The Vegetable Garden

Organic Gardening and Permaculture - page 2

Employ Nature, she works for free
The wonderful thing about nature is that she works tirelessly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Nature follows very simple laws and works in the same way, on any system, anywhere in the world.  When we create an ecological garden we are creating a living, breathing ecosystem.  By doing this we get nature working for us, and not against us, and her great stamina works in our favour.

Niche Spaces and why they are important

A pristine ecosystem is made up of thousands of living and non-living components all coexisting in a given area.  Each living component occupies its own niche space and the role of the niche space is very important to understand when creating an ecological garden.  Let’s look at an example.  Imagine a giant rainforest tree crashing to the ground after standing tall for hundreds of years.  Such a large tree would have filled an enormous niche space.  Lying in the soil, hundreds of dormant seeds spring to life, desperately fighting for their opportunity to occupy the best real estate in the forest: the empty niche space.  The niche space is quickly filled and harmony is restored.

When we look at a traditional vegetable garden with this type of insight, what we see is a very unnatural system.  There is very little diversity and a lot of empty niche spaces.  Nature enforces her will on vegetable gardens in exactly the same way she does a rainforest, and this means that empty niches spaces will be filled as quickly as possible.  However, in a traditional vegetable garden there are no desirable seeds waiting to fill the niches spaces, so weeds fill them instead.

The solution is to create a garden that has tightly filled niche spaces so that weeds don’t have any opportunities.  We can do this by planting the garden very tightly with a diverse range of plants of differing shapes and characteristics.  The result is a dense jungle-like planting arrangement that can yield an unbelievable amount.  The denseness also creates a highly protected micro-climate.  This ideal growing environment causes your plants to last much longer.  Greens don’t bolt to seed as soon as a hot spell hits and cold sensitive plants are more protected as well.

How to manage an ecological garden
Managing an ecological garden is different to managing a traditional vegetable garden.  With an ecological garden, there is far less to do.  As you become the observer and allow nature to take over as head gardener, you will notice that the garden is in a continual state of gentle change, just like a natural ecosystem.  It can be difficult for the traditional gardener to stand back and observe as we, human beings, like to control things.  This style of gardening calls for a great deal of faith in natural laws. Sure, there will be times when you need to step in and direct the system in a certain way; however that is almost always because a certain plant species is getting too successful and the system is at risk of loosing diversity.