Garden management with environmental concerns
Gardening is one of the oldest of all human activities, and one of the most satisfying and productive. Tending plants provides fruit and vegetables, shade and shelter, and beauty of flowers and leaf tones. Physical health, neighborly involvement, and a sense of community can grow with gardens just as carrots do. But what about the gardeners effect on the natural surrounding environment?
Though gardeners may not wish to think in such terms, creating any garden means manipulating nature. The spade clears away existing vegetation, and the gardener starts again, with trees or shrubs that may have originated half a world away. The plants may not be adjusted to local weather patterns, and may need extra water during hot spells. Pests may also attack plants that have no natural defenses outside their own original habitat. Even native and adapted plants can sometimes get pest problems in a new garden situation. In some gardens, lawn mowers (using fossil fuel resources), mow large areas of turf that then require more fertilizer and water than other ground covers do.
A garden, though composed of natural elements like plants, water, air, soil, rock, and various fauna, is always built. It does not evolve naturally, and seldom has a natural plant succession. Growing plants alters the ecology of an area just as other human activities do.
Awareness of the interaction between gardening practices and the health of the environment has grown during the past two decades. In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau, ever the extremist, once planted a bean patch near Walden Pond, but tore it out because he felt it was an intrusion on the environment. This act represented a luxury of choice for Thoreau. He didnt depend on the beans for food, nor did he need the garden for recreation of the spirit worn by civilization. He did assert, somewhat paradoxically, that his action was to protect the environments integrity. Logging and farming had already been altering his Massachusetts landscape for centuries.
The phrase Garden Stewardship conveys tending and conserving of the land and its resources. Another way to think of this is as sustainability. Since the late 1970s, research in food crop production has had one branch thats called sustainable agriculture, a term with several linked meanings. To produce crops sustainably a series of choices must be made. Protection of soils, water quality and resources, use of least-toxic pest management practices, conservation of energy, and returning agricultural resources directly to the land are all involved in being sustainable.
In choosing sustainability as an aim, the agricultural grower reduces the need to buy and bring extra resources to the site. For instance, proper animal management and spreading of animal manures on production fields can cut down purchases of petrochemical commercial fertilizer. The farm produces some of what it needs to increase soil fertility. One definition says that sustainable agriculture should satisfy changing human needs while maintaining or enhancing the quality of the environment and conserving natural resources. (ref pg 15 cultivar, Santa Cruz summer 1995).
Terms like eco-gardening, green gardening, environmental gardening, sustainable gardening, and garden stewardship occur often. They all have the same basic meaning: the gardener makes a series of choices when deciding to engage in garden stewardship.
What choices would make an individual garden green or sustainable or ecological? A sustainable garden would include practices that will produce the desired crop but also offer shelter for beneficial birds and insects, and protect resources of soil, water, and energy. Some of these practices are garden waste recycling through composting, selection of site-adapted plants, use of fewer pesticides and choice of least-toxic pesticides, and water conservation and the protection of water quality.
Why is Stewardship Gardening Important?
Growing populations in the maritime and inland Northwest mean more demand on all natural resources. Designing gardens to use water efficiently makes sense, since western United States water supplies are limited by both climate and geography. The Spokane metropolitan area depends on an aquifer for water. The Columbia Basin in southeast Washington and northeast Oregon serves thousands of square miles of land. Natural rainfall in many areas of inland Washington and Oregon approaches desert levels (give statistics). The Tacoma-Seattle-Everett area, with ample winter rainfall, experiences frequent dry summers that may provide only a trace per month (include chart). Water demand for landscape use coincides with low rainfall and puts extra stress on storage and delivery systems. In many northwestern regions, the snowpack from winter determines the amount of water available.
Some water districts in western Washington, using well systems, are unable to add new residential hookups because water cant be reliably provided. Island populations off the Washington coast often have severe summer water limitations caused by limited underground water reserves. Large and small cities and towns in the Pacific Northwest encourage water conservation as a civic necessity.
Water quality as well as quantity is also a concern. A survey of 13 streams in western Washington, over the period 1983-1995, discovered 28 different pesticides in the water samples. Urban streams had more types of pesticides than rural streams. Some of the pesticides found in urban streams were 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba (the components of one common feed/weed lawn fertilizer). Diazinon and dichlobenil (sold as Casoron) also turned up in samples. Wild salmon populations, both dwindling and threatened, require clean water for survival. A report released by the Washington Department of Ecology in 1996 states that 666 lakes, river stretches, and sections of coastal waters need additional protection or stricter pollution controls to restore water quality.
In addition, disposal of materials generated in gardens can create problems. Organic waste from landscapes can impact limited landfill space. Many areas have developed clean Green type pickups to recycle organic matter. In Seattle, garden wastes cant be combined with non-compostable household waste. The garden wastes are taken separately to be composted, to create a useful recycled product. Recycling garden trimmings also removes about 1/3 of the bulk that would go to area landfills. Reducing the contents of the waste stream is a constant necessity.
Stewardship of the Soil
Experienced gardeners know that tending the quality of garden soil is the first rule of successful growing. Get acquainted with the texture and type of the soil and observe drainage patterns. Develop a routine of adding organic materials to the garden regularly. Many materials, including fallen leaves, leaf mold, home grown compost, shredded newspaper, green cover crops, bark, sawdust, and purchased compost will improve soil. Dig these materials in when preparing a new garden, and use them as mulch. Making compost is a great place to begin stewardship gardening.
Source: Mary Robson, Pierce County Cooperative Extension
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