How We Farm: Vibrant Farm Blog Series

How we Farm, Part 4: Good Gardening Practices

7 minute read
published: 12/24/20
written by: Curtis 

This is the fourth and final of a four-part series describing the manner in which we farm.

Part 4: Good Gardening Practices

We’ve been gardeners for as long as we remember. Safe to say, we’ve never not been tending plants. Whether you're farming 6-acres or tending a few potted plants, we've found several unifying principles that help guide the ambitious towards fruitful abundance! 

Good gardening starts with mindfulness; think about what you are doing and do it with intention. Gardening helps when you need calm and can soothe anxiety, it can also be a workout and physical challenge. Understand your limitations, expectations, and desired outcomes. Manifest positivity and your desired outcomes in a garden and you will be rewarded!

Curtis preparing to plant giant pumpkins with compost and bioinnoculants, 2020Curtis preparing to plant giant pumpkins with compost and bioinoculants, 2020

Some of us are just here for fresh tomatoes, so practically speaking, how do we get more from our gardens or containers? (even if more means yield or personal satisfaction)

We believe healthy plants only achieve greatness when they live in diversity. By this we mean a diverse soil microbiome, a diverse plant microbiome (like the gut of the plant!), a diverse canopy, and other compatible plants. Nature is not as “dog eat dog” as we’re taught; Nature is absolutely full of diversity and cooperations. Diversity and cooperation within the soil and plant sphere creates synergy and levels of vitality, yield, adaptability, and resilience that can’t be replicated with conventional (what you see advertised at garden centers) gardening practices.

Diversity and cooperation within the soil and plant sphere creates synergy and levels of vitality, yield, adaptability, and resilience that can’t be replicated with conventional gardening practices.

So how do we achieve diversity?

The simplest thing is always to stop doing things that do not support the abundance of life. Stop regularly tilling your garden, it’s genocide to soil life. Stop planting in blocks, learn what grows well together, experiment! Stop using synthetic chemicals, synthetic or organic pesticides or fungicides, and broad based fertilizers. Stop leaving the soil bare, you can do better: grow plants or mulch it! 

These points all add up to suggest: be gentle with the soil, sow diversity, and nurture Nature!

Beds topdressed with compost after being tarped
Beds topdressed with compost after being tarped for several weeks, 2019

Most people can wrap their head around no synthetic chemicals with their food, but why no organic pesticides, fungicides?

Pests and disease are Nature's way of telling us what we’re doing wrong; they are teachers and harbingers of information. While the instinct may be to spray & destroy, this doesn’t get to the root of things. Instead, ask yourself: Why are larvae eating these leaves, why does this crop get moldy, what’s this fuzzy or oozing stuff?

Mineralogical imbalance, lack of natural competitors (due to pesticide use or lack of beneficial host plants?), water or temperature related stress, site selection; there are so many factors at play. We can control many aspects of these conditions which suggests that it is our responsibility to learn from pests and disease to improve our techniques instead of bowing down to the pesticide or chemical industry.

So just how do we achieve a balance between mineralogy, soil biology, plant biology, our growing conditions, and our skill sets?

Let's start with soil and growing conditions. Soil comprises mineralogical components, air, water, and an incomprehensibly diverse community of living organisms. As gardeners, we can amend the mineralogical components, alter the structure of the soil with tools or added materials, and we can affect the microbiome through feeding, inoculation, and the practices we partake. These elements all work in balance, but simply put, we want our soils to act like they do in Nature. We want to promote strong soil microbiota.

soil microbiota

Soil microbiome as depicted from Nature.com

The soil microbiome is about the most complex and diverse ecosystems I’ve personally tried to comprehend. The savannah and woodland forests aboveground are all fairly observable. We see deer and trees, grasses and grazers. However, below every ecosystem is an extraordinary world of diverse species that support the aboveground plants and animals that we identify more readily with.

The relationship between the soil microbiome with plants and animals aboveground is integral, cooperative, and synergistic - they exist together. Plants rely on the soil microbiome to access nutrients and water and exchange gasses, enzymes, and other complex environmental components. The soil microbiome relies on plants to pump the energy they gain from sunlight into the soil. This cooperation is perpetual.

The relationship between the soil microbiome with plants and animals aboveground is integral, cooperative, and synergistic - they exist together.

Using Nature as our guide, how do we garden better?

  • Keep the soil covered at all times - mulches, compost, live plants, leaf litter - keep it natural
  • Use natural materials to feed soil microbiome - mulch, compost, seaweed, rock dusts, molasses, apple cider vinegar, raw milk, plant teas
  • Reduce disturbance - no tilling, use competitive plants or soil coverings (mulch) for weed control,
  • Learn from pests & disease - don’t be too quick to kill or spray, ask questions, learn and improve methodsTips for Gardening

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