It’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day while many large scale events and ecological conservation projects have been hindered by stay at home orders for many to shelter in place to lessen the spread of COVID-19, the good news about a day dedicated to the entire planet is that you can take part just about anywhere.
Goals of Earth Day 2020
One of the first priorities this April, is to encourage more citizen science. Encouraging advocacy, education, and volunteering are also important to the mission of Earth Day, but citizen science requires the least amount of travel and commitment which makes it especially appealing to anyone stuck at home.
The goal is gather up to date measurements of key factors like air quality, water quality, pollution, levels of ocean plastic and human health get a more accurate snapshot of the state of our environment. Modern technology makes this easier than ever, so if you’re a gardener who loves gadgets, Earth Day could be the perfect excuse to pick up another meter or gauge. You can participate in the “Earth Challenge 2020” and contribute to the collective goal of creating a billion new data points for environmental markers.
On the individualized scale, citizen science work can be decidedly low tech as well. Take a walk into your yard or garden and simply spending the afternoon notating the various plants and animal species you see. It might seem incomplete or unscientific, but with birds and insects especially, these counts have been a useful tool used for centuries by hobbyists and experts for measuring the biodiversity of an area as well as migration patterns and changes in numbers from season to season.
Additionally, understanding the native bugs, birds, and critters which are naturally occurring in the area can give you a good blueprint of what you should be planting if you’re planning a new garden.
Conserve What You Already Have
The strain that this unfortunate and unprecedented pandemic has put on modern supply lines and our ability to move about freely, means that it’s not as simple to rely on getting what you need from a quick shopping trip or local garden center. Even once abundant and easily accessible resources like seeds and saplings have been snapped up quickly by panic buyers. If you are fortunate to have anything blooming in your garden this early in the spring, be sure to save your seeds especially for edibles and fruits you plan to harvest or purchase often.
Doing less with more is what conservationism is all about and there’s still plenty of reasons to remain positive as one gardener’s lack of amenities like toilet paper is another gardener’s perfect excuse to make like a tree and leaf.
Right Under Your Feet
Too often soil gets treated like dirt. But understanding soil types, if a growing medium has the best nutrients for plants can make the difference for whether or not you get big yields from your garden harvest. Nutrient loss and soil erosion left unchecked can lead to land that is unworkable and dead. This is what farmers in the prairies experienced in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Soil is Alive
A great way to keep your garden soil teeming with life is to treat your dirt like a living organism, no different than a rosebush or a mighty oak. Neither is possible without a crucial network of microbes and fungi. Other sustainable agriculture practices like using cover crops in the off season to keep your soil aerated as well as crop rotation, switching up what you choose to plant where, build up a diverse microbial population.
Getting Soil Microbes in Your Ground
Depending on how depleted your soil may be or how well you know the pedigree of plants that have recently put down roots, some gardeners will opt to inoculate their garden beds with beneficial bacteria like Rhizombium. Good growing habits naturally cultivate the beneficial species you need, but if you don't want to waste time waiting for that process or risk your yield being underwhelming it's one way to bolster your root nodules by feeding them and protecting them from disease. Introducing appropriate bacteria and fungi colonies is considered an eco-friendly biocontrol for your garden as they won't poison your soil or burn your roots with harsh chemicals. Often the good microbes simply out compete the bad in your garden, fixing nitrogen levels and creating ideal conditions for your root systems.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Beyond inoculating and caring for your existing space to keep it fertile, composting is an easy, low commitment way to break down garden and kitchen waste and transform it into a useful amendment for plant growth. Similar to the seed shortages that some areas are experiencing this spring, large quantities of potting mixes, fertilizers, and additives may prove difficult to find. With pandemic fears motivating many new growers to dive in on top of the materials experienced gardeners go for this time of year, creating your own enriched soil from compost beds or even vermicomposting for worm castings can be a lifeline for beginners and experts alike.
Certain vegetables can even be regrown from just the scraps, so save some of your compost for replanting.
Keeping yourself fed via your own means and lowering the amount of inputs you use in your garden can make a difference for the whole planet this Earth Day. So while you're stuck close to home use this time to start a sustainable garden or audit your existing garden to see if there's better ways to grow. You'll thank yourself later.