A backyard garden provides more than just delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs. It’s also a source of zen and a place of productivity. Maintaining a healthy garden year after year doesn’t happen by accident — lots of TLC is needed in order to flourish. Here are some of the secret ingredients to try in your own yard this season to make for a bountiful harvest and also help the planet while you’re at it.
GROW POLLINATOR-FRIENDLY FLOWERS
Many flowers that grow natively in the Northeast are great at regenerating biodiversity and provide habitats for pollinators. Black-eyed Susans, cutleaf coneflowers, woodland sunflowers, lanceleaf coreopsis, smooth aster and blue wood aster are all beneficial to have planted within your garden. These flowers aren’t just a pretty addition to your garden beds, but will attract butterflies and bees to your garden, which are essential in transporting pollen to other plants, which in turn supports a healthy ecosystem that cleans the air, stabilizes soils, protects from severe weather and supports other local wildlife.
PLANT FOR COMPANIONS
Companion planting is a method of organizing what is planted in your garden — often involving planting various crops and flowers next to each other. Their symbiotic relationship creates different root systems that benefit the health of your fruits and vegetables. Companion gardening is an excellent way to protect smaller plants from the summer sun, attract pollinators directly to your vegetables, repel pests, and improve soil quality. A great example of this is planting tomatoes and basil right next to one another. The basil will repel certain insect pests such as thrips and also disorients moths that lay tomato hornworm eggs.
KEEP A BEEHIVE
Just about anyone can have a beehive in their backyard if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and with multiple workshops offered on the North Fork you’re closer to becoming a backyard beekeeper than you think. Bees are excellent cross-pollinators and are vital in maintaining the majority of crops worldwide. So why not add more bees to your garden and help your local ecosystem? Free honey is an added bonus.
COLLECT THE RAIN
A rain barrel is a large container, typically 50 to 80 gallons, that collects and stores rainwater that falls from the sky and drains off of your roof. The gathered water can then be used to water your plants. Because the water is coming from the sky rather than a well, the water is beneficial to improving soil health as it contains major plant nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium. The average gardener uses thousands of gallons of water for their garden each growing season. By using a rain barrel you conserve water and help the planet. Your garden — and your water bill — will thank you.
Organic matter made from composting is densely packed with moisture and nutrients. Adding it back into your soil is one of the most crucial ways you can improve your garden. The whole process is also simple and approachable even for the tiniest gardens. Begin by deciding where you’ll gather your composted items — composting bins are widely available — then add a mix of natural elements such as produce scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, cardboard and yard cuttings. You’ll want to keep it in a sunny spot and turn it often. Once the materials break down, the composted matter can be used directly in the garden beds.