With more people spending time at home and finding new hobbies, it seems like many folks are turning to gardening and growing vegetables, possibly even for the first time. One of the amazing things about gardening is that it has so many positive environmental impacts- but it's not necessarily inherently low-waste. Here are 13 simple things you can do to create a sustainable backyard.
If you're buying plastic or styrofoam starter pots, for example, that is contributing to the pollution created to make those items and creates a need to eventually dispose of those items. If you’re watering your garden daily using your hose, that water usage will really add up!
There are so many ways to reduce waste, reuse items around the house, and be smart with kitchen waste to maintain a healthy garden and a sustainable backyard with a low impact!
1. Reuse egg cartons to plant seeds
If you’re starting plants from seeds (which is a pro-gardener move and very brave for a beginner, so congratulations if that’s you!), consider repurposing an egg carton as your pot. Because they are made of recycled paper, they start breaking down right around the time your plants need to move into a larger pot. They’re also compostable, so you can toss them into your green bin afterward. Hopefully, your cartons come from free-range eggs.
You can also use toilet paper cartons, it's a fun and really easy way to reduce waste and the kids will love it too.
2. Start plants from kitchen food scraps
In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. To help combat this problem, we've seen so many people start with kitchen scrap gardening to grow new plants from the scraps you’d normally throw in the compost bin. You can grow onions, lettuce, garlic, herbs, and more.
3. Plant an edible garden
This year my husband and I decide to plant food instead of flowers. He’s got a really good green thumb, not the case for me. 😂 We’ve planted a herb garden and have also utilized some of the space to grow veggies like tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
The connection we have to the food we grow is amazing, there is really something special about eating the food you grow. Growing your own food also helps to reduce waste, we only pick what we need and we have zero packaging to deal with!
4. Reuse plastic containers when repotting your plants
If you need to re-pot your plants into a larger home than the egg carton before they go into the ground or a bed, try to use whatever containers you may already have at home. We ended up using the single-serving yogurt cups leftover. You could also use takeout coffee cups that you may have accumulated, or plastic pots you have leftover from plants that didn’t make it to adulthood. Once this gardening season is over, you can hang on to these plastic containers to use again next year rather than toss them in the trash. Or you can find ways to recycle plant pots.
5. Save kitchen food scraps to use as fertilizer
Whatever scraps you aren’t able to turn into new plants, you can save and use them as fertilizer. Some common food scrap fertilizers are banana peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells, because of the nutrients and elements they contain.
6. Plant flowers and other plants that attract bees
So this tip doesn’t really reduce waste, but it is great for the environment! Be sure to pretty up your garden with some flowers, and do a bit of research to find flowers that will keep the bees buzzing! According to the Honeybee Conservancy, single flower tops like daisies and marigolds are great choices. Helping bees is key to increasing the biodiversity in your garden.
7. Use Sustainable materials
We love using organic mulch in our garden, it’s an excellent way to help regulate the temperature of the soil, it keeps moisture locked in, reduces weeds, and helps plants grow. Opt for mulch that comes from wood chips, shredded bark, grass clipping, or leaves.
8. Consider an outdoor compost bin
We talk a lot about food waste on The Eco Hub and for good reason. When food ends up in landfills it creates methane gas. Methane gas is one of the major contributors to climate change! An outdoor compost bin can offer many benefits to your garden. It will enrich your soil, reduce the need for toxic fertilizers and even help to reduce methane emissions! You just need to make sure you choose the right compost bin!
We've got a ton of guides here in The Eco Hub to help you get composting including:
9. Collect rainwater to water your garden
Have you heard of rain barrels? They’re a great way to save water and money! Generally, rain barrels collect runoff during storms, which you can then use to water your garden instead of using water from the hose. Installing a rain barrel is one of the best things you can do in your garden. Make sure to check with your local city, in some places in the USA it's illegal to install a rain barrel.
10. Use sustainable backyard tools
When it comes to tools, it's an investment for sure. If you are in the market for a new lawn mower think about an electric one. The same goes for the leaf blower. A motorized lawn mower that uses gas can put out about 87 pounds of carbon dioxide.
11. Install solar lighting
Solar light is where it's at! Our whole garden is lit using them. There are so many gorgeous options to choose from. Many of them are affordable and energy-efficient. Lighting a backyard can be costly, but this is a great way to reduce energy costs. If solar is not your vibe, the next best would be LED lighting. LEDs reduce the demand on the power system and are super easy to install.
12. Chose eco-friendly patio furniture
Most outdoor furniture is made from plastic and synthetic materials, both have a really large impact both in production and disposal. I am a big fan of shopping for outdoor furniture at a secondhand or thrift shop. I recommend you start there! If you don't find what you are looking for then look for natural materials like locally sourced wood, bamboo, or organic cotton. You can also find recycled patio furniture.
13. Less mowing
Less Mowing Did you know that leaving your grass a little higher when you mow will actually help your grass retain more water. And don’t pick up the grass clippings, leave them on the ground, they are high in nitrogen and hold onto about 80% water which helps in the overall health of your lawn. You can also compost your grass clippings.
A final word on setting up a sustainable backyard
Doing anything "green" around the house does take some time, I suggest you start with one of the tips above and go from there. You don't have to do all the things all the time. Small shifts in habits will go a long way in creating the eco-friendly garden you have always dreamed about!
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