The term Ecological Gardening seems to be gaining popularity. But what is it?
What is ecological gardening?
Natural ecosystems are generally diverse and there are a number of intricate interdependent relationships occurring between the living and non-living components at any given time.
Put simply, each component relies and benefits from its interaction with other components.
They fuel up on each other, causing the system to be able to sustain itself. If one part of the system gets ‘out of whack’, the whole system is affected.
High yielding, low maintenance vegetable gardening that’s perfect for our modern-day lifestyle.
Firstly, you avoid having empty niche spaces. And secondly, you make sure there is something desirable to fill niche spaces, should they become available. That’s just one simple example, but Ecological Gardening can easily prevent a number of problems from ever arising.
Ecological Vegetable Gardens
An ecological garden is an ecosystem made up of edible plants, and it behaves in exactly the same way as a natural habitat. Over time, you become more of an observer than a gardener as you watch Mother Nature do most of the work.
The wonderful thing about nature is that she works tirelessly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nature follows very simple laws and works in the same way, on any system, anywhere in the world. To understand ecological gardening, observing natural ecosystems can provide us with the answers we need.
A pristine natural ecosystem is made up of thousands of living and non-living components all coexisting in a given area. Each living component occupies its own niche space and the role of the niche space is very important to understand when creating an ecological garden.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine a giant rainforest tree crashing to the ground after standing tall for hundreds of years. Such a large tree would have filled an enormous niche space. Lying in the soil, hundreds of dormant seeds spring to life, desperately fighting for their opportunity to occupy the best real estate in the forest – the empty niche space. The niche space is quickly filled and harmony is restored.
Who Should Set Up an Ecological Garden?
Absolutely everyone from farmers to inner-city townhouse dwellers. It may seem strange, but if you have never grown food before then you are, in some ways, at an advantage. Experienced gardeners may like to see themselves as adopting some ecological gardening techniques, but find it difficult to let go of the need to control the system.
Like all industries, the gardening industry can get stuck in doing things a certain way and most seasoned gardeners will inevitably over-work the garden.
As a species, human beings prospered when we learnt to cultivate food using tilling and other traditional agricultural methods, so it’s difficult to turn back to where we came from – nature. It might even feel like a step in the wrong direction.
But if we can let go of our need to control every living thing on the planet, and start to work with nature, we actually gain more control by being able to grow food more efficiently than ever before.
It’s a paradox – but it works!
Setting up an ecological garden
Any existing vegetable garden can be converted into an ecological garden. Firstly, get your pathways laid out so that you never have to walk on your garden beds again. After that, get a good composting system going and apply it to the soil surface. Then plant densely and diversely.
If you don’t have a vegetable garden, my suggestion would be to create a classic Esther Deans ‘no dig’ garden to get you started. Once erected, simply follow the ecological gardening method.
If you live in a unit or townhouse with no soft ground you could create a mini-ecological garden using a series of containers.
Polystyrafoam boxes with drainage holes are ideal. Fill them with good potting mixture and arrange them side by side using as many as you can fit onto your verandah or patio.
Rather than developing a large composting system, you could purchase a worm farm and add the worm casts to the soil surface as fertilizer.
Once the boxes are set up, simply adopt the ecological gardening method.
The Ecological Gardening Method – Key Principles
- Plant densely
- Plant a diversity of plants within a given area
- Get a good composting system set up and use the compost as a surface mulch on bare patches
- Allow some plants to go to seed
- Only interfere with the system when a single species of plant over-dominates and simply scratch out excess plants when they are small.
My experience with Ecological Gardening has been phenomenal. I have been able to combine natural weed management, soil ecology, pest ecology and crop management into a very simple and easy method.
In fact, I have been able to create a garden that requires very little attention and produces far more than a traditional vegetable garden, simply by applying sound scientific principles. And from the incredible results that I have achieved, I can say, with absolute certainty, that Ecological Gardening is the way we will be producing food in the future.