In our series of monthly challenges we are looking for small changes we can make to better align ourselves with nature, and thereby make a difference for our Earth, and ourselves too. As we enter into the warmer part of our year, let's have a look at how we can better align our outdoor spaces with this goal.
It is outside that we feel closest to nature. Being outside, breathing the fresh air, feeling the warm sun has a profound effect on our mental and physical health. Nature works in an amazing cyclical way to support life, and it doesn’t really need us humans to do anything for that process to continue. But because the human race has disrupted many of these natural processes, it does need us to help reverse some of the damage done, so that it can get back to it’s natural rhythm.
Plants are life
Trees and plants play a huge part in our own and our planet’s well being. Not only do they produce oxygen which we all need, and feed and provide habitats for important pollinators. But they are also incredibly effective at capturing and storing CO2. In fact, a worldwide tree planting program, could remove as much as two thirds of emissions from human activities! So how we can we help?
One plant at a time
If we all slowly but surely start filling our outdoor spaces with a mixture of trees, flowering plants and food producing plants, we can make a huge difference in the quality of air we breathe, as well as the stability of the soil and the survival of pollinators. Just start with one plant and you have already made an impact.
If possible, look at adding plants that are native to your area, as they have had plenty of time to adapt to your climate, ensuring better success.
If you have the opportunity to plant a larger area like a planter, flower bed or garden, choose a variety of plants and trees that support your family (fruit trees, vegetables and herbs) and the very important pollinators of your eco-system (a variety of native flowers).
Lawns are very prevalent especially in cityscapes, and they might look tidy. But they require a lot of watering, hundreds and even thousands of gallons over the course of a spring and summer season, depending on its size. To care for them we need fuel or energy for lawn mowers, and in return they don't provide food or shelter for pollinators. Consider replacing or reducing the size of your lawn in favour for the plants mentioned above.
Closing the loop
Closing the loop is a concept used by permaculture which refers to looking at our outdoor space as a cyclical eco-system. How can we stop any loss of energy and recycle waste into our system?
For example, can we collect rainwater and use that as a source of moisture for our gardens? Can we take advantage of the elements within our outdoor space for the most effective use of space? Where is there sun? Shade? Wet areas? Dry areas? Are there windy spots where tall plants wouldn't do so well? Spend a little time just observing your space. The idea here is to work with the conditions nature is already providing and aligning ourselves with them.
To keep a closed loop, we also want to do our best to not release the CO2 already stored in the soil, or expose the soil to the sun and the wind which destroys the nutrients within. The best way to accomplish this is to use a no-till approach to planting, in order to disturb the soil as little as possible.
Adding mulch around our plants helps retain moisture which reduces the amount of watering needed, and it also helps protect the soil and keeps weeds at bay without the need for chemicals. You can mulch with straw, leaves or other natural materials found in your outdoor space.
And lastly, the waste produced from your outdoor space (leaves, grass clippings, food scraps ) can be turned into nutrient rich humus through composting. When added to our plants, this humus feeds the soil so it keeps producing happy, healthy plants. We talk about the positive effects of composting on our landfills in our Kitchen Challenge.
If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space of your own, there are still ways you can connect with nature and do your part:
- Keep houseplants inside.
- Grow herbs, sprouts or microgreens on your counter.
- Go outside and clean up public spaces.
- Join a community garden
- Consider giving to organizations that are planting trees all around the world (I love the work Treesisters are doing)!
Nature will benefit you the most, if you take the time to be in it. Barefoot if possible! We have a whole other article on Earthing, or grounding because I felt it needed it’s own exploration. But until then, the important thing is that the more time we spend in nature, the more we connect with it, understand it and respect it. And that is great for our own health, and our planet’s.
Remember, this year we are all about small, incremental but consistent changes that will all lead to our improved well being. Don't get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. It doesn't all have to happen at once. Start small and let each change inspire the next.
Nature Aligned Action Steps for your Outdoor Space
1. Plant trees and plants, and try to be mindful of what you plant so that everything serves a purpose.
a) Choose native plants as they will have adapted best to your growing conditions and will best serve the pollinators and birds in your area.
b) Mindfully choose a combination of plants that will feed your family and the pollinators so important to the balance in our nature.
2. Close the loop!
a) Collect rainwater and use the elements to work for you, rather than against you.
b) Choose a no-till approach to planting and gardening, to keep as much CO2 sequestered in the soil as possible.
c) Recycle yard and food waste for mulch and compost, so that your outdoor space works as a natural cycle.
3. This is bigger than our yards. Grow what you can indoors, clean up public outdoor spaces around you, and consider donating to organizations planting trees around the world.
4. Spend time in nature! Whether you have your own outdoor space or take advantage of access to parks and other public spaces - taking time daily if possible, to connect with nature will benefit you in so many ways.