If you’ve followed my posts here on TMG for any length of time you know that I gardened for years with nothing but straw and leaves to sustain my garden. I was very successful.
The reason I’m mentioning that is I don’t want any new gardeners to read this post and throw up their hands in dismay saying, “I quit — I can’t garden because I can’t do that!”
Nature is very user friendly and you can have great success with practically nothing — but there is certainly nothing wrong with doing things that will take your garden to an even greater level of sustainability (and success) and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post.
Cover crops have been around for long years before any of us were on this earth. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington sang the praises of buckwheat as a cover crop long before any modern scientific study was done.
By the time I started gardening at the age of 35 — some 35 years ago —- I don’t remember reading all that much about them — which is just as well because I couldn’t have afforded the seed anyway.
A lot of studies have been done over the past decade. And now —- as with many “old” practices —- it’s been “discovered” that the benefits from cover crops are numerous.
They not only add nutrients, hold nutrients, protect the soil, hold moisture, act as a source of nitrogen, increase the diversity of soil organisms and break up ground — but they can be used as biomass (organic material) for your compost pile, mulch for your beds which also acts as slow compost, and sometimes serve as food in the form of grain— like wheat, rye, oats, and buckwheat.
Or if your don’t choose to eat it — it can continue to sustain your garden by providing next years cover crops.
Organic Gardening is not necessarily Sustainable Gardening
I do a lot of things that fall into the Sustainable Gardening realm.
- I never have needed additional fertilizer. Compost — whether in the form of leaves raked onto the bed, straw used as mulch, cover crops, or “made” compost —- does the job of replenishing my soil.
- My soil is never bare. Covering the soil conserves nutrients and water.
- We never till unless we’re breaking new ground and sometimes even that’s done by hand. (Seldom if ever is gas or electric needed.)
- Bill and I use hand tools to do what jobs have to be done. (No power tools.)
- I don’t water, but try to conserve the water in the ground. I also have two rain barrels.
- A few years back I started saving my seed — although I still buy seed too. My goal with seed saving is to always have enough of my own seed that I can plant what we need to sustain us in any given year. And to have diversity in each crop. (More than one variety.) This will allow me to be independent if the situation calls for it.
- In my flower borders as well as my garden, I try to grow things that do well in my climate and area. This makes for easier care and low maintenance.
- I grow my plants from seed. Keeps me independent. I don’t have to rely on someone else unless I want to.
- I practice organic pest and weed control — mainly by hand or with the help of beneficial insects. Very little to purchase from someone else.
Although I’ve been an organic gardener since the beginning, I’ve not yet totally reached sustainable gardening. As you can see from my list, I’ve made some good steps in that direction.
As organic gardeners we are much better served — if we can plan to have our gardens sustain themselves without dependence on any outside sources. If you’re like me —and are not there yet — we can achieve the goal with planning and time.
Planning Ahead for a Sustainable Garden
After more than 30 years of buying my straw from the same family of farmers, I’ve seen the danger of having become dependent on them. I can’t garden without mulch and lots of it.
With all that is taking place with residual herbicides, the continued and increased use of chemicals, the increase in GMO crops and the total unawareness of many farmers (including the ones I buy from) —- I could easily experience a major disaster if I were unable to obtain decent straw for mulch.
The answer of course would be to grow enough of my own organic material (biomass) that I could eventually work out of being dependent on the farmers for straw. Cover crops like oats and winter rye can do this for me.
Like anything that is fairly new it’s taking some planning and time to work out the problems that might arise to block the way of my growing exactly as much as I want to as quickly as I want to. It’s not possible at this point for me to reach that goal in one year or even several, but I’m taking steps in that direction.
As time passes I see more and more the need for us to become as independent as we possibly can. If we can plan our gardens so that they’ll sustain themselves without the need for outside resources — we’ll be in a good position.
In addition to being a great plan to work on, we’ll see immediate results in making our gardens healthier and having them produce even bigger yields.
I hope you’ll join me in working towards sustainable gardening so that we can continue to produce healthy food even in trying times.
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’s a lot healthier.
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