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Garden Preparation & Nature's Key Tricks

Every year I start my seedlings early, around the second week in March. This is to get a head start and the seedlings will then be ready to go outside once it warms up in May.

Come May Long weekend we plant our outside garden. From my recent learnings in permaculture it is important to keep in mind a few of natures tricks for gardeners that will inherently make the garden more fertile, healthy, well watered and will have resilience similar to natural ecosystems.

1) Soil Building

As with any garden it begins with the soil. Nature builds soils from the top down by means of leaf litter decomposing into fluffy earth and from the bottom up which is done with plants. To create a mature soil quickly, incorporate lots of organic matter with deep layers of mulch. The mulch quickly composts in place creating soil that's ready to nurture healthy plants. Many plants pull nutrients from deep in the soil and siphon them to the surface where other plants can use them. Vegetable gardens when harvested remove nutrients, so nutrients will have to be replaced with small additions of compost or fertilizer.

2) Perennials versus Annuals

Some advantages of perennials over annuals is that they eliminate seed starting, tilling and the opportunity for weeds. This cuts out three tasks off the list in one go. Perennials need less water and fertilizer than annuals and they offer dependable habitat to wildlife and beneficial insects. For a vegetable garden these may include perennial kale, collards, sorrel, green onions, rhubarb and asparagus.

3) Plant Communities

In an ecological garden, we steal a page from nature's book and group plants in communities. Thankfully clever gardeners have put together productive and labour-saving plant combinations for us already. Gardens with plant communities, provide the gardener with lovely blossoms, foliage, food, herbs and may even repel pests, generate mulch, accumulate nutrients and attract beneficial insects.

4) Multiple Stories

An ecological garden has many layers, from a low herb layer through to shrubs and small trees. Together the layers provide many products, diverse habitat and visual interests. I can go into how to create forest like gardens in a future post is someone finds this interesting and wants to know more.

5) Multi-Functional

Every part of the garden serves more than one purpose hence "multi-functional" or "stacking functions" refers to this. For examples a shrub casts shade, feeds winter-starved birds its berries, mulches the soil with it's leaves, blocks wind and collects and channels rainwater and so on. A garden that incorporates plants that have multiple functions becomes much less wasteful and far more productive. A second principle to this is that we should have backups in place. Most gardeners do this unconsciously by planting several varieties of vegetables in case one fails. Any organism or system with backups survive longer. For example if the soil is well mulched, then when irrigation fails, the plants may survive.

The ideas covered in this post - the niche, succession, biodiversity and multiple functions are most important for gardeners to understand to then try and create an ecological garden and provide for their needs. These key nature tricks I learned are from the book called Gaia's garden by Toby Hemenway, highly recommend it.

Let me know how you guys found this information useful and if there is any topic you would like more information on.

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