Planting a vegetable garden is an excellent way to enjoy fresh produce, while also reducing your carbon footprint and helping the environment. However, some might not know where to start when it comes to sustainable gardening. Here are five essential steps you can take to start a sustainable vegetable garden with the latest trends.
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Do Your Research Before You Plant
Before you even begin planting, it is important to make sure that your soil is well-prepared and in the right condition. You don’t want the soil to be too compacted (like clay) or too sandy either. No matter the soil type, if you add a lot of organic matter, such as compost, it should amend your soil and add some nutrients.
It’s key to look into which type of plants are best suited for your space and climate. Researching the plants you plan to grow will also help ensure that you select varieties that require fewer inputs such as fertilizer and water. Here’s a list from the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association of vegetables that are grown commercially in Ontario. That should be a good indication of what works well.
Also, know when to start planting, for those of you who live in Ontario, here’s a great calendar laying out when to start seeds, and when to plant them outdoors: 2023 Planting Calendar.
To Start a Sustainable Vegetable Garden, Choose an Appropriate Spot to Plant
When deciding on a spot to start your vegetable garden, make sure the area is spacious and accessible. It should be located in a sunny spot where plants will receive at least 4-6 hours of full sun each day and have enough room for roots to spread. If possible, select a location near a water source as it will save you time and energy during watering. Finally, consider the proximity of nearby plants or trees as they may provide nutrients and support to each other.
Recycle, Reuse or Share Materials When Possible
To make sure your vegetable garden is sustainable, be mindful of how you will purchase supplies such as soil, tools, and other materials to maintain it. Research local resources (soil) and businesses (like seed suppliers) that specialize in eco-friendly products to help reduce waste.
Additionally, look for materials that can be reused or recycled such as compost bins made of recycled plastic and metal tools. If you are unable to find the exact supplies you’re looking for, there could be alternatives like reused store items that may fit the bill! If you need something, try a Facebook “Buy Nothing Group” in your area.
Use a rain barrel to catch rain and water your garden. Using rain barrels is sustainable as it helps conserve water and reduces runoff. As an additional bonus, rainwater collected is great for your plants as it contains more nutrients, yet doesn’t contain the chlorine like tap water does. Using a rain barrel will also save you some money too! Just make sure you keep some kind of mosquito barrier to keep them from laying their eggs.
Another great tip to start a sustainable vegetable garden is to see if your local library has a seed library. See my reference below in my seed section for more about this. I love how the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library has a seed library program. A seed library is a great idea since it helps foster the tradition of seed collecting, and also the sharing of locally-adapted plant varieties.
Use Mulch, Compost and Manure to Help Your Soil
Can you start a sustainable vegetable garden without talking about compost? Mulch and compost are great options for improving plant growth and soil fertility. Compost will bind the soil together, helping to reduce water loss, retain nutrients, and nourish plants. It also helps the soil maintain an optimal pH balance by encouraging microbial life. Manure from animals such as horses, cows, and chickens can provide key nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium that plants need to thrive. Make sure to avoid using fresh or heavily treated manure for the best results, or stick with compost and mulch, like me!
Pick the Right Seeds for Your Local Climate
When selecting seeds, you should consider your local climate, as well as the timing of when to plant your seeds. Pick seeds suited for your particular climate, and make sure that you’ll be able to harvest crops during the growing season before it’s too cold or hot for the plants. Be sure to check the seed packets for more detailed planting instructions and advice.
Local seed libraries are a great source for locally adapted seeds. See if your local library has one. I love how the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library has a seed library program here in Niagara. A seed library is a great idea since it helps foster the tradition of seed collecting, and also the sharing of locally-adapted plant varieties.
Food Scrap Garden
Here’s a great place to start a sustainable vegetable garden; food scrap gardens. Did you know that you can actually regrow some of your vegetables from scraps? You can regrow several vegetables, like green onions, celery, potatoes, garlic, ginger, and lettuce. Some vegetable scraps will need to be put in water to sprout or develop roots, others can be planted directly in the solid. This concept is new to me, but I’m open to giving this a try. Read more about regrowing your vegetable scraps.
Find Your Plants The Right Companion
Another great tip to start a sustainable vegetable garden is the proper pairing of plants. Plant companionship is the practice of planting vegetables and plants in groups that are mutually beneficial to one another. For example, growing certain plants and vegetables together can attract beneficial insects to keep away pests, or deter certain animals from sneaking into the garden for a snack. By understanding how different plants interact with one another, you can create a more balanced and productive garden.
For example, garlic may help deter beetles from potentially consuming your carrots and spinach, while other companions such as onions or chives can have a negative influence on the overall health of these vegetables. It’s important to take time to learn which plants are good or bad for each variety to get the most out of your garden.
Encourage Beneficial Insects in the Garden
Attracting the right kind of bugs is another way to start a sustainable vegetable garden or update an existing garden to be more eco-friendly. You can attract beneficial insects to your garden by grouping certain flowers and plants together. For example, many varieties of the daisy family are great for attracting predatory insects like lacewings and ladybugs. These animals prey on small pests that otherwise would cause damage or stunt the growth of many vegetables and plants. Another example can be garlic may help deter beetles from potentially consuming your carrots and spinach, while other companions such as onions or chives can have a negative influence on the overall health of these vegetables.
As you can see, there are many steps you can take to start a sustainable vegetable garden or update an existing garden and adapt it to be more eco-friendly. Knowing about soil and compost, water conservation, beneficial plants and insects and using local resources are all actions you can take to start a sustainable vegetable garden.
If you liked this post, you might also like: 9 Simple Sustainability Tips for Spring