There is a problem with sustainable gardening, it leaves you in the same damn place: the big movement in the gardening community right now is to go regenerative, because regenerative gardening actually helps to reverse climate change, and this is how we do it.
Firstly, what is regenerative gardening? Regenerative gardening is gardening with nature as opposed to working against it. It is a style of garden management that is conscious of emissions and waste, and as result can produce incredibly bountiful kitchen gardens with healthy and high yielding crops.
The idea of growing plants in harmony with the land is nothing new, though it does feel like we have been living with our heads in the sand on this one. Native Americans have used farming practices that focus on replenishing the land far before our modern practices took root.
Regenerative farming and gardening incorporates some of these methods and combines them with sustainable approaches in a fresh and modern way.
Does this mean I have to let the weeds run amok in my garden? Absolutely not! This is a huge misconception that we often hear. Any method of organic gardening requires a degree of weed management to ensure your plants get their share of the nutrients that they need.
A kitchen garden without the occasional bit of weeding is going to hinder your crop. Just try not going totally weed free for a change, your garden will thank you for it.
Ok, so how can regenerative practices reverse climate change? It all comes down to what’s under our feet, the soil. Another misconception that we hear all the time is that the climate crisis has been solely caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels, this is untrue. Another gigantic swathe of greenhouse gas emissions is coming from damaged and depleted soils all over the planet. Over the years, our soil has been depleted by traditional farming methods such as tilling (also known and ploughing), agricultural chemicals and salt-based fertilizers.
Soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere, it reduces the risk of flooding by absorbing water, it is a vital wildlife habitat and it delivers 95% of all global food supplies
… I am going to radically suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t be taking our precious soils for granted anymore?
Regenerative practices help to roll back centuries worth of damage done to our precious soils and enriches our food and bodies and subsequently helps absorb carbon dioxide from our atmosphere!
Here are some of the key practices that you can start doing today to go regenerative:
1 – Start enriching your soil. It could be compared to building a house on a solid foundation.
How is it done? Restoring your soil quality might be easier than you think as it requires little to no digging at all. Though, for some reason this seems to be the part that older generations find the hardest to come to terms with, and I can see why – turning over your soil to keep weeds down and dig in fertiliser has been a traditional farming method for centuries, quite literally. However I’m sure you’ll agree that just because something is traditional doesn’t necessarily make it a great idea. Just ask the Queens guards if they actually like wearing those silly hats in the middle of summer…
This is how we enrich our soils:
- No tilling or ploughing your soil. Everytime the soil is tilled, vital microbiomes and biodiversity is lost and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Only gentle loosening of the soil with a fork is permitted.
- Ditch the chemicals. Pesticides and salt-based fertilisers essentially burn through everything, destabilising soil and plant biodiversity. Also, if you don’t want chemicals in your body, why put it in your food?
- Compost and mulch. Add compost, mulches, green and animal manures to your garden to keep your soil fertilized for plants and crops. Simply spread over your soil and around your plants, remember – No tilling! This will massively improve your soil’s water holding capacity and prevent your plants from drying out.
- Encourage plant growth. Any plant is better than no plant. Keep your soil covered the best you can as plants will improve soil health and biodiversity. Try intercrop planting in your veggie patches or alternatively you could even wait and see what pops up in between.
A note on compost for the new gardeners here: homemade compost is the bedrock of any garden and is far better than what you can buy in shops. It is also incredibly easy to make. If space is an issue then I would definitely recommend grabbing a second hand plastic composter from eBay (or Gumtree, etc) to help keep your space nice and tidy.
2 – Build a healthy ecosystem. This can be fun and rewarding to do.
Bio-diverse gardens lead to healthy and pest free gardens. They will liberate you from some of those typically draining garden chores too.
This is how we restore the ecosystems within our garden:
- Again, no tilling. Soil rich with natural organisms allows invertebrates, fungi and decomposers to recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem. They break down surface waste and release nitrogen back into the soil (a compound that most plants need for survival). This also improves the soil water holding capacity and subsequently reduces fungal diseases caused by sitting water and poor drainage.
- Plant natural pest repellers. Every garden endures the occasional pest, and every garden ‘pest’ has a natural predator. Clever planting is a million times more effective than any pesticide on the planet. Here’s an example of how it works:
If your garden is being hampered by aphids, then it is simply because your garden has low Ladybug numbers. Ladybugs can eat up to 5000 other bugs in their lifetime, making them an efficient little pest munching machine. Planting out some dill or mint, or leaving in the dandelions for a change will attract Ladybugs and in return, they will dramatically reduce your aphid numbers.
- Leave some space for the wildlife. Every inch of land that we can re-wild provides a vital lifeline to biodiversity. Biodiversity in return will keep your garden healthy and pest free. Biodiversity is what keeps nature in balance and, when damaged, the whole ecosystem falls off kilter, creating breeding grounds for ‘pests and diseases’.
3 – Companion planting is like community building between your plants and produces amazing, healthy growth.
No home alarm system can beat the good old fashioned neighbourhood watch, and same goes for your garden. Try planting crops and plants together that watch each other’s back.
These are some of the benefits of companion planting:
- Another form of pest control. Some crops, like onions and garlic, have natural pest repelling qualities and therefore make fantastic guardians to your kitchen garden. Try sporadically planting them amongst your veggies to keep the pests at bay. You could even try planting them amongst your flower beds if you find that they are particularly susceptible to pests (i.e. near rose bushes to repel aphids).
- Healthier, more nutritious plants. Experienced crop growers will know which nutrients each crop demands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn this too. By knowing which nutrients each plant needs you can prevent your crops from competing with one another. Thankfully all the homework has been done for you and you can find lists of great companion plants online.
- Larger crop yields. Taking on regenerative planting methods along with companion planting will boost your crop yield. Healthy, nutritious crops = bigger yield.
Adopting these regenerative gardening and farming methods on a worldwide scale can restore biodiversity and habitat loss and as a result, could help to reverse the effects of climate change – It is going to take nothing less than a gardener’s revolution to make this happen … but this is not unprecedented.
During and after World War 2, people began growing their own food in their own back gardens to boost their rations, boost their morale and support the war effort by lessening the public demand for food. These are now remembered as the Victory Gardens.
They were a huge success and by 1944, nearly half of all fruit and veggies were coming from Victory Gardens. Can you believe it?
People weren’t just growing them in back gardens either, people were planting Victory Gardens in their local parks, on the edge of railway lines and even on rooftops!
Leonardo Da Vinci said “we know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot” and 500 years later, there is still less information available about soil than any other part of the environment.
Let’s embrace the little that we know about our world today, go regenerative and bring back the Victory Gardens to support our climate.
We can do this.
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