We are writing today about what we call landrace gardening, working with our garden soil, which is alive. We are talking about feeding our garden soil and the organisms in it, not just feeding the plants we want to grow. If you have worked hard to build your garden soil up, or you are lucky enough to have healthy garden soil already, you do not want to kill it. So obviously, you would not want to use any toxic chemicals… Think of your garden as a community: a community of plants, insects, and other organisms, all working together to produce food for you. Now if you use an insecticide or herbicide you are killing off some of the community. It’s like someone deciding that there are undesirables in your community and using homicide to remedy the situation. The endings of the words are the same… cide means kill.
Now you might think that I am being a little simplistic and silly, but the truth is we do not know to what degree everything in our garden works together; even things that we think are undesirable. There are many symbiotic relationships in our garden that we do not understand. These symbiotic relationships cannot survive if we kill off one or more of the individuals. Landrace Gardening consists of developing these living relationships in a survival of the fittest race to develop the best possible garden. One that is alive... A landrace garden.
When you see a healthy weed and pull it up, or when one of your big healthy annual garden plants dies back in the fall and you pull it up… Have you noticed that there are earthworms and other signs of life congregated around the roots of the plant you just pulled up? Obviously there is a symbiotic relationship between the plant and the earthworms. We know that the earthworm leaves behind worm castings that are full of nutrition, and tunnels for the roots to grow in and for moisture to get down to the roots, but I am sure that the plant roots are providing something for the worms as well.
Maybe we are destroying the earthworm’s home... Now what if, instead of pulling up the annuals that die back in the fall, we just left them there? They are returning the nutrition back to the soil, and I propose to you that the worms, etc., are helping them do it. Now you are probably saying to yourself that you pull up these old plants and compost them in a pile along with the worms that are stuck in the roots. Well, that is all well and good, but you have uprooted the mini-ecosystem that has developed around that plant and its roots, and I am sure that it did not all come along to the compost pile… What is left behind then dies back because its habitat was destroyed.
Next year when you plant your garden, the plants roots will have to develop these symbiotic relationships all over again. Now, you will add decomposed material from your compost pile to help get things started, but what if you had left the plants to decompose in place? The earthworms are still there, their tunnels are still there, their worm castings are there... the other individuals in the community are all still there, just waiting for the seed you planted to germinate again just like it happens spontaneously in nature.
With landrace gardening we leave there what has grown there, letting the plants decompose in place. (If the plants have a disease, then you would remove and burn them.) Think about what happens in nature. A tree gets old and dies. It decomposes in place. The animals do not work together hauling it into a pile to make the woods look better.
Now I am being simplistic, but my point is we should limit how much we disturb the garden soil habitat. That is why we should grow more perennials.