Sustainable, organic gardening and permaculture are big topics! Everyone wants safe, organic fruits and vegetables and even eggs, which means many of the old “Victorian” practices of backyard gardens and keeping poultry and other animals are making a comeback. Many people are practicing urban agriculture in vacant lots and in backyards all over the country.

Here are 10 methods that will make it easy to go green and create your own organic, sustainable garden system in your own backyard. You’ll soon be growing your own healthy, inexpensive food and, at the same time, you’ll be minimizing the time and money you spend on maintaining an exotic lawn and/or ornamental plants.

1. Reduce Lawn Size

Many years ago, we decided that we would rather spend our free time enjoying the little backyard sanctuary that we had created instead of toiling at the weekly ritual of cutting and maintaining a lawn. We began whittling away the lawn by replacing the grass with islands of multi-purpose trees, shrubs, ground cover and mulch. We were always careful to make gentle curves, so that the grass could be cut without having to back up the mower. We also used hardy ground covers and ferns in areas under trees. Pretty soon instead of taking hours, mowing time was reduced to an hour or so and we did not have to water or fertilize, because the grass that we left was in the “right” place for it to grow.

2. Catch, Conserve and Use Water On-Site

The old folks used to say that rainwater did magic on the plants and I agree. There is nothing like rain water to really get your garden growing. So why do we let it run off of our property before it has a chance to soak in?

Rain gardens, swales, French drains and rain barrels or cisterns are inexpensive ways to harness and control rain water. For areas of your rain gutters where a spout won’t work, try attractive and decorative rain chains, combined with other control methods. You can even make your own rain chain from easy-to-find materials. By keeping storm water on-site, you not only benefit from the precious rain, but you help to alleviate flooding down stream and help to keep harmful contaminants out of the aquatic food chain.

3. Make a Compost Pile

Using non-meat kitchen scraps and other excess plant materials to make rich black soil is something that all gardeners should do. Instead of putting leaves and grass clippings on the curb to go in the landfill, it makes so much more sense to put them into a compost pile or do sheet composting in the garden. Compost piles are easy to make or you can buy ready made ones.

If you don’t have many trees, then just go through your neighborhood the day before the trash is picked up and collect the nicely bagged bounty that the neighbors put out.

Another good composting option is worm composting. By adding red wiggler worms to your compost pile or setting up a separate worm bin, you will have even richer soil than with regular composting methods.

4. Mulch With Available Materials

Mulching with leaves, pine needles or wood chips (or other materials that you have on hand) helps to keep the soil moist, enriches it and keeps the weeds down. Cypress mulch is not recommended because in most cases, it is not made from the by products of cypress lumber, but from harvesting and grinding whole young trees.

It is much better for you and for the environment if you use mulch from your own yard. In fact, when we lived in the city, we used to pick up the neighbors’ bags of leaves to use in our yard and compost pile.

5. Use Native Plants

Sneezeweed, stiff-leaved verbena and coreopsis attract honeybees, native bees and butterflies to the garden.

Plants that are native to your area are already accustomed to the seasonal changes and the periods of drought and/or flooding. They are hardier and require much less maintenance time than the imported exotic plants. They will also save money, because they won’t have to be replaced ( they can usually with stand fluctuations in the weather).

Many native plants have edible fruit, berries, nuts or roots. Examples include pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, plums, crabapples, red mulberry, ground nut and many others.

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