I have been gardening organically since 1961. That was the year that gardening became my lifelong passion. I didn’t know what “organic” was until four years later, but that’s what I was doing all along. I’m not talking about just growing a few flowers now and then. I’m talking about growing food, herbs, fruit and flowers (along with chickens and milk goats), and doing it in the cold and the rain and the heat, in the city and the country, from the muggy heat of Florida to the cold wilds of Alaska, in the rocky woods of New Jersey and on a hot, desert hilltop in California and mostly in my beloved Oregon! I grew from seed and from cuttings, in straight Florida sand and good old Oregon clay you could use to make pottery, and I loved nearly every minute of it!
After all these years I am still learning new things about this wonderful passion of mine. That’s one of the things I love about it; there are always new things to learn (and old things to un-learn!). But there are a few things that seem to stay with me wherever I am – understandings that I have been able to apply no matter where I gardened. Here are a few of them:
You don’t need chemicals and poisons (chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, cleansers, etc.) to have a wonderful, healthy garden and a clean, healthy house! You just don’t…
You don’t need to roto-till your garden.
I have to concede that an exception might be a heavy stand of pasture grass if you are creating a really big, new garden. Most plants, like lawn grass and common “weeds”, can just be mowed, covered and smothered (with cardboard, newspaper, leaves or straw) or just shoveled up and composted. Then simply add compost and use a garden fork to loosen the soil as deeply as you can. Twelve inches is good – more is better.
No matter how awful your dirt seems, enough compost mixed in to it, will turn it into a good growing soil.
A thick enough mulch will keep plants roots moist through an entire dry summer with no additional water. AND will keep weeds down, increase the health of the soil and therefore the health of the plants growing in it. Caveat: That’s only if it starts out good and deeply wet to begin with.
Your own urine is one of the best balanced, cheapest, most readily available, and sustainable fertilizers for your garden. Read more about it in another blog post here and at the Rich Earth Institute.
Next to us, chickens are the most wonderful contributors to a garden (think: chicken poop, eggs, chicken poop, friendly garden helpers, and well – chicken poop!). I don’t raise hens for the eggs. I raise them for their poop! After they get to be 4 or 5 yrs. old they don’t lay very many eggs – but they never quit pooping until the day they die! Bless their little hearts!
Covering the ground with plants you want, makes it hard for plants you don’t want to grow. I love plants that spread and reseed themselves once I have planted them. They usually out-compete weeds and I LIKE them or I wouldn’t have planted them in the first place!
Diversity is a very good thing in the garden (and everywhere else!). The more you mix up your plants the less likely they are to be devastated by insects or disease.
The more relaxed and “natural” looking the design of your garden, the easier it is to maintain, and the more peaceful it is to be in! Every little weed or thing out of place shows up in a formal, perfectly controlled garden. It’s hard to sit in it without seeing something that needs doing! On the other hand, if you imitate Nature and work WITH her, allowing plants to reseed themselves here and there, perhaps only moving the ones that come up in the middle of the paths, you will find nothing ever looks dreadfully out of place! I now have lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, potatoes, broccoli, Asian greens and a multitude of herbs and flowers that merrily plant themselves where they think best. And although I may lose the balance in a perfectly balanced bed, what I gain in food and the pleasure and surprise of a Nature-added plant far outweighs any aesthetics I may have lost. The older I get the more fun I find in being Nature’s partner in the garden, rather than her adversary.
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