Homegrown food and eco-friendly gardening (Gardening for Life)
In times of crisis, Americans have turned to Victory Gardens. While born of war, this concept still inspires people to grow their own organic food just steps from their kitchens. Victory Gardens, nowadays more commonly referred to as urban farming, remain popular in our area. In addition to backyard – or front yard – vegetable gardens at private homes, organizations in town have created community gardens to support families in need and give those without yard space a chance to garden. Leading organizations promoting community gardens in Montclair include the Northeast Earth Coalition and the Montclair Community Farm. The NEEC manages five community vegetable gardens and three pollinator gardens. With the addition of the Montclair Inn Community Garden this year, the NEEC has become the largest urban farming program in town.
Nothing is healthier, fresher, or tastier than home-grown food. Times of crisis highlight the importance of your garden as a source of local sustainability; think of the advantages of having organic food just outside your door. Super convenient, it will save you visits to the supermarket, meaning money saved, as well as offering healthy choices. Vegetables you can plant now include arugula, lettuce, radishes, sugar snap peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage family plants, like broccoli, collards or kale. And don’t forget your favorite herbs. Basil is safe to plant outside by mid-May, and thyme, parsley, oregano and mint can go outside immediately. Just remember to confine your mint and oregano to pots; planted in the soil, these herbs can quickly overrun your garden.
Creating your own urban farm:
- Find a spot in your yard that receives at least six hours of direct sun.
- Get organic soil, available in any nursery, and a bag of compost to mix into the soil.
- Make a raised bed of natural wood or recycled plastic “wood.” Avoid treated wood, which can harbor undesirable additions, like arsenic. Have a small space? Containers will do.
- Get seeds (preferably non-GMO). Heirloom seeds are best.
- Don’t have patience to grow from seed? Local nurseries sell seedlings.
- If critters are a problem, protect your garden with a fence or netting.
- Be sustainable and eco-friendly: don’t use chemicals and start your own compost pile.
For more details and additional tips on vegetable gardening and composting, check out our previous articles in the Montclair Local Gardening for Life column (available online).
Gardening for the Climate:
The phrase “Think globally, act locally” has been in use for decades. Today, it is more urgent than ever to consider the global impact of our local actions, and our yards are the perfect places to start.
Recognizing that the Earth is our only planet home, we must act to protect this home. Each of us has a duty to see that our actions do not damage our immediate environment and even begin to restore it. If we all contribute on the local level, the effect will be felt beyond the community, reaching the levels of the county, the state and potentially the nation and the globe.
Everything we do at home has environmental consequences that affect ourselves and others. Applying chemical fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, to your lawn and garden pollutes the air, soil and water, risking the health of your family, including your children and pets. Our waste then affects other communities. Most of the trash that we generate in town goes to an incinerator in Newark, where children in nearby communities are experiencing a high rate of asthma and other respiratory conditions. The water we are polluting in Montclair does not stay in town. Montclair’s Toney’s Brook and Third River are awash with polluting lawn chemicals from neighboring yards as well as plastics and other trash discarded in the streets. These pollutants flow into the Passaic River, Newark Bay and finally the Atlantic. It is time to do something, for ourselves, our families, and future generations. We are the architects of our own destiny. It is never too late to act.
Viewing environmental problems from a global perspective, we can feel overwhelmed, depressed and powerless. However, seated in my “Secret Garden,” a section of my backyard under a canopy of small trees, I find inspiration. If even a third of Montclair homes would replicate this tree-shaded space, it would significantly increase the number of climate-cooling, carbon sequestering trees and shrubs in town. The consequence of this collective action would be a town with cleaner air and lower summer temperatures.
Here are some actions most Montclair homeowners could take in their own yards not just to protect the environment, but to restore it:
- Create wildlife habitat:
Birds, butterflies and native bees are suffering from the destruction of their favored habitats in rural areas. Suburban homeowners can throw a lifeline to these struggling species by dedicating portions of their yards to bird and pollinator gardens. Just planting a few native plants, being careful to include both host plants, like milkweed for monarch butterfly caterpillars and nectar plants for adult pollinators, can create an inviting space for pollinators while enhancing your yard’s beauty and vibrancy. Supplement this with attractive berry-producing native bushes and trees, like cranberry bush viburnum, flowering dogwoods and serviceberry, add an oak if you have space, and you will provide natural food sources and nesting sites for birds.
- Use native plants:
I never stop praising the use of native plants and encouraging people to include them in their landscaping. Native plants have an immediate beneficial impact on the environment. They are adapted to the weather conditions of our region and have co-evolved with our local birds and insects in a harmonious balance. Many are also drought tolerant and, once established, do not need to be watered, conserving water for other uses as climate challenges grow.
“Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution,” said Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia. “What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”