Since my last post about the garden things have started to take off out there. The soil amendments (compost and beneficial microbes) have given the plants and more importantly the soil a boost. There is now a profusion of flowers in the garden with everything seemingly starting to open up. The first flush of radishes I planted have started to flower and rather than pull them up (some of the radishes themselves were very small) I decided to let them go to seed so I can save the seeds for later this year or next. The peas are in full bloom as are many of the pole beans I have planted. There are even flowers on some of the pepper and tomato plants! I’m looking so forward to home grown peppers and tomatoes! The only tomatoes in the world worth eating are local. Otherwise, they are a waste of time…
Walking around the neighborhood I compare my garden beds with those of some of the folks who live near me. The contrast is immediately apparent. The people in this neighborhood garden in a much more “typical” fashion than I do. This is evidenced by the straight rows, the weed mats, the distance between plants, and the single crop variety plantings in each row. This type of design goes against the grain of what a natural ecosystem does when it functions untouched by humanity. Seldom if ever will there be an ecosystem featuring a straight line of anything nor will there be only one living thing allowed (which is the goal of chemical growing). Proponents of this type of garden (or farm) will say that it is easier to harvest this way. That may be true to a point, but it is also a lot easier for the pests to find and decimate a crop too, when a garden or farm is planted in the conventional straight row, mono-cropped way.
Some people think that all those straight rows look orderly, neat, and tidy. I disagree. To me they look chaotic and indicative of a mindset that says, “humanity can tame nature and bend it to our will,” which is not only arrogant but demonstrably false, jsut watch the news sometime for evidence. In reality, we’ve found that these types of systems generally create more work (repetitive plowing, tilling, weeding etc) and the need for more inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides) to deal with the symptoms of a system that is wholly out of whack. Those systems are out of whack because too much soil is left bare and often compacted which decreases soil oxygen levels and the ability for water to infiltrate to the roots rather than running off. Biodiversity is hindered because of mono-cropping, and the use of chemicals. Barring some amazing new bio-remediation technology that miraculously and near instantaneously wipes away years of human chemically based mistakes and the rapid burning of carbon the best thing we can do is work to restore balance to natural systems through bio-mimicry and fostering biodiversity in our gardens, lawns, farms, parks, and natural areas.
Observation is the key. A garden designed and planted using permaculture design techniques and with natural systems in mind is a good place to observe and interact with nature. My garden is ALIVE with LIFE which is a stark contrast to a conventional garden or farm which is a chemically induced dead zone. I see butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators flitting from flower to flower while praying mantis and lady bugs wait for a garden pest to wander by and become their next meal. The open spaces in the soil between intentionally planted seeds and transplants is being filled by “weeds” such as purslane, which is a nutritious edible plant. Bonus food! Sure there is some grass coming up here and there. There are some bugs taking some nibbles out of my plants. That’s why I planted so much is such a small space. I leave most of the weeds where they are. They are performing a valuable service, even if they are not edible as they hold the soil in place. Worms aerate the soil for me allowing oxygen in which fosters microbial life which in turn creates a more balanced, healthy soil ecosystem.
Humanity can only be as healthy as the natural environment that surrounds us. We require healthful, nutrient dense food in order to thrive. Growing our food in a system that is unnatural, out of balance, and that is predicated upon ecological destruction is bound to create problems as is evidenced by the rates of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases so prevalent in the developed world today. A potential agricultural crisis is looming as a result too of the conventional agricultural model. Soil loss, ground water shortages, infertility, and the abject failure of the biotech industry to safely feed people all MUST be addressed. We can make a good start by getting back to the garden a la Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Start now. Grab a shovel, dig a bed. Plant it, tend it, and watch it thrive. Permaculture is a revolution disguised as gardening. Follow me down the rabbit hole!