I try to follow the five tenets of organic gardening when I am working in a garden or landscape or planning a new garden or landscape. I must admit that these are not my creations. Almost any website, blog, article, or video you find that speaks to regenerative agriculture or gardening will have a list along these lines.
This list is my take on for home gardeners working in small spaces. Much of the talk and research on regenerative agriculture speak to larger producers and market farmers. It has occurred to me that as important as it is that these large operators do what they can to make their operations more regenerative, the overall impact of small urban gardeners and landscapers all using regenerative practices would make such a huge impact as to be almost unimaginable.
As small urban growers, we cannot, of course, do the things that are encouraged for large producers. However, I believe there are ways that we can mimic many of these practices in our small spaces and achieve the same effects.
No-till is so important that I put it as number one of my list. Tilling the soil, whether it be by machine or by hand, disturbs and disrupts the microbiome present in the soil. For productive, healthy plants, there must be productive healthy soil to support them, and without a healthy soil biome, you cannot have healthy soil. Disturbing those top layers of soil as little as possible is critical to regenerating and building healthy soil
It isn’t just tilling that can harm or even destroy the microbiome in the top layers of the soil. Intense sunlight and heat can do the same sorts of damage. In our home gardens and landscapes, the importance of covering bare soil cannot be underestimated.
Nature abhors bare soil and has an answer for bare soil. We call them weeds. These plants are nature’s remedy for bare soil. Leaving bare soil in your landscape is an open invitation to weeds.
Keep your soil covered with mulch. Cover can be living mulch in the form of cover crops or cash crops. It can be organic mulch in the form of wood chips, straw, or any other form of natural organic material.
Consider a piece of land that is still in its undisturbed state. I am not talking about managed pastureland or farmed property. I am speaking of land that is just as it was 200 years ago. There isn’t much of that left, but there is enough to see what nature was like before man decided he could do it better.
There are no monocultures in nature. There is not a spot where one species grows alone. A natural prairie can have hundreds of species of grass, perennials, and annuals growing side by side. A forest is a complicated system with multiple layers that extend from far beneath the subsoil to the top canopy of the largest trees. By and large, the players in these systems all depend on one another.
Why should we think that monoculture gardening is manageable? Diversify your plantings in your garden and your landscape. Multicrop, cover crop, companion planting, and successional planting all have a place in our urban landscapes.
Living soil needs living roots. The organisms present in living healthy soil depend on having living roots in the soil as much of the time as possible. Plant cover crops where ever possible when your fruit crops are not in season. Your soil will benefit, and next spring, your fruiting crops will benefit as well. Remember, it is all about feeding the soil, not the plant.
I saved this one for last because it is the hardest for small space urban gardeners to grasp and to implement.
You must start to think of yourself as a livestock farmer as well as a gardener. Yes, you do have livestock in your small urban garden and landscape. In fact, you are probably a much larger livestock farmer than you imagine. The soil in your garden and landscape contains thousands of organisms. These organisms range in size from microscopic to the multitude of worms and other six-legged creatures that all work to keep your soil healthy and productive.
Your garden should also be filled with pollinators, beneficial insects, and other small animals that you may never see. They all have a place in the grand scheme of regenerating soil.
You are a livestock farmer
So you see, you are a livestock farmer, you just may not be able to see the majority of your creatures.
We also encourage those of you who can to integrate traditional livestock into your garden. The easiest for many urban gardeners are chickens. Many cities now allow small flocks of chickens in urban settings. Chickens can be a valuable asset in your garden and not just for the eggs they may produce. Chickens can reduce a pile of compost to small pieces in a matter of hours. If you have insect problems, let your chickens be your number one pest control operators. A small flock of chickens can clean up insects faster than you can ever imagine.
If you can’t manage chickens, cows, or goats into your setting, you can mimic the good they do by introducing their manure into your soil amendment plan. Organic material that has gone through the gut of large livestock such as cows, horses, and goats contains micro-organisms and enzymes that no synthetic fertilizer can ever mimic. The judicious use of manure in your composting and as soil amendments can help keep the diversity of your soil biome (your livestock if you will) healthy.
Following these five tenets will have some immediate benefits and many more long term benefits
- Immediately reduce soil loss from erosion
- Reduce nutrient loss in the soil by preventing runoff
- Returns the soil to a natural system of regeneration that provides a broader range of nutrients that are in the proper ratios.
- Improves soil tilth
- Aids in water infiltration and retention
Long Term you can expect
- Build new soil
- Reduce overall water use in your garden and landscape
- Produce more nutrient-dense foods
- Increase the number of organisms present in your soil and the number of creatures present in your landscape.
- Reduce the amount of labor in your garden and landscape
In truth, I think you will find that as you adopt these basic tenets for organic gardening and landscaping in your small urban space, they will spill over into your life in other ways. Organic gardening and landscaping tend to become a lifestyle that affects every aspect of your daily existence as you become more aware of how integrated and connected we are to the soil from which our food grows.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.
If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.
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