As an ethical vegan, I try to incorporate veganism into all areas of my life. This means, in addition to avoiding meat, eggs, dairy, gelatin, honey, etc. in my diet, I abstain from wool, leather, and other animal-derived items in daily life. It’s pretty surprising how many animals products find their way into consumer goods (soaps, fabric softener, shoe soles, car tires, fertilizers,…) and you just have to do the best you can to avoid them and find reasonable alternatives, if possible.
Of course, veganism finds its way into gardening as well, through the avoidance of manure, fish meal, chicken dung, feather meal, bone meal, and blood meal in potting soils and fertilizers. There are loads of resources online to find out more about these byproducts and why they’re problematic. (Personally, I avoid these things because they’re largely byproducts of farmed animals and financially support and condone the animal agriculture industry.) What’s a little more difficult to figure out is what substitute products to use and where to find them. A lot of people make their own compost and then mix that, top soil, coconut coir or peat moss (coir is a little more environmentally friendly), perlite, and veg-friendly fertilizer to make their own vegan potting soil. That’s great, but for the lazier folks (me), it’s nice to find a pre-mixed commercial product. Don’t get tricked into thinking organic=vegan, either! A lot of organic products are worse because they rely on animal-derived products rather than chemical fertilizers.
Here are the products I’ve been using lately. EcoScraps compost and potting soil use composted food scraps and can be found at Home Depot and Ace Hardware stores. Liquid seaweed is a great source of soluble potassium and trace minerals. I purchased my bottle on Amazon, though I think it’s fairly easy to find in retail stores. As for fertilizer, I found this chemical fertilizer at my grocery store. There are more “natural” vegan fertilizer powders online, but being strapped for cash recently, I couldn’t justify paying $11 of shipping for a $14 product. I also vermicompost my kitchen scraps (worm compost), which isn’t vegan but is a choice I’ve made because the worms aren’t killed and I feel like it’s more sustainable and ethical to do that than to throw my veggie scraps into a landfill (and I don’t have enough space on my balcony for a traditional compost pile).
The last thing I’ll touch upon is pest control. I try my best not to kill insects, but at some point you’ll just get overrun with aphids if you get too peace- loving. There are a few options, here:
1) Purchase ladybugs or lacewing larvae and set them loose on your plants. I’ve tried the lady bug thing and they basically just fly away without eating the aphids. Actually, more ended up wandering into my house than hanging out on the plants, and then got eaten by Rhodie. 😦 Another thing to consider is that these predatory bugs are bred in large scale facilities that are likely not too kind to the insects either in production or transportation.
2) Incorporate plants into your garden (yarrow is an example) to attract predatory insects or discourage/confuse/distract pests (e.g., onions, garlic, marigold, borage, nasturtiums). This is probably the best solution but is slow and depends on predatory insects to actually find your garden and the plants to turn away the majority of bugs). Hummingbirds eat aphids in addition to nectar, so consider hanging a hummingbird feeder near your plants.
3) The last, least vegan option is to kill off the pests, which is what I’ve resorted to. A simple soap solution will desiccate soft-bodied insects like aphids but won’t affect hard shelled insects. You can also use a high-powered hose to knock aphids off your plants. Since I don’t have a hose, I recycled an old spray bottle and mix a few drops of dish soap into some water. It works great. Just make sure it’s not too concentrated or you can burn your plants. Not that I’ve done that or anything……
Hope this helps any aspiring veganic gardeners. I’m still pretty new to the whole idea and have loads to learn so please share ideas or thoughts in the comments section!