Image by NathanF
The following is a guest post from Heather and Albert Lionelle of Sense by Nonsense!
The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but, if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit. ~St Frances de Sales
We sat down with a potato farmer in the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado. He pulled out a hundred page binder and said, “this binder gives me all the guidelines I need to be sustainable.” He was overwhelmed and tossed the binder down in annoyance. We pulled out a piece of paper, wrote a few notes on it and handed it to him. “This is all I need to be sustainable?” Our reply, was that and a little bit of common sense.
We have been working with sustainable agriculture since 1947, and we are constantly amazed at how complex people try to make it. Part of that complexity comes from the science. Natureiscomplex after all. However, like life it is the simple in the complex that actually works. The simplicity that encourages us to be guides not masters of our environment. How do we do that for farming or gardening?
We usually suggest the following two guidelines:
- Replace what you take out
- Do no harm
The interesting thing about life on this planet? It could not survive without the first six inches of soil. Our soil is a living, breathing organism. There are billions of microbial lifeforms in a six inch square area of our soil. There are enough lifeforms in an acre of soil that our fastest super computer in the world seems trivial to the complexity in the soil. All of these lifeforms use minerals and nutrients. Every time we take a carrot or other food from the soil, we are removing the minerals and energy that went into that carrot. Sounds simple – it is. So why do we over complicate it?
That life is essential. To work with that life is to guide nature to do its job. Let’s think about it this way. Plants have been around a lot longer than you. Wouldn’t it make sense to encourage them to do the job they were designed to do? As such, we find ways to work with nature and in doing so, we are sustainable. That is it.
Now the complication comes in practice. However, if you remember those two guidelines the following all makes sense, and these are just a few examples of many things you can do to be a “biologically motivated” gardener.
- Till no deeper than six inches. Life is in the first six inches of soil, you don’t want to smother it with soil that is simply dirt.
- Till in Organic Matter – aka manure or compost. This not only replaces some of the nutrients you remove, but it also creates a feeding ground for the LIFE in the soil.
- Nutrient foundation – aka fertilizer. We suggest products that have proven agronomicvalue. We also suggest a good range of minerals instead of just trying to target one or two. Many farmers over the years eventually end up using a mineral foundation of 10-11 minerals and compost. That is it.
- Companion planting for pest control. This really could be a whole post in and of itself so we’ll just briefly touch upon a few of the most common and effective uses. One of our favorites for gardens is the marigold. It does a great job of deterring ants and looks pretty. Marigolds can also protect your crops from aphids, their smell tends to deter aphids as well as attract aphid’s natural predators. Another great crop is clover planted as a ground cover which distracts pests from their intended targets. You would generally sow this between the rows and then it helps to reduce the amount of weeding you need to do as well. At the end of the season or the beginning of the next year simply till the clover into the ground and it will act as a green manure.
- Companion planting for other reasons. Once again this could be a post all on its own. Throughout the U.S. Indians have planted the “three sisters” together. They were corn, beans and squash to maximize space and soil health. The corn made a natural trellis for the beans, which fixed nitrogen in the soil for all the plants. The squash acted as a ground cover spreading between the stalks and rows, making efficient use of space as well as reducing weeding. Generally, a good approach is to plant a variety of vegetables in your garden. They almost all help some other plant in some way. However, there are a few varieties that shouldn’t be planted next to each other. For example things like garlic and onions should be planted well away from beans, peas and parsley.
- Last but not least, encourage life but use common sense. An insect is attracted to unhealthy plants. If your soil is healthy, your plants are healthy then you will find no need for pesticides. However, there are times when every thing won’t be healthy, or that you will be over run from another source. In those cases use common sense, but moderation is what matters.
If you notice, all of the steps above follow the two basic principles. Everything you apply, everything you do, ask yourself if you are doing it to build the life in your soil and your environment. If you can’t answer yes, then you probably should not be doing it.
There are numerous articles and resources online for gardening. However, the best thing you can do is follow the principle of life – KISS. Don’t try to find the perfect program, but instead search for a simple program. Nature always likes the simple in the complex, and always remember, in every seed is a miracle of life. Spend some time each day being in awe of the complexity that asks you to be its guide. Finally, remember to enjoy the food you grow.
Did you ever stop to taste a carrot? Not just eat it, but taste it? You can’t taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie. ~Astrid Alauda
Bio: Albert & Heather are a married team who live in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. This last January they joined forces to begin their blog Sense by Nonsense. Albert writes mainly about spirituality, minimalism and agriculture. Heather leans towards real food and homemaking. They believe that the body and spirit are intertwined, and one does not flourish without the other.
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