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Ten Tips to Manage a Sustainable Urban Garden

Sustainability involves three practices that ensure the wise use of water, materials, and other resources to make sure they last from one generation to the next and in harmony with nature.

1

Know your soil conditions.

Many urban gardeners are correct in thinking they have poor soil. The urban garden area is likely to be compacted and poor in structure and quality.

Once you have selected a garden area, test the soil to determine the soil type, pH, organic matter content, and available phosphate and potash. You can buy soil-testing kits at garden centers or send a soil sample to a soil-testing laboratory.

The key to improving the soil is to do it before you begin any planting. If you incorporate the proper amounts of organic matter and soil amendments, your soil will provide nutrients and make air and water more available to plants.

2

Compost is key.

Aside from the conservation aspect of reducing our waste and not filling up our landfills, compost is a valuable key soil amendment and an effective mulch.

Compost improves soil structure, promotes plant growth, and helps soil store nutrients to keep them available for plants. Research shows that plants mulched with compost are more disease-resistant and sturdier than plants grown without compost.

3

Conserve water and harvest your rain.

Clean water is a very precious commodity and in some regions of the world a scarce resource, especially in our urban communities.

A sustainable urban gardener will employ numerous methods and strategies to conserve water. From installing rain barrels and rain gardens to simply adjusting your mowing height, there are several easy steps to reduce your water use at home and employ sustainable conservation strategies.

4

Use organic fertilizers.

Being a sustainable urban gardener requires you to be environmentally responsible. Organic urban gardeners avoid using chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are carried into the soil via salts, and this part of their chemistry threatens the living creatures that work every day to build your soil.

Organic fertilizers add to the ecology in the soil because they are not carried by salts and have both short- and long-term impacts. Going with organic fertilizers is one simple choice that you can make to manage your garden’s sustainably.

5

Preserve existing agriculture and natural resources.

You may have heard the term sustainable agriculture, but what does it mean? In essence, it means putting as much back into the land as you take away, so that the land can continue producing indefinitely.

Techniques include cover-cropping to add nutrients back to the soil to replace those harvested in crops, recycling nutrients by applying farm animals’ manure to crop fields, and minimizing off-farm inputs. It also means minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources, because by definition these resources are finite and their use cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Urban gardeners can employ sustainable management practices to help gather community support and preserve remaining open lands available in our cities for continued agricultural and urban farming uses for the next generation.

6

Know your microclimate conditions.

The urban climate is influenced by a variety of factors including solar radiation, surrounding air temperatures, air movement, sun orientation, humidity, topographical location, proximity to lakes or waterfront exposure, paved surfaces such as roads and parking lots, buildings, and existing rooftop conditions.

7

Select the "right" plants for your area.

“The right” plants are well adapted to your urban environment and require little to no maintenance whatsoever. Native plants are pretty good candidates since they have evolved and adapted to local conditions. Natives are vigorous and hardy, able to withstand local weather patterns including winter’s cold and summer’s heat.

Once established, native plantings require no irrigation or fertilization. They’re resistant to most pests and diseases. All these traits mean native plants suit the sustainable needs of today’s urban gardener.

8

Consider hydroponic and aquaponic gardening.

Hydroponics involves growing plants without soil, however hydroponics, in its simplest form, is growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply in a nutrient solution rather than through the soil.

In Aquaponics, the nutrient solution is water containing fish excrement. Aquaponics is the integration of hydroponics and aquaculture (the cultivation of the natural produce — like fish or shellfish — of water). The fish excrete their waste into the surrounding water, which is used to supply nutrients to the growing plants positioned above the tank.

9

Minimize the costs.

In order to meet the goals of being sustainable, you need to keep your costs low, and develop eco-friendly products that are financially reasonable so that the community as a whole can afford to take the steps they need to be sustainable urban gardeners.

10

Involve your community.

Whether up on the rooftop or between buildings in a vacant lot, opportunities abound in your city to grow together with your community.

Urban gardening is about growing — growing flowers, growing vegetables and fruits, and growing a community of people who can share their love of gardening while taking good care of the earth.

Community gardens provide a place to meet new friends and to share gardening experiences. In fact, many community gardens offer workshops to help gardeners learn about seeds, crop rotation, companion planting, and organic pest control solutions to help keep the soil and their plants healthy.

   
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