The 10 Commandments of Natural Gardening
Thou shalt not harm any bugs, even if they seem to be causing trouble. There is a bigger picture, which is hard for us to understand, but the greater your garden’s diversity (both in plant material and critters) the better. Bugs will look after themselves, so you don’t have to. Pesticides often result in killing the predator bugs while the prey (the true pests) can easily become immune. This, of course, only makes your pest problems worse. Aphids that may be eating your cherry tree leaves will also provide a source of food for beneficial bugs including ladybird beetles and hover flies. So resist the temptation to “do” anything and let
the bugs take care of the bugs.
Thou shalt not use human-made products on your garden, for humans know not what a garden needs. Many fertilizers, whether organic or non-organic will not consist of the right ingredients for your plants in your exact soil conditions. With best intentions,
Thou shalt never, ever, ever use landscape fabric. There is never a time and/or a place for landscape fabric unless you are keen on future headaches and stress. If there is one thing I have learned about gardening naturally over the years, it is this: landscape fabric is a marketer’s/salesperson’s dream, and as such, a gardner’s nightmare. This black fabric sold in rolls at garden centres will keep you endlessly coming back for more once the addiction starts. It appears to provide a barrier that weeds can’t get through, but in reality weeds easily surpass this black, synthetic fabric with roots often growing right through it. This whole mess means a whole lot more work for you to now remove both fabric and weeds. This giant load will now need to go to the landfill. Resist temptation and use biodegradable mulches instead; grass clipping, leaves, wood chips to help suppress weeds and leave the fabric at the store.
Thou shalt not use rocks as a “mulch” or as a decorative feature in your garden. Rocks are usually added on top of landscape fabric (See point # 3) for decorative purposes. Rocks on top of all of this makes your job that much harder. Have you ever tried to dig into rocks in order to remove the root of a weed? This task is nearly impossible, meaning you may be tempted to spray the weeds growing between the rocks and we don’t need any extra temptation in this department. Keep gravel/rocks out of your garden. The result? Removing weeds manually will be a million times easier.
Thou shalt not cut back perennials in the fall. By doing so you will be eliminating natural overwintering sites for beneficial predator bugs. These predators will be absolutely necessary come next summer when nasty pests such as leaf miners, slugs and cabbage butterflies want to eat your food crops, sometimes from the inside out! Hoverflies, lacewings and robber flies (complete with charming moustaches actually called “mystax” that are responsible for keeping the legs of their prey from scratching at their faces) rely on spongy hollow perennial tube-like structures for overwintering and laying their eggs. Your over winter perennial collection is perfect for just this purpose!
Thou shalt not remove fallen leaves from garden beds.These leaves are also valuable overwintering sites for predators such as lady bird beetles (the poster child for a healthy organic garden) who help keep aphid populations at bay. These leaves also protect soil from drying out, keep weeds down naturally and feed the ever-so-beneficial spring tales, bacteria and fungus that are truly responsible for keeping any system in check.
Thou shalt not grow hybridized plants. Hybridized plants are often bred to have no pollen (no protein source for pollinators) and sometimes the “double blooms” of these hybrids makes it impossible for bees to drink the nectar as there are too many petals in the way. If your garden isn’t able to attract a crowd of pollinators, then you will not get any of the fruit, literally, of your labours. Native plant species provide the perfect food source for native bees; imported plants (ie- weeds in many cases) provide the perfect source of food for imported species. In turn these imported species pollinate the crops we don’t want to thrive, meaning weeds will only become more pervasive in the future.
Thou shalt liberally apply compost and worm castings annually. Both of these “products” are natural and are made by microbes and worms themselves, not humans. These natural critters know exactly what your garden needs. Some of these benefits I refer to as “The 3 M’s”, as they add natural microbesto the soil (just as microbes in your gut are important, so are microbes in the “gut” of the garden; i.e. the soil). They add minerals in well-balanced ratios back to your garden, available if your plants need them, but not forced unnaturally upon them. They also help retain moisture. Being so loaded with humus (decomposed organic matter) this sponge-like matter really keeps the moisture in!
Thou shalt not add in “decorative” edges to your garden.Another item that is destined for the landfill is garden edging; often made of plastic, but sometimes made of metal, stone or wood. It does not matter the material used, it will cause headaches. The grass roots are adept at finding a way around this structure and through any available cracks, which will cause endless headaches for weeding. Instead, buy a $20 garden edger. This hand tool will be used every spring to clean up the grassy edges, then retired until the following year, making your overall workload in the garden much less.
Thou shalt not till the soil. Tilling the soil breaks up the invisible web of mycorrhizal fungi that lives within. This fungal web is what feeds your plants naturally by making a deal with
the roots of plants. Imagine this conversation: “Hey Carrot” “Yo, what’s up Myke?” “Give me some of that sugar you collect… you know from the sunshine?” “Well do you got some phosphorus in exchange for this sugar, it’s not easy
photosynthesizing these days with all the cloud cover.” “Yeah sure, I’ll give you the phosphorus in exchange for the carbs, screw that low carb diet!” Plants need this fungus, and the fungus needs the plants. Tilling destroys this beneficial relationship. Tilling also destroys old rodent burrows which native bee species can use as nesting sites. If you want your garden to thrive, you will certainly want these precious pollinators to choose your garden, so leave the soil in tact, as is.
The good news about all of this? It generally means less work for you, the “gardener” and more work and food for all of the critters that will truly make your garden thrive. Stop meddling, and instead sit back on your patio and enjoy what nature has to offer!
Chelsie’s new book the “Three Year Gardener’s Gratitude Journal” co-authored with Donna Balzer is now available for pre-order at donnabalzer.com.