Building a Thriving & Eco-Friendly Garden From Scratch

Growing vegetables and flowers at home is a satisfying endeavor. Homegrown produce offers greater nutrition than store-bought produce and is less likely to have been treated with pesticides.

Mashing soaked alfalfa pellets together with water creates an eco-friendly fertilizer. This solution can be used on vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, or houseplants. Fish emulsion—a byproduct of slaughtering animals for food—may also work well.

Consider Your Soil

Your garden’s health depends on its soil. Every site is distinguished by unique physical qualities created during formation; sandy beach soil differs significantly from rocky mountain clay. However, gardening practices can change these fundamental qualities, either improving or diminishing them.

An essential first step to garden success is understanding your soil structure. A soil sample can give an accurate idea of the amount of clay, sand, and silt present—this information will prove essential when selecting what plants to add to your garden bed. Ideal garden soil would feature equal parts sand and silt with some clay particles present—loam is perfect!

Discovering your soil’s nutrients and pH levels should also be a goal. One reliable method is visiting your local Cooperative Extension Service and paying a small fee to have it tested. Many of these services employ Master Gardeners who can assist in understanding the results of a soil analysis test.

An effective way to enrich your garden’s soil is by adding organic matter such as compost, manures, or grass clippings. Organic matter improves soil by providing valuable nutrients while creating a more manageable, workable texture for roots to penetrate. Organic material can easily be added by simply mixing a layer of it in when creating new garden beds, expanding existing ones, or planting new crops; fall is the ideal season, allowing it to settle into your garden before winter comes!

Finally, try to prevent soil compaction in your garden. Tilling and walking over garden beds creates compacted layers that prevent roots from accessing necessary air, water, and nutrients for growth. To do this effectively, avoid unnecessary tilling and limit garden bed paths as much as possible.

By improving the health of your garden’s soil and making simple adjustments, you can achieve lush gardens filled with delicious vegetables, fruits, and flowers in no time! Nothing compares to the flavorful taste of freshly grown food — or feeling proud knowing it was produced entirely on your own!

Add Compost

Compost can bring incredible benefits to any garden. It improves soil fertility, structure, and water retention and encourages beneficial bacteria that combat climate change. You can easily make your compost using kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, and manure, or buy bulk compost to restore vitality in your soil.

Compost can be an ideal soil amendment and mulch. In vegetable gardens, it’s best to incorporate compost thoroughly into the soil before planting – use 4-8 inches per square foot garden bed as an infusion layer before top dressing with more as needed throughout the season. A light application of compost may also help keep soil healthy by acting as an “overspray.”

Compost can help the soil retain nutrients that may otherwise be washed away during heavy rainfall by providing a finer, crumblier texture and binding particles together to form larger aggregates that roots can penetrate more easily. Furthermore, compost will improve overall aeration and air circulation within your soil.

Compost can potentially diminish plant nitrogen availability due to microorganisms decomposing its material. However, this only happens if compost is applied during early Spring—close to planting time—and once broken down entirely, its effects won’t have any negative effect on nitrogen availability for plants.

Some plants prefer compost in their soil because it helps them taste better, thanks to mycorrhizal fungi in their roots. These fungi act like secondary roots and help access more nutrients deep down into the earth. Mycorrhizal fungi are more likely to be found in rich, well-rotted compost than in less well-rotted material, and this applies similarly to any fungus found within plant roots.

Water Efficiently

Farming fresh vegetables and fruits from your own garden is immensely fulfilling, and it becomes even more so when done in an environmentally conscious manner.

Water conservation is critical to creating a sustainable garden. In an age where more extended periods of drought and extreme weather events have become more frequent, wise watering decisions are increasingly crucial. Water-efficient gardening reduces dependence on municipal or well water supplies while supporting healthier soil and plants.

When choosing plants for your garden, consider diverse climate requirements. Radishes, kale, and mustard greens can thrive in hotter and dryer environments, while cool-season veggies such as carrots, beets, squash, and tomatoes do better in cooler, damper conditions. Furthermore, vegetables with deeper root systems absorb water more effectively from their soil than those with shallower ones.

Keep an eye on your soil’s moisture levels to ensure your plant receives adequate water without overwatering, which can damage fungi and pathogens, deplete soil nutrients, and contribute to polluted local waters and groundwater supplies.

Organic fertilizers and mulches can help improve soil’s ability to absorb and retain water, reducing weed growth, preventing soil erosion, and maximizing water usage. This results in decreased weed growth and effortless water usage efficiency and management.

Implementing a variety of plant species into your garden will conserve water and create a more resilient ecosystem that can better withstand pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. Furthermore, such an arrangement will attract various birds and insects to further create a balanced and healthy ecosystem.

Reducing water waste requires using sustainable irrigation systems, like drip or soaker hose irrigation. Water-wise systems deliver directly to plant roots, eliminating water waste through evaporation and runoff. Morning hours are ideal, as this gives plants a boost before the sun heats their soil. Be sure to remove weeds regularly, as they compete for moisture with plants.

Attract Beneficial Insects

Gardeners may be tempted to use pesticides on insects that cause problems in their gardens and flowerbeds, but many beneficial insects play an essential role in maintaining plant health. Today, I’m speaking with Jessica Walliser, an accomplished horticulturist and author of “Attracting Beneficial Insects.”

She suggests starting by creating an insect habitat, even if this means simply placing piles of leaves, sticks, and branches near your garden. This will provide shelter and food sources for many beneficial insects.

Begin luring bugs by planting flowers that attract them, such as annuals like alyssum, cosmos, and sunflowers; perennials like golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria), yarrow, oregano mint, or fennel; herb species like dill or parsley are also beneficial in drawing in beneficial insects; and self-pollinating roses or snapdragons can spread pollen around your garden, too!

As with any organism, beneficial insects require water, food, and shelter. They prefer flowering herbs with shallow, easily accessible nectar such as Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, parsley, and the Apiaceae family members such as dill, oregano, fennel, and tansy that attract shallow nectar lines – these provide ample shelter for beneficial insects as well as host them for refuge from potential threats like aphids, whiteflies, and other pests. Ladybug and tachinid fly larvae are superb predators of pests like whiteflies and whitefly.

Don’t underestimate ground beetles, either! Although some might find them annoying, these hardworking beetles help aerate and decompose soil and provide valuable aeration services.

Parasitoids, parasitic wasps, and green lacewings are examples of beneficial insects that lay their eggs in or on destructive insects before hatching out to feed on them – this includes green lacewings, praying mantises, and parasitic wasps – while predators consume these bugs directly (e.g., ladybugs and saturnid beetles); predatory spiders also consume pests by movement and jumping; while predaceous beetles and wasps eat their exoskeletons completely, thus decreasing their ability to protect itself against predators or environmental stressors – all these insect groups are significant additions – try having an array of them throughout your garden for maximum effectiveness! All of these insect groups make valuable additions – try having a mix.

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