Grass is always Greener: Tips for a more sustainable backyard and life!
I assume most people have heard the idiom “the grass is always greener on the other side”, implying that life is always better somewhere else, well it doesn’t have to be. Your own backyard can be the greener side. In fact it can be the greenest on the block in a number of ways, from greener vegetation to green through sustainability and even add some green to your wallet! Below i will discuss a number of ways you can green your backyard. These various modifications range from simple plantings to small projects. I have integrated many of them into my own backyard and the ones i have not are on my ‘to do list’. The following article will discuss a number of solutions to greening your backyard under three specific areas of interest, including food production, energy conservation and water conservation.
Try a victory garden!
- Victory Gardens, We Need Them!
A brief discussion of the importance of victory gardens, especially in present day and how social media can help.
My Compost Bin
I will start with how to make your yard “greener” through food production. Throughout history food production was a huge chunk of time, the economy and everyday life. However in recent decades with technological advances, many countries like the United States have moved beyond the need to grow your own food. This means food is grown in one area and shipped by air, truck, and ship to your local grocery store. In this transportation fossil fuel is used and the resulting dispersants are released into the air creating pollution. Along with the pollution produced from transporting food long distances, food production on a global scale is getting harder to sustain all human beings. These issues lead to the question why aren’t you growing some of your own food, you know like your grandparents did or your great grandparents? Some argue that lack of space or time has prevented them from growing their own food but you would be surprised where you can grow a tomato. Whether in the city, suburbs or the woods there is always room for at least one pot to grow an herb, tomato plant, or even lettuce. Herbs can be grown very easily on windowsills year round, tomato plants can sit in pots on a balcony, fire escape or patio. These container gardens as they are called can yield a surprising amount of food in such a small space. The other option is to set an area of the yard and create a vegetable garden. This way you have a designated space, usually with wire fencing to keep animals at bay, to grow food. A small rectangle of eight foot by ten feet can easily supply you with more vegetables then you need during the summer. Hey you can even call it a victory garden, like the ones from World War II. I have practiced both container gardens on a wood deck, while also creating a wired fenced in vegetable garden in the corner of my yard. I’ve grown lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers in the containers, while growing pumpkins (this summer for the first time), beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants in the garden. Although a lot of what i grow is eaten as soon as it is ripe, you can grow an abundance of any particular vegetable and find ways to preserve them for the winter months, therefore extending the life of your garden.
Another approach to food production in your own backyard is by creating an edible landscape. It doesn’t mean everything will be edible but you incorporate food producing shrubs, plants and trees into the landscaping. This approach combines aesthetics with practicality. Depending on where you live different plants can be used. In my own backyard i am hoping to put blueberry bushes into the landscape, as well as a few apple trees. The idea of an edible landscape secures a food source year after year. Other suggestions to add to your edible landscape include pear trees, peach trees, plum trees, strawberry plants, basically many fruit bearing plants.
Along with food production comes the issue of food waste. Any scraps or leftovers from your garden or pots that don't get used can be thrown in a compost bin (like mine in the picture at the top) with grass clippings, and leaves to decompose into nutrient rich soil. There are multiple benefits to using a compost bin, one it lowers your amount of trash and two gives you healthy soil, which acts as a fertilizer for future vegetable plants. Although it takes a while to get a compost pile going, i found by adding earth worms that i find in the yard to the bin (which has no bottom, so they’re not trapped) helps speed up the decomposition process and gives them a healthy feast! After setting up my compost bin last summer, i have saved on garbage bags by throwing pounds and pounds of food waste into the compost bin and as of this month began using some of the soil around my vegetable plants and i have seen a noticeable improvement in these plants since! There are copious amounts of compost bins on the market but also can be easily made from an old garbage can as well. The web is filled with helpful tips on creating a compost bin and how to maintain it.
All these approaches to backyard food production not only creates an environmentally friendly backyard but also puts some cash in your wallet. From the money you save on buying vegetables in the summer to added value to your home, every bit helps! Although the cash savings come in different time standards, some of the above actions have short term benefits and others like the landscaping are more of a long term investment. I say this because many fruit bearing trees and shrubs take a few years before they begin to produce fruit. Although way to put some cash in your wallet is to save the seeds every fall for planting the next spring. This means you make a profit from the first vegetable you pick! With a little more work you can sell extra produce at a farmers market or even create your own stand, but that may take a more substantial effort. You will also save on trash bags if you compost enough of your food, while saving on fertilizer and top soil. Every little bit makes your yard more sustainable but also greener for your wallet.
landscaping your backyard and energy consumption don’t always seem like they fit together but surprisingly there are a number of actions that can be taken in your yard that can impact energy consumption. The actions that have the largest impact on household energy consumption involve the strategic planting of trees. In the northern Hemisphere the most sun and subsequently the most heat comes from the south and south west. Therefore the south facing and southwest facing sections of your home will heat up more, especially in summer. To cool this area and save on air conditioning cost one can plant deciduous shade trees along the south and west borders of their property, close enough to shade the house. It is important to plant deciduous trees so that the opposite occurs in the winter and sun light is let in to cut on heating costs.
Trees are important!
- The Importance of Street Trees
A brief look at the importance of street trees beyond the aesthetic value.
On the opposite side of your property, the northern edges or northwest in the Northern Hemisphere, where the prevailing winter winds blow, the strategic plantings of evergreen trees can help block the cold wind in the winters. If the evergreen trees block the cold northerly winds, it allows for less heat to be blown away from your house, helping to lower your eating costs. These approaches not only save on energy consumption but they also bring added value to your home. The trees will make your home look more inclusive of the land it’s on, therefore making it more natural looking and aesthetically pleasing.
when it comes to water conservation there are a number of ways you can conserve water in your yard, saving you money but also in the process helping to increase the quality of your community’s water. The two approaches include conservation and the other is to manage storm water runoff. Conservation will not only lower your water bill but will also benefit runoff issues and even help your community in drought. The importance of the quality of water in your community relates not only to the health benefits of fresh water but also recreation and tourist aspects that can bring profits to your community.
To begin conserving water in your yard start with the source of the water use. This is the landscaping, whether it is grass, trees, bushes, or flowers if they are not native to your region, they usually need extra watering to stay alive. If you plant vegetation that is natural to your region, not only will you not have to water the plants, they will also create an environment that retains enough moisture in the yard. Now when it comes to those green lawns that seem to be a prerequisite to American Dream, they soak up water faster than anything else. So if you really want to cut back on your outdoor water use replace your green lawn with a more native seed or even try different land covers such as mosses.
Another way to conserve water but without reducing usage and not soaking up your dollars is rain harvesting. Everyone has gutters on their roofs with downspouts where water usually floods out during a storm. There are ways to collect this water and store it to use for watering, especially your vegetable garden. To collect water from your downspouts you use a rain barrel, which can be found at any hardware store. However if you want to be even more sustainable you can recycle an old barrel or garbage can into a rain barrel. There are numerous directions on how to do this in many places online.
Both actions of native plantings as well as rain harvesting will lower the volume of storm water runoff which has a number of benefits in of itself. If runoff is slowed or depleted it will reduce erosion as well as any pollutants that are in that runoff. Pollutants that can be found in runoff water include fertilizers and sewage, which is a result of overloaded drainage systems. Both these pollutants have a large impact on your community water supplies and eat up local government money to contain, clean, test for, and even dredge from the waters, costing you in taxes.
So if you want to make your yard the envy of the neighborhood and thicken your wallet take a few of the above suggestions on food production, energy consumption and water conservation. In the end you will not only help yourself but the environment around you! Wouldn’t it be nice to be the “greener” on the other side?