Growing Your Own Food for Sustainable Living
A sustainable lifestyle focuses on using natural and renewable resources. However, how can you go about starting to live sustainably? One of the most simple ways is to grow your food. If one thing the pandemic and being homebound has taught us its to think of food differently.
At Grassroots Greenhouses, our mission is to make food personal again. This means gaining a better understanding of where our food is coming from, what it contains and how to eat and cook better. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great launchpad for making food personal and it’s benefits to you and the planet.
Why you should grow your own food
Starting your own veggie patch will reduce the impact on the environment and land by commercial agriculture. 25-30% of greenhouse gases are caused by agriculture. Commercial farming practices are slowly beginning to change, but the damage it has already caused may never be recovered. As individuals, we can help limit this impact further by growing our own food.
Commercial grown food travels distances in trucks producing carbon emissions. It is estimated that the average distance food travels before it is on your plate and consumed is 1500 miles. That is the same distance to travel from Hollywood to Lincoln, Nebraska! Compare that to growing your vegetables and that distance may be less than a few feet. Think about how that could positively impact the planet.
Growing your own food also means a reduction in waste from commercial packaging. How often do you see the fruit and vegetables in your supermarket wrapped in plastic and sitting on styrofoam trays? Each punnet of strawberries you grow is one less plastic container. Each row of carrots is one less plastic bag. Which means less trash in landfills that takes centuries to biodegrade.
There are also many personal benefits to growing your own fruit and vegetables. Fresh produce has a higher nutritional value. They have better vitamins and minerals compared to commercially grown food. Once a vegetable crop is harvested from the farm it is then sat in trucks travelling across the country to then sit in refrigeration for weeks before being shipped to supermarkets and put on the shelf for you to buy. That apple you bought was picked 2-3 weeks ago. It is not freshly picked like one you could pick from your own apple tree. There's a huge health benefit in eating fresh, direct from the garden fruit and vegetables over "fresh" store-bought produce.
Growing your own fresh produce means you avoid a lot of the carcinogenic pesticides and fertilizers that are commonly used in commercial agriculture. These pesticides and chemicals impact your health and impact the ecosystem of the soils they are grown in. Look at how chemicals have impacted the bee colonies and we know how bees play an important part in the ecosystem. By growing your own, you control every step in the process from seed to plate.
There is also a personal sense of satisfaction from growing your own vegetables. You’ve learned a new skill that has resulted in providing food for you and your family. It’s a very caveman instinct but there is no prouder moment than when you pick your very first head of lettuce to use in a salad. The other huge benefit is you will also save money on grocery bills and we could all use a few extra dollars in the bank!
How to start out
The question now is where to start and what will you need. We are strong believers in having a plan and goal in mind. What would you like to grow? What tools and materials will you need? Do you have a budget in mind? A good way to plan out your new vegetable garden is to draw up a map. This will give you an idea of what you will need to get started.
The next thing to consider is space. Whether it’s a small apartment balcony or a spacious backyard, consider the space you want to dedicate to your vegetable garden as this will determine what you can grow. Be mindful some vegetable plants need vertical space to grow such as pumpkins. Others need height like tomatoes. Some need depth like your root based vegetables. Space is an important aspect to be mindful of.
From here you can start to look at your garden bed. Are you growing these in pots or will you build a vegetable plot in your garden? Will it be in a raised garden bed or direct into the soil. Or will you purchase a greenhouse to extend your growing season and protect your plants from bugs and other outside influences? Another factor is your area going to get a good amount of natural light. Sunlight is important to growing most plants so a spot that gets a good 6-8 hours of sunlight will ensure your garden's success.
You've got your map. You've picked out the perfect location in the backyard. Now you need to get the right soil for your vegetables to grow in. Start by having your soil tested. You can pick up inexpensive soil testing kits from most garden supplies that test the alkaline or acidity of your soil. This may factor in what you can or cannot grow. Alternatively, you can buy organic material, vegetable specific soils and animal manure to add to your garden bed that will provide the right nutrients to help plants grow.
Now you can start thinking about the actual plants to go into the garden. Will you start with seeds, seedlings or transplant growing plants into your vegetable patch? A lot of this may be dependent on the types of vegetables you are looking to grow and the season in which you start your garden. Learn the best times to plant. Starting later in the season, developed plants are a better option. Starting seeds too late in the season may see the colder weather impact your crop.
When choosing your plants include companion plants like herbs or flowers. These can aid your food bearing plants with their growth and yield. For example; planting tomatoes and basil together will result in a more flavorful tomato, and the basil also protects the tomato plants from flying insects such as mosquitoes.
You have the garden planned and ready to go. The last thing to look at is how you will get water to your plants. This will be dependent on the size of your garden and the nature of the water supply (collected rainwater, town water supply, rivers, lakes, wells). Irrigation systems can be great for larger patches with timers set to go on and off at certain times in the day. Otherwise, you can use an old fashioned watering can or garden hose and water every day or two.
At Grassroots Greenhouses we suggest you do your research when growing your own food for sustainable living. There are plenty of online resources and books on the matter. Don’t be afraid to speak to your local garden center or nursery for tips. Even your neighbors can be a good source of information if they have already got their own vegetable plots up and running. The reward for eating your own food will pay for all the effort, planning and work you put into it. Plus, you will be helping out the planet a little too.