How to Start a Backyard Garden Using Regenerative Agriculture
Have you been reading our blog posts and find yourself intrigued by the concept of regenerative agriculture? We’ve focused a lot on the importance of regenerative agriculture practices and this farming method’s positive effect on the environment and ability to mitigate climate change. Did you know that you can also use regenerative concepts on a small scale? If you’re a backyard gardener, urban homesteader, or have always wanted to try your hand at growing food but haven’t yet worked up the nerve, there’s no time like the present.
In addition to benefiting the planet (yes, even on a small scale, regenerative practices are beneficial to the environment), growing your own food can make a positive impact on your wallet, your physical fitness, and your mental health. We love this article from UNC Health, because it outlines several benefits of gardening that many people wouldn’t think of, such as building self esteem, improving cardiovascular health, improving hand strength, and reducing stress. It can also be a way to connect with family, friends, or neighbors, and most of all - it’s fun! If you think you have to have a green thumb or be an experienced gardener to enjoy the benefits of a backyard garden, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Gardening is a learn-as-you-grow (see what we did there?) activity, and all you need to be successful is an open mind and a willingness to keep trying even if things don’t go as planned in the beginning. Building a garden using regenerative practices in particular may require more work on the front end (more on that later), but the benefits will be wide ranging and the long term health of your plants and their surrounding ecosystem will make the extra work totally worth it.
Spring in particular is a great month to begin a garden, in most parts of the country (sorry, Northern friends). Spring’s mild temperatures are not only favored by the plants, but gardening can be hard physical work, and it’s much more pleasant to start before temperatures become sweltering. Not to mention, pollinators are in full force in Spring, and are pretty integral to a garden’s success.
It’s all About the Soil
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about our own regenerative agriculture practices, and how raising chickens on pasture and rotating their pastureland helps to nourish and regenerate the soil to create a healthier pasture. Well, the same is true on a smaller scale. In gardening, it really is all about the soil. You can have the heartiest seedlings, the fanciest gardening tools, and the greenest thumb, but if your soil is unhealthy, you’ll find that your garden just won’t produce.
The same core principles apply to regenerative agriculture on a small scale as with a large farm operation such as Pasturebird. Maintaining soil health is of utmost importance, and you can do this in your garden by abiding by a few important rules:
- Adopt a “no-till” approach - tilling or digging your garden soil can disturb the soil’s structure and release carbon. Instead, pull weeds by hand, or use weed cloth to cover areas where plants aren’t actively growing.
- Focus on feeding your soil - you may think that adding a few bags of organic garden soil to your plot will boost its growing potential, but there’s a lot more to nourishing your soil. Soil needs not only nutrients, but beneficial microorganisms to produce healthy plants. One of the best ways you can feed your garden soil is by applying compost in the fall and spring, and growing cover crops in the off season. As an added bonus, making your own compost is an awesome way to reuse food scraps and yard waste.
- Nurture local pollinators and wildlife - proper pollination is crucial to a healthy garden. In addition to nourishing the area that you’re using for edible plants, planting pollinator-friendly native plants in the areas surrounding your garden will not only brighten up your backyard, but it will attract beneficial wildlife and ensure that your plants have the opportunity to be properly pollinated.
- Avoid chemicals and synthetic fertilizers - by keeping your soil’s ecosystem thriving and applying compost a few times a year, you’ll avoid the need for synthetic fertilizers and disrupt the natural growing cycle. To keep unwanted insects at bay, you can use companion planting, make sure you’re planting with the seasons, and use manual removal if necessary.
- Cover Crops - Protect your soil with a dense array of cover crops that are specific to your region and needs. Avoid monocrops. This is the best way to "feed" the soil.
A Little Extra Effort Goes a Long Way
While it may take a little more time and effort to build a regenerative backyard garden than throwing some bagged soil into a few containers, you’ll reap the benefits of that extra work for years. If you’re planning to start a regenerative garden, begin working on building your soil health a few weeks to months before planting anything. This will give the soil microbiome time to build up beneficial microorganisms and nutrients and will result in healthier plants. You can also use this time to educate yourself about companion planting, cover crops, attracting pollinators, and the proper seasons for planting certain foods. You’d be surprised at how much a little knowledge in these issues will benefit your garden (and reduce frustration) in the long term.
Last but not least, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that allows backyard chickens, we obviously recommend them! You can create your very own pasture in your backyard, even if you don’t have a lot of land. Your backyard chickens will forage and provide you with natural pest and weed control, and you can add their bedding and droppings to your compost pile (just make sure you give the compost adequate time to cure. You can read more about composting chicken manure here.) Many county extension offices offer classes on how to raise and care for backyard chickens. Learning how to properly care for chickens is not only necessary, but if you’re raising them in conjunction with a backyard garden, these classes can give tips on housing your chickens properly and how to protect your plants for eager and curious foraging chickens.