Image: Flickr/Benjaman Lehman

Wednesday, April 22 is Earth Day!

It began as a peace and environmental movement in 1970s America. Forty-five years later Earth Day is celebrated in over 192 countries. 2015 also happens to be the United Nations International Year of Soils. Why not combine these celebrations and make your Earth Day a down right dirty affair!

Suburbanites really need to find ways to shrink their ecological footprint and make their lifestyles more sustainable. Earth Day is the perfect time to rethink that ubiquitous front yard. Consider the resources, time, energy and money spent keeping these relics of wealth lush, green and weed free. 

If you’re not using a push mower or raking leaves by hand, then you’re using electricity or fossil fuels to manicure your monocrop. The noise pollution from gas mowers and leaf blowers is harmful to those close by and really unappreciated by those of us trying to sleep in on the weekend. The air pollution, including fine particulate matter, dispersed by leaf blowers is detrimental to everyone’s health. And, who said it’s alright to blow your leaves onto the street or a neighbour’s yard instead of mulching or bagging them?

Conventional fertilizers used throughout the grass growing season are usually derived from petroleum. A 40-pound bag of artificial fertilizer contains the equivalent of 2.5 gallons of gasoline. Why spread this on your property? Synthetic fertilizers sterilize soils by killing off helpful organisms. A lack of microorganisms creates the need for more chemical fertilizers which creates an unnatural and unnecessary cycle of dependency.

Runoff from conventional fertilizers sends carbon and nitrogen into local waterways. Algae bloom feeds off these nutrients. When large numbers of bloom die off they deprive plants and fish of dissolved oxygen, killing them and creating dead zones.

As little as 2.5 cm (1″) of water each week, including rain, should keep your lawn green. But, most people over water and those with sprinkler systems on timers are often watering while it’s raining.

So far none of this is sounding very earth friendly or sustainable. But, this is where the fun begins! Get out a shovel and maybe a few kids or friends, because it’s time to replace that grass with a beautiful, self-sustaining garden.

Since you’ve been mono-cropping for some time, you’ll have to prepare the patch of ground that you’ve unearthed. Work an inch or two of organic materials into the soil using a spade or large garden fork. 

Planting a brand new garden means starting with a blank canvas! Encourage genetic diversity from the start by planting a wide variety of zone 6 hardy heritage and native species.  Zone 6 includes the entire GTHA. A good cross-section of perennials will create a strong foundation for your garden and once established, these plants will take care of themselves and thrive on rainfall alone. Fill in the spaces with vegetables and annuals.

Over the winter you’ll have time to join Seeds of Diversity Canada. This organization gives you access to over 3,000 unique varieties of vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs and ornamental plants through member-to-member seed exchanges. You’ll also have the chance to save seeds from your own plants, as well as the cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin that you’re going to buy from the local farmer’s market. 

Companion planting will become second nature. Certain flowers and vegetables like to cuddle up in the flower bed with each other. This limits unwanted insects, inhibits the growth of some plants while improving the health and happiness of other plants.   

To retain soil moisture use natural mulch — not rubber mulch! Bark chips or edible ground covers like thyme, creeping rosemary, oregano, and chamomile mixed with non-edible phlox and sedum. 

Healing Gaia happens through the positive cumulative effects of individuals and groups. Getting rid of your grass may seem insignificant, but the ripple of improved soil health, reduced water, air and noise pollution along with expanded genetic diversity will have far reaching effects. 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  — Margaret Mead

Happy Earth Day!


Image: Flickr/Benjaman Lehman