I’m a little bit concerned about Earth Day. Not because I think it’s a bad idea; it’s just that I have this silly conviction that every day is Earth Day. Of course it’s a wonderful thing to raise awareness about our ailing planet. But once a year is probably not often enough. Maybe we could increase the frequency and make it a monthly event!
Even though I’m an old hippie tree hugger peacenik guy, I’m also a consumer; so that of course means that I am not completely innocent of crimes against Nature. But I also try to do things to give Mom Nature a helping hand when I can. For example, I try to buy stuff that’s made as close to home as possible. I tend to seek out U.S. made products, even if they cost a bit more. Here in Beautiful West Michigan, we have a good selection of produce; especially during the warmer months. Lots of the extras are stored, so when I go for apples, I buy nothing other than Michigan grown apples. Same with potatoes. I’m sorry but I think it’s a bit silly to buy apples from Washington state or potatoes from Florida.
My wife and I have been eating veggies from the garden since we first were married. Back in 1973, the type of horticulture I practiced was called “organic” gardening. That meant no herbicides or pesticides. No commercial fertilizer. At the time, those products were shunned by “organic” gardeners because of their toxicity. Now that we are a bit more carbon conscious, we also understand that since anything that is mined, manufactured, packaged and transported makes an ever growing carbon footprint; it also makes good environmental sense to avoid such substances.
A friend of mine and I were talking about the term “organic” recently, and she surprised me a bit when she said, that “Organic is a capitalist term.” I’d never directly associated capitalism with the term “organic” before she said that; although I was keenly aware that when food products are labeled as “Certified Organic,” it means there were some strict administrative criteria (as well as a healthy outlay of cash) that had to be reckoned with. Hence, many growers at farm markets can say their stuff was grown “organically” but don’t have to jump through the certification hoops.
The new term for the type of gardening I and many others do is called regenerative farming. And yes, even though my plot is a mere 70 feet long by 30 feet wide, I raise quite a bit of food and have even sold some. So hey, as an old song goes from The Who, “Now I’m A Farmer.” (And thanks to my friend Ed who first turned me on to the song.) So one might ask, “What the heck is regenerative farming?? Anyhow??” Well even if you didn’t ask, I’m a gonna tell you about what I do anyways; because that’s a big part of how I celebrate every day as Earth Day.
I grow food in beds, not rows. Beds are 3 feet wide, walkways are 2 feet wide. By using this method, the soil is not compacted so the roots are able to flourish more easily. By careful companion planting you can grow much more stuff in beds than in rows. Companion planting?? OK you didn’t ask about that either but that’s where you learn what grows well together. Some plants complement each other, like lettuce and beets. Some hinder each other like onions and legumes (like peas or beans). Companion planting makes for healthier plants, making them less prone to damage by pests and disease.
As far as fertilizers, I use two basic ingredients: leaves and compost. There is no such thing as bad leaves for the garden; and yes that includes oak leaves. Friends bring me leaves from their yards; but I also pick up as much as I want at the local transfer station for free. Leaves are tilled into the soil and boy do the earthworms love it. When the worms are happy, the soil is happy. If I plant something that needs an extra boost, I dig a hole and fill it with compost, then plant right on top. Then I take more leaves and use them for mulch around all the plants. That keeps the weeds down, preserves moisture, and the creepy-crawlies that dine where the mulch meets the soil make even more happy soil. And when the soil is happy, the food plants are happy.
Weeds are tolerated and sometimes eaten. HUH?? Yes that’s right, many “weeds” are actually very useful plants that folks have simply chosen not to learn about. Of course I remove any weeds that are competing with what I’m trying to grow. If they are too close to the plant I’m trying to save, I simply lop them off right at the soil level and the remaining roots die off and add organic matter back to the dirt. A friend of mine freaks out when she sees creeping charlie in her garden. I pointed out that as long as it’s not choking any food crop, I let it grow because it provides a living mulch. I also let purple dead nettles live in my planting beds for awhile, because they’re one of the first plants that bloom in the spring and the bees love them. And yes I let the dandelions bloom (much to the chagrin of my neighbors I think maybe), as well as the white clover I planted in the lawn. I cringe every time I mow; I’m always on the lookout for bees so I can try to miss them. (If I wasn’t married I would have much less lawn, but that’s another story.) Of course I intentionally plant lots of sunflowers and other flowers to encourage pollinators.
And what kind of regenerative farmer would I be without giving huge credit to my friends the bees, the brown and black beetles, ladybugs, praying mantis, spiders, butterflies, robber flies, soldier flies, centipedes, millipedes, sowbugs, and moths, to name but a few?? They are the composters, the pollinators, and the predators of pests. All are welcome in the garden and of course the yard.
I could probably type several hundred more words about all this; but I’ll hop off of my soap box for now. Suffice it to say that I really do try to celebrate Earth Day every day. If you’re curious about some of my other garden adventures, you can find some here: www.kennysgarden.com
In the meantime, please be kind to Mother Earth each and every day. She’s the only planet we have.