Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening

The earth has been supporting agriculture for a long time, and the need for sustainable agriculture is being encouraged through different programs in different parts of the world. The need for food among the human population will continue to increase as the population increases; hence, the need to improve food production without the detriments many agricultural practices have been causing to the soil and the ecosystem over time.

One of the ways to achieve sustainable agriculture is through micro-farming, achievable through gardening and homesteading. Employing other elements of sustainable agriculture, such as mixed farming, agroforestry, crop rotation, and permaculture, reduces the pressure on commercial farming and its unavoidable ecosystem-damaging practices.

Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening
Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening

You’ll understand how you can aid in improving the sustainability of food and the human population through gardening and its practices. We’ll see how different gardening practices affect sustainable agriculture and why you should start growing your own food. Also, you’ll understand the importance of organic farming in your gardening endeavor.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture describes practicing agriculture in ways that help to maintain or improve the health and productivity of the soil and other environmental factors that influence agriculture. It involves the use of agricultural practices that eliminate or minimize the degradation of the soil and conserve the biological life present in the soil. It also caters to water conservation by addressing irrigation problems arising from water wastage.

Sustainable agriculture uses agricultural practices that ensure the long-term productivity of an agricultural endeavor. It is simply a type of agriculture that can be sustained for a long time with little or no damage to the factors of agricultural production.

The use of agricultural (farming) inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides that are known to cause depletion in the soil fauna and acidity, are eliminated or minimized in sustainable agriculture. Natural and organic means of supplementing soil nutrients and pest control are better options to achieve the objectives of sustainable agriculture.

Elements of Sustainable Agriculture

The elements of sustainable agriculture are the practices or agricultural systems that can help to maintain or increase the sustainability of food for the ever-increasing human population without damaging the ecosystem. There are different types of agricultural systems, but many of them employ practices that damage the soil, especially.

The elements of sustainable agriculture – crop rotation, permaculture, agroforestry, mixed farming, among others – employ agricultural practices that minimize the detrimental effect of agriculture on the environment while we continue to produce food. They include:

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is an old system of agriculture, still being practiced, that involves the use of the same piece of land to grow a different crop at different planting seasons. Usually, the piece of land is divided into sections, each holding different crops at a particular planting season but at another planting season, another crop type is grown in each section. A section of the land that is used to grow a tuber crop in one planting season is used to grow vegetables in the next planting season.

Crop rotation aims at conserving and utilizing soil nutrients at different depths, discouraging the over-reliance on the nutrients at certain soil depth. Tuber crops will use nutrients that are at further depths in the soil than will shallow-rooted vegetable crops. This will allow a nutrient recovery period for the soil depth exploited by the tuber crop.

Crop rotation supports sustainable agriculture through nutrient conservation, soil microorganism conservation, and biodiversity conservation. It can be practiced with gardening.

Agroforestry

Agroforestry is an agricultural practice that involves the growing of trees and arable crops. The trees provide shade and some organic manure to the arable crops while the grower gains income from both the trees and arable crops. It efficiently uses nutrients in the soil at varying depths, depending on the crops being grown.

Trees have deeper roots while arable crops have shallow roots in comparison. Therefore, nutrients in the soil at various depths will be utilized. Also, the presence of trees helps to increase the carbon canopy of the world and improve the environment. They help in soil conservation by minimizing soil erosion; biodiversity by creating a suitable environment for the different organisms of the ecosystem.

Mixed Farming

Mixed farming involves raising livestock and growing crops at the same time, usually on pieces of land nearby. It is a common practice in homesteading, and it has numerous advantages. It is an important part of organic farming and it is excellent for both commercial and self-sustaining agriculture.

Mixed farming combines raising livestock – chickens, goats, pigs, sheep – and growing crops, as in gardening or commercial crop production. Wastes from livestock are usually used as manure for the crops and seeds, fruits, and leaves from the crops can be used to feed the livestock.  It is one of the common sustainable agriculture practices in many countries, including the United States of America, Australia, and Canada.

Multiple Cropping

For sustainable feeding, variety is important; hence, multiple cropping. This practice is restricted to growing crops alone but has variety in the crops being grown. Multiple cropping is the growing of different crops to meet the grower’s immediate or community food needs. It involves the growing of different crops while preserving the integrity of the agricultural factors.

Mixed cropping
Multiple Cropping

A gardener that has potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, wheat, ginger, and other crops in their garden practice multiple cropping. Notice how the crops cut across the different classes of crops to maintain sustainability?

Factors Affecting Sustainable Agriculture

As possible as sustainable agriculture is, some factors determine how efficient it can be, and the results you can get from it. The factors affecting sustainable agriculture are the general agricultural factors, and they include:

Soil

The soil is arguably the most important agricultural factor of production, especially with the increasing popularity of soilless agriculture. However, it is still the major means of crop production in the world today.

The soil is home to innumerable microorganisms that are beneficial to the success of crop production. It also holds nutrients that serve as food for the growth and yield of our crops. The degradation of the soil by continuous tilling, unbridled fertilizer application, and other environmentally damaging activities, such as oil spillage, burning, and deforestation that lead to erosion, among others, affect the success of sustainable agriculture.

Soil with inadequate nutrients can’t sustain the growing human population. Supplementing inadequate nutrients with inorganic fertilizer leads to soil acidity, continuous tillage of the soil leads to poor soil structure, and consequently, erosion.

Nutrients

Nutrients are major determinants of whether your crops will have good yield or not. Nutrient availability in the soil is affected by many things, and one of them is the Cation Exchange Capacity of the soil. However, an inadequate nutrient in the soil is mostly met by supplementing with inorganic fertilizers, which when used for a long time, are detrimental to the soil.

Some soil nutrients are volatile and are lost from the soil through exposure to the increased temperature of the atmosphere, thus reducing the nutrients in the soil available to crops. To mitigate the inadequacy of soil nutrients and preserve the integrity of soil, organic fertilizers are the best option, especially with sustainable agriculture.

Water

One of the objectives of sustainable agriculture is water conservation, especially in drought-prone areas. Water is as essential to the growth of plants as soil and nutrient. It carries the nutrients to the root areas of the plant and it is an important part of photosynthesis.

Polluted water – containing heavy metals and salts – are detrimental to plant health and growth. Therefore, the need for clean water for crop irrigation is important for the realization of sustainable agriculture.

Also, old irrigation systems, although effective, are wasteful. Therefore, to help advance sustainable agriculture, we need to adopt modern and precise irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation. They are measurable and easy to use.

Energy

In old times, the primary source of energy for most agricultural practices is animal power. Animals, such as donkeys, horses, and bulls, pull implements to plow the land. In other cases, human power is used for some implements and practices, such as irrigation and weeding. However, easier techniques for these gardening activities are available, making gardening and commercial farming sustainable.

The use of tractor-mounted implements – plows, harrows, sprayers, and ridgers – has helped increase agriculture’s scale, especially in commercial crop production. However, there are similar implements that are suitable for gardening.

While most tractors are fuel-dependent, recent advancement in technology has helped in the production of robots that utilize solar energy to weed, plant, and irrigate a farm or garden.

Organic Gardening for Sustainable Agriculture

It’s undeniable that one of the ways to meet the objective of sustainable agriculture is by encouraging more household farming or gardening. It increases individual homes’ independence on large-scale farming, and consequently reduces the pollution of the environment by tractors and large farming equipment like them.

Encouraging the use of natural materials in gardening for your household improves the quality of food you eat and, by extension, your overall health. Organic agriculture has been on the rise since the discovery of the damage synthetic chemicals cause to the soil and human health.

Organic gardening is important to sustainable agriculture in the following ways:

Less agricultural water pollution

Agricultural water isn’t required to be of the same quality as drinking water; however, the cleaner it is, the better. Agricultural water has been polluted by chemical residue from synthetic fertilizers and pest control chemicals that have been used over time. The heavy metals, usually needed in little quantity by plants, are surplus in the soil and water as a result of dependence on chemical fertilizers.

Organic fertilizer options help to address the issue of agricultural water pollution as non-beneficial elements present in water to plants are easily digested by organic matter in the soil. Also, there is a significantly lower amount of heavy metal in organic fertilizers, compared to chemical fertilizers; and this helps with sustainable food cultivation over a long time.

More food production

Organic gardening is the raising of food crops on a small piece of land, usually for household consumption or for commercial reasons, using natural materials as input. It discourages and minimizes the use of synthetic chemicals, and consequently minimizes their detrimental effect on the soil, water, and humans.

More Food Production
More Food Production

With organic gardening, each household or community has a number of gardens or vegetable patches where they grow their foods. This allows for more food in the community, and it improves the nutrition of households.

Effective utilization of agricultural waste

Agricultural wastes, especially from animals, are difficult to deal with in some parts of the world. However, organic gardening is one of the ways that put agricultural wastes to effective use. Feces from animals are excellent fertilizers for crops. They provide as many essential nutrient as any synthetic fertilizer, making them better alternatives.

Agricultural waste
Agricultural Waste

Also, crop wastes, such as chaff, husks, pods, are easily used to make compost that helps to add nutrients to the soil and help crops grow better. Discarded chaffs are sometimes used as animal bedding material and animal feed.

Better soil health

The most popular growth medium for plants is the soil, and maintaining its health is important to the sustainability of agriculture in any part of the world. Although soilless agriculture – hydroponics and aeroponics – is gaining popularity, the soil still holds importance.

Organic gardening uses organic materials – animal and plant wastes – to improve the soil health by binding its particles together. This helps to improve soil texture and soil organic matter, both of which are important for better crop growth and yield.

Indirectly, soil aeration and water and nutrient mobility improve with soil structure and organic matter content.

Final Thought

Organic gardening is an important avenue to achieving sustainable agriculture in the world today. The more households take to organic gardening, the better the food availability and eradication of hunger and starvation. However, employing the smartest gardening techniques will greatly improve the yield and attraction of organic gardening.

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