When spring starts to rear its cool, breezy head, many of us start getting our seeds and soil ready for the seasonal garden. Perhaps you've already started some of your seeds inside and are just waiting for the weather to turn up a notch before transplanting…counting down the days, most likely. Sorry, Christmas, but this is the most wonderful time of the year!
It's an especially exciting time for vegan gardeners; what is more exciting than growing your own fruits and vegetables? Little rivals the taste and satisfaction of homegrown food; and if you're crafty enough, you can preserve some of that ripe goodness to last the rest of the year too with canning, preserving, drying, and fermenting.
But there are a few caveats when it comes to wholesome gardening. First, you want to minimize pesticide use as it’s harmful to your body and to the environment. Second, you probably also want to avoid soil that contains animal parts. Yep. I'll never forget the horror I faced when strolling into my local garden supply store for a bag of soil. A recent transplant to lush Southern California from the concrete jungle of New York City, I had no idea that most commercial soils are animal remains. But there it was: chicken blood, bone meal, fish emulsion, manure. It's one thing to use these ingredients if collected naturally (say from a neighboring farm), but these commercial soils are purchasing by-products of the industrial food industry and animals that lived in horrific, toxic conditions. Why would I want to grow my organic heirloom vegetables in that?
If you don't have natural soil in your yard, you will have to rely on store-bought soil. The vegan options are virtually nonexistent. But you can veganize your garden with the following:
Vegetable compost: If you're not already composting, this is a great way to keep your food scraps out of the landfill and feed your garden. You can also find local compost facilities where you can purchase large quantities if needed. Many cities now offer free or inexpensive compost bins along with how-to classes on starting your own home compost. It can be a great tool in your garden turning your food scraps into new food!
Mulch: While you'll need soil no matter what, you can use mulch as your top layer. It's particularly good to use over the winter while your garden is dormant. Hay mulch can deliver nutrients to the soil, keep weeds at bay, and encourage worm populations, which make for healthier soil.
Green Manures: These are cover crops and nitrogen fixers that end up being tilled back into the soil. They can include wheat, oats, rye, or clover and are typically grown in between gardening. They improve soil quality and help prevent erosion as well as decrease weeds.
Worm Castings: Worms are essential to gardens, and their castings provide your soil with vital nutrients. They have a symbiotic relationship with plants and no garden—vegan or otherwise—should be without these helpers.
Feeds: Certain plants such as comfrey, nettles, grass clippings, and seaweed (kelp meal is great) can provide vital nutrients to your soil such as trace minerals. Let the plants marinade in water (1 part plant matter to 3 parts water) for several weeks before adding to your soil.
You can also enrich your soil with lime, green sand, gypsum, dolomite, rock phosphate, dusts, and potash. Repel insects and pests naturally with neem, marigolds, and strong-smelling herbs such as mint around the perimeter of your garden.
And keep in mind that creating the perfect soil takes time. If you know there were animal parts in your soil, don't dig it up in a frantic frenzy. The best thing you can do is to honor those animals' lives and their sacrifice. Give thanks that they're now part of your food-growing process and remember you're planting more than just a vegan garden; you're planting gratitude.Learn more about Jill EttingerKeep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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