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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Give back to the planet on Earth Day

Apr 04, 2022 01:00PM ● By Bryan Reed

Today, home gardeners and large-scale growers have the knowledge, tools and resources necessary to produce big, bountiful crops. But the hidden costs of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce large yields is alarming. Groundwater contamination, erosion, mineral lack in the soil, produce with low-nutrient profiles and declines of beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies are all costs to chemical food production that we don’t pay for at the cash register. 

Fortunately, there are sustainable gardening solutions that are better for us and for the earth. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, let’s take a look at how we can become better stewards of our gardens and our planet. 

Repeat and regenerate

Sustainable gardening focuses on repeatable practices that don’t deplete, pollute or destroy natural resources. It means making our own fertilizers and building up soil profiles so that each year we can grow again. 

Sustainable growers work with local ecosystems to conserve water rather than plant high-water demanding crops in a desert environment. They also save some plants to produce seeds for next year. That’s a repeatable approach to gardening.

Regenerative growers take this a step further by building up growing systems and making them better. They incorporate biodiversity into their gardens and create habitats for natural predators that take care of pests. 

These growers take stewardship seriously by taking care of the natural resources loaned to them for future generations by increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil. 

Adding compost, manure and mulch in our gardens is good for plants and soil microbes. It also makes them more resilient to drought and heat stress, so we don't have to water as often. 

Compost, manure and mulch

The easiest way to add organic matter back into the soil is by leaving crop debris in the garden and allowing the nutrients to break down for successive crops. We grow basil for the leaves, yet the branches, stems and roots are also loaded with nutrients, carbon and trace minerals. 

However, the best form of organic matter is compost. Quality compost contains a variety of plant nutrients but also harbors bacteria, fungi and protozoa that all work to break down aggregate chunks of compost and native soil into a form that plant roots can actually absorb. 

In the fall, applying aged animal manure (at least six months old) can mitigate any pathogens in the soil. USDA Certified Organic standards allow for adding animal manure to crops that don’t touch the soil no less than 90 days before harvest, and no less than 120 days for crops that do touch soil.

It’s good to use rabbit and llama manure because it can break down quickly in the soil due to its small size. Horse, sheep and goat manures are easy to come by and contain actinobacteria that’s good for cycling nutrients in the soil. Cow manure can be dicey, as they eat large amounts of weed seed, which could migrate to your garden. 

We can create mulch by adding old leaves, straw, newspaper and cardboard to the soil. 

During the growing season, mulch protects the soil around plants from high temperatures and drying winds. It also keeps moisture in the soil. At the end of the season, all the organic material breaks down to create nutrients, topsoil and soil stability so that next year’s crop is even better. 

Do your part

Certified organic foods have skyrocketed in sales and popularity as consumers vote with their dollar for farming practices they support. 

Do your part in helping solve some of the Earth’s environmental challenges by growing more plants, buying organic produce and adding organic matter into your garden. It’s the best gift we can give our planet this Earth Day as well as every day.

Send your gardening questions to Bryan in care of the BEACON, or email him directly at [email protected]

Read more of our Home+Garden articles here

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