Modern large-scale, chemical-dependent farming strips soils of nutrients, destroys important soil microbes, contributes to desertification, and saturates farmland with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that contaminate groundwater. Back to Eden, a study in contrast, is a simple organic gardening method that can transform personal gardens and contribute to a global food solution.
Local tree-cutting services can provide truckloads of wood-chips, waste that most of them are willing to give away. A fact of some importance, however, is that the wood chip piles tend to decompose quickly if not spread over the landscape right away. Wood chips seem to be ideal as a major mulch component that dispenses with any need for fertilizer or mineral supplements.
Back to Eden
Human health ultimately depends on soil salubrity, which allows vegetables and fruits to grow nutrient-dense. Foods grown in soils depleted of nutrients are deficient in critical minerals and phytonutrients. The remedy for depleted soils is not addition of even more chemical fertilizers. What maintains and maximizes soil health is actually the microorganisms living in it, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, microscopic roundworms.
Soil microorganisms are essential for optimal plant growth. Synergy of these microorganisms, the soil biome, and plant root rhizosphere enables plants to absorb nutrients from the soil in which they grow. Nature is self-sustaining. When undisturbed, the ground acquires a top layer of leaves and organic materials that decompose and return to the soil nutrients that help it retain moisture.
By imitating nature and simply covering a garden with wood chips, the gardener need not water any of the plants frequently, even in the summer, and the garden yields lots of well-formed, juicy fruits and vegetables. In these times of genetically-modified organisms, leafy greens drenched with pesticides, fruits and vegetables deficient in nutrients, and soil depleted of minerals, the Back-to-Eden garden seems to be too simple and too good to be true, but it is in fact a way to salvation.
One key to a successful garden is to improve soil microbiology for disease-resistant and nutrient-dense food; the diverse bacteria, fungi, and protozoa transfer nutrients from the soil into the plant. Slow-burning wood chips, corn stalks, coconut shells, or any similar biomass in a kiln or low-oxygen environment forms Biochar, charcoal for use as a horticultural amendment. So burned, the carbon in the organic material does not vaporize as CO2 but forms a type of charcoal with a structure that makes a magnificent microbe shelter. Biochar has several soil benefits:
- It returns depleted carbon to the soil
- It improves overall soil quality and fertility
- It raises soil moisture retention capacity
- It filters toxic chemicals from the soil much like carbon-based filtration systems remove toxins from water
Biochar Supports Plant Growth
Introduction of Biochar into soil begins a process, most of the benefit of which is through the activities of the resident microorganisms. They interpenetrate the Biochar, dramatically increasing the capacity of the surrounding soil to nurture plant growth.
Biochar is highly stable and can persist in soil for many centuries, so it needs no periodic reapplications. It is superior in this way to wood chips for mulch. Biochar can more than double plant yield by stimulating two growth-promoting hormones for plant growth from cell expansion in roots and leaves alike.
To activate Biochar, combine it with compost, rock dust powder, or, a favorite of some gardeners, human urine, a source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus that bind strongly to the Biochar carbon. The nitrogen feeds soil microbes which in turn feed plants. Wetting the Biochar is important to attract beneficial earthworms, which tend to avoid dry Biochar. Gardeners add Biochar to gardens but it's best in the soil prior to planting so the plants have it. A small garden might only need a few hundred pounds. Larger landscapes require more.
Urban Gardening for Food
Urban gardening and farming is an important step toward a truly sustainable food system. During the Second World War, 40 percent of the produce grown in the USA was in backyard gardens. Today the unfortunate fact is that for most consumers it is very difficult to obtain high-quality, nutrient-rich foods unless they grow them personally.
Food from home gardens is fresher, tastier, more nutritious, and less costly than food from stores. Home-grown food saves energy, protects groundwater, preserves topsoil, promotes biodiversity, and beautifies drab urban communities.
Urban Gardening for Décor
Food is indispensably but not exclusively necessary for human life, for "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone'" (Matthew 4:4). Gardeners pursue not only sustainable survival but also human happiness through esthetic appreciation of their products, particularly succulent plants, which they grow for ornamentation for their strikingly colorful, vivid, and spectacular appearances.
Succulents are plants that store water in their stems, roots, and leaves. Cacti are fleshy plants that store water; therefore, all cacti are succulents. To be a cactus, a succulent plant must have areoles, small, round, cushion-like mounds from which their spines, hair, leaves, and flowers grow.
In nature, succulents have shallow roots that take in water quickly for storage in leaves, stems, and roots for drier times. Daily watering is unnecessary as they store water for long periods of time. How often to water them depends on climate, season, humidity, pot size and type, and drainage. The best way is to let the soil dry first. If the soil doesn't dry or if water remains in the catch pan, the roots may rot. The best type of water is from rain, springs, or distilleries. Tap water may be unfit for use.
Succulents don't tolerate misting well. Their natural habitat is arid climates, so when misted they must adapt to an unnatural ambient humidity which can cause rot. Misting may be beneficial for propagation of seeds but not for mature plants.
Succulents need water but also need to breathe. When they have excess water around their roots no oxygen flows to them through the soil, and they need a constant supply, so how do gardeners protect outdoor succulents when it rains all week?
Pumice can save the succulents as the supreme, water-saving soil additive because it has microscopic pores that act as tiny sponges to soak up all excess water until the soil needs re-hydration. The pumice maintains the proper moisture content so the soil does not become supersaturated. Pumice as a soil amendment is available from Home Depot, Walmart, and online at General Pumice Products.
Lighting management is an important part of succulent cultivation. Too little light and the plants weaken and die, too much and they burn, shrivel, and succumb. So how do gardeners balance daylight for best results?
Succulents respond poorly if moved suddenly from dim locations to areas of bright light or vice-versa. They go into shock from abrupt lighting changes and their leaves fall off. The best way to relocate them to where they must adjust is in gradual stages. To bring outdoor succulents inside for the winter, move them through a series of locations, each with a little less light than the previous, until they reach their winter resting place. The same principle of gradual stages applies when they move into brighter locations.
To beautify a front or backyard, succulent landscapes and gardens add low-maintenance, colorful design to any outdoor space. These resilient plants are easy to cultivate, require little care, and are ever resplendent in their fine shapes and colors. There are innumerable variations for magnificent yard makeovers.
For a lot more great gardening tips, see our guide on 31 Ways to Make You an Organic Gardening Guru.