growing a garden: on composting and rain water
I wrote about how we’re starting a garden this year. Besides planting fruit and vegetables, we’ve made a couple more additions to our backyard this Spring. These are small steps to reducing our carbon footprint and making better use of our natural resources. We added a rain barrel to collect rain water that we can use to water our garden and we splurged on a nice composter as we got rid of our little composting area when we cleared and tilled that patch of the backyard for the garden. Both these additions allow us to make use of the natural resources as our disposal – rain water, yard waste, food remnants – to maintain and nurture our vegetable and fruit garden.
If you’re new to gardening but are interested in making greener choices when it comes to feeding yourself and your family, here are some things I’ve recently learned:
1. On growing a garden:
You only need a small backyard or balcony spot (even a windowsill will do) to get you started. If you have a limited space indoors or on a balcony, start with herbs in pots or a tomatoe plant that will do really well in the sun. We have a 3 x 15 foot section in our backyard that was already fenced off when we moved in but turned into a garbage dump. We cleaned it out, tilled the earth using a hand tiller, and planted a variety of vegetables and fruit that we had started from seed indoors.
It’s our first time doing this and it’s been an adventure. Some of our seeds have taken and quickly grown into strong looking little plants. Others never quite sprouted or simply wilted after barely showing themselves. It’s been very much a trial and error project but one with much gratification. Every time a little plant does well, we’re a little closer to becoming experienced gardeners and enjoying the literal and proverbial fruit of our labor.
We’ve found many of our basic how-to’s online simply by googling any questions we had. I’ve also found a lot of useful information as well as inspiration by reading books and memoirs on the topic. You can find my Spring reading list here, to which others have added in the comments section, and which has been a pleasure to work through this season.
2. On composting:
Composting is a great way to recycle the waste from food and our yards right back into the ground to make more food in turn. We’re not using any chemichal fertilizers and are relying on the mulch from the composter to add nutrients and nourishment to our garden. There are many websites out there with information on composting but I’ve found the explanation provided in The Urban Homestead to be simple and useful in figuring this all out.
You will basically need a mixture of:
- ‘brown’ stuff
- ‘green’ stuff
Brown stuff is high in carbon and includes everything from yard waste (fallen leaves, sticks, dead plants) to sawdust and cardboard boxes. Green stuff is high in nitrogen and includes food scraps from your kitchen, coffee grounds, used tea bags, and chicken, pidgeon, or rabbit manure (should you have that on hand). Add some water to keep your compost moist and make sure it has access to oxygen.
In The Urban Homestead, Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen provide a bunch of examples of what kind of containers can be turned into a composting bin. They even provide some handy plans for constructing one yourself. We opted to buy a composting bin on Craigslist that comes with the kind of components that make composting easy: it’s a large barrel that is turnable (it helps if you can turn your compost pile) and has perforated slots for ventilation. This allows both air and rain water to get in. (We’ve also helped our dry composting components along by hosing them down a little to moisten them when we got started).
You don’t have to splurge on a ‘fancy’ composter like we did, although it does make the whole process a lot easier and more efficient. if you’re not ready to buy a composting barrel of this sort, check out The Urban Homestead for ideas on how to inexpensively make your own composter bin or simply find a corner of your yard that you can section off and turn into a compost area.
3. On collecting rain water:
There isn’t much to say about this since it’s pretty self-explanatory. Rather than waste drinking water on your garden and lawn, collecting rain water allows you to harness that natural resource and use it for your own domestic purposes. It’s less wasteful and it’s free. Some cities now provide a free rain barrel to encourage people to collect rain water. The city of St. Louis will bring you a rain barrel and set it up for you. We checked and found that our city doesn’t have such a service in place and so we purchased a large rain barrel that we installed underneath our downspout. It’s covered on top with a perforated section that only allows water to drip inside (rather than allowing dirt and trash to accumulate and clog it).
If you wanted to rig something up yourself, a large container with a mesh cover would likely be just as good. We’re getting our first serious downpour as I’m writing this and we’re both excited to finally see our rain barrel fill up. The next time we water our garden it will be with the hose attached to the barrel.
None of these are groundbreaking additions to our home but they are small yet significant steps to greener and more purposeful living. What small (or big) changes are you implementing to your home and backyard to make more of your surroundings? Add your tips and suggestions to the comments section below! And happy gardening!