Gardening Better Naturally
Here at Garden Seeds we feel that Landrace Gardening, using natural gardening techniques will provide you with garden produce with the highest nutritional value. We encourage you to learn more about these natural methods and adapt them to your garden.
Natural Gardening Ideas: IMOs
Basswood, whom you can learn about in Basswood's blog, spent four months in Hawaii a few years ago. He hitchhiked around the big island and then worked at Kalapana Organics for room and board. (They are a member of WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF links volunteers with organic farms.) Kalapana Organics is a family-run organic farm and business. They grow certified organic sugarcane, bananas, papayas, citrus, avocados, ginger, turmeric, coconuts, tapioca (cassava), taro, and much more.
While working on the farm, Basswood learned to grow IMOs (Indigenous Micro Organisms.) IMOs are microbes, or mycorrhizae, indigenous to each location or farm. These micro organisms are:
1) Cultured in a simple wooden box of rice.
2) Mixed with brown sugar and stored in a crock.
3) Further propagated on rice bran or wheat mill run.
4) Mixed with soil and cultured again.
5) Mix with compost, or add to potting soil, or spread on beds before planting.
This entire process takes 3 to 4 weeks. These indigenous micro organisms (IMOs) are then added to the garden soil where they help break down the nutrients found there, for the plants to use.
Natural Farming Hawaii has a lot of information on their website about farming naturally with IMOs to improve soil fertility. On their website, they also have what they call a traditional recipe:
- Cook 6 cups of rice with 4 cups of water
- Fill wooden box 2/3 full with loosely packed rice
- Place in forest
- Let ferment 3-5 days
- Mix with equal parts of brown sugar.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Composting
I am sure that everyone has heard of composting, but I mention it here because it is one of the best things you can do to improve your garden. There are lots of different methods of composting, but the basic idea is to take any organic material (something that was once alive) that you have and put it in a pile or bin of some kind for it to decompose. (Do not use any animal products, with the notable exception of egg shells, because they will draw animals and stink.)
Use whatever organic material that you have, food scraps, grass clippings, straw, leaves, etc. It helps to mix layers of "green" (things like food scraps and fresh grass clippings that have lots of nitrogen) with those that are "brown" (things like leaves and straw that contain carbon.) You need this nitrogen/carbon mixture so that bacteria can live and break down this organic material. Also stir your pile, every few days to let the bacteria get some oxygen, and make sure it stays moist . If the bacteria cannot live, your pile will just rot and stink.
Many communities have a compost dump. The city of Chisholm, Minnesota, that is about five miles from us, has one just out of town that has been there for years. They have a place where people can drop off leaves, a place for wood chips, and another for branches. Basswood and I go there and get truckloads of organic material for our compost piles and to use as mulch for our gardens here at Garden Seeds. (Not every compost dump lets you take material for free, so check before you try.)
Natural Gardening Ideas: Hugel Beds
Hugel Beds or Hugelkultur is a form of composting in place. You start by digging a ditch about a foot and a half deep, three feet wide, and as long as you want. Fill this ditch with old pieces of wood that you find lying in the woods. You can also break up branches, Basically, the idea is to use any non-treated wood that you want to rot down and decompose. After you fill the ditch and pile the wood up a little above ground level, you start piling on anything that you would put in your compost pile. After you get a nice mound, about two-and-a-half feet high, with gradually sloping sides, you water well and cover everything with about three inches of garden soil/decomposed compost mixture, so you can plant your seeds.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Lasagna Gardening
Another form of composting-in-place gardening is lasagna gardening. The basic concept is that you layer green and brown layers right on the ground, add a little soil and then plant. Have you noticed that plants grow better in your compost pile? Well, with this method your whole garden is your compost pile. As you can imagine, with this method, you will need lots of organic material. So, see if you can find a local compost dump where you can get organic material for free.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Vermiculture
Vermiculture, or worm farming, is using worms to break down your compost and other organic material and turn them into worm castings. Worms can help to speed up the decomposition process and mix everything up. Also, when they are finished breaking down the organic material you have given them, you have lots of worms that you can add to your garden where they can continue breaking down organic matter and mixing it in the soil. The tunnels worms make are good for letting air and moisture into the soil to help your plants grow.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Forest Gardening
Forest Gardening is gardening the way nature does it. Forest gardening is plant-based food production based on woodland ecosystems. It incorporates fruit trees, nut trees, and perennial shrubs, herbs, vines, and vegetables which produce food and things useful to us and the animals we raise. Forest gardening makes use of companion planting, and plants are grown in a succession of layers.
The BBC, in their Unnatural Histories TV Series, shows how the Amazon Rain Forest was not just a wilderness, but it was shaped by humans. Parts of it were used as a food forest for the benefit of the people that lived there. After setting up and planting your food forest, it is sustainable and requires little maintenance when compared to conventional gardening.
Here are John Kitsteiner's Nine Layers of the Edible Forest Garden:
Canopy/Tall Tree Layer
Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer
Ground cover/Creeper Layer
Follow the link above to the webpage where John explains forest gardening and each different layer and how they all work together.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Mulch
I would be remiss if I did not mention gardening naturally with mulch and its many benefits. When organic material is used as mulch it benefits your garden in many ways. Organic mulch absorbs moisture and conserves it in the garden by limiting evaporation. Mulch helps control weed growth, and when weeds do poke through the mulch they are easier to pull out because the soil underneath in not baked hard by the sun. Mulch is also food for worms, which help to break down the organic material and enrich the fertility of the soil in the process.
I want to warn you to be careful if using sawdust or wood chips because they have to take nitrogen from the environment in order to decompose. One year I obtained a bunch of free sawdust and used it as mulch in my garden. It was great for retaining moisture and the weeds did not grow, but neither did my plants. Be sure to compost sawdust before using it in your garden.
Here at Garden Seeds we have an almost unlimited supply of wood chips at the local compost dump, so we use them to cover our main walkways. We do not want any plants to grow there anyway and we like the way they make the garden look neater. These wood chips will decompose over the next few years and add nutrients to the garden. We will add more wood chips each year, and by keeping the walkways in the same place we will give the worms a moist place to hang out undisturbed where they can multiply and then move out into the rest of the garden, taking the nutrients with them.
Natural Gardening Ideas: Gardening with Mushrooms and other Fungi
Basswood is heading to Guatemala for the winter again. He plans to learn about mushrooms and other fungi and the benefits that they offer to our landrace gardens. Fungi break down organic material for other organisms to use. The fungi's mycelium are little fibers that share nutrients between different organisms.