Episode 195. What is regenerative gardening really?

This the WORLD ORGANIC NEWS for the 16th of December 2019.

Jon Moore reporting.

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil.

Benefits of Regen Gardening

Regenerative gardening is a process whereby the gardener focuses on the soil health above all else. From this starting point all else flows. We can either grow veggies or flowers or create a space for pollinators or a playground for children but the underlying principle is that we focus on the soil.

Some of the benefits that arise from this form of gardening are: better water quality, much better soil quality and, if enough people are into this, improved air quality and all of these are wonderful but the real kicker is we also improve our current climate situation.The key to improving the climate is removing CO2 from the air. Happily the key to improving soil involves sequestering carbon in that top six inches under our feet.  

Why do we need to do this?

Since the second world war there’s been a flood of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and any other cide you can think of. These things while appearing to fix one problem often create others. While we might be dealing with aphids by spraying them with a poison we’re not helping the animals that prey upon aphids. Ladybirds that sort of thing. So the process of regenerative gardening is aimed at improving the soil by allowing Nature to do what it’s done for 3.7 billion years and we just sit back and take the little bits out the we need it’s about holding the line. It’s about not panicking when we see an issue arising and letting nature take it’s time to fix things.

There will be times when we do lose crops particularly in the beginning before with set up a balanced ecosystem. And ecosystems can get out of whack at any time so it’s all a matter of observation, care and attention.

Soil Carbon

By turning the soil into a carbon sink we are actually creating a living soil. The living soil continues to draw carbon down which is then used to feed the other things in the soil things like mycillia, earthworms and any number of microbes too small for us to observe.

A good way to start these sorts of things is to look for quick wins. A quick raised bed garden sown to rocket or radishes will bring a return inside of 4 to 6 weeks without too much trouble and the quick wins are important. Particularly so when you’re working with children who are yet to understand the speed that which Nature works.  Even before the interwebs,  before PlayStations and all the rest, it took a little bit for children to understand that things take longer to grow than they would expect. Planting a seed does not lead to food the next day and this is an important lesson for children to learn anyway, good things can take time.

No-Dig Gardening

Now there are many things that are associated with gardening particularly for the non gardener. The primary one being that it’s all too much hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember we have 10,000 years of Western Agriculture behind us. Flowing from the Fertile Crescent all the way to the boundaries of Europe and out into Africa banging up against the Indian and Chinese methods and all of them seem to involve digging in some form or another. In an agricultural sense the plough is just another form of a large shovel. It’s designed to do things slightly differently when it’s moving soil but moving soil does. If we look to Nature, we see that there’s very little digging going on. Rabbits, bandicoots that sort of niche, squirrels as well but for the majority of time nature does not dig.

One would think, if we’re going to mimic nature, we too should not dig. And definitely this is where I come from. Having tried the double big methods of the older organic styles as advocated for by John Seymour, John Jeavons and others of their ilk who are advocates of the double dig methods. They argue that it frees up the air in the soil and gives a good tilth to the soil. However, if we look back to Nature there is no reason for it. Seeds arise in their own time, in their own seasons.

Masanobu Fukuoka

I came across this understanding when I was reading The one Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. He developed his approach by observation of nature. His task while he was an agricultural scientist, was to remove all rogue sproutings of rice seeds out of season. The idea was if they could break the cycling of the rice and particularly the rice that was growing outside of paddies in the forests, on the edges of streets and roads, they could break the cycle of rust and other disease and pests that we’re bothering the Japanese rice farmers at the time. What Fukuoka discovered was: As summer grass has died off the winter grasses grow through them and at the other change of season as the winter grass died off the summer grass grew through these.

No digging, no bed preparation, no perfect tilth. The seeds simply grew when it was their time to grow. He then set up a system within his own rice paddy which was only a quarter of an acre, to mimic nature. He sowed the a quarter acre rice paddy with white clover. He then over sowed this with rice seeds. Flooding the paddy for a week, killed off the white Clover and allowed the rice seeds to sprout. When the rice was getting close to harvest, he would over sow that with millet or barley. Then he would harvest the rice a couple of weeks later, thresh it to collect the seed and then all the straw would be thrown back onto the paddy in a random pattern. Fukuoka himself says that he suffered from the Japanese trait of neatness and when he first tried this system he placed the straw in neat little rows across the field and it didn’t work. Nothing could push through it. He adjusted, Nature doesn’t do neatness that often and by just tossing the rice straw about the millet or the barley was able to grow through. When the barley was close to being harvested the same process was repeated with rice being oversown. By then the white Clover had returned because it was that time of the year. The clover continued to put nitrogen into the soil. Using this system Fukuoka was able to grow soil year in year out such that his paddy field became higher and higher. What a wonderful problem to have!

We can take and adapt these systems to our own gardens. We may not wish to grow rice or barley or millet even though we can certainly oversow things with white clover. We can certainly ensure that we plant new seedlings before the old ones are collected and harvested by doing this thoughtfully and in succession we never have to dig. We continually grow our soil and we received a harvest.

Indeed my favourite quote from Fukuoka goes like this: 


What less can I do today?

End Quote.

His whole philosophy was based on the idea of doing less and less as a human intervening to try and fix problems, allowing nature to solve the problems that it already solved through over the millennia. 

A Regenerative Mindset

So if we bring the same attitude and approach to you our own veggie gardens, back yards, front yards Hedges and fruit trees, we too can do less and less allowing nature to give us more and more. This seems contrary to everything we’ve been taught about agriculture and gardening throughout our lives, as I mentioned above. The really hard part about no dig gardening is getting our head around the idea that nature knows what it’s doing and we don’t have to help. And this is a mindset shift that just has to take place. It is occurring in parts of Agriculture were regenerative methods are at work. But we need to bring it to our backyards, front yards, footpaths, nature strips and the municipal gardens of this world.

To add to the stability of the system, we can plant perennials, shrubs, bushes, small and large trees depending on the amount of space we have. There is no reason why these perennials should not be food-producing. At the very least they should be for the benefit of pollinators  honey bees, native bees, butterflies, birds and the other species that also do a pollinating job.

Without these pollinators we would really suffer. Something like 80 to 90% of our food requires pollinators for them to be fruitful. While it might be ok as a bachelor to live on things like potatoes and pineapples which don’t require pollinators I suspect that diet would become very dull after a while.

There are the things we can do like setting up worm farms and using the products of this system to improve the soil not by digging it in but by simply laying it on top between the plants were growing we can encourage earthworms in our lawns if we must have lawns and these two will increase the biology of the Soils under them full stop

Putting It All Together

In summary,  regenerative gardening is as I said at the beginning, simply a matter of putting soil first. By removing all artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, we allow the life that is the soil to do it’s thing for us. All we have to do is monitor the systems which set up. Make small adjustments, here and there, slowly. See what happens and collect the harvest when the time comes.

So let’s let nature do her job. She’s been doing it for a lot longer than we have and already “knows” what the answers are to problems we have yet to discover.

If you’d like to learn more about this process click HERE for a free No-Dig Gardening eBook.

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