Monday, July 29, 2013

How I Began Holistic Gardening (Part 3)

Welcome back. I am glad you hung in there for part one and two of my journey to Holistic Gardening. Let's wrap this up shall we...
I left off around the year 2000 when we purchased our 1881 house. The yard and garden-if you could call it that-were decimated.  We attempted to tame a 60 x 250 vegetable garden that was overrun with weeds,
looked gray and was baked  hard as a brick from the hot sun. It was so sad and  depleted of all it's nutrients. The first thing we did was hire someone to come in and disc the plot. Then we had a truckload of manure delivered and tilled in. And we waited for the weather to warm up from a chilly Spring to the balmy first days of Summer. And I dreamed of vegetables not confined in pots.

Suffice it to say our first year was an unmitigated disaster ( I will share in a later and very lengthy post). I thought I could fool Mother Nature with one application of manure and have well balanced soil. Yeah, it didn't work out like that! 

Now during this time,after  the first year (2001) we lived in our house I experienced a double whammy. I experienced a VERY serious health issue, resulting in surgery and then --WHAMMO BLAMMO- I lost my job. I had 8 weeks of laying on my back recovering with nothing better to do than contemplate life and read. Since life was kind of depressing at that point, I chose to read things that provided a mental escape, by reading  lots of trashy romance novels, any magazine I could lay hands on and my beloved gardening books.

As soon as I began to recover physically and could manage it, I found myself in the garden. Even if only for fifteen minutes at a time, it was worth every agonizing pain of making my way through the yard.  I needed to emotionally recover and working on and in the garden- albeit  physically exhausting- was the balm that soothed my soul.  I nurtured the garden and myself at the same time. 

This was the true beginning of the holistic gardening for me.  

I worked on amending the soil after buying a cheap soil testing kit. As I made the soil healthy I also began to read more  natural pest controls and about companion planting since I didn't want to use any pesticides. I wanted my backyard safe from toxins. I wanted to develop a natural habitat for animals. I wanted to bring in the good bugs and prevent the bad bugs. I wanted my own little utopian ecosystem a little bubble away from the world.

It took time to turn the dirt into good soil. We added a broadcast of 10-10-10 fertilizer,  composted manure, peat moss, wood ash, straw, a bag or two of bone meal,  grass clippings, pine needles and leaves. We actually went and got garbage bags full of pine needles and leaves from friends houses (since we are sadly lacking in trees) to add to the soil.  Haha people thought we were certifiable for asking for leaves but they also knew we would rake 'em up so they were more than happy to oblige. We used whatever I could get my hands in those days to feed the soil--we dumped in old buckets of used potting soil, shredded newspaper (not any glossy paper), rinsed eggshells and coffee grounds. 

We planted small areas of the garden while we were working to amend it but gardening in blocks. It sorta looked like a giant checkerboard  We always had a few blocks open to lie fallow or was sown with a cover crop -clover- then mowed and tilled in. We rotated our plantings to limit the possibility of diseases and pests. Slooowwwlllyyy, the soil came alive. It took another 2 years before we saw worms in the garden. By the 3rd year we had ladybugs and mantids. And I actually cried because I KNEW my garden would make it and I finally knew I would be ok.  It was a rather zen experience nurturing my garden and myself.

Although there was an incident in 2005 where the hubbs was trying to "help me" when I was recovering from another surgery. Let's just say, he did some very bad and stupid using Sevin Dust and pulling out my tea herbs and medicinal plants. He was lucky I couldn't get up  because I totally would have gone "Fried Green Tomatoes" on him... As a result of his "accident" it took about a year to recover from the initial pesticide application and 3 years before I saw lady bugs and mantids in the garden again. I never did replace my medicinal and tea garden...siiiggghhh

Fast forward to 2008...I thought I had it under control and was feeling pretty smart about the whole gardening game, when I began to learn about permaculture. Permaculture was more on the fringe than organic gardening in the 1970's and was rather a quiet revolution.  Permaculture is defined as a branch of ecological designecological engineering, and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. What this means is is self sufficient, self sustaining and looks at the sum of all the elements involved as opposed to the individual elements.

Here is a partial list of permaculture principles (as applied to gardening)
1. Observe and interact-Some plants commonly referred to as weeds can actually be medicinal herbs  or host plants for beneficial insects.
2. Collect natural resources when abundant and use during times of need-Rainwater collection for irrigation 
3. Obtain a yield-Use what you grow and grow what you use. 
4.  Produce no waste-recycle, reduce, and reuse. Don't throw away those veggie scraps, grass clippings,  pruned twigs or coffee grounds--make compost;  reduce your natural resource wasting lawn by turning into a wildflower garden, edible garden or use xeriscaping; reuse containers to start seedlings.
5. Integrate rather than segregate- avoid monocultures (single mass planting which involve crop rotation) and embrace polyculture or companion planting. Introduce biodiversity stimulates plant growth, increases resilience to pest and diseases and attracts the beneficial insects.
6. Use small and slow solutions-things in nature do not occur overnight nor in one season. It takes time to build the composition of your soil, regrade the land and achieve harmony in your ecosystem. 
7. Use and value diversity-diversity reduces vulnerability

There is so much more to permaculture and I will talk about patterns, layers and zones in a later post.

I was feeling pretty good because I had already done a lot of the permaculture concepts. I tweaked a few things like looking at how certain plants grow in nature. I began implementing more companion planting with both flowers and edibles. I learned about water conservation and rainwater collection. Which I am STILL working on...

Two years ago my job was winding down and I had a substantial amount of free time which I spent perusing the internet and came across integrated pest management (IPM) which is a multi tiered approach for managing pests from a large scale agriculture to the backyard garden.  The premise is not all pests and weeds are bad, just because you see a pest doesn't mean control or eradication methods are required. IPM encourages bio-pesticides--naturally occurring substances, such as  plant derived pesticides (Pyrethrum), insect's to combat infestation (ladybugs, parasitic wasps , assassin bugs and green lacewings), microbes BT (Bacillus thurengiensis) and other organisms for pest control.

Science is constantly finding new organisms  (microbes, insects and plants) from naturalized biodiverse locations to bridge the gap  for effective and environmentally responsible bio- pesticides for weed, pest and plant disease management.

So there you have it. My foray into organic and holistic gardening. What began as a quest to educate myself took me on journey of self discovery. There is SO MUCH MORE I want to share with you on holistic gardening and all of it's nuances (Companion planting, Permaculture, IPM's and Biodiversity) but I literally could write the equivalent of a book and still not scratch the surface. However, I will through a series of additional posts provide more specific detail to some of the natural methods I use.

I hope you enjoyed reading a bit of the backstory and even more so I hope you will begin a quest to garden holistically.


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