Veganism is not only a diet: it is a lifestyle. Vegans reject animal-based products, and base their lives around the avoidance of these products. Because human society is dependent on the utility and consumption of animals, maintaining a vegan lifestyle is challenging: the abundance of animal-based products severely restricts the options of vegans, and requires them to be conscious of their decisions so that they can remain true to their lifestyles.
Because vegans depend primarily on vegetation to sustain themselves, it would be natural for them to turn to garden to meet their dietary needs. However, gardening – like all parts of society – is rife with the trappings of non-vegan production. There are numerous factors to consider when cultivating a garden through vegan means.
What veganic fertilizers can be used?
Because plants receive their nutrients from decaying matter, most fertilizers are derived from animal blood, bones, byproducts, and feces (Corn, 2016). For slaughter houses and non-vegan gardeners, this is a convenient means of utilizing more parts of an animal and preventing them from going to waste; for vegan gardeners, however, this not only further capitalizes on the suffering of animals, but also contaminates their plants with animal byproducts and deprives them of essential nutrients (Corn, 2016). A major factor in veganic gardening is finding an alternative to these animal-based fertilizers, so that their plants can grow to their fullest potential.
There are various factors to consider when choosing a fertilizer: how it can be obtained, how much investment it needs, how it should be used, and how much it can be used (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012). Not all fertilizers work the same, so they must be obtained and applied accordingly. Many fertilizer companies also sell vegan variants of their products, made up of nutrients and mineral mixtures to nourish plants based on specific needs; however, because many of these companies aren't exclusively vegan, so it is imperative to look for a veganic organic guarantee before proceeding with a purchase (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012). Another source of fertilizer is compost: with the appropriate amount of space, gardeners can break down their green refuse to put back in their garden, providing a free source of minerals at the expense of consistency (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012).
Some veganic fertilizers are crops in themselves, and need to be grown before being tilled into gardens. This so-called “green manure” includes fast growing crops such as wheat, rye, oats, vector, and clover (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012). These crops are terrific sources of nitrogen, which can be passed on to future crops, and also prevent erosion and weed growth (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012).
Other fertilizers are to be used sparingly, either because they have a specific purpose or are extracted in a way that is destructive to the environment (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012). For instance, lime is to be used for lowering the pH levels of soil, and wood ash has an alkalizing effect which makes it incompatible with certain crops (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012). Likewise, gypsum, dolomite, and green sand are rich in minerals but have to be mined (Rutherford-Fortunati, 2012).
How can pests be controlled through veganic means?
Chemical pesticides are used as a direct means of eradicating pests; however, their toxicity can threaten the health of plants and other life. Therefore, veganic gardeners must look to organic alternatives to ensure not only the health of their crops, but also the ecosystem surrounding their garden. One means of veganic pest control is using botanically-derived agents to kill pests: diseases can be cultivated and spread amongst pest populations, and minerals such as sulfur and pyrethrum can be used to kill their respective organisms (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com). Likewise, gardeners can attract predators to feed on pests: bird feeders, frog ponds, nectar-producing plants for wasps and hover flies, and hiding places for spiders (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com). They may also purchase carnivorous insects such as ladybugs or preying mantises, but because this actively uses animals for human benefit, it is up to the gardener to decide whether this falls within their ethics.
However, killing any animal, even ones that hinder their capability to harvest crops, is often against the ethics of veganic gardeners (Koschel, 2012). Therefore, non-violent means may also be considered: crop rotation, diversification (Vegan Agriculture Network, 2011), garden hygiene (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com), cultivating secured garden beds away from the reach of pests, distractions such as compost piles and “sacrificial” crops (Koschel, 2012), and ultrasound devices to scare off rodents and lagomorphs. These methods require more flexibility from gardeners, but their ability to negate the livability of pests as a factor in gardening make them an important consideration with potential long-term benefits.
A seemingly counter-intuitive means of pest control is to let the pests go undisturbed. As destructive as they may seem to gardeners, they are an important part of local ecosystems, as they remove diseases from plant populations and provide food for carnivorous animals (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com). They most frequently go after unhealthy crops, or those unsuited for the environment, which allows the survivors to sew their seeds for a more fruitful, pest-resistant yield (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com). This natural selection also applies to the pests themselves: to kill them in mass quantities will not only deprive their predators of food, but it will allow the strongest pests to breed, leading to a more destructive pest population the following year (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com). Therefore, pest populations should only be actively controlled if they exist in disproportionate sizes (Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com).
What other factors should be considered with veganic gardening?
Even when a product itself is veganic, the means which it was made available for distribution may not be so. Many gardening companies serve conventions products alongside their vegan counterparts (Rutherford-Fortunati, Alisia, 2012), and to purchase the latter would be indirectly benefiting the former. The products themselves may have been genetically modified, sprayed with chemicals, (Rutherford-Fortunati, Alisia, 2012), or fed with animal byproducts. Animals might be used somewhere in the company's line of production, either for their vegan products or elsewhere.
Veganic gardeners must put extra care into researching the companies they purchase from, to ensure that the products they use truly fall within their ethics. The most credible products come with a certification or guarantee, but gardeners must still look at to which extent the certification or guarantee lies.
Veganic gardening presents a wide array of options to work with, many of which deviate from conventional cultivation practices. Gardeners from all wakes of life will benefit from knowing these additional options, so that they can take adapt their techniques in ways that better suit their crops.
“Vegan Pest Control and Home Made Organic Pest Control Methods” Small-Farm-Permaculture-and-Sustainable-Living.com.
“Certified Organic – US” .Vegan Agriculture Network. October 3, 2011.
Corn, Nathaniel. “Veganic Gardening”. Vegetarian Journal. Vol. 3, 2016.
Koschel, Karen. “Non-Violent Pest Control in Your Vegan Organic Garden.” The Vegan Woman. January 11, 2012.
Rutherford-Fortunati, Alisia. “Easy Guide to Vegan Organic Fertilizers”. Gentle World. February 26, 2012.