Regenerative gardening – the practice
Wilby the border terrier is shown here snoozing on a big pile of twitch I pulled out to create a new patch of vege garden. I later covered the pile to exclude all light, and a year later the dead remains of the twitch made good mulch for a garden which is now largely twitch-free.
Here is the same patch of ground seven years on, just planted with summer crops. Regular mulching and cover-cropping have improved the soil and kept it free of the worst weeds. (I like the soft annual weeds like chickweed and fathen that are easy to pull out, and treat them as an alternative ‘cover crop’ that I pull up and leave on the soil in piles as a sort of mulch/compost.)
As I said in my previous post on regenerative gardening: “True regeneration requires going back to ecosystem first principles … starting with the ways that energy is created and dispersed throughout the system, to encourage some forms of life and discourage others.” So how does this translate into what you do in the garden?
The first thing to be aware of is that while humans can’t exist without plants, they sure can exist without us, and unless we think about how they go about their business when left to their own devices, we will keep creating trouble – and extra work – for ourselves in the garden (and farms and forests) that we wouldn’t have if we took the time to study natural processes and how to go with them, not against them.
For example – weeds are plants we don’t want which take advantage of favourable conditions we create for them when we remove the non-weedy plants that were previously dominant in the garden (farm/forest) environment, and otherwise alter the soil, water and light conditions to advantage the weeds and disadvantage the preferred plants. Since the 1950s, when cheap fossil energy sources became widely available to power farm and garden machinery and create fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to push production and control weeds, most NZ gardeners and farmers have lost touch with non-industrial, non-toxic, non climate-changing energy sources. This is not healthy or sustainable.
The alternative – regenerative gardening – uses biological means to solve the ecological problems we create when we disturb natural systems for human benefit. When it comes to weeds, you need to:
work out why and how they are taking advantage (did you inadvertently offer them more or less sun, water, nutrients, space than your preferred plants need?); and
consider how you can tip the balance against them (smother them with a mulch or other light-excluding cover, change the pH of the soil, shade them out with preferred shrubs and trees, use them as compost, replace them with more acceptable groundcovers, etc.)
It takes a little longer to get the garden/farm/forest largely weed-free using biological methods – but not much longer – and the difference is that the change is permanent. Sprayed weeds come back every year; weeds that have been shaded out/deprived of their optimum soil conditions/replaced with more competitive/desirable plants are gone for as long as the new system is kept going by the gardener. A little extra physical effort to start with (as in the first picture above) can give you less work and a big biological benefit in the long run.