Grow Plants or Build Soil???
Over the years I have had a major shift in my thinking when it comes to gardening. Growing plants has always been something I enjoyed doing. But there has been some change in the way I approach gardening, and it comes down to the foundation of it all, the soil.
It dawned on me the other day as I have been working on this blog that I have been gardening for all of my "adult" life. Ever since I moved back to Eastern Oregon after finishing college, I have had a garden. I started gardening at my rental down on the snake river. When we moved into town I set up a small garden in the back corner. Our next country house had a garden out back, as well as a school garden at the grade school I was teaching at. And finally, here at our current location with the emerging food forest and plans for expanded gardens.
The problem with many of my early gardens is that I was working way, way to hard. I was following the methods I had grown up with, tilling the land, mulching with grass clippings and plastic, chemical solutions to every problem that came up. Your basic, standard approach to gardening, based heavily on the influence of industrial agricultural practices. Love them or hate them, you cannot deny the fact that these methods are good at what they do, and that is grow plants. You will bring in a harvest following these methods. But there are such easier ways, that happen to be better for the environment as an added bonus.
Don't Grow Plants, Build Soil.
The health of your soil is the single most important factor in your gardening success in my opinion. I think I settled on this notion after first being introduced to the work of Joel Salatin at Polyface farms. Joel is famous for saying he is a grass farmer. Most of us would assume that this means he sells grass hay, or maybe sod for lawns....but if you know his work, you know he sells pigerater pork, salad bar beef, pasture raised chicken, turkeys, eggs, and meat rabbits, just to name a few items. Funny.... I didn't mention grass in that list of things he sells, yet he is a self proclaimed grass farmer.
This was the beginning of a huge shift in my approach to gardening.... you don't start with a focus on the things that you want to produce (pork, beef, chickens, etc.) You instead focus on the thing that those things need to thrive (grass.) And you base your system on optimizing the health and success of that thing, and the rest of what your doing, just falls into place. So, based on this model, if you want to grow amazing tomatoes, the best watermelon you ever tasted, or that special turnip you cannot find in a store, then you need to focus your efforts on building soil. You need to build systems that optimize the health of the soil ecosystem, and then you will have a much easier time growing happy, healthy plants.....just like Joel's happy, healthy cows and pigs.
Once your brain makes this shift, you begin looking at things a bit differently. What was once waste now becomes resources to help in your soil building journey. Things that were a burden, now become a benefit. You find new allies in your mission, new methods and techniques, all of which make you want to learn more.
In my next few posts, I am going to walk you through some of the things that I have discovered in this quest toward nurturing and building soil health. These are tested methods that I have researched myself and implemented here as part of our plan. I am constantly learning more, but feel that I have developed some interesting systems that I cannot wait to share with all of you.