Three Days of Climate Action to Restore our Earth

Earth Day 2021: It’s Time to Restore Our Earth

Happy spring! We hope you’ve managed to get outside and dig around in the dirt, smell the fresh air, and listen to the birds chirping as we welcome in some warmer weather and sunnier days. This month we celebrate Earth Day, with the 2021 theme Restore Our Earth. Earth Day has been around since 1970 and, according to the organization’s website, has grown such that “over 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.”

So how can you get involved? The theme Restore Our Earth encompasses so many aspects of life, and really when it comes to addressing climate change, every action helps. The best way to start is with small, achievable goals in your everyday life, such as using a reusable water bottle or eating vegetarian one day of the week (if you’re not already a veggie!). For more great actions and ideas, check out EarthDay.org’s “51 Ways to Restore Our Earth.”

We as gardeners have so much power to make a positive impact when it comes to restoring our Earth. Whether it’s installing a rain barrel, building an insect hotel, starting a compost pile, or adding more native plants to your garden, everything we do in our gardens has an effect on the planet! Here are three of my favorite garden-related topics that can help make your green thumb even greener:

Promote Pollinators
Bees and other pollinators are on the decline, and this is happening for a number of reasons. Among the most important drivers to this decline are habitat loss, increasing pesticide application, environmental pollution, decreased resources, invasive species, and disease. But don’t fret! We can help these invaluable pollinators survive and thrive by providing habitat, leaving dead leaf cover or building an insect hotel. We can plant a variety of natives that bloom throughout the season to provide a constant source of food. We can also adopt pest-control practices that reduce reliance on chemical sprays. Lastly, we can participate in citizen science initiatives that will help us better understand what’s happening to pollinators and why.

Save Water and Reduce Runoff
We all know Virginia weather – it’s about as predictable as a UVA Basketball game, but that’s what keeps life exciting, or disappointing, depending on the day! If you, like many of us, get a bit anxious in the summer trying to figure out when the next rain storm is due, it’s an added comfort to have a rain barrel as backup to keep your greenery, well, green. Installing drought-resistant plants and having a good water-flow management system on your property can maximize how efficiently you use rainwater, and decrease your need for the hose. All the while you’re saving money, saving water, and preventing potentially harmful runoff from entering our waterways. It’s a win-win-win!

Reduce Food Waste
We all have this issue: what do we do with the food left over on our plate? What do we do with the tops of carrots or potato skins? Dumping food straight into the trash bin is maybe the easiest option, but certainly not the most economical nor eco-conscious. Did you know that organic matter in landfills is the 3rd leading human-related cause of methane emissions in the U.S.? Your food scraps are like nutritious gold for your garden, so don’t throw them away. Compost is great for the soil, holding 5-20x its own weight in water, controlling erosion, and actually sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gases. Economically, composting plays a huge role as well. The average American household wastes about 32% of the food it buys every year, translating to about $2,000 per household (or $240 billion nationwide).  At home, composting can give you a much clearer idea about what you are throwing out, and can begin to shape your grocery lists and consuming habits to help you save food and money while keeping good waste out of the landfill. To learn more about how to reduce food waste, check out this Timely Topic post from last summer. To learn more about backyard composting, check out this article in the Garden Shed (2018).

Another great option is to give your vegetable scraps an extra shot at life. Collect potato peels, onion scraps, carrot tops, garlic, and herbs on their last legs and store them in a resealable bag or container in the freezer. When you’ve filled the container, combine the scraps in a large stock pot with 8 cups of cold water and a bay leaf or two, and some salt and pepper. Bring it to a gentle simmer and do not cover. After an hour, turn off the heat, strain out the vegetable scraps (next stop: compost), and voila – you have a delicious, unique, homemade vegetable stock.

For more information and to learn how you can make an impact this Earth Day, check out their website.

Prepared by Sara Albrecht

Resources

“Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers,” Simon G. Potts et al., Cell Press, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 25, Issue 6, 2010.

“Basic Information about Landfill Gas,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), 2021.

“15 Benefits of Composting for the Environment, the Economy, & Our Communities,” Alma Rominger, Grow Ensemble, 29 Jun. 2020.

“Estimating Food Waste as Household Production Inefficiency,” Edward C. Jaenicke & Yang Yu, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 23 Jan. 2020.

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