The Go Food Gardening System is to a large extent a synthesis of three main forms of sustainable gardening:
- Organic gardening,
- French intensive gardening and
This fusion resulted in a system which allowed us to go beyond the basic premises of organic gardening.
It is worth noting that although we focus on food and herb gardens almost all of what you’ll learn in this masterclass can be, or rather should be, applied to your ornamental garden as well.
Why organic gardening?
“This commonly asked question is easy to answer. The primary reason to embrace the organic approach is health. This means the well-being of the individual as well as the health of the environment. Many pesticides can accumulate over time, both in our bodies and in the wider environment, a poisonous legacy that can persist for decades. Organic gardening seeks to redress this damage by working with and encouraging nature. It is a long term investment in the health and wellbeing of us all.” – Christine and Michael Lavelle
There’s an awful lot of hype around organic, and if you are starting your own food garden, it’s something you need to consider seriously.
What does it mean to go organic?
That’s actually quite a complex question, which is not as easy to answer as to why you need to go organic. Some say that it means not using any chemical pesticides or fertilizers because they can damage the environment. You can only use natural stuff. Others say it means reducing your carbon footprint or reducing food miles.
That’s all true, but there’s a sting in the tail. There are also some natural remedies, like tobacco dust, that can be toxic. And some organic formulations claim to be safe to use, but when used in excess these same formulations can wreak havoc in your garden.
Organic gardening starts with the soil in your garden. Make that your passion and almost everything else will follow.
“Vegetarians may be appalled, but much of gardening is actually raising animals: the tiny ones under the earth’s surface” – Toby Hemenway
“One of the most basic principles of organic gardening is that you encourage the life in the soil. It’s a mistake to think of soil organisms as of no consequence, or as pests and diseases to be ‘fought’. They are all important and the more diverse and abundant the soil life, the less problems you will have.” – Frank Tozer
In the Go Food Gardening System we encourage the following organic practices, all aimed at improving the life in your soil:
- Improving and conditioning your soil by using the correct cultivation methods.
- Avoiding excessive cultivation. The soil doesn’t like to be dug. This applies especially to vigorous cultivation with machinery which tends to cause a plough pan in heavy soils.
- Amending the soil with well-rotted manure and/or compost – it encourages soil biodiversity; and the more organic matter in the soil, the more water it can hold, and the more nutrients it will have.
- Making your own compost. It is the best amendment there is and it is the best way to recycle all your garden waste. Or start a bokashi bin or worm farm if composting is not for you.
- Mulching the beds, and paths, with organic material (pine needles, bark chips, peanut shells, etc.). It keeps the roots cool, suppresses weeds and helps retain water.
- Rotating your annual crops to restore the balance in the soil. Some plants deplete, while others, like legumes, add nitrogen to the soil. It also prevents pests and diseases building up in the soil.
- Companion planting, intercropping, poly-cultures, etc. – combine herbs and vegetables that stimulate each other’s growth, or act as pest repellents. For instance, marigolds repel eelworm.
- Avoiding soil compaction. Keep all traffic off the beds, including wheelbarrows, children, dogs and hands. You really have no excuse for walking in the beds. It is one of the worst things you can do for the soil structure.
- Collecting rainwater, especially in winter rainfall areas for summer use.
- Following an integrated pest management approach which means always using the least damaging method of pest control at your disposal.
It all boils down to growing your soil before you start growing plants.
But organic gardening is more than just growing the soil. It’s about using your common sense, and working with nature. It is about employing environmentally friendly products and environmentally friendly cultural practices.
Organic gardening isn’t very different from conventional gardening. You still need to plant at the right time, prune, control pests and pull out the weeds.
The difference lies in your approach. It’s how you understand, and value, the interrelationship between all the elements in your garden. It’s how you understand the ecosystem of your garden.
About a hundred years before the term “ecosystem” was coined, John Muir said simply, “Everything is connected to everything else”:
- The micro-organisms that create humus in the soil.
- The pollinating bees and butterflies.
- The natural pest controllers like ladybirds and their prey.
- The synergies between plants (companion planting).
- The natural rhythms of nature (day, night, seasons).
- And the cycle of life and decay.
- In other words, organic gardening is a philosophy of gardening. It’s not just a style or method.
Whilst organic gardening provides us with a philosophy, or approach to gardening, bio-intensive gardening provides us with time tested horticultural techniques which were honed in the 1700s and 1800s outside Paris.
Crops were grown on beds of 45cm of horse manure, a fertilizer that was readily available. The crops were spaced so that when the plants were mature, their leaves would barely touch. This close spacing provided a mini-climate and living mulch that reduced weed growth and helped hold moisture.
Between the 1920s and 1930s, Alan Chadwick, an Englishman, combined Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamics and French intensive techniques into the biodynamic-French-intensive method. The world at large was first exposed to the method when Chadwick brought the method to the Student Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz in the 1960s.
Chadwick, a horticultural genius, had been gardening for half a century and was also an avid dramatist and artist. He worked as a gardener for the Union of South Africa and restored the Admiralty Gardens in Cape Town before moving to California.
Chadwick’s method was further developed by John Jeavons and Ecology Action into a sustainable food-raising method known as “Grow Biointensive.” The method now enjoys widespread practice and development. Jeavons’s books are readily available and are a worthy addition to any serious food gardener’s library.
Some say that permaculture is just a form of organic gardening. But it is much more than that. Permaculture provides us with a holistic approach to landscape design and of creating sustainable mini-ecosystems in our own backyards.
David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept, discusses 12 design principles in his book Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. These principles are brief statements or slogans which can be remembered as a checklist when considering the inevitable complex options for the design and evolution of ecological systems. A food garden is a good example of such a system.
Permaculture Design Principles
Each of Holmgren’s design principles takes the form of a brief action statement with an associated proverb or saying which exemplify the principle. While the action statements emphasize the positive aspect of permaculture-based on the abundance of nature, the proverbs provide a cautionary warning about the constraints and limits of nature.
- Observe and Interact. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- Catch and Store Energy. Make hay while the sun shines.
- Obtain a Yield. You can’t work on an empty stomach.
- Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the seventh generation.
- Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services. Let nature take its course.
- Produce No Waste. A stitch in time saves nine. Waste not, want not.
- Design from Patterns to Details. Can’t see the wood for the trees.
- Integrate Rather than Segregate. Many hands make light work.
- Use Small and Slow Solutions. The bigger they are the harder they fall. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Use and Value Diversity. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal. Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path.
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change. Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.
You can download David Holmgren’s The Essence of Permaculture freely from his site http://www.holmgren.com.au/
1. Take a few minutes to reflect on the above then answer the following questions in your food gardening journal:
1.1 What are your views on organic gardening?
1.2 Which of the above models appeals the most to you? Organic Gardening, Bio-Intensive Gardening or Permaculture? Briefly motivate your answer.
2. Share your thoughts in a Reply below.