Creating A Sustainable Garden

rainwater-collectorBY AMANDA MOSES

The slogan: reduce, reuse, and recycle is more than just an environmentalist’s mantra to disposing of garbage. It can be applied to our daily choices. Whether it is conserving water, recycling garbage or reducing the amount of electricity used, each of these decisions can make a difference in our carbon footprint. Garden Educator Jacqui Roytman gave the Spring Creek Sun a tour around the Spring Creek Recreational Fund’s (SCRF) Urban Garden Classroom (UGC), and explained all that she is doing to make the garden sustainable.

“Sustainable agriculture is using eco-friendly techniques around the garden that help protect the environment,” explained Roytman. For example, the soil in the UGC is not chemically treated. Roytman uses compost to help fertilize the soil, and sprinkles spicy or strong smelling herbs to deter insects and other critters from eating the plants. Composting is the process of taking green waste (food, leaves, and other organic materials) and waiting for it to break down into nutrient rich humus.

Within the garden Roytman has several compost bins where she disposes of green waste (rotten fruit, vegetables, etc.) Recycling this green waste, unused or spoiled vegetation can create a compost that will help break down organic materials for the plants to absorb, and creates a natural alternative to chemical fertilizer. According to Grow NYC, a sustainable resource for New Yorkers, “Food comprises about 17% of NYC’s waste stream. When this material is sent to a landfill it contributes to NYCs disposal costs and can create greenhouse gas emissions.”

open-compostIn addition, Roytman plans on creating an open compost bin that consists of weeds plucked from the garden, lettuce and other green material. These items will be placed on a closed wooden platform surrounded by chicken wire (to keep all of the compost from falling out of the gaps between the wooden planks.) The key to this form of composting is continued aeration, explained Roytman. Since the organisms breaking down the compost need air to survive, it’s important to create an aerated environment. With regular compost bins, which are usually sealed shut, there are small air holes placed along the side of the containers (allowing air to enter the bin).

Composting is a continuous lesson Roytman teaches to her students during the school year and during the summer with children from local day camps. She plans on reprising last winter’s lesson of vermicomposting, which is worm compost filled with the green waste (scraps of grapes, strawberries, apples, bananas, carrots, newspapers etc.). These scraps will serve as the worm’s food. Normally we toss away these materials, however these resources can be re-purposed. Once the worms digest the green waste, they deposit casts filled with microorganisms (free of any pathogenic bacteria because it is killed in the worm’s stomach) that creates nutritious compost for healthy plant growth.

Aside from recycling waste, Roytman also has a bin that gathers rainwater. Since gardening requires a large amount of watering, Roytman decided to conserve water and feed the plants rainwater.

The UGC is more than a place where seeds are grown and vegetables are harvested. Roytman has applied the ideology of reduce, reuse, and recycle, creating a sustainable garden that helps provide fertilized soil and fresh rainwater to its plants. Photos: Malick Mercier