water quality, and help wildlife.

10 Ways to Use Permaculture Principles in Your Garden

Odds are you’ve probably heard of permaculture but do you really understand what it is? Often thought of as merely gardening methods, permaculture actually reaches beyond techniques like hugelkultur beds and fruit tree guilds. Bill Mollison one of the founders of permaculture defined it as, 

“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

Permaculture may not be the perfect solution for everyone but its teachings certainly have value. A great way to get started with permaculture is to learn about the principles and ethics of permaculture and try to apply them to your garden. 

Permaculture Principles

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use slow and small solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Permaculture Ethics

There are also three ethics: earth care, people care, and fair share. These ethics can be kept in mind when making decisions to create a sustainable garden.

Here are a few ways you can use permaculture principles and ethics in your garden.

Save Seeds

Seed saving is a great way to take your gardening a step further. It increases your self-reliance and the resiliency of your garden. It allows you to play a role in preserving heirlooms and biodiversity for future generations. 

When you save seeds you deepen your understanding of the natural world. You learn that beets are biennial, melon varieties have to isolated at least 1/8 mile for home use, and that garlic must be properly cured. You’ll get to know your plants better and appreciate your garden all the more. 

If you’re nearby, SESE’s Ira Wallace will be at the Allegheny Mountain Institute hosting a seed saving workshop on July 3rd.

Compost

No matter where you live you can compost. If you live in an apartment you can look into vermicomposting or you might be able to join a community composting organization. If you have a yard you can set up your own compost bin. There are many easy DIY tutorials online.

Composting can significantly reduce the amount of waste headed for landfills and help add nutrients back to your garden. If you live rurally and are feeling extra adventurous you can try using a composting toilet which helps save water too!

Reduce Plastic

If you pay attention to environmental news or science you’re probably bombarded with the rather frightening statistics about plastic. Scientists have discovered micro-plastics in Arctic ice and according to National Geographic approximately 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean every year!

You might be wondering what this has to do with gardening but somewhat surprisingly agriculture is now heavily dependent on disposable plastic. From seed trays to hoop-house covers and product packaging, it has become so prevalent there’s a name for it: plasticulture. 

Growing food at home can help reduce food packaging especially if you opt to preserve you harvest in re-usable containers, canning jars, or silicone bags. Take it a step further and take plastic out of your garden too. Check out our post 7 Ways to Start Seeds Without Plastic, to learn about alternatives to plastic seed trays.

Create an Efficient Property

Using permaculture zones to design your property, even if you just have a small suburban backyard, can help you make the most of your space. Check out Property Planning with Permaculture Zones.

Feed Some Friends

Throw a garden party this summer! Share your harvest or get together for some harvesting, shelling, or canning. Put down your phones and connect with people. Sow the seeds (pun intended) of gardening and love for fresh meals in others. 

Install a Rain Barrel

Catching and storing water improves your self-reliance and helps the environment. If you have a filter or are willing to install a rainwater system you can use rainwater for household use. Even if you just want to set up a simple DIY barrel you can use rainwater to water your garden.

Collecting and using this water prevents stormwater run-off that otherwise can lead to excessive nutrient loads in local watersheds. These nutrients can cause algae blooms, harmful to both human and marine life. 

Be sure to check local regulations before installing a rain barrel. 

Grow Storage/Staple Crops

Even many small plots have room for a few storage crops like flour corn, dry beans, and sweet potatoes. Growing these simple foods can keep your pantry full and reduce your reliance on the grocery store. You’ll learn about the bounty your land can produce and how to create from scratch meals with staples. You’ll reduce your food miles, bills, and might get a little healthier too.

Teach Others

If you have the opportunity, pass on your skills. Get your children, grandchildren, or nephews and nieces involved in the garden. Share seeds and wisdom with a curious neighbor. Offer to teach a class at a community center or school. These moments will connect you with your community and inspire others. 

Learn Something New

No one is too old or too good at gardening to learn something new. Consider signing up for a local gardening, preserving, or permaculture class. You can also watch a documentary or read a book. Facebook can wait!

Plant Perennials

Perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, berry bushes, and fruit and nut trees all require a larger up-front investment than annual plants. Almost all perennials require a least a year or two to get established (if not more) before you’ll see any harvest. They also frequently cost more to purchase. However, perennials are worth the wait. 

Many will thrive in areas ill-suited for annual crops and help you achieve a larger harvest. Perennials are also an excellent way to diversify your crops and land use. Many like will also create habitat for local wildlife as well.  

 

These simple steps can have a big impact. As you work on your garden consider the permaculture principles and ethics to live a more sustainable life closer to nature.

 

5 Free Shows on Gardening, Food, & Farming

Gardening may be as good as therapy but sometimes we all need to kick back and enjoy a little screen time. While Game of Thrones may be really exciting, next time you’re in the mood for a Netflix binge consider one of these five documentaries. They’re all free to watch and shed light on gardening, food, and farming.

Living Soil Film

This documentary, produced by the Soil Health Institute, discusses the problems with humans’ relationship with soil. It introduces staggering statistics like, “the societal and environmental costs of soil loss and degradation in the United States alone are now estimated to be as high as $85 billion every single year” and provides methods for more sustainable farming. It features innovative farmers and soil experts from across the United States. Learn more about soil and how you can keep your garden’s soil healthy.

Tales from the Green Valley

Though not a documentary this TV show created by the BBC as part of a historic farming series is an informative look at agricultural techniques of the past. The show follows historians Ruth Goodman and Stuart Peachy as well as archeologists Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn, and Chloe Spencer as they run a historical farm just the way it would have been in the 17th century for a full calendar year. Try an episode (or twelve!) for a glimpse of history through the lens of everyday life.

Unbroken Ground 

Created by Patagonia Provisions, this short documentary discusses the role of agriculture in our current environmental crisis. It takes an inspirational look at folks who are trying to change the way we produce food and protect our lands and waters. Join the food revolution with this informative film.

Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden

This PBS special explores the 250 acre New York Botanical Garden. A “museum of plants,” the New York Botanical Garden is home to over million plants and operates one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs. Get inspired as you follow along on a tour of this amazing garden.

Stone Age Stories: First Farmers

This documentary focuses in on archeological evidence that Stone Age peoples began gathering and growing grains. It attempts to explain their transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers. It also looks at the beginning of permanent settlements, animal domestication, and metal working. Check it out to learn more about agriculture’s profound effect on civilization.

Next time you’re having a family movie night or just want to relax on a rainy afternoon try one of these documentaries. They might change your ideas about food and farming! 

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