Backyard environmentalists

There are more than 2000 community gardens in Australia.

Sam Talbot

There are lots of ways to be an environmentalist and whether big or small there are a lot of ways to play your part for the environment. Sometimes helping the environment can sound intimidating but the great outdoors is closer than you think.

We often talk about exotic destinations in the Great Australian Outdoors but the great outdoors is also your own backyard or garden. This means just about anyone, just about anywhere, can be an environmentalist. You could start a compost, create a vertical garden or even become an apiarist (beekeeper). Here are a few simple ideas about how you can be an everyday environmentalist in your own backyard.

Community gardens

There are more than 2000 community gardens across Australia and most of these are shining examples of sustainability and organic permaculture. But as Australian City Farms & Community Gardening Network President Naomi Lacey explains, no two community gardens are alike.

“Community gardens are as diverse as communities themselves. Some have compost bins, worm farms, chickens, flowers and anything else you might find in a garden. Plus, most of them have a wealth of knowledge from lifetime gardeners ready to impart their knowledge,” said Naomi.

“They are amazing spaces for food security and people share the produce they make. There’s also mental health benefits and they get the kids outside.”

If you’re an expert gardener, community gardens are a great way to share your experience and if you’re less of a green thumb, they’re a great place to learn. You can find a community garden by searching on communitygarden.org.au or just by wandering around your own neighbourhood until you locate one.

Community gardens can be anywhere: a small vertical produce garden in the city between large apartment buildings or a bush tucker themed garden run by an indigenous community in the remote Outback. You never know where a slice of the great Australian outdoors will pop up and its own limit is your imagination.

Beehives

Most of us know how important bees are to our environment and without the useful pollinators our ecosystem would likely collapse. Bees are also responsible for pollinating almost 90 per cent of all our food so it’s important we try to keep them around. Plus, they just so happen to produce delicious honey.

Backyard beekeeping has been around for a long time, but with modern beehive designs the barrier to entry has become very low. Many of the hives that can be purchased come with taps attached to them for easy honey access and less chance of being stung. There are also countless guides online to walk you through the whole process.

If you live in a warmer part of Australia, you can recruit stingless native Australian bees to your hives. However, if you live further south than Sydney, European bees will be your best option and even though they aren’t native, they do produce more honey than the 11 Australian bee varieties.

So, if you have the time and space, backyard beekeeping is a great way to improve your garden and the entire environment while you’re at it. Not to mention the sweet pot of honey you’ll probably obtain out of it for your troubles. Some laws do apply with beekeeping at a state level though, so it’s best to double check what rules apply to you before getting started.

Composting

If you have a garden or even a backyard, but you don’t have a compost then you’re missing out. A compost can dramatically improve your garden, suppress any disease break-outs and help limit greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a great way to learn more about the foods you eat and how they turn into food for your garden.

All the old principles still hold true; add ‘green’ and ‘brown’ layers one at a time, don’t throw in any animal products and make sure you give it a good mix every so often. There are also some new tools to help with your composting you might not know about.

Spinning tubs can be used to make mixing your compost easier, while Bokashi bins can ferment food scraps in smaller homes such as apartments. Worm farms have become increasingly popular and are a real environmental powerhouse. No matter where you live there’s a composting solution for everyone and making the most of your food or garden scraps is an easy way to earn some environmentalist points.

The great outdoors can pop up anywhere.

Biodegradable coffins

It can be a touchy subject to think about, but it’s a simple fact we are all going to die one day. While that can be morbid to think about, the impact you have when you are six feet under doesn’t have to be morose for the environment. More and more Australians are ditching traditional coffins and choosing eco-friendly alternatives. Instead of treated wood, many Australians are opting for the types of coffin that break down and compost more easily. A lot of people find it comforting to see a tree grow from the ground where their loved one has been laid to rest.

An increasingly popular coffin alternative is cardboard. This might sound flimsy but they come with all the usual handles and escutcheon a normal coffin does and the high-quality ones can hold up to 800kg. Untreated pine coffins are another low CO2 option and like cardboard coffins they biodegrade. In fact, many of the chemically treated wood coffins are almost definitely still intact underground, no biodegrading at all. There are many coffin selections to choose from made out of recycled products and the best part is they are all biodegrade, allowing corpses to reabsorb into nature.

Taking it a step further, some graveyards in Australia are starting to offer burials with no coffin at all. Although the rules are different around the country, there is a growing trend towards being buried in a general area, rather than directly under a tombstone. The idea of being a part of a lush ‘wet’ forest is catching on around the world with more people preferring it to the usual ‘dry’ (even spooky) cemetery. And who wouldn’t want to become compost? You are able to be a true environmentalist even from beyond the grave!

Environmentalists help to save the planet and eat their own delicious produce.

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