The term Ecological Gardening seems to be gaining popularity. But what is it? My experience with Ecological Gardening started many years ago. You see, I have always been a fence sitter. As a teenager I could never make my mind up whether I wanted to be a horticulturist or an environmental scientist. And sometimes I’m still a little unsure!
Fortunately, I have been able to gain qualifications in both. My specialty is in growing food using ecological principles. But I’m not talking about some sort of alternative hippie technique. I’m talking about sound scientific principles.
In my experience, the study of natural ecosystems will reveal everything we need to know about growing food. Natural ecosystems are generally diverse and there are a number of intricate interdependent relationships occurring between the living and non-living components at any given time. Put simply, each component relies and benefits from its interaction with other components. They fuel up on each other, causing the system to be able to sustain itself. If one part of the system gets ‘out of whack’, the whole system is affected.
When studying a natural ecosystem, such as a diverse pristine rainforest we find that there are many living components co-existing in a given area. Each of these components occupies a niche space. If a component, let’s say a plant, is removed by an animal eating it, we are left with an empty niche. An empty niche provides an opportunity for another life form to fill the space. In natural ecosystems, nature does not tolerate empty niche spaces. Once the niche becomes available, there will be a whole host of willing opportunists ready to fill that space. Dormant seeds, sometimes decades old, will spring to life and quickly try to occupy it.
The same thing happens when we are trying to grow food. In any agricultural practice, such as a vegetable garden, there are always empty niche spaces. And remember, nature doesn’t tolerate empty niche spaces. So weeds will try to fill the empty niche spaces. Weeds are very good niche space fillers. They are the ultimate colonizing plants. So as we can see there is no difference in the way nature works, whether it is in a pristine natural ecosystem or a vegetable garden.