Most of the talk about energy saving seems to centre on distinctly “indoor” things, such as light-bulbs, insulation and efficient appliances, but there’s also scope to do your bit outdoors too. Although there’s obviously nowhere near the scope to cut energy usage in the garden as there is in the rest of the average home, there are one or two places where savings can be made and as that famous supermarket slogan goes, “every little helps”.
Power driven tools are wonderful things, especially for those big jobs, but their convenience can sometimes mean that we reach for them automatically, rather than stopping to think whether they’re necessary – or even appropriate – for the job. Granted, no one in their right mind is going to cut a half-acre lawn with a push-mower, or prune 30 yards of hedge with a pair of secateurs, but it is often worth asking yourself if a small job really needs a 1000-watt motor or 200cc engine to get things done.
Solar lighting has come on in leaps and bounds over the last ten years or so and there’s almost no limit to the sort of effects you can achieve with it now. Part of the reason for this has been the widespread adoption of LED technology which form highly energy efficient “bulb” systems for many of the latest versions, and solar cells have improved a lot too. The combination has brought gardeners everything from some surprisingly bright, PIR-activated security lights to submersible mood lighting for ponds.
The same improvements have also helped make a wide range of pumps, aerators and even entirely self-contained water features widely available from even the most modest of garden centres and at prices that are now very affordable. The cost of pumps in particular has tumbled and it’s no longer necessary to contemplate a small mortgage to buy a quite reasonable unit that will happily cope with the needs of a typical garden pond. You still get what you pay for, of course, and the cheaper models really don’t have a great deal of power, but if you choose wisely, solar-power has a lot to offer – and some of the new pumps even have built-in batteries to keep the flow going when the sun pops behind the clouds.
In the Greenhouse
Unfortunately, there aren’t really many ways to save energy when it comes to heating the greenhouse, although some people have found that adding an extra radiator from a gas or solid fuel central heating system – with a good individual thermostat attached – can work out cheaper than heating electrically. Never-the-less, there are still ways to save energy without compromising on your growing conditions, and two of the best involve air and water.
Ensuring adequate ventilation and stopping things getting too hot can be a big problem in the summer, especially if you’re away at work when the weather turns unexpectedly hot. One of the neatest solutions around is a solar-powered fan. There are plenty of versions available, and some of the most elegant combine the PV cell with the body of the fan itself; all you need do is cut an appropriate sized hole, mount the unit and relax. The more the sun shines, the faster the fan moves and the greater the air flow – a simple, self-regulating approach to ventilation and not a mains cable in sight!
While all that good weather’s going on, you’ll certainly not want your plants to be drying out, but if you have to be away from home during the day, the problem’s the same. For many working greenhouse enthusiasts, electronic watering timers have been the answer, but if you’re interested in saving even that admittedly small amount of power, there is an alternative – capillary irrigation. Very simply, you stand your pots on the purpose made mat and fill up the reservoir; as the water gets drawn out of the compost, the mat replenishes the supply, ensuring that your precious plants get what they need, when they need it – and they don’t have to wait for a timer to come to their rescue.
Embedded energy is one area where the gardener can really make a difference, particularly in terms of two of the most fundamental gardening needs – compost and water. Producing commercially sold compost and mains water both requires a surprisingly heavy input of energy, from the cleaning and sanitising processes involved, right the way up to the moment it arrives at your garden.
There’s nothing new about the idea of collecting rainwater or making your own compost; after all, gardeners have been doing both for centuries. Only the emphasis has changed and today carrying on that tradition in your own back garden can be as helpful in cutting your carbon footprint as it always has been in saving valuable resources, but then they do say there’s nothing new under the sun!