Q:What can a backyard gardener do to incorporate various eco agriculture practices?
A:This is my first year with an actual yard, so I'm a bit, shall we say, "green" to the ways of planting outside of pots. I'm still staring at the empty vegetable plot I've prepped wondering what to do next. But a little digging turns up tons of ways to sculpt your green space into a certified organic deck or a First Nations-inspired farm.
If you've got a little room for a veggie plot, why not garden in the spirit of those who tilled this land before us? Iroquois legend has it that corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters who grow and thrive together. Corn protects from weeds and insects. Beans restore nitrogen to the soil and grow up against corn's scaffolding. And squash, which also controls weeds, recycles crop residues back into the soil.
For tips on exactly how to plant these so the sisters have the best chance at a good life, check out www.reneesgarden.com/articles/3sisters.html .
The three sisters aren't the only veggies that grow best in groups. Plant tomatoes next to parsley (not fennel), or carrots with sage (not dill). For a companion planting chart with details about what goes with what and all the science behind it, check out www.attra.org/attra-pub/complant.html.
In fact, companion planting will bring your garden or deck one step closer to certified organic standards. Another step is using certified organic seeds or seedlings (available at Super Sprouts on Bathurst, Big Carrot on Danforth, Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth). Also, ditch the Miracle Grow and reach for organic fertilizers like corn-based Turf Maize or mushroom compost ($24.99 and $6.99 respectively at Grassroots) or, better yet, make your own compost like all good organic farms do! Say no to chemical pest controls and release nematodes (worms) on grub infestations and spray a natural-dish-soap-and-water mix on bugs like aphids and spider mites. Crushed garlic steeped in warm water will work on bigger bugs.
Beware of the term "organic" in conventional garden supply stores. It just means the product generally comes from the earth (i.e. soil), but it may have been chemically treated and doesn't necessarily meet certification standards. Balcony gardeners should pick up certified organic potting soil ($4.99 at Grassroots) to be safe.
If you're sticking with the indigenous theme, know that so-called native plants aren't always native to your area. Those that are will not only be low-maintenance, but will also help keep the local ecosystem happy, like the elderberry shrub, which provides food and shelter for many songbirdies. (For more tips on gardening for birds see www.ofnc.ca/fletcher/howto/htbirds. php.) Ontario Native Plants has a bunch online (www.nativeplants.ca), and Grassroots sells some, too. Heirloom gardening isn't so much about plants truly indigenous to your area as it is about varieties brought over by immigrants in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, many of which you'd never see in a supermarket. Essentially, heirlooms or heritage plants are non-hybridized, so they're originals of one variety or another. Seeds of Diversity, Canada's heritage seed program , holds Seedy Saturday at Scadding Court Community Centre, Dundas at Bathurst, in March.
But since that's old news now, check out Bill's Garden Centre on Pape, Fiesta Gardens on Christie or Plant World on Eglinton West for heirloom perennials. To truly get into the vibe, it's best to garden in a bonnet. Milking your cat to get into the pioneer spirit is not recommended. Perhaps one of the most, let's say, interesting garden techniques is biodynamics. OK, it's a little spacey, and astrology haters in the room might cringe at planting to the rhythm of the Zodiac. But this early-20th-century German farming system is considered the new organic. (In fact, it incorporates many organic methods.) According to this theory, days when the moon is in earth signs are the only ones for planting and harvesting root veggies. Dig up your lettuce and leafy plants on water-sign days. Air-sign days are best for planting flowers, and fire-sign days are best for fruit picking. (For details, check out the biodynamic sowing and planting calendar at http://biodynamics.com/advisory.html.)
It gets a little trickier when it comes to soil and compost preparation, for which you have to bury manure, dandelions or quartz crystal in cow horns for a few months, then stir them in water clockwise, then counter-clockwise, and so on for an hour before you can spray the mix on your daisies. Lazy gardeners need not apply. And vegans beware: some preparations require cow intestines or deer bladders. If you're still gung-ho, contact the Society for Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario (www.biodynamics.on.ca).
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