Regenerative agriculture is nothing new to organic growers but has recently been advertised as the latest “new” concept in farming. Please read our article “Regenerative Agriculture” if you are not aware of the reasons regenerative farming has suddenly become the latest buzz word in agriculture.
You can use regenerative agricultural techniques in your home garden or farm with excellent results and to save yourself a great deal of back-breaking and unnecessary traditional garden work. If you are anything like me and hate to weed, you will be happy to learn of a few regenerative growing techniques we bet you haven’t even considered.
Regenerative Growing Techniques:
- The No-Till Method: For centuries and centuries, man has tilled the soil. Now, experts in farming are telling us tilling is not such a good idea. Here’s why. When you till up the soil, and mix it around, you are burying hundreds of thousands of weed seeds and planting them, essentially. You are covering them with dirt so they will have what they need to sprout. If they are left on the surface of the soil, they will have a much harder time getting established and birds and other animals can find them and eat them. As we all know, tilling also kills many earthworms. If you are starting a new, previously-unplanted area and need to work some manure or compost into the soil to give it a jump start, that would be the only time tilling will be of benefit. Just be prepared, you will also be starting a bumper crop of weeds.
- The No-Weed Method: Many of you will be ecstatic to hear this new regenerative growing technique that almost eliminates the back-breaking weeding we’ve been doing for years. All of our lives, we have been led to believe the only way to get rid of weeds is to spray them with harmful chemicals or to painstakingly and tediously spend long hours on our knees or bending over to pull those nasty little invaders. But here’s a thought – one I’ve been practicing for a couple years now: What if you don’t pull or kill those weeds? Scary thought huh? But here’s the thing. Everyone admires those immaculate gardens without a single weed in them, but if you really look at them, they leave large areas of unprotected bare soil open to the sun which bakes every last ounce of moisture out of those nice clean dirt areas. Yes, you can cover them with mulch to hold in moisture, but you still have to pull weeds eventually.
The No-Weed Method actually uses weeds to our benefit. Weeds and grass will shade the soil and protect it from erosion, sun damage, flash floods, heavy downpours and drought. The key is to just keep the weeds short so they don’t overpower everything else or go to seed, and the best way to do that is to simply and easily just mow them like you do your lawn. And…every time you mow them and chop them up with a mulching mower, you are adding nitrogen and green manure to your garden plants. So mow those suckers down, keep them short, and just pull the ones in the immediate vicinity of your garden plants so they are not competing for water and nutrients. So much easier yes, but no, you won’t have that immaculate, pretty-looking nice clean garden. Although, I don’t mind the mowed look. I think it looks nice with patches of garden veggies in a mowed lawn-like setting as well.
- DON’T KILL ALL THE WEEDS: So…by now you must be saying to yourself, “Hell yeah. I’m all for no more tilling and no more weeding!” Which makes a person wonder why we ever started such sadistic growing practices in the first place. We have certainly done some stupid things in the past as far as agriculture goes. Our obsession with killing dandelions and considering them “unsightly” in our lawns is the number one reason the honeybee is now endangered. I happen to think dandelion splotches decorating my lawn in the spring are pretty, and the dandelion is the honeybee’s favorite flower. There are some good weeds. Educate yourself and learn which weeds are actually beneficial to bees and other pollinators. Let them take over where the invasive and unwanted weeds used to be to crowd them out, or leave them around the edges of your garden to attract and support pollinators. Some free knowledge here: another honeybee favorite is wild mint and many herbs, which you can also use.
- The Best Mulch on Earth is Right in Your Back Yard: Literally. Every time I see people spending hundreds of dollars on expensive bark mulches, I shake me head. They obviously don’t know that the best mulch in the world is FREE and right in their own yard. It’s called grass clippings. After you mow your lawn, save those grass clippings either by purchasing a lawn sweeper if you have a riding mower, or use your lawn mower’s bagger. Pile them up in a corner of your garden, then take a nice big handful and put them around all your garden plants at least 2-3 inches thick. Flatten them down by walking on them all the way around your plants. Then spray-water the clippings with your garden hose to flatten them down even more, or apply them right before a rain, and they will form an almost impenetrable dense mat that will choke out anything, and, they have the added benefit of adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil as they decompose as well as holding in moisture so you don’t have to water as much. You may have to refresh the clippings about mid-summer as they start to break down, but if you save all your grass clippings every time you mow, you will be surprised the endless supply of nutritious mulch you will have.
- Investing in a Few Living Mowers and Fertilizers: If you decide to go “whole hog” (yes, pun intended) and get some backyard livestock, consider which ones would benefit your property the most. I’ve been reading up lately on farms that use geese in a specific manner to go up and down rows of vegetables and eat the weeds and grass. This may not always be the most symbiotic relationship if the geese also eat your garden plants, and they will, if you don’t do your research first and learn which garden plants they don’t like. However, a very popular technique of regenerative farming that is on the rise for backyard growers and homesteaders is to rotate their livestock pens with their gardens. By doing this, the pigs or sheep or even chickens will eat all the weeds and weed seeds as well as fertilize the soil leaving a wonderfully rich plot for a garden the following year or two. If you don’t mind rearranging a few livestock pens in the spring, this is an awesome way to get the most out of your land without ever operating a tiller or plow. Let the animals do all the work for you.
Warning: To all you would-be livestock owners out there who don’t know any better, such as the ones I bought my orchard from, DO NOT put livestock in an area with fruit trees or trees you want to keep. They will eat the bark and kill the trees.
- Compost Everything: All of your kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps should go right in the compost pile. They add more variety of nutrients than manure alone and composting them saves on the amount of trash you have to take to the curb every week. Start a separate branches pile, which will take longer to break down than small yard debris, and have a separate leaves and kitchen scraps pile which will break down quickly and you won’t have the branches getting in your way when you want to use the compost. Compost is gold to a gardener or farmer, and learn how to make compost tea. You will find you can never have enough compost. Ever.
As I’m sure you can see by now, regenerative growing techniques don’t just benefit the land, they also can save you a tremendous amount of time, money, and labor if it is planned out just a little in advance and you know what you are doing.