Gardening and the Environment

 Is gardening actually beneficial to the environment? The answer to that question can be quite complex, why? Well the choices a gardener makes can determine whether or not they have a positive or negative impact on the environment. We'll talk about no-till gardening, tilling, and chemical usage and what they do for the environment. Garden however you like, just consider this food for thought and enjoy your gardens and time outdoors.


   We're gonna start at where it all begins, the soil. Soil management is key for a few reasons, look at it as a domino effect. A healthy soil means a healthy plant which contributes to a healthy environment. Our soil is one huge carbon bed, plants and trees pull carbon dioxide out of the air through photosynthesis. They then release the oxygen into the air and store the carbon. When you do the opposite of this and release carbon into the air and mix it with oxygen you get carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas as it absorbs and radiates heat. So when a plot of grass is tilled we are killing those plants exposing the bare soil to sunlight releasing carbon into the air. Along with releasing carbon into the air we also kill beneficial bacteria, microbes, and earthworms. With that being said, should you till your garden? If your live in an area that has heavy clay soil you'll have to till the soil atleast once to break up the chunks of clay. To avoid further tilling, apply compost yearly and avoid walking in the garden bed as much as possible. Walking on the soil will compact the soil making it hard and clay like again. The benefit we get from tilling is the ability to plant right away, no waiting necessary. With tilling we also risk killing the soil and once the soil dies we can never revert it to its natural state. Applying compost and other fertilizers, synthetic or organic, is just a bandage for a permanent problem.  The best option for people who take the route of tilling is to use cover crops. Having plants in the ground at all times is critical even during winter. The best example I could use of why we should use cover crops would be the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, while there were other factors that caused that, not having plants in the soil is the root of the problem. Hope you enjoyed the play on words there, in all seriousness roots prevent soil erosion. A couple of solutions to this issue would be raised beds, containers, and a no till garden which we'll talk about no till now.

What is a no-till garden and what effect does this method have on our environment? A no-till garden is exactly what you think it is, no tilling involved. So how does one garden in a no-till method? Well for starters we need to get rid of the grass and we would do that 1 of 2 ways. First we would take a black tarp, cover the area we want to plant and kill the grass but you wouldn't be gardening that year. Secondly, if we wanted to garden the same year we would take regular brown cardboard non waxed and layer 4-6 inches of compost on top the cardboard and plant directly into the compost. Some side notes, you could use cardboard boxes in place of a black tarp if you aren't worried about it being unsightly, just make sure there aren't gaps in the cardboard where grass can grow up through. We can use cardboard because it'll break down and compost so we are adding nutrients to the soil. As you can see this method is wonderful for the environment as we aren't disrupting the soil and killing it but it has it's drawbacks. Like I stated it'll take time so you'd have to plan ahead and if you decide to grow that same year using the compost method. You would also need ample amounts of compost which cost money if you can't source it yourself or find it free. I do have to mention, it's possible you still would have to till initially if your soil is heavily compacted by clay. By choosing the no -till option you are helping to build soil structure and keeping the soil alive.

So when it comes to chemicals and sprays for the garden we have two types, synthetic(manmade) and organic(natural). In the garden we have many different types of pest and diseases and unfortunately they can destroy a garden, preventing a harvest. The solution may have to be a chemical in the form of powder or liquid but what exactly do they do to the garden? Regardless if it's organic or not they will both hurt the environment so we have to use them as little as possible. Use organic chemicals or sprays if possible. If you buy a spray to kill off potato beetles on your potato plants chances are that spray will also kill other beneficial insects like honeybees for example. Using these chemicals can lead to toxic runoff into our water. This toxic water will kill all the wildlife in our waterways and possibly land dwelling animals that drink the water. It also contaminates rainwater causing acid rain. They're plenty of reasons to avoid using chemicals including organic ones as they can have a massive impact on our environment in a negative way so use them sparingly. 

Is it a simple answer as to whether gardening is good or bad for the environment, no it isn't. Truly the answer to this question lies with the individual who gardens. You can make gardening extremely harmful or as beneficial to the environment as you'd like. Whatever you decide to do is your decision but be smart about what you do and most importantly enjoy your garden how YOU like it.  



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