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Create a healthy relationship with your garden

Updated: Apr 14

By Becki Clifton from Over the Hoopee Farm

Your garden should be a place of wonder and magic. A place you go to find yourself, to center yourself, and to replenish your soul. The garden gives all this and food to nourish your body. But shouldn’t we give back to the garden to keep receiving its bounty?

Every year as gardeners, we go out to the garden, work the soil, plant in the soil, and start the battle of trying to keep our plants healthy and thriving, so that they will provide us with a big beautiful, juicy tomato or a crunchy, green cucumber to make pickles with. But this year, let’s think of the garden as an entire ecosystem that supports so many more living things than we could ever imagine.

When you think of the garden as an intricate system of beneficial insects and microbes who all work together to make your plants thrive and produce yummy nutrient-dense vegetables, maybe it will inspire you to use fewer chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Maybe you aren’t aware of the downside of using these things so allow me to enlighten you for a moment.

Chemical fertilizers destroy soil microbes and decrease the nutritional content of your fruits and vegetables. They can also run off into waterways causing imbalances that lead to poor water quality in our rivers and creeks.

Pesticides sprayed in or around the garden affect not only the pests you’re trying to control but also any beneficial insects such as bees (pollinators), ladybugs (pest predators), or spiders (pest predators). Neonicotinoids are especially harmful to bees even at low levels. They may not kill them directly, but it affects their ability to forage and navigate their way home.

Herbicides sprayed in or around the garden affect pollinators such as bees by removing important floral resources and can influence their reproduction as well as navigation.

How will we ever grow beautifully productive gardens without these chemical crutches? Just the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did before all these chemicals were introduced back in the 1940s.

On our little farm, we’ve been producing our own compost for several years now. We started by collecting the valuable “brown” gold from our small layer flock. Of course, that has grown over time and now we’re collecting from our turkey and duck flocks as well. We’ve found that if you bed down their roosting areas with wood chips, you can collect all you need to start making your own compost.

Poultry droppings are considered “hot” and must be composted further to keep them from burning your plants. Horse manure is also considered “hot”, but manure from rabbits, goats, and cows can be used directly in the garden. We also have a worm bin that we collect castings from and make a compost tea to feed our plants and soil.

We haven’t sprayed a chemical pesticide on our farm in 6 years. When we became bee stewards, it changed the way we thought about gardening and growing things on the farm, and we didn’t want to do anything that would harm the bees. They have rewarded us with an abundance of fruits and vegetables and share their sweet liquid gold with us from time to time.

The best ways we’ve found to battle vine borers, squash bugs, stink bugs, armyworms, cutworms, hornworms, white flies, and aphids are using physical deterrents such as covers or picking them off manually. We also get to know the pest's life cycle and plant or harvest during low reproduction times. We’ve also tried many organic insecticides and insecticidal soaps with mixed results, but when all else fails, we plant enough for us and them.

As for avoiding herbicides, we manually pull any unwanted plants or chop them down. We also employ tarping to manage larger areas or to start new garden spots.

This year, I challenge all my gardening friends to ask not what your garden can give to you, but what can you give to your garden. Let us not forget, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth” Psalm 104:14. This perfectly sums up the relationship of everything on our farm.

Catch up on our blog and watch helpful videos at Email me and let me know what your garden plans are this year:

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