In every endeavour, it is best to expend the least amount of effort to attain one’s goal. The old maxim of hard work ensures success is one we need to unlearn. Hard work tends to stress the natural environment and those around us while compromising our own well-being.
As gardeners, the picture perfect, well-tended garden needs to go. We till, cultivate and manipulate the natural world at the expense of other life while stressing ourselves over any inch of space that is not manicured. This unnatural way of doing things ultimately makes our gardens less and less productive as we have to constantly find ways to correct one problem after another.
In Nature, there is flow from one state to another. We see this as seasons change, as bare rock becomes covered by lichens and mosses, as bare fields turn into meadows, meadows turn into forests and beaver ponds become wet meadows. It takes a lot of energy to reverse natural processes and successions.
When we start to tune in to the natural evolution of landscapes and appreciate the dynamics of our surroundings, we just need to fall into step with Nature, expending the least amount of energy to bring in the harvest we need to survive.
Here on the farm, we recently pulled the garlic which loosened the soil sufficiently to seed beets. As we dig up the potatoes with a fork, we turn over the top 20 cm of soil. This makes it possible to immediately seed carrots and daikon radishes where the potatoes had been removed. In this case, there’s no need to use the rototiller. Tilling disrupts the network of fungal mycelia that extend through the soil from one end of the garden to the other as it does in forests and meadows. These mycelia break down organic matter and make nutrients available to living plants.A productive garden never has vacant spaces. When one crop is finished, another is planted in its place or the land is allowed to become covered in vegetation that naturally moves in.
In this year of intense heat and drought, the challenges of keeping the garden productive can be discouraging. Rather than cultivate or till between rows, it is more productive to cover the pathways to slow evaporation and keep down the weeds that absorb water away from the crops. We don’t need anything fancy or expensive to achieve this. Cardboard, dead leaves, straw or old fabric will do. The high humidity that comes with the heat means there is lots of condensation at nights. The dew trickles through the covering and may be enough to keep our crops alive.
Removing rocks from the garden is only necessary if you till the soil. During these challenging times, rocks are valuable sites for condensation to take place. The rocks stay cool for part of the day, continuing to remove water from the humid air and returning it to the thirsty vegetables. They are also great hiding places for many creatures who feed on foraging insects, snails and slugs.
With every action we take in the garden, we need to question whether this is really necessary. If it isn’t necessary, we should simply drop the idea. Every unnecessary action brings an equal and opposite reaction which can leave us spinning with endless work to try to stop the natural processes at play.
We are born observers. As we observe the natural environment and become conscious of how we interact with our surroundings, we will become more and more aware of our profound connection to all that is and fall into sync with the ebb and flow of life.