Compost Cover Crops crop rotation Organic Gardening

Organic Gardening – Using practices that Enhance Nature’s Systems

Any practice that copies nature will enhance the systems she’s already put in place.

For more than 100 years the chemical industry has worked to dupe the public into believing the lie that nature is incompetent and needs help from synthetic chemicals to produce an abundance of healthy crops. When you know the facts — the false concept of nature being incompetent is absurd.

Fortunately for me and a lot of other organic gardeners who were (and still are) apprentices of nature but didn’t know a lot when we first started out —- knowing the bare essentials of nature’s ways will in most cases produce good crops either almost immediately or within 2 or 3 seasons depending on the condition of your soil.

I consider the bare essentials to be:

  • preparing your soil deeply when you first start out (only once is all that’s necessary)
  • adding organic materials on a regular basis to the soil
  • and covering the soil

All three practices interact perfectly with nature and are great starting points for any gardener.

As with anything — there is always something new to learn — and the more we know and the more we are attuned to nature’s ways — the greater our success as gardeners can be.

A Most Helpful piece of Information

One of the most helpful pieces of knowledge that I ever learned was that soils are living organisms. When we add compost and/or organic materials to the soil we are really feeding those organisms and THEY are the ones that feed our plants.

Just this year in my quest for more knowledge about the history of agriculture I’ve read of so many studies that proved the addition of chemical fertilizers is  one step towards the decline of the soil — most especially if they’re added continually.

(Regular use of chemicals and poisons kill the organisms that make up the soil. Without the microbes <the living organisms> — you can’t have good soil or good crops.)

Soils farmed by conventional agricultural methods have become almost totally depleted as a result of using chemicals and poisons. Pests have increased.

With the knowledge we have, you and I (and any other gardener who wants to) can reverse that process in our gardens. We can build good soils and decrease pests and disease.

Diversity — Apply it to Everything in your Garden

As you know already if you’re a regular reader — diversity is one of the things I talk about a lot. It’s an important principle of nature that will lead to gardening success.

Last year I read a very informative publication that was put together by a consultant and a technical officer of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Contributions to this publication were from groups all around the world.

It grabbed my attention with the following statement: (emphasis is mine)

Cover crops, intercropping and crop rotations can also help to promote biodiversity (variety of life) both below the soil surface and above ground. This diversity is important to maintaining a well-functioning and stable ecological system. Where many different types of organisms coexist, there are:

  • fewer problems with diseases,
  • (fewer)insects and nematodes;
  • more competition among species;
  • and more possibility for many types of predators (that eat the bad guys) to thrive

In such a situation, no single pest organism is able to reach a population of sufficient size to affect crop yield seriously.

Ideas for applying this information to YOUR garden:

  • Plan to use a variety of cover crops. When beds are going to be empty for a while — plant a cover crop. Rotate cover crops just like you rotate your veggie crops. Remember – the more diversity the better.

You want life to thrive below the ground and above the ground. So have plants growing in beds whenever you can — or at least have their remaining roots.

No need to go to the work of turning under the cover crop unless you prefer it. You will get excellent results (and sometimes better results) from cutting the crops at the base, leaving the roots in the ground, and laying the biomass on top of the bed.

  • Plant legumes like field peas in the spring in beds that will hold warm weather crops like tomatoes. Transplant your seedlings into the legume bed. Cut the legumes before they seed and lay the biomass on top of the bed. (This is one of the things I’m doing this year after reading about how well tomatoes perform when planted with field peas.)(Field peas are legumes.)


  • Interplant other various cover crops with crops like tomato, peppers and cukes.

Crimson clover is a good one to use. I’ve also interplanted buckwheat and even oats with these warm weather crops.

I cut the biomass either when they get too tall to suit me or before they seed. I lay it on top of the soil and sometimes cover with straw. I leave the roots in the ground to decay and act as food and shelter for soil microbes. The biomass and straw perform all the many functions of mulch including adding more organic matter to the soil.

(Cover crops have the most nutrients when they flower or just before they set seed.)

  • Plant cover crops in your garden paths. White clover is excellent for this. You can cut or mow it if it gets too tall.

I’m going to plant alfalfa in a few paths this year. Walking on it should keep it matted down a bit. If not, I’ll cut it when it gets too tall. Alfalfa roots can go down 15 feet or more. (Nice for loosening the soil down deep.) Whenever I cut the biomass (it makes a lot) I’ll lay it on the sides of the beds that adjoin that path.

  • Add as many types of organic material as you have access to. The more diversity you provide with organic material the more diversified will be the organisms that live in your soil. (And that’s good because different organisms perform different jobs to help your garden plants.  So you want all the variety you can get.)

Just for diversity’s sake – (a tip)

If you have a compost pile — throw in a handful of soil from a nearby wooded area or forest to provide more variety of fungi. That handful is plenty to increase the fungi in the compost pile.

(Most vegetable gardens have more bacteria than fungi; forests are dominated by fungi rather than bacteria.)

Strawberries will especially benefit from soil rich in organic matter and that has had a handful of wooded area soil mixed in to add fungi.

(Or add compost that has been made as recommended above.)

Final Thoughts

As you prepare for the season ahead think about more ways you can diversify every thing in your garden.

The more diverse your garden is the more stable (and sustainable) it will be in the face of unpredictable weather and other changing variables.


Related Posts:

Garden Diversity Can Equal Better Organic Pest & Disease Control

Principle of Diversity – Assuring Your Success

3 Simple Things to Guarantee a Successful Garden


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos is copyrighted by All Right Reserved.


  • Theresa,

    I did not know that about the fungi for compost pile and around strawberries. Very good information. I do have white clover planted thanks to your advice. Now I am trying to acquire some other cover crop seed.

    Happy gardening,

  • That’s great Toni! Glad I could offer something new. It’s always exciting to learn.
    Happy gardening to you too.

  • I love how you describe us as “apprentices of nature” It is really quite arrogant to think we have such a comprehensive knowledge of soil and plants that we can do better. Great post, and I didn’t know about the strawberries either, thanks.

    Oh, and you’re right. JUST doing the bare essentials from your box above increases productivity amazingly.

  • Thanks for the affirmation Sandra.
    No doubt about it — we are definitely apprentices. Always something new and exciting to learn!
    That being said — isn’t it amazing that just doing the bare essentials increases productivity so much!
    Thanks again for commenting.

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