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Gardening for Wildlife and People
I love gardening. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my father and I working together in the garden on Long Island, New York. I even weeded the garden back then (at least that is what I tell my children today).
The nuturing spirit is alive and well with any gardener. It is so exciting to see small seeds explode with life and provide so much. It is a wonder that never ceases to amaze me.
No Garden is Too Small
Before moving to Vermont, I had a small garden in my first home in Metuchen, New Jersey (remember, it’s called the Garden State for good reason). While it took a lot of work to build the raised bed, we grew what at the time seemed like a steady diet of terrific veggies and herbs.
Gardening in Vermont
Now we live in Vermont and I went from a postage stamp of a house in Jersey to a house on two acres (it seems like five acres to me). One of the first things we did was to plow a 60 x 90 feet area that used to be just grass to make way for a new vegetable garden. It has taken me three years (with big-time help from my amazing next door neighbor, who has a real tractor and plenty of manure) to make this garden into a humming, productive space where veggies and — yes — even some flowers can thrive.
A garden can be a great place for wildlife and creatures of all kinds. I am lucky that I can plant a lot more than what my family needs, so I don’t sweat “nature’s cut” of the proceeds. In the morning, I still smile when a rabbit jumps out of nowhere, reminding me that I have a lot to share with wildlife. My son Seth never tires of the refrain, “Look! A toad!” He loves to see all the creatures thriving in the garden.
Gardening for Others
This year’s garden has become even more exciting because I have been able to share food with people in need. This week
I made my first pilgrimage to the local food pantry. I donated a big box of fresh lettuce. How sweet is that? There are a lot of “plant a row for the hungry” programs around the country.
Gardening for Wildlife
These wonderful experiences also led me to get my backyard certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It is a great feeling, but more importantly it reminded me of some simple wildlife needs, including: providing food, water, cover, and a place to raise young. While I live in Vermont and all these needs are met right across the street in a big town forest, I wanted to make sure they existed on my property too. Going through the certification process identified that I needed to provide a better water source for wildlife. I encourage everyone to sign up. It is fun out there!
Some gardening for wildlife tips:
Everyone needs to eat! Planting native forbs, shrubs and trees is the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to survive and thrive. You can also incorporate supplemental feeders and food sources.
Wildlife need clean water sources for many purposes, including drinking, bathing and reproduction. Water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands; or human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens.
Wildlife require places to hide in order to feel safe from people, predators and inclement weather. Use things like native vegetation, shrubs, thickets and brush piles or even dead trees.
Wildlife need a sheltered place to raise their offspring. Many places for cover can double as locations where wildlife can raise young, from wildflower meadows and bushes where many butterflies and moths lay their eggs, or caves where bats roost and form colonies.
How you maintain your garden or landscape can have an important effect on the health of the soil, air, water and habitat for native wildlife–as well as the human community nearby. Reducing chemical use, composting, mulching and reducing turf grass in your yard are important steps to gardening greener.