Those who know my Balcony Garden will know that I adapt as many sustainable techniques as possible to maintain it. A few years ago I was struck with the fear that climate change would affect potable water supply, food and food systems. This was a watershed moment in my life which led me to study Permaculture design and create and finesse my own small space urban garden on my Balcony.
There is a common misconception that urban farming is a new concept. But it’s actually one of the oldest methods of agriculture. Most notably since society moved away from ‘hunter-gatherer’ to creating small plots around villages.
But the notion of growing sustainably is a recent phenomenon. An answer to increasing pressures on our planet’s resources and the contribution of poor farming and land management practices.
Sustainability looks different in each garden. Overall, it is about reducing the environmental footprint of our gardening activities. The means of achieving this are as diverse as are the gardens themselves. A garden that is sustainable and healthy is a time-saving garden!
SAVE TIME you say?
Urban dwellers are typically busy working, caring for families, cleaning, and rushing about and a garden that is self-sustaining removes the need to be constantly vigilant or constant maintenance!
Basically, a garden (large, small, using containers or in the ground) is sustainable if it has low resource dependency.
A sustainable urban gardener will employ numerous methods and strategies to conserve water.
It does not require a lot of watering or is watered conservatively through rainwater, greywater, smart watering systems (which unfortunately still rely on power) or Olla pots.
In my apartment, water is harvested from the kitchen, dehumidifier (some areas of our downstairs are window-less) , condensation dryer (rarely used but water is harvested) and showers. It's then used on the container garden or poured into storage containers.
When it rains I collect water in buckets. All containers and permanent beds (I have some permanent waist-high garden beds) are mulched to help retain moisture and as it breaks down it returns to the soil.
Watering is often the bane of a time-poor gardener’s life.
A sustainable urban gardener will work to improve the soil, whether it is garden soil or potting soil before any planting. If you incorporate the proper amounts of organic matter and soil amendments, your soil will provide nutrients and make air and water more available to plants. Green waste is recycled and regenerated into compost, so you reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill.
Container gardeners will begin with store-bought organic potting mix that complies with the Australian Standards. After the soil is spent they will amend the soil using preferably home-made compost. With each season’s addition of compost and amendments, the potting mix will become richer and more fertile, meaning healthier more productive plants.
A sustainable urban gardener will keep the use of chemicals and non-organic fertilisers to a minimum, if at all. Being a sustainable urban gardener requires you to be environmentally responsible.
Organic urban gardeners avoid using chemical fertilisers. Chemical fertilisers are carried into the soil via salts, and this part of their chemistry threatens the living creatures that work every day to build your soil.
Because the soil that has been regenerated organically is rich in nutrients from the addition of homemade compost it will lead to healthy, productive plants – this translates to time and saving of $$.
Organic fertilisers add to the ecology in the soil because they are not carried by salts and have both short and long-term impacts. Going with organic fertilisers is a simple choice that you can make to manage your garden’s sustainability.
An ecologically balanced garden means fewer pests (now you'll still have to have some bugs to feed good bugs such as Ladybirds and Lacewings), more efficiently pollinated flowering plants, as you will have a myriad of pollinators visiting and fewer weeds (through mulching and not watering areas of soil that don’t require it). My Balcony garden requires less than 90% of my attention to bug maintenance. Healthy plants fight diseases and ward off insect attack as well.
Whether it is a backyard or container garden, a sustainable gardener will focus on appropriate planting for the conditions in that space. Knowing your microclimate is essential. Urban areas can often be “heat-sinks” where reflective surfaces from buildings, roads and paved surfaces heat up spaces and air. Wind can be high in apartment blocks which has a drying effect on plants. A sustainable gardener will observe their space and understand these conditions, making appropriate adjustments by providing shade, windbreaks etc as appropriate.
A sustainable urban gardener will select the plants that grow best in the microclimate of their small space garden. There is no point fighting with nature! Sharing cuttings and swapping plants with local gardeners makes good economic sense as well as giving access to plants not found in nurseries and provide plants that do well in your area and suit your climate.
A sustainable urban gardener will try to make the best investment in durable, eco-friendly materials, containers and tools.
Foraging for materials such as rocks for edging, sticks for stakes, pots and ornaments, vertical supports sourced from the local tip shop and council garbage collection piles give new life to something unwanted and saves money.