Landrace Gardening

Garden Seeds' Landrace Gardening definition:  Landrace gardening is survival of the fittest gardening - Gardening the way your great great grandparents did, working with nature to control weeds and pests - Using garden seeds that you have saved from the best plants from the last few years to ensure genetic diversity.


Landrace gardening is a better way to garden.  Have you ever wondered why the weeds, without any help, can manage to be the healthiest looking plants in the garden?  These weeds that have sprung up are from the seeds that have managed to survive in the area of your garden.  Survival of the fittest has over time adapted them to the growing conditions in your area.  The garden seeds that most people buy come from some place like Iowa.  I do not know about you but I do not live in Iowa, and these plants do not do as well in my garden as they do in Iowa.


Another thing, are weeds bad for the garden?  Consider my favorite weed, the dandelion.   It sends its roots down deep into the soil bringing up nutrients and moisture that are out of reach of most of the garden vegetables we plant.  If left alone it will bring up more and more nutrients each year, and when it dies back each fall the top of the plant will decompose leaving the nutrients for the other garden plants.  Then first thing in the spring it will come back from the roots and burst forth with life.  Here in Northern Minnesota it produces our first greens for the table and the first reliable flowers for the landrace honeybees I want to develop.


(Notice in the photos on the right:  The first picture is titled corn field but on closer inspection it is also a bean field.  The beans provide nitrogen so the corn grows better and the corn gives the beans something to grow on so the beans grow better.  Also, the weeds are not removed... they are controlled.)


Corn Field near Zinacantan, Mexico
Corn Field near Zinacantan, Mexico
Bean field near Zinacantan Mexico
Bean field near Zinacantan Mexico
Bean field near Zinacantan Mexico
Bean field near Zinacantan Mexico

Rows of potatos
Rows of potatos with mulch between

Weeds are a positive in a landrace garden...  Where in nature do you see bare earth showing for an extended period of time.  Bare earth loses moisture and gets baked hard by the sun.  It is not possible to plant tomato plants close enough together so that the earth is all covered.  This is where mulch comes in.  Weeds that are controlled can be used as a living mulch. 


Another awesome weed is the comfrey plant.  It sends its roots down deep and produces a massive about of green leafy material for mulch or your compost bin.  Basswood planted over one hundred root pieces in the area where he plans on planting apple trees next year.  (I must warn you that comfrey can be extremely invasive.  I made the mistake of trying to remove five comfrey plants from one of my small garden plots by tilling it under about five years ago.  I am a slow learner and after tilling that small plot several times over a three year period I managed to spread the comfrey over that whole garden plot...  Each tiny little piece of root will grow a new massive comfrey plant.  The plants we have growing on our property are sterile and so they do not spread if we do not mess with them.)  (I have since changed to no till methods of gardening.  It takes longer in the beginning to get the weeds under control but it does not kill the IMOs and earthworms.)


You are probably asking yourself...  Why would anyone use an invasive species in their garden.  That is a good question.  I am willing to bet that you encourage at least one invasive species in your garden if you garden naturally.  To be fair it might not be considered invasive where you are.  Each state has species that they consider invasive, while the next state might not consider them so...

"All of the terrestrial earthworms in Minnesota are non-native, invasive species from Europe and Asia (There is a native aquatic species that woodcock eat). At least fifteen non-native terrestrial species have been introduced so far. Studies conducted by the University of Minnesota and forest managers show that at least seven species are invading our hardwood forests and causing the loss of tree seedlings, wildflowers, and ferns."   I copied this for you from the Minnesota DNR invasive earthworm page.

The point that I am trying to make is that we need to roll back the clock on gardening.  We need to learn the old gardening techniques that our ancestors used.  People might live longer now, but do we live better?  The average person back then did not live for years after being too sick to work in the garden.  I think that this was because of the garden.  Sure modern medicine can keep people alive that would have died back then, but I think that food grown in the gardens then had the nutrition that would help the people that are dying today. 


Landrace crops can have more nutrition than commercially grown crops.  Modern seeds are selected for improved production and storage.  I say this has come at the expense of nutrition.  I used to think that corn was corn and it came with a defined amount of nutrition.  No... Landrace varieties can have considerably different nutritional content between the different varieties, and considerably more then the commercial varieties.  Could this be why we have an obesity problem? 


I propose to you that obesity is caused by a lack of nutrition not a lack of self control.  If you were unable to get food of any kind for a couple of days and then found food and ate because you were hungry, starving, is that a lack of self control?  We are starving and do not know it.  We have to eat more and more to get the nutrition our body requires to survive.  This is why we have trouble with obesity.


I believe that landrace gardening is the answer to a better longer life.  Why spend money on a gym membership where they have to filter the air so you can breath it, and kill all the germs so you don't get sick?  Workout in your garden where the plants filter the air and you are exposed to the indigenous micro organisms (IMOs) that are common to your area.  We have been taught by the chemical industry that we need to kill all IMOs for our protection, but if you kill the good organisms, bad ones will move in.


The landrace plants you grow will become adapted to the local organisms and pests and will adapt to grow better with them.  Plants need organisms to help them get the nutrition they need out of the soil.  These plants will also provide you with better nutrition, because when you pick something it starts to die and the nutrition dies too.  Not only that you are feeding your garden using natural gardening techniques so there is more nutrition for your plants to take up in the first place. 


With modern farming and gardening techniques they feed the plants instead of the soil.  Most fertilizers just have nitrogen/phosphate/potash.  These three make beautiful looking plants but they are lacking in other nutrients.  If a plant needs a dozen nutrients to be complete and healthy and you only put back three each year...  What do you expect to happen?


Landrace gardening uses the seeds that are adapted to grow best in your local area.  It uses methods that feed the soil and not just the plants.  Yes, landrace gardening is survival of the fittest, but hopefully we will work with nature in that selection.


Blog post about landrace gardening.         Landrace gardening part two


Ears of corn for seed
Ears of corn from Mexico for seed

Bean pods
Bean pods