Since I joined Regeneration Canada in the fall, I’ve had many friends and family members ask me: can I make my own garden regenerative? I was telling them about different practices that farmers were using to regenerate their soil, but can we apply these regenerative methods we’re talking about to a small backyard garden? The answer is yes. So I’ve decided to put together a list of 7 easy (enough) ways you can make your garden more regenerative. Before we get into how to regenerate, a few words on why we should be doing it.
Why do we need to regenerate our soil?
Regenerative means to improve the resources your are using, like soil, by building them and regenerating life into them, as opposed to simply using them and leaving them degraded. Unfortunately, sustaining our resources isn’t enough anymore, if we want to see real change, we need to be regenerating. And yes, soil is very alive. There are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet!
It’s important to take good care of our soil. Not only does healthy soil allow us to grow healthy, nutrient dense food, it also has the capacity to help reverse climate change. Healthy soil is like a giant carbon sponge. It can store a huge amount of carbon dioxide, by taking it out of the air, and soaking it up in the ground. This can help reverse the effects of global warming and extreme weather.
So how can you make your home garden more regenerative?
1. Cover your soil
Just like other living things, soil needs food and shelter to survive. There are different ways to achieve this in a small garden. You can cover your soil with living plants, called cover crops, which are not necessarily meant to be harvested. For instance, you can plant rye in the fall on the bare ground once you have harvested a garden bed. The rye occupies the space over winter and grows back in early spring. Before you want to plant in the bed, you can cover the rye with a tarp to deprive it from light. Then you can plant your vegetables in the residues of the rye. Other common cover crops used in small scale gardens include oats, buckwheat, clover, mustard although many others are possible including mixes. Covering your soil with these plants helps store water and retain moisture, and also help suppress weeds. If you have deep rooted plants, you can also plant low growing ground cover around them such as white clover or thyme. You just don’t want anything which will compete for nutrients in the same root zone as your fruit or vegetables.
Another option is to cover your soil with mulch, or dried plant matter, like grass clippings, straw, dried leaves or wood chips. I’ve even seen a farmer use shredded cardboard! As long as it will decompose, it will keep adding organic matter and help build more soil in the future.The important thing with mulch is that it stays on the surface of the soil, not mixed into the plant’s root zone. Otherwise it could decompose too quickly and rob nitrogen from your vegetables. Mulch holds water in the soil so effectively that generally you don’t need to water your garden once your plants are established. A real plus on hot summer days!
2. Use compost
By composting our food waste and spreading it over our soil, all the nutrients of our food are recycled and used to feed the soil.
Compost helps restore your soil and gives a second life to our food scraps! Find out more reasons why compost is so great.
You can make your own compost, for example vermicomposting with worms (learn how to vermicompost), or get some as locally as possible (check with your municipality), or buy good quality organic compost at your local gardening store.
3. Don’t disturb the soil
Turning over the soil will actually deplete it by breaking its structure and disturbing its ecosystem. It also contributes to releasing all that stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Instead of tilling or turning over your soil, you can just loosen it with a pitchfork or a broadfork. Dig in deep, move the fork back and forth to decompact it. You will easily be able to pull out deep rooted weeds after that. The longer you manage permanent beds without tilling, using compost, mulch and cover crops, the softer and richer your soil will become. It will be very easy to weed and prepare your beds.
4. Don’t use chemicals!
It’s simple: if you don’t want toxic chemicals in your body, then don’t put them in your food. Healthy soils also means healthier food: rebuilding soil organic matter reduces dependence on chemicals and pesticides, and results in more nutrient dense food. There are other solutions! Using regenerative methods and only organic inputs restores the natural nutrient cycling ability of soil. Your plants will have strong immune systems and get all the nutrients they need without having to use any chemicals.
5. Grow food
By growing your own fruits, vegetables and other edible plants, you are reducing your carbon footprint by buying less food at the store: your food will spend less energy traveling and so will you. When your food comes from your own backyard, that means less food miles. Your fruits and veg will also taste much fresher!
6. Plant different things
Not only is it more fun to have a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers in your garden, but planting a diversity of plants will increase biodiversity and help your garden be more resilient. Why not plant some flowers too to welcome pollinators?
7. Plant perennials: plants that stick around year after year
Perennials are plants that will grow back year after year. Not only are they easy to care for, because they just grow back after the winter, but their deep roots capture more carbon and moisture, helping microorganisms thrive and build healthier soil.
Common edible perennials include fruit trees and berry bushes, like currants or blueberries, or lovely fragrant herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary or lavender, or other vegetables like garlic, asparagus and some types of onions. Find out more about perennials.
If you want to spread the love, share these tips with your friends – and please don’t judge others or preach! That’s part of the regen spirit 🙂
Now you can call yourself a regenerative gardener!
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