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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No-Till Garden Cover Crops, How To Stop Next Year’s Weeds This Fall!

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When it comes to low maintenance gardening, nothing can quite lend a hand like planting no-till garden cover crops. Do you want to eliminate nearly all of your weeding woes next year? Would you like to plant your vegetables next

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Planting A Fall Garden Cover Crop – An Inexpensive Way To An Incredible Garden!

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Without a bit of hesitation, I can tell you our fall garden cover crop is the single most important factor in the overall success of our garden every single year. It simply delivers on so many levels! Want more fertile

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The 3 Most Common Fall Gardening Mistakes – And How To Avoid Them!

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One of the best ways to be sure to have a great garden next year is to avoid making fall gardening mistakes now! It’s hard to believe, but summer is coming to a close, and fall is right around the

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The Best Soup You Will Ever Eat – The Taste Of The Fall Garden Clean Up

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It is simply the best soup we ever make. Period! And the funny thing is, we say that every single year at just about this time. Each fall, as we clear out the garden, it has become tradition to make a huge

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4 Fall Garden Chores That Will Make Next Year’s Garden Rock!

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When it comes to the vegetable garden, there are 4 Fall garden chores that can make all the difference in the success of next year’s harvest! With a little work now, you can set the stage for your best-ever garden next season.

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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,

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The 4 Big Keys To A Great Garden – And A Happy Gardener!

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I have long been a believer that you don’t need to have a “green thumb” in order to have a great garden.  In reality, what it takes is a combination of a few simple things – like patience, a consistent and persistent approach, a

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Our Best Time Saving, Weed Free Garden Experiment Ever!

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As many of you that follow us regularly know, we like to try out a few new things in our garden each growing season. It’s always fun to see what might work and what won’t. Although some fail miserably, others have

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5 Natural DIY Fertilizers For Your Garden And Flowerbeds

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When it comes to our garden and the food we provide for our family, we like to keep everything natural – and that includes any and all types of fertilizers used on our plants. The simple truth is, when it comes

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How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

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Plant Sweet Potatoes from Slips, Vines, or Roots

If you live in a good climate for growing them, you should plant sweet potatoes every year.  They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

Here’s how I plant my sweet potatoes.

Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!

This isn’t hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell “slips,” which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.

You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden… or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.

Plant sweet potatoes from the pantry

Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It’s perfect.

I’ve done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root easily at every node. Water them for a couple of weeks and they’ll take off.

Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn’t matter that they’re small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate, so there’s not a problem with “selecting” for tiny roots.

No room for sweet potatoes?  Check this out: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

Step 2: Prep Your Bed

You don’t have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great… but they’ll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.

Plant sweet potatoes from tubers

The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.

We grew this particular round of sweet potatoes in a bed where we planted white potatoes the year before. You don’t have to worry about sweet potatoes and white potatoes sharing diseases – they aren’t even remotely related species.

That said, after pulling white potatoes the year before, I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.

Here’s what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:

Potato bed with rye and lentil cover crops

Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keep it “alive” between plantings.

I dug three trenches about 4′ apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4′ apart down the trenches.

Plant sweet potatoes from vines

Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.

We get plenty of sweet potatoes from our gardens each year, and we wouldn’t want to be without them.

Infographic: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato

Step 3: Water Well… and Stand Back!

Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them… and the areas around the garden… and some areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20′ from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.

Plant sweet potatoes from old plants

This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.

If you haven’t planted your sweet potatoes yet, it’s time to get going as soon as the danger of frost has passed. If you have a long enough warm season, you can start one bed then use it to start a second, as I do in this video:

As a final note – sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they’ll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground… the bigger the roots tend to get.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!


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The 3 Secrets To A Weed Free Garden

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If there is one thing that gardeners from around the world all dream about – it’s a weed free garden! Weeds are not only unsightly – but compete with the vegetable plants and flowers in your garden for the valuable minerals, nutrients and water

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4 Great Ways To Use Those Falling Leaves In Your Garden And Landscape!

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The leaves have begun to fall!!!  It’s the time of year when the skyline and ground begin to turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow thanks to all of those beautiful leaves. Those leaves may be a bit of a nuisance to some – but they are one of the best (and cheapest) ways you can ever find to add tons of organic magic to your soil. For us, we collect all we can of that free-falling bounty now to create great compost piles, protect our landscape plants and soil from the harsh winter – and power up next year’s garden! No leaves in your yard?  Don’t despair – the leaves are out there! If you’re not blessed with trees on your property – take a drive around your area and find neighborhoods that are.  It usually doesn’t take too long to find them – and most people are more than happy to let you take them off of their hands! Many times, the hard work is done for you – with homeowners already raking leaves to their curb or even bagging them up curbside for pickup.  A simple knock on the door and a friendly asking can usually net you more than […]