Hunter Valley Gardens Horticulturalist, Sean O’Brien, explores the concept of sustainable gardening and suggests some simple ideas to get you started.
What is sustainable gardening?
Sustainable gardening is a term that is being thrown around more and more these days and, to many people, leaves images of jungle-like gardens where plants are left to do their own thing, garden beds are made using recycled bath tubs or rusty corrugated iron and the only thing you can grow are plants being maintained by the long haired hippy from the grocery commercials.
For many people the idea of sustainable gardening is that it is just too hard mainly due to a lack of understanding about what sustainable gardening is.
There is no real technical definition to sustainable gardening but the concept is to implement gardening practices that do not harm our environment but instead preserve, nurture and nourish what we have.
In its simplest form it is about reusing what we produce, limit the amount of artificial things that go into the garden and using the garden as a tool to benefit your environment. i.e. where you live. Sustainable gardening in it purist form is not achievable for the modern household but there are many tips that can make your garden more sustainable and more productive with very little effort.
Combat Waste with Chickens!
One of the first things to consider is the waste generated within the household. Recycling is available to all households so I am not suggesting you use tin cans or plastic milk bottles as home made pots but it is the food scraps, paper and cardboard that is really underutilised in the garden. Composting has always been the traditional way of recycling but to many it ends up as a smelly pile in the back yard that just sits there. The best way to re use your food scraps is to invest in chickens. Regardless of the size of your backyard there are ways to house chooks and many are available through stores and on line.
The beauty of chooks is they will eat just about anything, from fruit and veggie scraps, breads, cereals, cakes,cookies, grass clipping even the odd tea bag. Our chooks particularly enjoy the kids' left over porridge and cereal! The obvious benefit of chooks is of course the production of eggs, as well as the recycling of scraps, but chooks are excellent predators as well. If you let them out for a wander every week they will quickly seek out snails, caterpillars, aphids and many other bugs that you would otherwise spend time spraying, they are also an excellent fertilizer producer as well.
Shred Your Paper
In regard to paper and cardboard, the best investment is a $40 paper shredder which will turn the pile of Christmas cards, news papers and all the packing material that comes back with you from the shops into useful mulch. Once through the shredder it is a matter of incorporating it into the mulch pile with the grass clippings, leaves and another material collected around the garden along with a bit of the chook poo, compost it down and into the garden it goes. Remember the healthier your soil the healthier the plants so looking after your soil is as important as the plants.
Control Pests with Companion Planting
Pests and diseases will always be a problem in the home garden and what the chooks can’t control will have to be controlled with more conventional measures. Home made insect and fungus sprays are easy to make and use and many people have their own recipes as well which can be found on the internet. But many home remedies do not have a long shelf life and need to be used as soon as made.
Companion planting is also a useful way of keeping bugs at bay and can also attract beneficial bugs which will feast on the bad guys. There are a range of plants suitable for companion planting depending on the style of garden you have and what you are trying to keep out and there are some great books that go into detail of the types of plants available.
Integrated Pest Management
Another alternative is Integrated Pest Management, which, in simple terms, is to introduce good bugs that eat bad bugs.
Timing is important with IPM to get the most out of it but it will certainly save on spraying. Beneficial bugs are available Australia wide through mail order. If all else fails there are many sprays available that are either low toxic or non toxic that will work a treat and some are even certified organic.
When considering the planting of a new tree or rejuvenating a garden remember to take to account the shade benefits of a well positioned tree with the direction of sun and the amount of sunlight into the home. Shade trees can have a major cooling effect on a house in the right position which can lead to cooling and heating savings, in the same way that paved, concreted or hard surfaces could be replaced with the use of hard wearing ground covers of turf which can reduce reflective heat but anywhere up to 15 degrees.
At the end of the day the activity of gardening itself regardless of whether it be through herb and veggie production or a simple low maintenance or traditional style of garden is in itself sustaining, nurturing and nourishing not only your piece of environment but also you own personal well being and self satisfaction.
To learn more about Sean O'Brien and his work at the Hunter Valley Gardens, visit the website: