The Laws of Nature: A Touchstone for Gardening

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As a rule, when we grow plants, we follow some known practices. The practices may be based on our own experience, on the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, or on scientific research. Whatever the source, it is useful to examine the practices through the lens of the Laws of Nature, sometimes referred to as ecological principles.

The Laws of Nature are broad and substantive statements for how nature functions.

So the question becomes, “Are our plant-growing practices in harmony with or in conflict with the Laws of Nature?”

What other criteria would we use for how we treat our lands, the soils, and all ecosystems, if not the Laws of Nature?

I think of this as a pyramid, with practices on the top, undergirded by Laws of Nature criteria. Then, the practices and Laws are undergirded by our personal land-use ethics.

9 Laws of Nature

Below, I’ve listed nine Laws of Nature.

This list is not fully inclusive; some may seem to be more pertinent than others; and someone else may choose to describe them in a different manner. Nevertheless, they are all statements that hold true, with rare exceptions.

In my garden, if a practice violates a Law of Nature, I look for a substitute practice that is in harmony with the Law.

This broad topic has deep implications and is worthy of further study. The more we understand and apply these Laws, the more we can grow healthier crops, become healthier ourselves, and more fully appreciate the magnificence of nature.

Calvin Bey - Harmony Gardens

#1: Everything in Nature Is Connected

It’s like a huge spider web. Every spot on the web is connected to the whole web. All the factors effecting growth and development—from the minerals in the air to the plant’s physiological processes to the soil microbes to hundreds of additional factors—are all part of the whole.

The implications of this concept are significant.

For example, apply too much nitrogen and the plants get a pretty green color, but at the same time produce an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates, which are ideal foods for the ever-present aphids.

Chemicals and other toxins that reduce soil microorganisms have impacts on soil mineralization and soil digestion processes, which all affect quality and quantity of production. For example, if your soil has a shortage of available calcium, a tomato plant is not likely to set fruit.

Laws of Nature - Mile-High Corn - Calvin Bey

#2: Plants Are Designed to be Healthy

Like humans and other living organisms, plants have an immune system that makes them resistant to insects and diseases that are native to their environment. Plants become weak and sick when they become stressed because of environmental factors, inadequate nutrition, and/or exposure to toxins.

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers create plant and soil conditions that are not conducive to the desirable bacteria and fungi in the soil. The soil microbiome is part of the plant’s defense mechanism.

#3: Insects and Disease Are the Appropriate Response to the Existing Conditions

Insect problems and disease are the result of plant weakness, not the cause of plant weakness. When we improve the conditions, we improve plant resistance. Diseases are nature’s demolition crew and insects are nature’s garbage collectors. Both are appropriate when plants are stressed. Unhealthy plants actually send signals to the insects so they can perform their meaningful designed role.

#4: Mineral Nutrition Supports Plant Immunity

When plant growth is supported with proper mineral nutrition, plants will create higher-order compounds—for example, plant secondary metabolites like essential oils. This and other enzyme developments can lead to optimum levels of health and immunity.

The thousands of enzymes needed in metabolic processes each require a mineral “enzyme cofactor” to function. Without the mineral cofactors, enzyme pathways collapse and plants accumulate soluble compounds in plant sap, leading to pest infestations as plant health begins to fall apart.

#5: Microbial Metabolites Are More Efficient Than Simple Ions as a Source of Nutrition

The ultimate level of plant nutrition and immunity exists when plants can absorb the majority of their nutritional requirements as microbial metabolites. In this model, the soil microbial community serves as the plant’s digestive system. A complex community of soil microorganisms digest and break down organic residues and plant root exudates. In this digestive process, minerals are extracted from the soil mineral matrix and released in a bioavailable form that plants absorb and utilize very efficiently.

Laws of Nature - Strawberry Harvest - Calvin Bey

#6: When Fruit Quality Improves, Yields Increase

When management emphasis is placed on plant nutrition to improve quality, the immunity of the crop increases, creating higher yields, longer produce shelf-life, improved flavor, and reduced dependence on pesticides.

This fundamentally different approach to plant nutrition can lead to yield increases ranging from 10–30 percent. Yield increases come in not only bushels per acre, but also in higher test weights, increased protein production, and increased nutrition per acre.

#7: Healthy Plants Create Healthy Soil—an Investment in Their Own Future

It is commonly understood that healthy soils create healthy plants. The reverse is also true.

Healthy plants create healthy soils.

Healthy plants with high levels of energy can, at times, send as much as 70 percent of their total photosynthates (manifested as sugars, amino acids, and other compounds) into the roots, and then out through the roots and into the soil. Those root exudates are the fuel that feed the soil microbial community and lead to the rapid formation of organic matter.

This process, called carbon induction, is the fastest and most efficient way to sequester carbon and build soil organic matter.

It is an advantage to the plants to invest in soil building. Root exudates rapidly build humic substances. Humic compounds last in the soils for many years. In the end, the entire process ends up rapidly building soil health. It’s another win-win for nature.

#8: Genetic Variability in Plants Serves as a Buffering System

Plant variability allows for selective fitting of plant genetics to specific qualitative differences in the environment. It’s like an insurance plan, with the goal of increased probability of improved plant survival and growth. There are positive synergistic effects, above and below ground, that result from creating diversity through the mixing of species.

#9: Weeds Are a Barometer of Soil Health

We know that different crops have different soil, mineral, and soil biology requirements. So, too, with weeds. When compared to healthy domesticated crops, weeds are usually pioneering (first to enter) species that thrive in soils with imbalanced microbial and nutritional profiles. As soil health improves, crops will improve and weeds will lose their vigor. The weeds are no longer needed to correct the soil imbalances.

Laws of Nature - Harvest Basket - Calvin Bey

Take-Home Lessons

To sum up how nature functions in nine Laws certainly does not do justice to the topic nor does it show the magnificence of nature. Still, despite the inadequacies, the nine Laws are sufficient to provide guidance as to which gardening practices fit the Laws of Nature model.

The following list of gardening practices, which I use in my natural/organic garden in Northwest Arkansas, respect the Laws of Nature. Furthermore, the practices fit my personal land-ethics values.

I do these things to eat healthy food, to teach others, and especially for the children and future generations.

I hope you will consider joining in the transformation.

  1. Use no or at least minimum tillage. Never use a roto-tiller. Besides destroying the natural soil structure, roto-tillers will seriously damage the beneficial fungi in all kinds of soil situations.
  2. Keep the soil covered with a vegetable crop, cover crop, or some type of organic mulch at all times. This practice will promote soil microbial life.
  3. Keep something growing on the beds for as long as possible throughout the year. Where you can, grow crops specifically for deep-root penetration and/or high carbon production.
  4. Wherever possible, encourage diversity of species. Use companion planting where you can.
  5. Use organic fertilizers, compost (sparingly), bio-pesticides (if needed), filtered or structured water, foliar fertilizer sprays, natural biologicals for organic matter decomposition, and natural amendments (like paramagnetic rock) for plant fortification.
  6. Among all things, “communicate” with your garden through positive intentions. Remember: “Thoughts become actions. Choose the good ones.”

Thanks to John Kempf of Advancing Eco-Agriculture (www.advancingecoag) for some of the ideas included in this article.

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The post The Laws of Nature: A Touchstone for Gardening appeared first on The Grow Network.

The ‘Laid-Back’ Way To Improve Your Soil During Winter

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The ‘Laid-Back' Way To Improve Your Soil During Winter

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Nothing slows the activity on a homestead down as much as wintertime. The bustle of spring planting and calving, and the harvest of summer and fall give way to quieter days of tending livestock, maintaining equipment and feasting on the bounty gleaned from this year’s harvest.

There is something you can do this fall that will quietly work through the winter months – while your laid back and relaxing — to improve the condition of your land. No matter how small the fields, gardens or raised beds on the homestead might be, consider allowing a winter cover crop prepare your soil for the next planting season.

A winter cover crop is valuable in many ways. Winters can be harsh on the land, particularly soil left bare following fall’s harvest. Winter cover crops prevent erosion, which is important not only in maintaining a garden or field, but also valuable for protecting nearby waterways that can be corrupted by too much silt. Cover crops add nutrients back into the soil. Many of these crops also can be used as livestock fodder.

1. Cereal grains

As I drive through the small homesteads that surround us, I see a haze of green rise in the fields each autumn. Many choose cereal or winter rye as the cover crop of choice. There are several benefits to using cereal grains as covers. Their root systems break up compacted soils, reduce erosion and fix nitrogen. If cut before flowering, the cut stalks can be left to decompose and be turned under in the spring, adding nutrients back into the soil.

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These also can be left to harvest as usual if time permits. Oats, barley and wheat can also be used; however, rye produces the largest amount of green material to add back into the soil. Grains and grasses are best used in fields and gardens. Avoid using them in raised beds, as they are more difficult to eliminate.

2. Clover

Though more time-consuming to manage, clover provides a generous supply of green material for your compost pile while improving your soil. Choose crimson clover for a yearly cover, as it is easily eliminated by simply tilling under. Red clover can be used as a biannual crop, while other clovers are perennial and much harder to control as cover crops.

3. Field peas

Field peas can be grown either as a companion crop, under sown during the growing season, or as a winter cover crop. As a winter cover crop, field peas will be killed off from the cold temperatures and left to mulch-in-place, adding nutrients to the soil.

4. Vetch

The ‘Laid-Back' Way To Improve Your Soil During Winter

Image source: Pixabay.com

Similarly, fava beans, or bell beans, are actually a member of the vetch family. It is a popular choice as a cover crop, because it is easier to till under than hairy vetch and less likely to overtake other plantings. Purple vetch is another close relative that is less cold-hardy, which allows it to be left to mulch in-place.

5. Radish

A relatively new addition to the winter cover crop rotation is the radish. Radishes, particularly the daikon radish, provide all of the benefits of a good winter cover crop with very few drawbacks. Radishes break up compacted soil, reaching even into the subsoil. As they decompose after winter killing, they leave empty holes that improve soil drainage and even help the soil temperature to warm more quickly during spring. They are nitrogen fixers, and also draw additional potassium and phosphorus to the surrounding soil.

Planning Your Cover Crop

Starting around September, planting of the chosen cover crop should begin. Time the planting to allow the crop to mature before the first hard frost date for your region. For other crops, such as oats and cereal rye, multiple cuttings may be needed to prevent the crop from reseeding your land. Some cuttings can be used as fodder for your livestock, while other cuttings must be added to the compost pile or left to mulch in the fields.

Growing a winter cover crop will add a bit of work to your fall schedule. However, you will greatly benefit from improved soil conditions come spring.

What is your favorite cover crop? Share your tips in the section below:

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How To Plant A Fall Cover Crop In Your Garden

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Over the last three weeks, we have been flooded with questions on how to plant a fall cover crop. Cover crops are the single best way to recharge your garden’s soil with organic matter. And that’s just where the benefits begin!

The post How To Plant A Fall Cover Crop In Your Garden appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.

8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden (But You Gotta Plant NOW)

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8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Crimson clover. Image source: Pixabay.com

There’s no reason why your garden should remain unproductive between fall harvest and spring planting. Planting a cover crop, which isn’t just for big agricultural operations, ensures your garden keeps working hard throughout the offseason.

Plant a cover crop after harvest, about four weeks before the first hard frost, and then till it into the ground in late winter or early spring. The organic matter builds healthier soil, helps smother weeds, loosens compacted soil, helps control diseases, attracts beneficial insects, keeps pests in check and prevents erosion – all for a very reasonable investment of time and money.

Loosen the top 1 to 2 inches of soil, then sow the seeds thickly, much like grass seeds. Rake the seeds into the soil, then tamp lightly so the seeds make good contact with the soil.

Keep in mind that many cover crops can become weedy if they are allowed to set seeds, so plow them under before that occurs, preferably while the plants are still young and easy to work. Don’t worry if it seems that your crop hasn’t been around long enough to be helpful; growing cover crops for a short time provides great benefits.

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Here are a few examples of fast-growing cover crops that work well for small gardens in nearly any climate:

8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Buckwheat. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Buckwheat is great for poor or unproductive soil, or where weeds are a persistent problem. Plant buckwheat any time between late spring and late summer, and then wait five or six weeks before tilling it into the soil. Unfortunately, buckwheat prefers cool, moist conditions and isn’t the best choice for hot, dry climates. Don’t let this plant go to seed, which usually occurs in six to nine weeks.

2. Clover is a terrific source of nitrogen. Many gardeners prefer crimson clover, a robust plant with colorful blooms. However, other types, including yellow blossom clover, sweet clover, white Dutch clover, arrowleaf clover, berseem clover and others all attract beneficial nutrients, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds and attract bees and other beneficial insects. Do your homework and select the clover that works best in your climate.

3. Oilpan radishes have long, fast-growing taproots that power through compacted soil in a couple of months. Plant the radishes in late summer or early fall and the plants will continue to work throughout the winter months, even if they are killed by a hard freeze. Be careful and don’t let the radishes go to seed, as volunteer plants may create big problems in next year’s garden.

4. Winter rye is a good cover crop for dry, sandy, poor soil, and it works well in cold climates. The seeds are quick to germinate and suitable for planting late in the season. One drawback however, is that winter rye grass doesn’t provide a full slate of nutrients, so you may want to combine winter rye with clover, vetch, or other plants from the legume family.

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8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Hairy vetch. Image source: Pixabay.com

5. Hairy vetch is a versatile, resilient legume that works well even in cold, dry climates and nearly any soil type. Plant hairy vetch in late summer or early autumn and work it into the soil in spring. Alternatively, trim or mow the vetch before it blooms — a few weeks before garden planting time, and then plant your vegetable seeds directly in the mulch. Don’t let hairy vetch bloom, as it can become very weedy.

6. Fava beans are hardy, relatively drought-tolerant legumes that germinate quickly and tolerate most soil types. However, this cool-season crop doesn’t do as well when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so wait until temperatures drop a bit before planting. As an added bonus, fava beans are edible, although removing the pods also reduces the nitrogen available to the soil.

7. Garden peas are a dual-purpose plant that provides all the benefits of legumes. For best results, till garden peas into the soil while they’re flowering. You also can combine garden peas with other cover crops such as winter rye or vetch.

8. Oats don’t provide the rich buffet of nutrients as do other plants, but they are good choices for wet soil. The plants are winterkilled in most climates, but the frozen plant matter provides many benefits, including erosion control and loosening of compacted soil.

What cover crops would you recommend? Share your tips in the section below:

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The One Must-Do Fall Chore For Your Garden – Plant A Cover Crop!

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Without a shred of doubt, I can tell you that THE single most important key to our garden’s success each year is the planting of our fall cover crops. With one simple, quick, and inexpensive task – we help to recharge,

The post The One Must-Do Fall Chore For Your Garden – Plant A Cover Crop! appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.

11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

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11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

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Drought is a serious concern for gardeners. As water supplies dwindle across much of the country, we are left wondering how long we can continue to provide a healthy supply of food for ourselves and our families during such difficult conditions.

You can still grow a garden, but the days of free-wheeling water use may be over. Gardening in drought conditions requires careful planning and wise water-usage strategies, such as the following:

1. Create healthy growing conditions. Add plenty of compost or other organic material. Healthy soil retains moisture longer and helps plants build deep roots. You also can use manure, but be sure it’s well composted. Add manure four months ahead of planting time, or wait until the season is over and use the rich stuff to improve soil quality for the coming year.

2. Mulch, mulch, and still more mulch. Gardening pros estimate that three to four inches of mulch can reduce watering requirements by half. A layer of mulch, such as chopped bark, dried leaves, straw or pine needles, keeps the soil moist and helps keeps weeds in check. You can also use dry grass clippings applied in thin layers, but never use grass clippings in your vegetable garden if your lawn has been treated with herbicides or pesticides during the last month.

3. Plant a cover crop in fall. “Green manure” such as alfalfa, vetch or clover improves water retention, adds nutrients to the soil, prevents erosion and discourages weeds from coming through. Till the dead plant material into the soil in early spring. (Be sure to mow if the cover crops flower before they are killed by frost; otherwise you’ll be faced with a weedy challenge in a few short months.)

4. Plant vegetables close together to prevent evaporation. By planting closely, you can also take advantage of companion planting to enhance growth and control pests.

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Similarly, plant in blocks instead of rows, with plants grouped according to their water requirements. Some plants are relatively drought-tolerant, while others, including all the cruciferous vegetables, tend to be notorious water hogs.

5. Go easy on the fertilizer. While fertilized plants are lush and green, they require considerably more water. Additionally, fertilizing in drought conditions always presents a risk of burning the roots.

6. Weed your vegetable garden regularly. Pull or hoe when the plants are small. Weeds are greedy plants that draw water and nutrients from your vegetables.

11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

Image source: Pixabay.com

7. Plant your garden in a sheltered area so winds can’t dry the soil as quickly. Take advantage of a spot next to a building, fence or adjacent to tall plants. For example, sunflowers serve as attractive natural windbreaks, and once established, require very little water.

8. Consider a smaller garden. Plant only what you can use.

9. Create a no-till garden and avoid cultivating the soil whenever possible, as tilling breaks down soil structure, disturbs beneficial microorganisms that process organic matter, and affects the soil’s capability to retain moisture for longer periods of time. (Read about alternatives here.)

10. Install a rain barrel to take advantage of any rainfall. Many gardeners also use a rain barrel to store “grey” water from household use.

11. Plant drought-tolerant vegetables. If you aren’t sure about the best choices, ask at a reputable greenhouse or call your local Cooperative Extension office. One tip: Consider heirloom plants originating from Mediterranean or desert climates, which tend to be naturally more drought-tolerant.

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Finally follow these tips for watering in drought conditions:

  • Water in the morning; moisture evaporates rapidly when temperatures are higher later in the day. A timer or automatic shut-off is a tremendous benefit if you work or need to be away from home for long periods of time.
  • Swap your inefficient hose and sprinkler for a drip irrigation system or a good quality soaker hose that places water exactly where it’s needed – at the roots. Place the hose under mulch if you’re concerned about the appearance.
  • If you aren’t sure how much water to provide, use a soil probe to determine how long it takes to soak the top six inches of soil. Another tip: A handful of soil should stick together when squeezed. If it crumbles, it’s time to water.
  • Avoid overwatering; most vegetable plants require less water once established. Others, such as relatively drought-tolerant plants such as melons, cucumbers and squash, require generous irrigation during fruiting, but only light watering otherwise.

What advice would you add for gardening in a drought? Share it in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.