One word: Sustainability. That’s the top gardening (maybe also eating or even living) trend of 2007. But what does sustainable gardening mean, especially in light of the green industry’s rush to provide gardeners with new products? You can find a variety of definitions for sustainability on the Internet and in environmental journals and magazines, but here’s mine: Growing a garden that is appropriate for your climate and location, choosing organic methods as much as possible, nurturing the soil as well as the plants in it, and conserving water. Growing as many of your own vegetables and fruits as your time, talent, and landscape allow also strikes me as a sustainable–not to mention, healthy–practice.
Sustainability is an idea most gardeners support, but working out the details of sustainable gardening can be confusing and costly. Where I live, many gardeners have long preferred compost and other bi-products of nature to chemical fertilizers. Those are cheap, good sustainable alternatives, especially if you make your own compost or take advantage of compost available at city facilities. I also like to buy plants from folks at my local farmers’ market–a way to get unusual varieties without having to do seed starting at home as well as avoiding the expense in fuel and packaging that comes from buying pre-started plants. Many people are planting rain gardens, and I’ve been intrigued by the number of rain barrels I’ve seen in my area. Interest in native plants is strong, as evidenced by the huge interest in C. Cole Burrell’s upcoming talk in Minneapolis.
When the garden catalogs hit mailboxes in the next few weeks, many companies will be pitching their versions of sustainability with everything from heirloom seeds to organic versions of what have previously been non-organic garden products. Advertisements abound for certified organic deer repellents, liquid soil amendments, and organic water-retention products, among others.
My experience is that the organic replacements often work well, but sometimes cost more. Deciding if the trade-off is worth it, is something each gardener has to work out. At our old house, we used corn gluten as a pre-emergent herbicide and fertilizer on the lawn. You had to apply it at just the right time, but it prevented weeds and provided a light fertilizer to the lawn. It made our yard a safe place for our then-young daughters to roll around on, and it had the added benefit of attracting frogs to our yard. But, it cost two or three times what the chemical stuff cost. This past summer, I tried Liquid Worm Poop as a fertilizer for tomatoes and it worked well, too, though maybe they could think of a different name for the product. I’m not sure it worked better than compost, however.
The organic repellents are often made of botanical oils. Just for fun, I checked the active ingredients in three organic deer repellents. One contained a garlic oil, another cinnamon oil, and the third, the same chemical found in habenero peppers. Apparently deer do not like spicy food. I don’t have problems with deer (is there an organic gopher repellent out there?) so I won’t be trying those.
With sustainability so much on the minds of consumers, it’s guaranteed that companies catering to gardeners will be working overtime to come up with new “sustainable” products. Gardeners can spend 2008 figuring out if they are worth it.
Happy New Year!