This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Have you heard of “regenerative agriculture?" I hadn’t until recently, but after a bit of research, I realized that this “new” movement is at its base just an expansion of organic gardening and farming principles that can be adapted from commercial agriculture to our very own backyards. Here are some components of this style of gardening that we should all take to heart…
Regenerative gardening, like organic gardening, is founded in the principle that if we take care of our soils then everything else will work out for the best. For the most part, I would agree with this concept. The best way to take care of our soils is to keep generous amounts of organic matter in and on them through the application of compost, either made on site or imported from reputable sources.
In the case of regenerative gardening, this practice is also coupled with a “no till” or “no digging” rule. The reason for this is that when we turn over our soils, by either rototilling or digging deeply (does anyone remember the popularity of “double digging?"), we upset the distribution of soil microbes and also release carbon into the atmosphere.
In the beginning of establishing a garden it may be necessary to do some rototilling, but once the grade is established, then making permanent beds and topdressing them with seasonal applications of compost results in very friable soil that only needs to be opened up with a fork when it is time to plant a new crop. Cover crops are also used sometimes to keep the power of photosynthesis working and then they are simply mowed down before planting.
I have used all of these techniques over the years and I can attest to the fact that they work very well. Even in my ornamental landscapes where I am not growing a crop, seasonal composting works wonders.
Another benefit of regenerative gardening is in increasing biodiversity by planting a wide variety of plants, both native and exotic species, that help foster wildlife and insect populations. We need to remember that we don’t live in a vacuum when it comes to gardening. Everything is connected on the planet, whether or not we are conscience of it or oblivious. The more our gardening habits take that interconnectedness into consideration, the healthier our little patches of paradise will become and the happier our planet will be. Everybody wins!
We hear a lot about “sustainable” practices, but I think “regenerative” or “restorative” techniques go one step further and not only repair damaged ecosystems, but make them better for future generations. For every homeowner that takes it upon themselves to invest in improving their soil, planting more diverse landscapes, refraining from using toxic chemicals, and/or supporting the birds and the bees, the planet benefits.
Imagine if all of our neighbors got with the program and started to improve their soils and yards - the effect would be compounded! Carbon would be removed from the atmosphere, healthy food would be produced and shared, enjoyable landscapes for recreating would be created, and maybe, just maybe, there would be a little less tribal acrimony in the world.
Healing the planet one garden at a time is not a difficult thing to do, it just takes a commitment to start the process and make it a priority. Garden centers have all the tools you need to make it happen - from weed free organic composts and fertilizers that have been enriched with soil microbes, to natural remedies for pest and disease issues, to selections of useful and beautiful plants and of course knowledgeable staff, we are here to help.
Let’s make it happen starting in 2022. Go team go! As always, stay safe and keep on gardening!
Sunnyside’s next free online class will be "PNW Fruit Trees" on Saturday, January 29, 2022, at 10:00 am. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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