Gardening as Environmental Stewardship
Take a little patch of earth and make it a garden. Even if you only grow one thing. Even if it's a hardscrabble piece of bare dirt along the side of a wall, or a pot on a balcony, or a milk carton in a windowsill. That's what I'd like you to come away with, today on Blog Action Day, when we are all talking about the environment. Because WE are an integral part of the environment. Our human actions.
Being involved with maintaining the life of plants will involve you more intimately with the life of the planet. Even better if it's a plant you can eat, because you won't want to eat poison and you'll be more careful about what you use to keep other things from eating that plant.
We started our garden when we moved in, in February 2005. The ground was baked, cracked clay, utterly bare, without even weeds. The previous owner had torn out the dead sod, the lawn that nobody had watered while the place was for sale before he'd bought it. For three and a half years, he never got around to putting in a lawn, a garden, even any ground cover. So the bare ground sat and baked. No worms, no bugs, nothing.
After almost 3 years of hauling in compost, planting, putting down wood chips, letting things go to seed and spread, we now have a little ecosystem all our own. Every year we see new critters not previously encountered. Some of these new neighbors are not so great, like plant-damaging soldier bugs. Others are unexpected delights, like the giant salamanders, the little lizard I saw drinking from a soaker hose, and of course the hummingbird regulars who now understand that peas or beans will be flowering here most of the year (and that our neighbor's hummie feeder will take care of the wintertime).
We've gone from seeing a few bees here or there to hosting a wide array of pollinators: honeybees, to be sure, but also big black carpenter bees, ground-nesting bumblebees, and sleek metallic hoverflies. And we're still learning.
This year we're putting in mustard and vetch as a cover crop on some of the beds, with fall-winter fava beans. We've established alyssum that self-seeds, and cornflowers, and borage, along with plantings of lavender, to try to provide a year-round supermarket for our native pollinators.
We realized that even after just a couple of years, things don't grow so spectacularly as they once did-- we've been putting our virgin clay soil-grown, mineral-rich, organic tomato and bean vines in the city compost bin and getting back lawn-clipping gruel, even if it IS composted. Every eggshell that we've thrown in the trash is a bit of calcium that could have been useful in the garden. I have a few dozen eggshells, crushed into the bottom of a clean milk jug, drying, waiting to go into the garden now. The top of the gallon milk jug is a warming cap for a broccoli plant, and will nurture pepper seedlings this spring.
This fall we bought a lightweight 'leaf shredder' that uses a modified weed-whacker in a big funnel, and we shredded up our plants at the end of summer and mulched them into the beds. I could bang my head on the wall thinking of the cubic yards of tomato plant, squash vine, bean plants, etc that we've stuffed into the city 'yard waste' bin and sent away, but at least we're doing it differently now.
It starts with just a little patch of ground, even a single plant. If you do nothing else for the environment this year, plant a garden. You'll find out that it was really for you, too.
Yes, these are all photos from our backyard. The one below is what it looked like in November 2005. We've come a long way, baby!