Grow some food! Why gardening matters to home designers?
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Agriculture, transportation, construction and building operations consistently top the charts of energy use and carbon footprint. As an individual amongst billions, sometimes it's the simplest of actions that make a meaningful difference.
Sustainable building design coupled with food and energy production is an important part of our long-term vision at NIDO.
This blog post has nothing (and everything) to do with home design, high performance buildings and building science. We feel it’s important to show how individuals can make a small but beneficial impact for not only ourselves but also the communities that we are all a part of.
Why we grow food…
If you can grow vegetables, why wouldn’t you?
If you can teach your children where food really comes from, why wouldn’t you?
If you can put the freshest source of nutrients, grown by you, on your dinner table, why wouldn’t you?
Growing plants and food can be done at any scale. Whether it's growing some microgreens with an indoor garden kit, a tomato plant on a condo balcony, a planter box in the corner of your yard or a full blown food garden the satisfaction is something money cannot buy. You do not need to be a garden expert or have a large outdoor area to start. You only need a few basic things, sunlight, soil, water and patience.
Be near plants…It’s that simple.
It’s no secret that being near and taking care of plants offers multiple benefits related to mental health, air quality, visual stimuli, and physical healing.
In terms of outdoor planting, we’ve all seen the post-apocalyptic scenes of what our concrete city blocks would look like if the human race suddenly ceased to exist? In 10-15 years everything becomes over run with plants! It's what nature intended all along so why not just skip the mass extinction and get to the good part?
Our Garden: Evolution
In no way can I take all the credit for our garden. This has been a team effort between me and my extremely hard working and genius partner for 7 years at our current property in Kelowna, BC. It began in 2012 when we successfully bought our first house in the city’s North End neighbourhood. This place was a true 1946 “handyman special” but we saw great potential through the inspection reports, messy yard and "leaning tower of shed". One of the major potentials was a shade free, South facing front yard with fertile soil. Right away we knew the future would be bountiful and lush. From 2012 to 2018 we developed our front yard plots to their current and final (for now) layout.
When spring 2018 arrived, we knew the front garden would become a long term method to grow lots of produce! This was when we began to really plan out and track what our 440 sq. ft. food garden could be capable of. Our yearly cycles also evolve around trying different layouts, planting lists, soil amendments, weeding techniques (zero chemicals in this yard!), bed preparations and what we can successfully grow, harvest, eat and preserve. Out next endeavor will be automatic irrigation within the rows, wish us luck!
Since 2018 when we introduced walkways and rows to the food garden, we’ve been drawing our layouts for the upcoming year. We recommend keeping track of how much space everything needs and refer to a companion planting chart to double check your decisions. Each year our layout drawings are refined and improved to look more formal. It’s our front yard after all, not a farmers field.
Inviting Success to your Garden: Soil Amendments & Pollinators
Without good soil, you won’t get anywhere.
When we first purchased our property we were fortunate to have crazy miracle soil in the front yard! You could almost throw seeds at the ground in the spring and watch them grow. It appeared that the previous owners had been amending the soil through various means of leaf mulching and compost fertilizing. This carried us for a few years but then we had to step up our soil game. Yearly deliveries of garden soil have helped us build up the garden to it’s current level and we will continue annual soil amendment techniques such as composting, leaf & straw mulching, silage tarping (to reduce erosion) and digging in spent vegetation in the fall.
I haven't gathered too much research on soil amendment and usually go with my gut feeling by taking a shovel full of soil from the ground and checking it out:
- Hopefully a few earth worms are there to greet you
- Some water retention
- Some mulchy, loamy texture
- Fairly lightweight
- Sweet earthy soil scent with a little decomposition
- Not too much binding and drains property
We are always mindful of attracting bees to our yard. The Okanagan is home to more than 60 different species of bees and the more diverse your flowering vegetation is, the greater variety and quantity of bees you will host. Loads of perennial flowers & herbs combined with annual flowers that change every year are scattered throughout the property. I’d say about 80% of our produce relies on pollinators.
We’ve been tracking our produce by photography and weight for the majority of 2019 and all of 2020. This year (2020) we have weighed in approximately 530 pounds (240 kg) from our 440 sq. ft. front yard plot, a raspberry patch, and small grapevine.
Let's get started!
Our path to a sustainable future will be forged by both large scale organized actions and small scale individual choices. Chances are you've grown something (or many things) in your lifetime. If you have, keep going! If not, now is a great time to start small and dream big.
These individual impacts are important, just like our work here at NIDO. Our small but measured impact on the design and building community leads to ideas, innovation, built projects and inspiration. Just like a single seed leads to flowers, food, and more seeds for others.