Consider Sustainability

By Charlie Nardozzi

The name of the small-space game is sustainability. If you want your garden to last through the years and stay in harmony with nature, you’ll need to ask yourself questions like, Am I being environmentally responsible? Is what I want to do economically feasible? Is there a way I can involve my community?

Here are a few tips that will help urbanites everywhere to create and maintain sustainable small-space gardens:

Understand sustainability. In order to create a sustainable urban garden, you must first know what sustainable agriculture means. In essence, it means putting as much back into the land as you take away so the land can continue producing indefinitely. It also means minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources, because by definition these resources are finite and their use cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Advocates of sustainable farming—and sustainable living in general—feel that our mainstream consumer culture is living on borrowed time, until the day that the earth’s resources can no longer support us. Only by adopting more sustainable lifestyles can we conserve these nonrenewable resources. Urban gardeners can employ sustainable management practices to help gather community support and preserve remaining open lands available in our cities for continued agricultural and urban farming uses for the next generation.

Conserve water and harvest your rain. Clean water is a very precious commodity—especially in our urban communities. That’s why a sustainable urban gardener needs to employ numerous methods and strategies to conserve water.

From installing rain barrels and rain gardens to simply adjusting your mowing height—a higher mowing height deepens root systems, strengthens lawns, and reduces water needs—there are several easy steps to reduce your water use at home and employ sustainable conservation strategies.

Select the “right plants” for your area. The “right plants” are well adapted to your urban environment and require little to no maintenance. Native plants are good candidates since they have evolved and adapted to local conditions. They also tend to be vigorous and hardy, able to withstand local weather patterns including winter’s cold and summer’s heat.

Once established, native plantings require no irrigation or fertilization. They’re resistant to most pests and diseases, making them ideal for the sustainable gardener.

Consider hydroponic and aquaponic gardening. In its simplest form, hydroponics means growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plants’ water supply rather than through the soil. This method helps gardeners grow more food more rapidly in smaller areas (greenhouses, living rooms, classrooms, and rooftops, for instance) and to produce food in places where space, good soil, and/or water are limited.

In aquaponics, the nutrient solution is water containing fish excrement. Basically, it’s the integration of hydroponics and aquaculture. Live fish are raised in a traditional fish tank. They excrete their waste into the surrounding water, which is used to supply nutrients to the growing plants positioned above the tank. Because hydroponic and aquaponic gardening can be done in small spaces, they are great options for urban gardeners.

Involve your community. Whether up on the rooftop or between buildings in a vacant lot, opportunities abound in your city to grow together with your community. Community gardens provide a place to meet new friends and share gardening experiences.

In fact, many community gardens offer workshops to help gardeners learn about seeds, crop rotation, companion planting, and organic pest control solutions to help keep soil and plants healthy. Everybody benefits!

Sustainability is not an outcome: it’s a process of responsible maintenance. In order to manage your urban gardening practices well, you must pay careful attention to environmental and economic factors and involve the community. A collaborative effort and responsible management of the city landscape will grant you a successful and beautiful urban garden now and into the next generation!

Charlie Nardozzi, along with coauthor Paul Simon, just released Urban Gardening for Dummies, a comprehensive guide to growing in your own small space.