In lieu of the United Nations climate talks in Paris, I thought it would be fun to include a few tips gardeners can do be more sustainable in their own gardens and kitchens. Let’s face it, there are many great reasons to grow a garden!
- Great exercise,
- Simulate personal knowledge of the natural world,
- Grow delicious tasting food,
- Have better knowledge of growing conditions,
- Grow large quantities of favorite foods to preserve at home,
- Get kids excited about gardening,
- Grow varieties not available for purchase in most grocery stores, and
- Become a better steward of the environment – just to name a few!
Here are a few suggestions on ways you can be more carbon conscious through savvy garden decisions.
- Grow food at home. Okay, so I picked the easy one first! There is plenty of debate over actual numbers when it comes to food miles, but it is safe to say that those bananas grown in Costa Rica traveled a long way to reach your kitchen counter. For some foods, like bananas, this is necessary since Utah’s climate cannot support a thriving banana industry, but we do have local options when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables that grow well in Utah. Grow a garden at home and cut your food miles to a few food steps. For more information on food miles, check-out the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
- Support your local farmers’ markets or community supported agriculture (CSA) growers.Look for ‘Utah’s Own’ branded items in grocery stores for more options of local products. Ask restaurants ‘what’s local?’ and take advantage of ‘you-pick’ farms and local farm stands. Take an annual trek to ‘Utah’s Famous Fruit Way’ for fantastic local fruit options or look for ‘Green River melons’, ‘Bear River raspberries’, or other local delicacies. Here are some useful links for increasing your local food knowledge.
Salt Lake County Urban Farming Initiative – List of farmer’s markets and community gardens
CSAutah.org – List of local CSA growers
Utah’s Own – Comprehensive list of Utah producers, products and restaurants that support local products
Deseret News article on four fabulous road trips ideas to Utah fresh produce regions
- Diversity your soil fertility practices.
Synthetic fertilizers are an excellent way to supply essential nutrients to growing garden plants, but the process to produce them, called the Haber-Bosch process, is very energy intensive since it takes intense heat and pressure to convert nitrogen gas to nitrogen fertilizer.
Consider diversifying your soil fertility practices to include small annual additions of organic matter, grow cover crops and use of fertilizers derived from natural sources (organic fertilizers). Here are a few useful factsheets with more information on these management practices.
- Practice crop rotation with ‘nitrogen-fixing legumes’. All gardeners should rotate plants in the same family to another area of the garden each year to reduce unwanted pest pressure from insects and disease, so….. why not rotate with plants that trap atmospheric nitrogen in the soil? Legumes, or plants in the pea family, form a beneficial association with N-fixing rhizobia bacteria which convert atmospheric nitrogen to biologically available ammonia. Here is a fact sheet from New Mexico State University with more information on this remarkable process. Rotate garden plants with beans, peas, soybeans (edamame), alfalfa, clover, or vetch.
- Build a backyard compost bin. Aerobic decomposition (aerated compost bin) produces carbon dioxide, but anaerobic decomposition (landfill), produces methane gas which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas. Certainly it is true that many modern landfills have systems to catch methane emissions, but regardless, it is a good idea to compost kitchen scrapes in your backyard bin and use your ‘black gold’ as a soil amendment in your garden. Here is a fun blog post from sustainblog.org and a factsheet on Backyard Composting in Utah.