Who should set up an ecological garden?
Absolutely everyone from farmers to inner-city townhouse dwellers. It may seem strange, but if you have never grown food before then you are, in some ways, at an advantage. Experienced gardeners may like to see themselves as adopting some ecological gardening techniques, but find it difficult to let go of the need to control the system. Like all industries, the gardening industry can get stuck in doing things a certain way and most seasoned gardeners will inevitably over-work the garden. As a species, human beings prospered when we learnt to cultivate food using tilling and other traditional agricultural methods, so it’s difficult to turn back to where we came from – nature. It might even feel like a step in the wrong direction. But if we can let go of our need to control every living thing on the planet, and start to work with nature, we actually gain more control by being able to grow food more efficiently than ever before. It’s a paradox – but it works!
Setting up an ecological garden
Any existing vegetable garden can be converted into an ecological garden. Firstly, get your pathways laid out so that you never have to walk on your garden beds again. After that, get a good composting system going and apply it to the soil surface. Then plant densely and diversely.
If you don’t have a vegetable garden, my suggestion would be to create a classic Esther Deans ‘no dig’ garden to get you started. Once erected, simply follow the ecological gardening method.
If you live in a unit or townhouse with no soft ground you could create a mini-ecological garden using a series of containers. Polystyrafoam boxes with drainage holes are ideal. Fill them with good potting mixture and arrange them side by side using as many as you can fit onto your verandah or patio. Rather than developing a large composting system, you could purchase a worm farm and add the worm casts to the soil surface as fertilizer. Once the boxes are set up, simply adopt the ecological gardening method.
The Ecological Gardening Method – the key principles.
1. Plant densely
2. Plant a diversity of plants within a given area
3. Get a good composting system set up and use the compost as a surface mulch on bare patches
4. Allow some plants to go to seed
5. Only interfere with the system when a single species of plant over-dominates and simply scratch out excess plants when they are small.
Growing food is not hard work, especially when you have nature helping you 24/7. A small area can provide you with such a bounty of food, saving your family thousands of dollars per year. Most of us don’t have much time to spend in the garden, including me. I only invest around eight hours of time per year to growing my food, and although I live on a small farm I only use a space of around 6 x 6m. That’s an area that could fit into many suburban backyards several times over. The most wonderful thing about this method is that I know I can ignore my vegetable garden for months and it won’t miss a beat. So, if you believe growing food is only for tough bearded warriors with lots of land and time, think again. Ecological gardening could be just the thing for you.