How could a vegetable garden not be vegan? I know it sounds ridiculous at first but most modern gardens are actually full of chemicals and animal products. There’s manure from huge farms and products like bone meal, blood meal, and fish emulsion which are leftovers from industrial agriculture and fishing.
Thankfully if you’d like to avoid these things it’s actually pretty easy to plan and grow a backyard garden free from animal suffering. Here’s a few tips.
Before you can decide how to design your garden and what your garden will need you’ll need to think about what crops you’d like to grow. Often the average backyard garden basically contains salad ingredients. As a plant based eater you come to the table knowing that gardens can provide so mush more! Some super easy crops include flour corn (make your own tortillas!), sweet potatoes, amaranth, soybeans, dry beans, peanuts, potatoes, and garlic.
As you’re choosing seeds you’ll want to consider the limitations of your space and time. Even if you have the space for an enormous garden you may decide on a small one. Putting tons of effort into a small garden will be more productive than not being able to fully tend a large one.
If you’re browsing for varieties here’s a few amazing seed companies to check out:
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Baker Creek Heirlooms
- High Mowing Seeds
Another thing to consider is whether you want to purchase hybrid, open-pollinated, or heirloom seeds. Hybrid seeds are the first generation cross of two varieties. They’re not GMO however if you want to save seed from year to year don’t pick hybrids. They typically don’t produce reliable offspring. All heirlooms are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms. Open pollinated simply means an established variety that does produce reliable offspring year after year. Heirlooms are those open-pollinated varieties which have been around since 1940 or before.
We often choose heirlooms in an effort to help preserve culture, history, and genetic diversity.
Design a Layout
A garden’s layout can actually be pretty important. It’s a wonderful melding of practically, beauty, and nature. The last being especially important in a vegan garden. Rather than relying on chemicals to rid your garden of pests and diseases you’ll rely on nature. One important feature is to mix crops together or interplant instead of growing large, sections of a single crop. This helps slow/prevent the spread of pests and disease and encourages beneficial birds and insects to visit your garden. Research companion planting for inspiration and more benefits. Growing plants with a variety of different heights and structures can also encourage birds to visit your garden.
You should also consider the features of your landscape. Gardens should get as much southern exposure as possible and most plants prefer fairly well drained soil. You may want to place your garden in an area you visit frequently, if you have the option, so you’re refined of what needs done and its easy to take your harvests right in to the dinner table.
Fertility & Crop Rotation
A large part of planning a vegan garden is planning how you’re going to add fertility to your garden. The modern school of thinking may have you believing that there’s no way to grow crops without animal products like manure or fish emulsion (yuck!). Thankfully we know from history and some modern cultures that you can grow crops without livestock. There were/are cultures in Africa, Asia, and the Americas that all produced large amounts of crops without any animal inputs.
In order to ensure your garden stays fertile and healthy without animal inputs you’ll want to create and write down a crop rotation plan. With the exception of perennials you’ll want to move crops to a different place in your garden every year. This is because different crops use different amounts of different nutrients and it helps keep pest and disease pressure down. In your plan you should also rotate through a section or two of cover crops. Cover crops add nutrients back into the soil and outcompete weeds. All cover crops add nutrients to the soil when you cut them back or they die and decompose but some crops like clovers and alfalfa are “nitrogen fixing” meaning they add fertility to the soil as they grow.
If you’re interested you can also find or make some natural, vegan garden inputs. Great options include:
- compost/compost tea
- liquid kelp
- grass clippings
- hay, straw, leaves
- wood ashes
We use grass clippings, hay, and leaves on our entire garden as mulch because they add fertility, hold in moisture, and block out weeds. We also use a little liquid kelp in when watering our transplants and use compost tea on plants in the garden as needed. Finally we spread all the ashes from our wood stove on our garden.
While you should avoid supporting animal agriculture, if you have rescue animals, composting their manure for use in your garden is absolutely fine. We compost the manure from our goat, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. It’s an excellent, eco-friendly way to deal with your furry or feathered friends waste. You don’t want to compost dog and cat feces or any pet litters that may have chemicals though.
I also recommend getting your soil tested. It’s super affordable and can help you determine what amendments your garden needs. Contact your local agricultural extension agency.
It may sound a little odd but no-till gardening is actually one of the most productive organic gardening methods. Going no-till keeps the soil healthy by reducing compaction and not disturbing beneficial insects and fungi. It also saves fossil fuels and prevents small animals from being harmed by the tiller. In order to go no-till you’ll need to keep on top of the weeds. Using mulch or cover crops are great options. They also help keep the soil moist and cool and prevent erosion.
If you don’t already have a garden started a good way to begin a no-till garden is to lasagna garden or create a hugelkultur mound. Lasagna gardening is super easy. Just lay down a layer of cardboard, a layer of hay, straw, or leaves, then a layer of soil/compost. Hugelkutlur is similar except is a larger mound with woody material like branches or logs making up the first layer of the bed. These slowly break down and release nutrients over time. They also help hold moisture.
A broad fork is a helpful tool for lifting soil in no till gardens. It creates air spaces in the soil but is not used to turn over the soil.
Keeping a Garden Journal
Even though it’s never as filled as I’d like each year I try to keep a garden journal. It’s super important for planning garden layouts and crop rotations! Mine also gets filled with things like order lists each winter, notes about problems or favorite varieties throughout the season, what I planted when, and any other random gardening related thoughts I come up with.
This can be even more important if you’re a new gardener. You think you’ll remember the name of that heirloom lettuce you loved this year but come order time it can be tough to remember.
Usually I use just any old notebook but this spring I started Gardener’s Log Book: 5 Year Planner from the New York Botanical Garden and I’ve been super happy with it. It’s water proof which is probably the most important thing about it to me. It looks perfect still even though I even forgot it in the garden overnight (whoops!). I also love that it has grids which makes my garden sketches much easier.
I do wish the sections were slightly larger though. That being said I have 3 good sized market gardens so I think the size is more than adequate for the average backyard gardeners.
* I received the journal for free to review but was not paid for a promotion. All opinions are my own.
Things to record in your journal:
- favorite varieties
- wildlife sightings and activity
- weather patterns
- planting/germination/bloom/harvest dates
- soil test results
- garden design
- crop rotation plan
- companion plants
Do you have a vegan garden? What’s your best tip?