Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is container gardening really eco-friendly?

The trend now is to go green. As you can see(from the weblink of this blog), I have also been victim to this trend. Not a bad thing definitely but it is like a fashion statement if we say that "I am a very green person". And the easiest way for people go green is by keeping a few plants in their living/working spaces. Of late, I have been having my own doubts about how "GREEN" container gardening really is. I pursue gardening as a hobby. Even before I got into gardening, I was concious about my use of water, plastics and electricity, and I thought gardening definitely would be too. However, I have come to realise that it is not that easy to give back to nature what you take from it. Let me elaborate,
1. Watering
Container Gardens require regular watering. All plants do and especially since your plants cannot grow roots deeper than the pots, they need frequent watering. Depending on the location it can be between, once in two days to twice everyday. Where does this water come from. In case of apartments in bangalore/chennai(especially the newer ones), this water is supplied through taps. What a revelation? Well actually, the ground water is processed through a water softening plant and then supplied to the apartments. During the softening process a lot of water goes waste as the process itself calls for it. Also, the efficiency of the watering very low, i.e. if we pour a litre of water in the pot, the actual water that gets used up for the plants benefit that day is probably around 20-30%. Rest goes back up in the air. This is just for one pot. Imagine people with large number of pots in their balconies (including your truly).
Ok, so water is wasted. The eco friendliness quotient for the garden is going down slowly
2. Nutrition
Containers cannot retain the nutrition content as effectively as for those plants in the ground due to runaway. When we water the plants in containers, the nutrient content also gets washed away. This means we need to add more nutrition, more frequently to the containers to get those nice looking flowers, fruits and vegetables.
I was first advised by folks at the nurseries I go to to add enrich the nutrition content by adding NPK based fertilizers. I used it once and I realized that it is best avoided. The impact we create by using these fertilizers is just unfathomable. The amount of effort and energy it goes into producing these chemicals is huge. Remember those tall pipes that throw poisonous gases high into the atmosphere. Most of them are in some way related to our daily activities, one of them being the manufacturing of NPK fertilizers.These are not safe for handling especially with kids around. So it is best to keep it away from the garden. Also, due to the runaway, the water that seeps out of these containers goes back into the drains and God knows where. Definitely causing more harm to the environment. I cannot help but say that the quotient has gone down again.

3. Pests
If you have a garden full of plants, you are bound to have pests, and all pests are not the same. Again, first line of advice from nurseries, use chemical pesticides. This was a definite no-no for me. But people do use it. So quotient going down further.
4. Materials
Let me end my negativity with this 4th item. Container gardening requires materials and so does non-container gardening. However, here we need pots, which sometimes end up being in plastic or concrete for convenience requirements. I am sure you all have heard enough about plastic and know how much effort it takes to make the concrete. Everything we buy as supplements to the garden comes wrapped in plastic boxes/container and covers. Quotient has hit rock bottom so let me stop here for now.

So there we are, thinking of all this I could not help but feel whether things are headed in the right direction. So, instead of just writing down problems, we can think of solutions too.

1. Watering
Understand the plants requirements over a period of time and water them. If possible installing a drip irrigation system will help reduce the water consumption significantly. And ofcourse a very popular method as reminded by Kanak from Nature Rambles is using the waste water from the kitchen. This requires a little effort to keep a storage container to collect the water each time we wash vegetables or other food items. For those large trees the water from the last rinse while washing clothes(if we are washing by hand) will also work.

2. Nutrients
Organic Manure produced using composting is probably the most recyclable process that exists today. It helps improve soil texture and provides sufficient nutrients to the plant. Excess application is not going to damage the plants. However, if we are getting this from stores/outlets then the plastic packaging comes into play. A good way to avoid this is to carry our own bags to the source of compost. The best way would be to be able to make compost at home.

3. Pests
Chemical pesticides are a strict no-no for me. I use neem oil and sometime just a hard spray of water to dislodge the pests.(this brings back point 1, but is a much better alternative to pesticides). Companion planting is also a good method to help keep away pests.

4. Materials
Handmade terracotta pots are a great solution. Only where strength/size is a concern it would make sense to go for concrete pots. Plastic pots are best avoided. Better to carry our own bags to acquire the materials we need.

What else do you think makes container gardening non-eco friendly. What are the solutions. Do you have any novel ideas for the problems mentioned above.?

But all negatives apart, it is really relaxing to spend some time looking at the plants grow and produce beautiful flowers. Getting the hands dirty in soil is also a good experience. Gardening is an amazing hobby to have. It creates a great sight for the eye and definitely improves the air around us. Happy Gardening.