We've all done it. The fresh, new year rolls around and we have the urge to change things, do better and accomplish something memorable. More often than not, these great ideas and plans fall by the wayside before the end of January. The reason for these failures is that we bite off more than we can chew and set goals that are nearly impossible to reach. Why not make some gardening resolutions that you can easily keep and help the environment at the same time?

Resolve to leave things a bit messy

The first resolution is easy enough. Don't Be Too Neat. Yes, that's right, leave a messy spot at the edge of your property for the wild things. Leave a little leaf litter around the edges for egg cases and chrysalis of moths. Let grass clippings remain on your lawn for free fertilizer. Our fragile pollinator and butterfly population need native plants, (also known as weeds) for proper nutrition and food for their young. These plants may not look like much, however they have the proper chemical ingredients that their showier hybrid cousins that grace our flowerbeds do not. Some of the domesticated versions of those wild plants don't even produce pollen or nectar, making them useless to our pollinator population. If you feel a bit more gung-ho, add some of the species plants to your garden. Milkweeds, yarrows, mints and other herbs are wonderful in the garden and do double-duty as pollinator-friendly plants.

field of yarrow

Do not waste water

The second resolution is to Conserve Water. This is easier than it sounds. We are all aware that fresh water is fast becoming a treasured commodity and that droughts threaten much of our agricultural lands. Individuals do not have much control over what happens on a wide scale, however there are a number of things that you can do that will reduce your use of the precious substance. Replace part or all of your lawn with drought-friendly plants to areas without grass. Plant ornamentals that require less moisture than frail water junkies. Re-use kitchen water. When you wash fruits and vegetables, do so in a container, rather than let the water go down the drain. Use this on your container plants. The same goes for cooking water where you have boiled or steamed vegetables. This cooking water also has the benefit of containing nutrients that your plants will love. Use soaker hoses instead of overhead watering if you must supplement moisture in your vegetable garden. Set up a rain barrel to collect free water from the sky. Once you put your mind to it, there are many ways you can reduce the amount of water you use.

stream of water

Resolve to share with others

The third resolution is to Donate Time or Produce. That's right, don't let that zucchini go to waste. Many towns have community kitchens where volunteers offer free meals to people in need. Our town has one and anyone can stop in for a hot lunch, no questions asked. Fresh tomatoes, squash, beans or any other produce is always welcome. If your town doesn't have one of these places, why not share extra produce at your church? Many elderly folks would love to have it. You can also stop in to a local assisted living home with a large basket of beans or peas. The residents enjoy breaking or shelling them and then the cafeteria staff cooks them, encouraging some picky eaters to clean their plates. Even home grown tomatoes are welcome there. Once in person classes are back in session, help your local elementary school plant a herb or flower garden so the kids can learn how things grow. There's many different ways you can help your community, even if it is just teaching a young single mother how to economically prepare nutritious meals. Your pastor or local assistance office can probably put you in touch with someone who would be grateful for the help.

volunteers at a community kitchen

Resolve to identify your insects

The fourth resolution is Get To Know Your Bugs. Don't automatically assume that all insects are bad...this means spiders too! Learn to recognize beneficial insects and let them go about their business. So many people think if something is large or oddly shaped, they mean trouble. Often is is some of the most bizarre that do the most good. Encourage praying mantids, garden spiders and predator beetles to hang out and keep the pests at bay. Japanese beetles are some of the prettiest insects around, however they can lay waste to even the best gardens. Soldier beetles, or leatherwings only eat pollen and are peaceful insects. Their larvae are the ones that do the most good. They eat the eggs of many garden pests and even the larvae of other insects. They are definitely worth encouraging. However, they do have some cousins that can eat your garden to the ground, so you need to know which ones are which. As you are educating yourself about your garden insects, please remember that pesticides generally don't play favorites. They kill the bad guys and the good guys alike. For the sake of our fragile pollinators, either reduce your pesticide use or eliminate it all together.

black and yellow garden spider

There are many ways to make a difference in the New Year

As the New Year unfolds, be on the lookout for ways to make your garden, community or region a better place. Learn what plants are locally invasive and volunteer with a friend to remove them from your town's park. Plant milkweed in that same park for the monarchs. Volunteer to make a prayer and reflection area on your church property. It could be something as small as a couple of containers and a bench. Offer to plant a couple of cherry tomato plants at your local nursing home or assisted living facility. If there are openings, sign up and go through the Master Gardening program. It is a service organization that helps your community in many different ways. There are so many ways a gardener can help and as time goes on, it will become easier to spot where there is a need. Every small act is a building block that works to enrich your community far beyond the actual project or idea.