3 Keys to Creating a Regenerative Agriculture Oasis in Your Own Backyard
When you hear the term “regenerative agriculture”, it’s usually in the context of a farm with plenty of acreage. But can you still participate in the regenerative agriculture movement if all you’re working with is a few square feet of earth? The answer is a wholehearted YES! We’re going to dive into what regenerative agriculture is and show how you can help heal the Earth right in your own backyard.
Photo Credit: The Walrus
What does regenerative agriculture even mean?
In short, conventional agriculture techniques often strip the soil of nutrients and lower biodiversity. By contrast, regenerative agriculture focuses on improving soil health, increasing biodiversity, and sequestering CO2. The overall goal of regenerative agriculture is to consistently improve the soil and surrounding ecosystem year after year, rather than mine them for resources that are never replaced.
Although the term “regenerative agriculture” has only been used widely for the last 30 years or so, many of the practices are not new. They draw on principles used by many indigenous cultures for thousands of years, including intercropping, or planting more than one crop together, and preserving water loss and soil erosion by mulching. When practicing regenerative agriculture, we are following in generations of footsteps.
Sounds like a great concept! But can a small backyard actually make a difference?
Absolutely! Every piece of soil on this earth, including your backyard, presents an opportunity to increase soil fertility, store carbon deep in the ground, and reduce erosion by increasing the organic matter in the soil. Even 1/10th of an acre managed using regenerative agriculture principles can offset the carbon emissions of the average American each year.
Even the smallest piece of soil counts, so here are some keys to get started:
One of the critical components of regenerative agriculture is the concept of “no-till”, or disturbing the soil as little as possible. This is because breaking up the soil mechanically with shovels, hoes, or tillers breaks apart the soil’s structure and destroys the community of organisms that work so hard to store carbon and provide nourishment for your plants, and ultimately, your body.
To prevent this, plan your garden beds carefully. These will be permanent garden beds that you will leave in place and add layer upon layer of compost and mulch to each year, only disturbing the soil when it’s time to plant.
Perennials are plants that grow back each spring. You don’t have to re-plant perennials, so their root systems can stay undisturbed in the soil, adding more and more structure and organic matter every year. This also reduces the amount of mechanical disturbance with trowels and shovels you need to do to your beds.
The perennials that are right for your garden will largely depend on your goals and the area you live in. If you’re growing vegetables, here are a few great perennial food crops to consider adding to the mix:
- Berry bushes
If you aren’t interested in growing vegetables, talk with a local grower in your area to learn about place-appropriate perennial flowers or native plants.
This formula is the secret sauce that adds delicious nutrients and organic material to your soil, making it healthier every year.
Layering compost and mulch on all the bare areas of your garden beds does several things. First, the compost adds a boost of nutrients for both the plants and all the tiny organisms living in the soil. Second, the mulch helps retain ground moisture and prevents soil loss by reducing erosion. Both the compost and the mulch will break down over time, adding even more soil structure and vital nutrients to the life underground.
There are many types of mulch and what is right for your garden largely depends on your area and aesthetic preferences. Straw, woodchips, shredded leaves, or even grass clippings are all great options. It’s ideal if you can start your own compost pile, but if you have to purchase compost, try and buy from a local farmer or nursery.
Every square inch counts when it comes to harnessing the regenerative power of plants and soil together. Using regenerative agriculture principles, your backyard garden can be an effective, beautiful tool for sequestering CO2 emissions. That’s what we call a win-win-win.