This is Part 3 and the conclusion of a series about the basic ecology of a garden and how it helps to restore our basic life-supporting systems. This includes water, air and soil. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
There is no buffer that can protect you from the global breakdown of the basic life-supporting systems – water, air and soil. However, you can cause an effect on your immediate surroundings. To restore our basic life-supporting systems – water, air and soil – we need to increase the number and diversity of biological components. Diversity is the answer. Remember, an ecosystem has millions of components, systems and sub-systems operating in a given area. These systems need each other for their survival. We can add diversity to our backyards and farms in the form of plants and animals. Once we start to add biological components, they will start to support more biological components. The addition of biological components, in the form of plants and animals, will start to build soil. This in turn will slow down the flow of water and keep it in our property. Trees and other plants will reduce and capture water lost from ground evaporation, mulch soils and create niche spaces for more life-forms. Your property will be better regulated in terms of temperature and humidity. It will be cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This, in turn, helps the plants to yield more, creating more biomass and better soil. There will be more opportunities for life forms and the basic life-supporting systems; water, air and soil will be more supportive and better able to meet your needs. As these basic systems become healthier, more sub-systems will appear. Systems within systems will start to rev up and biological components (plants and animals) will increase in number, diversity and health.
To give you an idea of how this may look in real terms, imagine this; a backyard that had a massive number of edible and non-edible plants of differing size, shape, habit, colour and form. Also, imagine a diversity of domestic and wild animals, native and introduced, edible and non-edible. Now, try to imagine a system where these plants and animals coexist in a way that they fed each other and, at the same time, create surplus food for humans.
Using a mixture of edible and non-edible plants is important. Not everything within the system should be directly consumed by humans. Non-edible plants create the structure that supports the edible species. They should be planted in sensitive areas such as hilltops and drainage lines and in strips along contours on slopes. They act as water filters, native habitats, climate controllers and soil builders. Edible plants fill in the spaces only after the basic supporting structure is in place. Ecosystems are in a constant state of change and so are sustainable food growing systems. This makes it very difficult to predetermine the yield from year to year. The system needs the freedom to change as the components and systems evolve. This is the most difficult part for humans to understand. In our current way of farming we strive to make each year the same so that the yield can be predetermined, even when the conditions are changing. Sustainable agriculture calls for a massive faith in natural laws and absolute respect for the basic life-supporting systems. I have seen many agricultural systems, but very few sustainable ones. I have even seen several organically-certified farms that are practicing agriculture in a way that is depleting the basic life-supporting systems; soil, air and water. Rather than buying inorganic fertilizers, they simply purchase organic fertilizers. These organic farmers have little understanding of natural systems and just operate in a similar way to traditional farmers, only their job is more difficult without the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. The food they produce may be free of chemicals, but they are slowly killing the basic life-supporting systems; water, air and soil.
To make the world a healthier place is not difficult. Even if you don’t get the design as perfect as you possibly could, just the addition of a diversity of plants will create a positive effect on the basic life-supporting systems. However, if you can get the components arranged in a way that they feed off one another to create a cyclic flow of energy, then you are starting to mimic a natural ecosystem. As the site matures, the basic life-supporting systems – water, air and soil – will start to be restored. That is when the system becomes self-sufficient and will provide excess food for humans, with minimal effort. In fact, at that point, we will have returned to the past and, once again, be just another ecological component within an ecosystem.
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