Contributors: Ariana Forand and Tasha Gunasinghe
There are numerous benefits to nurturing your green thumb, and an increasing number of people are looking to grow their own food to one degree or another.
According to the findings of a 2018 study conducted by a team from Australia, home and community gardening may offer a supportive role in the health and wellbeing of the gardener1. Gardens also provide various environmental benefits, including acting as a food source for bees and other pollinators. Whether big or small, incorporating these green spaces into your home can be a great way to learn a new hobby, bring fresh fruits and vegetables into your kitchen, minimize your grocery bill, and, to a certain degree, take food security into your own hands. But where to start?
As a beginner, gardening can often seem intimidating, especially to those who don’t feel as if they were born with a green thumb. Numerous choices must be made in relation to plants, pots, and tools, which can easily become both economically and environmentally unsustainable. With so many seeds, pots, watering cans and gardening tools to buy, the seemingly endless options can leave you feeling overwhelmed with an empty wallet. In addition to not being economically sustainable, purchasing new items is often not environmentally sustainable, either. The great news is that a little bit of resourcefulness goes a long way. By growing with what you got and only purchasing items when you have no alternative at your disposal your gardening endeavor will become more environmentally and financially friendly — a win-win solution. This blog will provide some tips and tricks to grow with what you got!
First things first, a garden requires seeds or seedlings. Depending on location, some plants will do better than others. When choosing seeds, keep in mind not only your geographic location, but also the placement and orientation of your future garden. Because plants basically “eat” light, determining what type of sunlight your garden receives is an important first step in ensuring that your plants survive and thrive. Once you have that sorted out and you have decided on what to grow, you might be surprised to learn that you have access to free seeds at home. For example, if you have a green pepper in your kitchen, you’re in luck! The white membrane inside a pepper contains seeds that can be transplanted to your garden. Remove the seeds, place them carefully on a towel and store in a safe, dry space for a few days. After the seeds have dried out, they are ready to be planted. Follow a growing guide to learn the right depth for planting and with a little luck, and some sun and water, you’ll have homegrown green peppers. If you already have a garden, or know someone that does, you may also be able to take seeds from their annual plants. Flowers such as marigolds, sunflowers and morning glories are annuals that, in addition to looking great, provide a source of pollen for bees and other pollinators.
Do you have seeds but no pots? Look around your house, and don’t forget to check out your recycling bin. Mason jars from pasta sauce, old disposable coffee cups, pop bottles or juice containers (as seen above) all make great alternatives to pots. After a good clean, these items are perfect for growing small plants, or for growing seedlings before you transfer them to a larger space. Soil does not care about the appearance of the pot that contains it. By using pieces of recycling, you can give them a second life and save yourself the cost of small pots.
Creating your own compost is a fantastic way to add organic fertilizer to your garden and adding compost to your garden provides essential nutrients to the soil. These nutrients are then taken up by the plants and used throughout their lifecycle. Both the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the National Public Radio (NPR) have created great, easy-to-follow reference guides if you are interested in learning more about making your own compost 2,3(check out the references at the bottom of this blog for links to these references2,3).
Finally, are you in need of some gardening tools that you simply don’t have and can’t seem to find an alternative for? Try asking a friend, family member or a neighbour if they have what you need. If borrowing is not an option, thrifting is an economic alternative as second-hand stores are a great way to shop more sustainably.
While not for everyone, a garden can be a great way to spruce up your living space, increase health and wellbeing benefits and give back to the environment. If you are looking to give it a go, try following this guide to learn how to grow with what you got!
1 Pollard, G., Roetman, P., Ward, J., Chiera, B., & Mantzioris, E. (2018). Beyond Productivity: Considering the Health, Social Value and Happiness of Home and Community Food Gardens. Urban Science, 2(4), 97. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci2040097
2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010). Preparation and Use of Compost. https://www.fao.org/3/ca4264en/ca4264en.pdf
3 National Public Radio. (2020). How to Compost at Home. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/07/828918397/how-to-compost-at-home