After 50 years of basic organic
food gardening, I have finally begun paying attention to the
principles that guide my choices and actions - not that I
have come to them easily, or all at once, or all alone. Sustained
gardening is of necessity a journey for the gardener, one
that can take them beyond award winning varieties, professionally
formulated chemistries and magical soil additives. For many
the journey becomes a portal into the nature of nature, the
nature of food and even the nature of the gardener. For we
all seek and find ourselves somewhere in the garden –
as imperfect as it may be.
Over the last few years, my garden (usually
preceded with some adjective like “food” or “kitchen”)
has become more than a place to grow food and more than a
way to beautify the yard. In fact, never would it delight
the eye of a landscape architect or grace the pages of Gardening
Magazine. However, there are patches of beauty throughout
the year, mixed in with the heartbreak of withering leaves,
brown spots, gnawed stems and chewed fruit. Seems all the
players in my garden are focused on their own needs rather
I sometimes stand in the ragged tapestry of
green beds and marvel at how little there is to eat. What
is for dinner – often drives me to the store and yet
the garden has had a profound impact on our diet. In part
because of what has grown there (memory being a persistent
aspect of eating) and in part because of the qualities that
we had discovered in the food. Food from the garden has informed
our taste, so that we now require the flavor and nutrient
density found in the olden style, pre-industrialized, earthly
grown fruits, vegetables, eggs and meats. Yes, they can be
found here in Las Cruces. The garden also provides a space
for seeing and observing as well as a trampoline for my intellectual
Most of my garden looks like the gardener is
ignorant of the rules or at least fails to comply with the
standards for clear cutting, tilling, timing, rotating and
spacing. That is an accurate observation, which brings me
to the principles that are ultimately responsible for the
look and function of the garden.
of Sustainable Food Gardening
• The sustainable food garden is a biological
community of diverse organisms, an ecosystem that includes
• The processes and activities for starting
a garden are different from those needed to maintain a garden.
It is not necessary or desirable to start a garden over again
• The gardener is as cultivated by the
garden, as the garden is by the gardener.
• The food garden is an international
collection of species assembled to meet the gardener’s
food preferences. However, locally adapted varieties will
be the most productive and often the best flavored.
• Plants affect each other. They have
synergistic and symbiotic relationships both above and below
the soil surface. They grow best when in diverse relationships
with other plants.
• Some food plants are more “wild”
than others are. They need less gardener intervention and
management and will reseed themselves endlessly in their season
requiring only thinning and watering.
• The garden and gardener benefit from
• Weeds and pest insects are important
members of the food garden community.
• Plants that bloom and produce seeds
contribute to the well being of all organisms in the garden
community, including those living in the soil.
• Healthy garden soil is more than a substrate
to hold roots, water and chemical nutrients; it is a complex
living community. Healthy soil is essential for producing
• Digging, plowing or roto-tiling the
garden damages the soil community and soil structure.
• Soil should only be disturbed as required
to sow seed, set transplants and harvest roots and tubers.
• Decay is part of the living cycle.
Now that I have this, as yet incomplete, set
of Principles how do I use them. Next month I will continue
this exploration with some Guidelines for a Sustainable Food
Garden. Should this wet your appetite for more about sustainable
food gardening, I recommend reading:
The One Straw Revolution
– Masanobu Fukuoka
This publication is difficult to locate today, but is available
on the web at (http://fukuokafarmingol.info/fover.html#ov17)
– Emilia Hazelip
Emilia was a permaculturist and student of Fukouka who researched
sustainable market gardening in southern France. Her writing
is available on the web at (http://fukuokafarmingol.info/faemilia.html)
The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden
Book – Ruth Stout
One of several publications by Ruth Stout, all with a similar
theme of not digging and mulching to sustain a healthy food
garden. Although published in 1971, it remains readily available
through most booksellers.
till next month,
Dona Ana Extension Master Gardener
well - eat local