‘Going green’ is a popular concept and there are a number of practical benefits to be gained from incorporating a new concern for the environment into your home or business. You don’t have to install a wind turbine in your backyard to make a difference—there are all kinds of ways you can help protect and sustain the environment that don’t cost a lot of money.
It’s all about looking at the waste and overconsumption of modern life in a different light and starting to think of ways you can leave the world a better place for the next generation. Far too often we are so focused on paying our bills that we forget to spend time creating habits that could benefit our environment and help to make our communities a better place to live.
Natural turf lawns produce oxygen and create lovely green spaces in our landscapes. They feel wonderful to the touch of our feet and make great places for our kids to play. But you need more than grass. Try planting some trees and shrubs around your property and you’ll achieve a nice balance that helps the environment and attracts birds to your property.
Creating a better habitat for birds in our yards and gardens is a great way to make our homes more inviting while reducing our need to use insecticides. Birds are probably the best insect control agents we could ever employ. They might go after our fruit when the peaches are ripe, but if we get right to picking as soon as the crop is ready we can make sure that we don’t lose too much—and sharing a little of our bounty with these beautiful creatures seems only fair.
Above: Birds need places to hide and nest as well as a food source. You don’t necessarily need to put up bird feeders to attract birds—you can plant shrubs with open structures where the birds can hide and play. They like shrubs that flower and produce seeds. A cotoneaster, silverberry or Pyracantha bush will provide great cover for your bird population and a good source of food. When selecting new shrubs make sure they are compatible with your climate and that they aren’t invasive or toxic.
Plants and trees consume carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and help anchor the soil. If you don’t have much time to spend on landscaping, there are lots of plants and trees that require very little maintenance—just make sure you do a little research before you get started or hire a good landscape designer to help you find the best fit for your yard and lifestyle.
Another way to go green is to use less energy. We pay dearly for the energy we use and it’s all a drain on our dwindling resources. How about producing or collecting some energy on your own? Electric solar units are constantly developing and improving and there are many new options available today.
The technology has advanced to the point where even smaller solar panels can provide more than enough electricity to run the pumps necessary for a hydroponic garden. Because of these advances, many people are now turning to solar-powered hydroponics as an eco-friendly way of gardening.
Wondering whether all the fuss of building a solar set-up is really worth it? Consider this: if you live to be 85 and use an average amount of electricity (around 400 kilowatt hours per month per person) you will have paid for around $48,000 worth of electricity in your lifetime. Employing solar technology is not just a nice green idea. This is one investment that can save you real money.
Above: Individual solar panels are not too large and now there are micro-inverters that couple independently to them. With these installed your system can now be easily portable and their modularity will also let you to start out small and expand as your finances allow. A 240 watt unit costs around $1,300. These ‘start small’ and ‘add-to’ systems are ideal if you’re just getting started. See the resources at the end of this article for further information.
Is recycling potting mix when starting new plants a good idea? New potting mix can be expense and in the spirit of conserving things, we certainly don’t want to waste money. Although recycling your mix could have its benefits, potting mix is a medium for growing all kinds of things—insects, bacteria, fungi and weeds, as well as plants. Old potting mix might contain nematodes that feast on roots. Though some fungi and bacteria are beneficial, there are many that are harmful and they might very well be lurking in your old potting mix.
Even new potting mix might harbor pests, although the higher-quality mixes, having been thoroughly sterilized, are generally pretty safe. Proper control of the composting method for producing potting mix creates internal temperatures in excess of 160°F. At this temperature the mix will be disinfected and rendered sterile.
So how about sterilizing your old potting mix yourself? There are techniques for sterilizing your old soil and making it safe for use with new plants. Covering the soil with plastic and using the sun to create sufficient heat can work. When ambient air temperatures are high enough it’s generally pretty easy to raise the soil temperature to above 160°F. If the soil is moist it helps the heat to penetrate throughout the soil structure.
If you’re attempting to do this on the ground, the temperature of the ground below the soil being sterilized is also critical. You should try to completely insulate your soil mix from the ground and air temperatures. Remember, you’re trying to get to 160°F and stay there for awhile.
One inventive gardener has put together a number of great green gardening ideas and been kind enough to put them on YouTube. One video in particular will show you how to build your very own little soil mix sterilizer unit. It’s a great idea and just watching the video will provide a good learning opportunity; you’ll find additional information at the end of this article.
Another way to go green is by saving water. Many parts of the country are currently laboring under drought conditions—clean potable water is a critical and limited resource. Plants generally don’t need or benefit from daily watering—root systems need to breathe in order to convert sugars from photosynthesis into energy and they can’t do this if they are waterlogged.
One very efficient way to save water is to use automated drip irrigation for your landscape plants. Drip irrigation provides a slowly administered water supply to your plants that soaks deeply into their root zones. Indoors or out, drip systems provide deep water that plants can use as they require over the course of several days. Landscapes can be kept green, lush and beautiful without using a lot of water.
Drought-tolerant plants can often go for weeks without watering and will suffer no stress or damage. If you water these varieties too frequently, though, they can fail quickly, so don’t waste precious water on daily soakings for your cacti! Spray irrigation in general is responsible for a higher per cent of water waste and evaporation, while well-designed drip systems are far more efficient. Use water wisely; it’s a responsibility we all share.
Growing more of your own veggies is another worthwhile green initiative you can implement that will reduce transportation costs and the use of chemicals. It can also be a wholesome family project and will make your meals that much more healthy, delicious and economical.
There are so many ways to go green. Think about what you can do—discuss it with your family, do some reading, ask for tips at your local hydro store or garden center—and remember that if you take a little time each week to make new green habits, you, your family, your community and your world will start to reap super benefits.
- Tony Buck is the inventor and gardener from YouTube I mentioned. His ideas for green gardening are practical and basic.
- Wholesale Solar manufactures solar equipment and produces micro-inverters that make it possible to start small and expand your solar electricity system as you go. Their website provides lots of product options and costs to consider.
- The USDA Forest Service published Effects of Urban Trees on Air Quality, a very informative article in PDF format on the subject.
Find active links to all these resources right here.