Why you should plant an ecological garden
Are you tired of all the hard work you are putting into your traditional garden. Work such as weeding, feeding and a strict planting schedule. If you are like me you miss the planting season and forget about letting beds rest during the cooler months of the year when they produce nothing at all and your garden ends up a disaster.
Other duties such as having to adjust the inbalances in the soil and to plant green manure crops and add inorganic fertilisers plus chemicals to the soil all take their toll of your time especially if your aim is to produce food for your family the whole year round.
Surely there must be an easier way to go about gardening.
So how does nature do things?
In nature a forest does not have to think how to grow, its soil never has to be turned and no one comes around to plant seeds or take pH tests. If weeds grow no one pulls them up and no one sprays poisonous chemicals to get rid of them.
In a traditional vegetable garden people always focus on the problems. All the gardening books one reads tell you how to solve the problems and when you have solved one you have created a whole list of new ones, so all you seem to be doing the whole time is solving problems caused by problems caused by problems.
It's a vicious circle!
Consider this traditional garden practise and see how it escalates into a whole host of problems.
In your traditional vegetable garden you have planted rows of vegetables and in between the rows are bare patches where nothing is growing. To you its just normal as you have planted your garden this way for years. If you look at your garden as an ecologist might you will think of the bare patches as empty niche spaces.
In nature these empty spaces are an invitation for new plants to grow and in your garden this is most probably weeds. What would an ecologist call a weed? Of course it's a niche filler. I suppose you already know from experience that weeds are very good niche fillers otherwise they would not be called weeds.
So now you have a garden full of weeds, normally too many to count and you have heard that a hoe is a good tool to eliminate them with. In you go with your hoe and turn over all the weeds till they are covered by soil. Many gardening books advocate this method as well so your thinking is not wrong or is it?
Are you aware that by using a hoe in your vegetable patch that you are creating another problem?
By turning the weeds you are exciting them and in the process are creating a whole new explosion of weeds to fill the gaps of those you have just eliminated. A second problem created by turning the soil is that you are upsetting soil ecology. The top layer of any soil is normally dry and structureless and by turning it you are moving deeper structured soil to the surface and burying the structureless soil underneath.
This method of gardening over time will deepen the layer of structureless soil in your garden. As structureless soil holds far less moisture than structured soil your garden will need far more water to keep your plants alive. In addition this top layer of soil now has a problem of passing on its nutrients effectively resulting in us gardeners having to add fertilisers all the time.
Unbeknown to many gardeners many fertilisers that are expected to fertilise the soil in fact don't do so. They instead kill the soil biology which is very important in building the soil structure and plant nutrient availability. Soil like most things can only take so much abuse and then it dies. When is does it doesnít have the correct balance of nutrients to grow fully developed foods. The end of the sorry tale is that foods grown in these dead depleted soils will actually lack vitamins and minerals.
Scientists studying soil and agriculture are already agreeing that today's gardening methods do not allow soil time to enrich itself but cause it to depend on chemical fertilisers that don't replace the wide variety of nutrients plants and humans need. They have also found that foods grown commercially over the past 60 years have experienced a significant reduction in nutrient and mineral content
If you have been following what I have written so far you will have noticed that by hoeing and destroying the weeds in our gardens we have actually created a number of new problems. Our soil now has a lower water-holding capacity and is infertile. Foods being produced in this soil are low in nutrients so people are getting less benefit from the foods they eat.
It seems that having a traditional garden where all we do is to try and solve problems is the problem inour gardens in this day and age.
Good News!! All is not lost!
There is a technique that will combine pest ecology, plant ecology, soil ecology and crop management into a method that addresses the causes of the problems discussed above. The technique should also be efficient enough to be economically viable and also to be able to produce enough food, per given area, to compete against traditional gardening techniques.
Jonothan White an ecologist has been testing a new ecologically-based method of growing food for several years. His method uses zero tillage, zero chemicals, has minimal weeds and requires a fraction of the physical attention that traditional gardens need. His garden produces several times more food per given area than a traditional garden does and provides food every single day of the year.
He has set up his ecologically-based garden in such a way that it mimics nature and his garden looks and acts like a natural ecosystem. Succession layering of plants (just as we see in natural ecosystems) offers natural pest management and also naturally eliminates the need for crop rotation, the resting of beds or green manure crops.
Soil management is addressed in a natural way, and the result is that the soilís structure and fertility gets richer and richer, year after year. Benefits of this method are the automatic regeneration of plants through self-seeding which occurs naturally as dormant seeds germinate and fill the empty niche spaces with desirable plants instead of weeds.
Unfortunately selling this concept to traditional gardeners is going to be difficult as gardeners have over the years developed ways of doing things and are not willing to change old habits. This ecologically-based method requires so little human intervention that many people will probably get frustrated with the lack of needing to control whatís happening.
Ecologically-based gardening takes the mysticism of being an expert out of gardening so much so that a veteran gardener could actually feel threatened when an embarrassingly simple solution comes along.
Weeds and gaps in your beds causing you problems? Change your gardening methods to ecologically-based methods and watch your garden flourish.
Email Geoff Fairman
6 Bothma Street, Monte Vista 7460 South Africa
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Eco Vegetable Garden
Page Updated 5.5.2016
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