Sustainable Living for Gardeners

Jan at Thanks for 2 Day has invited garden bloggers to participate in here Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living project in honor of Earth Day (April 22).

I actually did a post for Blog Action Day called Earth Friendly Gardening Practices, so I thought I'd cast my net a little wider with my Earth Day post and consider some ideas for reducing your garden's (and your) carbon footprint. According to Wikipedia, the "carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product". And the more emissions, the more climate change. "Mother Earth is running a fever," a friend of mine said. Actually, it seems more like malaria, with alternating fever and chills, but I'm quite sure she'd be happier if we could modify our collective behavior so she could heal.

1. Grow some edibles. Many garden bloggers are working on reducing their food carbon footprint by growing fruit and vegetables (and eating them). Hats of too you, dear friends! If I didn't live in a summer dry climate I might have my own vegetable bed. As it is, I prefer to feed the wildlife with my low-water garden and grow some fruit. And I try to eat low on the food chain. Here's a thoughtful post on how much eating vegetarian can reduce your carbon footprint.

And here some peaches from my own garden.

2. Shun annuals or propagate. Yes, annuals look so pretty and tempting in the nursery. And often they are cheap. Industrial and government agency gardens often have an ever-changing collection of cheap impatients. In for 2 months, then out in the trash. Repeat. But consider that each plant has to be raised, with fertilizer, in a pot (usually not reusable) and trucked first to the nursery and then trucked to the sight. Two months later, trucked to the landfill or, if you're lucky, the local composting site.

Regrettably, many gardeners are tempted as well. They could have perennials. They could have beautiful bulbs, miraculously reborn each year (like this Triteleia laxa).

Another alternative is propagation. Country Mouse is a passionate and competent propagator. Even with some failures and disappointments, she persevered and has propagated grasses, perennials, and annuals from seed she collected on her own property. I much admire her diligence and I'm excited about her successes, such as the river of grass project she wrote about recently.

So, next time you're tempted by an annual at the nursery, consider your options. Buy it if you expect to use the seeds to have your own home grown plants next year, otherwise, move on.

3. Consider your own transportation. I realize transportation is only tangentially related to gardening. But not one but two garden bloggers have recently sang praise to their SUV and pickup truck in a post.

Fair enough, that didn't trouble me. Different folks, different tastes. What did trouble me were the 40+ comments on one of those blogs. "This truck is so sexy! Your truck is so macho! I love my own truck and they'll have to pull it from my clawing hands when I'm on my deathbed. When I was a little girl, all I wanted when I grew up was a truck like that." That kind of thing.

I found that very upsetting. I had just assumed that as gardeners, we all share a concern for the environment. But it appears I might have been mistaken.

So let me just say what I think:
  • Trucks are fine for hauling big things. Mr. W. Rat has a truck, which he uses, for example, when he builds a greenhouse for Ms. Country Mouse. He does not commute to work in his truck. (We sometimes gratefully borrow the truck.)
  • Trucks are stupid for driving around. 
  • Trucks are not sexy. Actually, I don't think cars are sexy. I think a guy/gal just back from a bike ride, flushed and a with a happy grin, looks sexy. 
  • When I was a little girl in Germany, many middle-aged and older women rode their bikes everywhere. They went shopping, rode to their garden plots to pick up vegetables, or rode to the preschool to pick up their grandkids. I always wanted to be like them, strong and self-sufficient, always ready with a smile, and often with a piece of fruit or a fresh carrot. Really there, not hidden behind a few tons of steel. 
In the interest of full disclosure, here's what I do.
  • I ride my bike to work unless it's raining or I have other commitments, or I'm sick.  
  • I ride my bike on the weekend, for errands and for fun. You'd be surprised what you can fit into the panniers of a good bike.
  • We are a two-Prius family. One of the Prius' is a plug-in hybrid, and Mr. Mouse is just doing a series on electric cars on his Netzerolife blog. I don't ride my bike everywhere, but I try to combine errands, and ask myself whether I could ride my bike with each trip I take.  
 Want to join me? I'm sure we'll see more interesting gardens if we're not sitting up in a truck, but low in a small car. We'll smell the salvias and hear the birds if we ride our bikes. And we can make a big difference to our carbon footprint and help Mother Earth.


tina said…
I love to bike so I think I'll ride along too! Super good way to see all the little things.
First...I want to thank you, TM, for your participation;-) Secondly, ahem, we own a suburban:-} Yep. And I have given this lots of thought, believe me...and I agree with you...can't say I don't. Don't see it going anywhere in the near future...but will be thinking differently for our next purchase. Hubby has a boat that he likes to pull...and we used to pull a horse trailer for daughter, who is an equestrian. Mainly, MY eyes are being open, gradually, about things I can personally do, and we can do as a family. My 'footprint' may not be light in all areas but thanks to you and lots of other gardeners I'm learning. That was also why I wanted to do this project. I still have to write my own post...and just say what I 'am' doing to help mom bring down her fever. There are things I 'plan' to do this spring and summer. Unfortunately for us, like selling our (fairly good sized, 4-bedroom colonial) house right now, selling our truck isn't a current option. Love your post...thank you from the bottom of my ('partly') green heart;-)
Country Mouse said…
Wonderful post, TM, thought-provoking as ever. Interesting about the true cost of annuals. And transportation when you live half an hour from anywhere is obviously going to add up to more carbon. Only the more intrepid folk around here whizz around the narrow hilly lanes on bikes. I was surprised recently to read how much just giving up beef reduces your carbon footprint. I don't eat beef (just fish), but the gas-guzzling small machines we use around the garden certainly make the footprint larger. I only get the weed whacker out once or twice a year (partly cos I hate getting it started and all that), but then there is occasional chainsaw use, power washer use for a spot of weed obliteration, and the tree company's honkin' big chipper sure adds its share. Still, My Japanese pruning saw is my best friend, and I hand pull weeds for the most part. I'll be thinking about this today for sure and assessing my footprint in the garden.
Excellent post! Until recently we never had much room, just the typical small California postage-stamp sized lot. We'd always squash in a splash of color with annuals. Here though, with so much space, and trying to be more aware of our impacts on the earth, we're trying various methods of plant propagation and really enjoying it. We'd go broke planting annuals here.

Also, this is the first house that we've made a concerted effort to rid ourselves of a lawn! I know that not all lawns are 'bad', but between gas mowers, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and constant mowing...the vast majority are evil in my opinion. I can't fathom why I ever had one!

I am guilty of owning a mid-sized SUV, mostly for work, but at least at the moment, it's rarely used. I do combine trips, and use it to haul large items (including our dogs). Most of the time though, we use our more efficient car. I'm rather scared to bike around here as drivers on some of our local narrow roads don't like to 'share the road'!
Christine said…
Thanks for mentioning this, Town Mouse! Its frankness is refreshing. I currently bike to most of my maintenance clients and combine trips to help save gas and time when I have heavier things. It really is amazing how much you can take with you on a bicycle and it's ever so much more satisfying and energizing to arrive a little out of breath and warm from the ride!
Most places have wonderful bike paths or streets dedicated to bike riders that most folks probably don't know about. I would encourage anyone to look it up and try it out just for one day and see what they think.
Elephant's Eye said…
We walk in our town, but need the car to drive two hours to the city, maybe twice a month? With sharing your climate, growing veg is 'complicated'. What makes my hackles rise, was an older post about Pointsettias for Christmas, then chuck 'em out. But I don't live in the cold white North. I still owe Jan a post for this meme.
Town Mouse said…
Ah, well Jan. Actually, it's not just what you drive but also how much, whether you combine errands... It's all complicated.

BTW, CMouse, going vegg does make a difference, but Michael Pollan had to correct himself. A vegetarian driving a hummer does use more than twice as much carbon than a carnivore in a Prius.

As for some places not being bike friendly, I so agree! In fact, one of the reasons I won't do a 6-week training I plan to do in Kauai but in Bolder, CA, is that it's impossible to ride your bike around there. Weird? Yes.
It'd be tough to ride a bike for much more than pleasure and/or exercise where we live;-( We're in the DC suburbs and it's really not an option. But being aware of and making better choices is a continual goal...
I loved this post. I also do not find vehicles sexy in any way. They are an evil necessity. We have a Prius, which we use for driving around, and an old Chevy truck, which sits in our carport most of the time and gets broken out to haul sand, cement, rocks, lumber, and other things that will not fit in the Prius. The truck is a 1988 vintage, and as it still runs perfectly we have no intention of replacing it with something shinier. Interestingly enough, it gets just as good mileage as some of the new trucks for sale right now, a fact that makes me sad.

I have a bicycle, but I confess I do not ride it around as much as I would like to, since I live in a community that can not conceive of life outside an automobile, and there are NO bike paths, and NO awareness of bicycles or pedestrians exhibited by the jerks driving their SUVs and Trucks, it is taking your life in your hands literally to ride a bike or walk around here. It is sickening in the extreme.
also, I do not use annuals at all except for the ones that reseed themselves annually in my garden. I have always found them to be a use of money that could have been used for a perennial that will come back over and over.

Also, I have a large dog and she fits into my Prius just fine. There would be room for two more of her if I had more dogs.
So many good ideas...

Another things I dislike about annuals is how they add to the garden maintenance workload, especially if you grow them from seed in the garden. By the time many of the natives germinate the weedy grasses and spurges and oxalis have had a chance to stake their territories...
Susan Tomlinson said…
Yay for bikes! The Xtracycle went to class today for the first time this spring. Oh my, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to drive, er, ride. Might not carry as much as a truck, but it can sure carry a darn lot.
Susan Tomlinson said…
P.S. People who think they need a truck for hauling around things once in awhile should consider keeping their car and getting a small trailer to tow instead. One of the smartest moves I've made yet.