Sustainable Garden Starter Kit: 10 Must-Have Products for the New Green, Grower

A Black woman tending to her urban community garden.

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Ready to start a garden? Whether you're thinking indoor or outdoor, raised beds or containers, all-you-can-eat family produce or simple herbs, here's everything you need to get started. Bonus: Most of these products are eco friendly or encourage sustainable growing practices.

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Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom seeds in glass jars with brown paper labels.

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Even if your thumb isn't exactly green, knowing you need seeds to make your garden grow is a no-brainer. But why heirloom seeds? Modern seeds are often hybrids, bred to withstand commercial agricultural practices (like long trips to the supermarket on bumpy trucks and a stronger resistance to disease). Heirloom seeds, though, offer a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, a longer history (most have been around for at least 50 years -- which means five decades of cultivation), and you can be sure they're not genetically modified. Also: The end results taste way better. Ask for heirloom seeds at your garden center, or check out the selection at online sellers like Seed Savers, El Dorado, or Victory Seeds.

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A shovel in a wheelbarrow full of mulch.

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Mulching your garden is one of the simplest, greenest things you can do to keep your plants not just healthy, but thriving: It helps your soil trap moisture before it evaporates, so you can use less water, and it is an all-natural way to help stop weeds from popping up. The options for mulch are nearly endless: You can buy an organic version, or you can make your own natural -- and inexpensive -- version with reclaimed wood chips, grass clippings, pine needles, leaves, or hay.

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Organic Soil

Soil in pots and bags on a wood table.

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If you're planting outside, you probably have enough soil once you've tilled your plot -- but for raised beds or container gardens, you may need a bag of soil -- preferably an organic one, like Organic Mechanics, which is peat-free and made from compost, pine bark, and perlite. If you're checking out other brands at your local gardening center or nursery, look for those that are certified by OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute), and be wary if the first ingredient is poultry litter or manure: If the chickens aren't fed organic feed, then their manure isn't organic, either.

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Plant Pots

A tub being repurposed for a container garden.

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If you're working on building a container garden, then the most important step is also the most obvious: You need containers. Handy gardeners can DIY containers from just about anything -- cans, old wicker benches, used furniture, bottles, tubs -- so this is one area where a little creativity will save you a bundle of money. But if your enthusiastic recycling plan has left you without any spare containers, or if you want a more unified look for an indoor collection, then look for pots that are durable and eco-friendly, like these from Ecoforms. They're made from rice hulls recycled from production and natural binding agents, which are starch-based, water-soluble, and bio-degradable. The result is sturdy enough for outdoors, but also pretty enough to use indoors.

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"Carrots Love Tomatoes"

A man reads a book in a vegetable garden.

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To keep your garden organic, you'll need to find alternatives to using pesticides. Some of these methods are as simple as removing the bugs by hand (assuming your garden isn't too big) or blasting them with the hose. But another option is companion planting, which is a method that allows you to organize your garden so that groups of plants protect each other from pests -- for example, planting chives to keep aphids away from tomatoes. One of the most respected books on companion planting is Louise Riotte's "Carrots Love Tomatoes", which is packed with facts, illustrations, and tips for how to keep pests away from your garden -- without loading up on pesticides. (Carrots Love Tomatoes, $15)

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Rain Barrel

Detailed shot of a spout on a rain barrel.

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Using a barrel to capture and divert rainwater from your gutters means you always have a supply of H2O for your plants on hand -- even if your region goes a few days (or weeks) without rain. You can buy ready-to-use versions, like this one of recycled plastic from Smartware. The barrel is made from 98 percent recycled plastic -- milk jugs, in a former life -- and has stainless steel detailing to give it the look of an old whisky barrel, but a spigot and debris screen make it a thoroughly modern alternative. (Smartware Rain Barrel, $130)

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Garden tools hanging on wood in a shed.

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Every worker in every industry will tell you that a successful job means starting with the right tools -- and for aspiring gardeners, that means a trowel and hoe. The Radius NRG trowel has an ergonomic handle design that helps keep your wrist from getting sore after a long day of digging, and an aluminum head with straight edges that make scooping and root-cutting a breeze. (The company also offers weeders, cultivators, and spades with the same handle.) Rogue hoes are made with heads reconstructed from recycled steel -- so they're strong and sturdy -- and come in a variety of sizes for everyone from indoor herb growers to professional beet producers. The garden hoes are available with handles that are either 54 or 60 inches in length, so you can find the fit that works for you. (Roe Garden Hoe, $30)

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Kabloom Seedbom

A sunflower growing in an urban setting.

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On the other hand, if a perfectly laid out garden isn't the look you're going for, then a Kabloom Seedbom will take all the work out of plant selection. The seedboms are aimed at "guerilla gardeners" in the UK who want to surreptitiously grow flowers and plants in unused outdoor spaces, but they'll work in your yard, too: Just choose the variety of flowers you want to grow -- from options native to the UK and Ireland like sunflowers and wildflowers -- soak the seedbed, and then toss it in an area where you want the flowers to grow. The seedbed will do the rest.

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Herb Markers

Silverware spoons with herb identification written on them.

Courtesy of Daisy Chestnut

Once you've got your seeds planted, mulched, watered, and growing, the real trick comes in remembering what you planted where -- otherwise you could end up with basel in your guacamole and cilantro when you meant to use parsley. Plant markers are an easy way to keep track of your garden's layout -- and versions made from reclaimed silverware are pretty, personalized alternatives to the mass-produced ones at the store. Tell the seller what you're planning to grow and your own customized markers will include these hand-drawn sketches to help you tell them all apart.

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A black composting bin against a blue sky.

Courtesy of The Home Composters

If you're serious about getting your garden up and running, then a healthy compost pile is key: You can make it yourself, you can keep it organic, and it's the best natural fertilizer you'll find. But you will need somewhere to keep all that organic waste while it turns into a rich, healthy compost. There are plenty of bins and boxes out there, but the Combox modular compost system from The Home Composters lets you choose the size and shape based on what space you have for storage. You can also use different modules for different stages of the compost process, and plant flowers in ones that you aren't using anymore. (Combox, from about $50)