- Jenna Rich
How to Make Your Farm or Home Garden More Environmentally Friendly
With energy costs on the rise and native plants and animals continuing to disappear, it’s up to us to help out our wildlife and preserve what we have left in our beautiful state.
By making a few small changes here and there, you can help combat climate change, lower your reliance on fossil fuels, and decrease energy bills simultaneously.
Use Cover Crops
Leaving soil bare and unused is one of the worst things you can do for your land. If there is nothing growing on it at any given time, it is very susceptible to erosion by way of wind and water.
Here are a few reasons to use cover crops:
● Plant buckwheat or crimson clover and just watch the beneficial insects arrive. As an added bonus, buckwheat frees up otherwise unavailable phosphorus for future plantings!
● They hold in excess Nitrogen which can feed future crops
● Their roots hold soil in place
● They increase microbial diversity
● They naturally till the ground beneath them. Give oilseed radish and deep-rooting turnips and sunflowers a shot.
● When they are terminated and left to decompose: they become food for worms and they add organic matter to your soil
Cover crops help keep the soil covered and help keep grass from creeping in and taking over. Even if you have a small plot that you are unsure what to do with, throw some cover crop seeds down in the meantime. You will only benefit!
Pro tip: Remember to water in, then cover the seeds with a tarp or some hay while they germinate to keep birds from feasting on them.
Cover crop seed mix, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
Encourage Pollinator Presence and Support Wildlife with Native Plants
Incorporating native plants into your landscape is one of the best things you can do to increase and preserve diversity, ensure local birds and other wildlife have the means to survive and create a low-maintenance garden.
Native plants are designed to support other wildlife such as native bees, hummingbirds, and bats. Plants that provide small seeds or nuts provide vital wintertime meals for hungry birds and small critters. Those that are first to bloom in the spring are crucial for bees leaving the hive for the first time all winter, desperate for a meal.
Native plants will be the easiest to care for and grow best because they have already adapted to living in your region. This could include resilience to inclement weather patterns such as heavy rainfall, prolonged drought conditions, or pest pressure. Most flowers, plants, and trees you might see at big chain stores in the spring and summer may be foreign to our region. Instead, visit a local nursery that carries plants native to NH that will do better in your soil and NH weather, and thrive in your space.
Remember, every little thing you do on your own plot of land plays a big role in your region’s wildlife so do what you can to help preserve and support them.
Jenna holds worms and smiles, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
Decrease or Eliminate Tillage of Soil
With each pass of a conventional tiller, the microbiology under the soil’s surface is disrupted, taking weeks or sometimes months to repair and begin to thrive again. You can think of heavy tilling similar to someone coming over to your house every few months, picking it up and shaking it, leaving you to pick up all the pieces and rearrange everything that was displaced. If you really think about it, it might even take you close to a year to put everything back in its rightful place.
Jenna broad-forking in field, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
Try instead, broad forking in the spring and in between plantings to loosen and aerate the soil and help incorporate any amendments laid out. Adding organic matter like compost and woodchips in pathways and around garden plots. These add-ins will help attract worms, promote beneficial microbials, and may even deter certain pests.
Experts believe there are millions of bacteria, thousands of nematodes, and about 100,000 protozoa in just a handful of active soil, not to mention the thousands of worms and insects! They work really hard to keep our soil healthy and balanced, so let’s do our best for them in return.
A great place to start if you are looking to go no-till is Jesse Frost's book, The Living Soil Handbook; The No-Till Grower’s Guide to Ecological Market Gardening.
Soil surface after a winter of no-till, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
Use Passive Solar and Energy Efficient Light Sources
As energy costs continue to soar, there are alternative ways to heat greenhouses and grow plants. LED bulbs are far more efficient than traditional bulbs, requiring only about 10% as much energy. Many of these bulbs are also recyclable and can last up to 10 years so you really get your money’s worth. With a simple grow rack and LEDs, you can grow microgreens for your family during the off-season for very little money.
Keep this in mind when buying light bulbs for other areas such as a barn or farm stand. Grab the ones that use less energy and cost less overtime.
If you have the space, time, and patience, you could also build a DIY passive solar greenhouse space. When built properly, a passive solar building retains heat from the sun even in colder months, maintaining a temperature agreeable for starting seeds and growing plants. Things like water barrels, insulated walls, and a concrete slab hold heat in very well. Sometimes all you need is a few extra degrees. With the addition of row cover and a small heater, you’ll be all set!
Water barrels in propagation house, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
Purchase High-Quality Plastics
Unfortunately, there is a lot of plastic used in farming/gardening so one of the best things you can do is purchase high-quality plastic products so you aren’t disposing of old ones and buying new ones every season. There are several trusted companies that sell items such as cell plugs, seed starting trays, and bottom trays that are very sturdy.
Check out Neversink Farm Winstrip® trays for seed starting and Bootstrap Farmer bottom trays and microgreen trays. They are a little more expensive but the quality is undeniable. If you are going to be using these items year after year, I recommend you spend the extra money on a better quality product so it will last longer.
Both of the above companies listed manufacture in the USA. Bootstrap Farmer guarantees their trays to last two years.
Reuse Plastics and Repurpose When You Can, Then Recycle
Greenhouse plastic needs to be changed about every 4-5 years due to degradation that happens in the constant sun. The sun transmission through the plastic will also decrease over the years, so your crops will not receive as much as they may need. Greenhouse plastic tape can be used to repair minor tears and holes to extend the life a little.
A way to repurpose greenhouse plastic is to cut it into strips and lay it over certain areas in your gardens to solarize grassy areas that are newly opened up for growing or a particularly weedy area. This can also be used after “cropping out” a bed to help speed along the decomposition process of crop debris due to the greenhouse effect. Just weigh the plastic down and leave it on for a few weeks.
Pro tip: If you need to trim any new greenhouse plastic when replacing it, make a few low tunnels with the plastic so it doesn’t go to waste.
When you do find yourself with plastic items that are no longer needed, start by trying to give them away to a friend or someone in your community who might have a use for them. If you have a large amount of something that is still in good working shape, try selling it on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Once items are broken beyond repair, be sure to check their recycling codes and dispose of them in the proper fashion according to your local recycling regulations.
Composting at home is a great way to keep your waste down. There are many different types of home compost systems that come in various shapes, sizes, and styles to help you keep food scraps out of landfills and turn them into food for your garden. When used properly and turned as often as recommended, you should be able to produce enough compost for a small-medium home garden with not much effort.
Add produce scraps, brown napkins, coffee grounds, and old grass clippings to start with. Be sure to do your research on composting as there are lots of tips and tricks out there as well as dos and don’ts.
Pro tip: Be sure to burn crops that are highly diseased instead of adding them to a compost pile to avoid contracting the same disease in your soil the following year. Many fungal diseases can be airborne and could even travel back to your garden plot in the same season! Burning should diminish this risk altogether.
Jenna and Tyler of Partners’ Gardens smile in their High Tunnel, Image Credit: Jenna Rich
There are many simple changes you can make one at a time to achieve a more environmentally friendly home garden or farm and every little thing makes a big difference.
Learn more about Partners’ Gardens here: https://partnersgardens.com/
CCCD offers programs to support cover cropping, wildlife habitat, pollinators, efficiency, and more! Learn more here: https://www.cheshireconservation.org/