Gardeners Exchange Group Meeting 18 June 2016
Location: Home and Grounds of Carole and Steve Brooks
Topic: What Is Ecological Gardening?
Submitted by Julie Neely, GEG Secretary

This lecture presentation was provided courtesy of Joann Harstad, Master Gardener, affiliated with  the Berkeley-Jefferson WVU Extension Service. The location was the lovely home and landscaped grounds of Carole and Steve Brooks.

We began with a few administrative remarks from Jane Blash, and contributions from members:

  • If you have specific plants to give away, please list them on the GEG Facebook page. Likewise if you have specific plants that you would like to receive list them as well.
  • Webers is having a plant sale this week.

“Master Gardening is about education not gardening perfection.” Joann Harstad

Ecological/Sustainable Gardening relates to all things that affect the environment, working in harmony with nature and supporting the ecosystem. The home gardener can play a large role in supporting nature if you think before you act. The goal is to “do no harm” — don’t deplete or damage the natural resources that you have, and use only what is available to you. Supply yourself from what you have; don’t go beyond your own resources.

Organic Gardening uses only natural products, no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or treated plant seeds. Yes, even the seeds you buy may have been treated with synthetic fungicides and/or bird repellents. Concerned gardeners should buy only USDA Certified Organic Seed as listed on the seed packet.

Permaculture emphasizes the relationships between food, shelter, energy, ethics, climate, water, and soil. The focus is NOT on the individual elements but how they are thoughtfully placed together and create relationships that result in the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts. Permaculture is now a degree-certified profession. Permaculture design seeks to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input by building systems that maximize benefits between elements to achieve a high level of synergy. The three core tenants  of permaculture design, in order of importance, are:

  1. Care for the earth — a healthy earth sustains human life.
  2. Care for people — enable people to access resources necessary for their existence.
  3. Return of surplus — take only your fair share.

How to Get Started

  • Remember that healthy soil is alive with microorganisms. Nourished soil will provide nourishment to plants. Compost, not chemicals, creates healthy soil.
  • Get your soil tested and amend it based on your soil test results. Soil pH should be between 6.6 – 6.8. Different plants have very different pH requirements; adding fertilizer won’t correct pH and your plants will still fail to thrive until you correct the underlying problem.
  • Determine what type of soil you have. Is it predominantly clay, silt, or sand? A quick way to check your soil type is to fill a glass jar half full of dirt and the remainder with water. Shake the jar and then let it settle out overnight. It will separate out into its components. Amend accordingly with compost.
  • Use vermiculture to improve your soil. Joann recommended “red worms” for this purpose.
  • Conserve water and control water runoff. Use drip irrigation, water less often, mulch beds to conserve water and prevent surface crusting, install a cistern or rain barrels to catch water, investigate the use of grey water, reduce your grass lawn, water in the mornings, and avoid spraying water — to avoid evaporation use a watering can.
  • When mulching, avoid building volcano mounds around your trees as this will harm the tree. Mulch no greater than 3 inches deep and keep mulch away from the base of the tree. Use straw on your veggie beds to avoid soil crusting which contributes to water runoff. Be aware that the straw you purchase may not be organic; verify that it has not been sprayed with toxic chemicals. Many people successfully use layers of newspaper or cardboard with mulch on top to smother weeds and prevent new ones from germinating in their flower beds and gardens. Be aware that purchased mulch may not be organic and much of it originates in China. Cocoa pod mulch smells great but is poisonous to pets who will devour it because of its chocolatey smell.
  • Reduce your lawn size. Pull lawn weeds; don’t spray with chemicals. Pesticides kill good bugs too. Develop a healthy lawn that will outcompete weeds and disease. Keep the mower blade sharp, try to mow less frequently, and keep the grass no LESS than 3 inches tall. Use an electric mower if possible.
  • Start a compost pile and use it!
  • Plant more native plants in your yard and garden. They are naturally pest- and disease-resistant in your environment and will require less extra attention to thrive. They “feed the ecosystem,” providing habitat and sustenance to native species including pollinators.
  • Once identified, try to eradicate all invasive species from your property. Be forewarned: getting rid of foreign invasives like Johnson grass, Mile-a-minute weed, and kudzu is hard work. FYI, Kudzu is edible, if you are so inclined! Invasives are super survivors and are very hard to kill. Don’t put them in your compost pile because they might just thrive there.
  • Re-introduce native plants that help pollinators like milkweed and mountain mint.