One of the things that prepping has forced me to do is to look at things in a longer term view. Look at the things that I have to purchase just to get a job done and wonder if there is a way to do this without being on the consumer treadmill and move in a local and sustainable way of living. This has had me thinking hard this year with my garden. I want to transition as much of my gardening to sustainable practices as much as possible. Even though I grow organically(raised garden beds), I find that I am still relying on products and inputs that I may not have access to long term. Which makes me wonder how our pioneering ancestors did this. For example this year I found myself battling bugs, powdery mildew, and various other garden issues that required inputs. I found myself buying Insecticidal soap, Neem oil, BT, and a copper solution. All these to try and control bugs, fungus etc. This has me rather concerned that post TSHTF that without access to these things that there is going to be some serious problems with being able to grow and harvest a crop.
So I am wondering what you guys are doing to forcus on sustainable gardening solutions. What methods have you employed to manage insect problems that doesn't require external products and inputs. It seems that many of these products could not be made locally. So this has me concerned. I would love to hear your feedback on how you are addressing this.
My thinking now is to focus more on companion plantings to help repel bugs where possible. I have started employing the squash the squash bug method for controlling those things. Any ideas and suggestions for sustainable gardening solutions would be great. I heard in a recent class I took on permaculture that by increasing the life in the soil and spraying compost teas on the plants that this also does something to help protect the plants. I have not tried that yet, but it is on my list of things to try. I would love to hear your feedback on this topic. Suggestions on alternatives to buying powdered limestone and powdered rock etc for my garden would be fantastic. Thanks.
Looking at nature, most ecosystems "in the wild" don't have these problems that conventional gardeners do. In the wild, an increase of a certain pest would mean an increase in the predators of that pest! Rather than looking at individual problems, look at the larger system; can you make your garden mimic a natural ecosystem? How are plants spaced? In nature, plants are crammed in everywhere, with no bare spots. How many different species are there in a given space? In a space the size of a small garden, there could be hundreds. What other living things have access to the space: animals including reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians; insects, plant-eating, pollinating, and predatory; invertebrates like slugs or worms; and so on? Systems which have a huge amount of diversity are set up to succeed.
Getting to the point of where your garden is sustainable takes time. I've been applying permaculture practices to my garden for two years now, and this second year has been much more of a success than the first year, and even more so than in the past when I was simply organic. Some of the things I've been doing to mimic nature:
1) No weeding and no compost pile. Chop and drop only.
2) Sowing lots of different species of seeds in all areas, including natives, edibles and ornamentals, and not in rows, but just broadcasting everywhere.
3) Allowing every kind of insect and invertebrate access to my garden, including "pests", and taking note of how they affect my plants, to help with future gardening plans.
4) Allowing some parts of the property to be just wild, to provide habitat for small predators, which in my area are frogs, toads, hedgehogs, song thrushes, blackbirds, etc; this ties in with #3 above, as the more pests there are, the more the predators will want to move in. Have left piles of sticks on the margins of the property, or piles of leaves, and left a few patches of lush, overgrown weeds dotted about.
5) Planting support species; in my case I planted comfrey, and sowed crimson clover and alfalfa among the other edibles. Other support species are the weeds that self seed such as dandelion and nettle.
And some of my observations:
1) The cabbage white moths had a very difficult time finding my cabbages and other cruciferae, as they were hiding amongst a huge jumble of other plants. In previous years, the caterpillars have completely defoliated whole broccoli and cabbage crops in just weeks. No discernable damage this year. I watched them fluttering around the garden, obviously knowing the cabbages were there somewhere, but not being able to find them!
2) Same for the cabbage root fly; did not seem to find the turnips this year, unlike in past years.
3) And again, no real problems with aphids; I've seen the sparrows and finches perching on the roses and stripping them off.
4) Some slug and snail damage to cabbages, particularly later sowed seedlings. May need to time my cabbage sowings to early parts of the year, rather than later.
5) Seen lots of birds in the garden, one hedgehog and a couple of frogs this year. Would like to encourage more frogs and toads, so thinking about a tiny pond or other water feature.
6) In some edibles, I have seen a big increase in yield, such as turnips, runner beans, cabbage. In other edibles, not so much of a difference from last year: broccoli, onions, potatoes; though I've been feeding the soil using chop and drop and with organic mulch (from an outside source), I think I could really ramp up production after using these methods for a few more years.
Try polyculture. Stick plants in non-garden type spots but still use compost & mulch. Stick vines near fences or trees for support. I did a risky thing (in hindsight) and planted a few blue hubbard squash seeds under my blueberries. My thought was to keep using that space after the blueberries were done. So far the branches are holding but regular squash or cukes would've been smarter. The point is the bugs don't go for one plant mixed in with others because they get confused.
Encourage volunteers. Volunteertomatoes always look better than planted ones. I "planted" a whole tomato last fall in a fenced off spot and it looked great - but it was a little to close to the chickens who flew in and got 'em. Next year I'll cage 'em in. I do have some other tomato volunteers that look awesome but it'll be a race against the frost.
Rotate your plots. You wondered how natives did it and this was part of their strategy.
My project thread Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
I put up some bluebird houses right next to the garden this year. Not sure if it was bluebirds or someone else, but I had very few worm type pests this year, compared to last year. I compost garden waste and spread it on the pastures, and spread barn litter from the goats on the garden. I'm seeing more and more biodiversity every year. No tilling. Rotate crops. Use a permanant mulch (waste wool is my favorite).
I just thought I'd share some of my thought, opinions, observations and experience after having worked over half a decade as a 'peasant grunt' in the world of Organic Agriculture.
First and most importantly in my view I would like to reiterate CJ's comment about ROTATION. It matters. you also can't be afraid of totally loosing crops. Got a flea beetle infestation? Get out your mobile netting or tractors and run the chickens through ASAP - fuck selling the kale - turn those beetles into egg protein. It tastes nasty covered with neem oil anyway.
Second - KEEP ON TOP OF YOUR SHIT - I weed - I am aware that this opens up a nitch for something to climb on in - sometimes this is a good thing. If you notice something really notice it. and then watch it and ACT if you need to. Don't let it get to the point of an infestation!
Which brings me to chop and drop. I think chop and drop can be great - but certainly not if you are having mildew and mold problems. Has anyone here worked in a tomato greenhouse? or around weed? can you imagine leaving your trimmings by your oozing healing plant? No. It would be an invitation to a moldy grave.
Here I personally think fire can be your friend. again it helps to catch it early. Fungus is a tricky one - the Organic approved fungicides are all copper based to the best of my knowledge (the ones I've had experience using).
Interplanting and polyculture. Maybe everyone here at permies is crazy and wrong - but from personal experience I would say that polycultures looks healthier than monocultures 95 percent of the time. And I've worked with some pretty small intensely managed monocultures.
Anyway just a couple thoughts. I might have more. Good questions help prompt answers
Galadriel Freden wrote:Looking at nature, most ecosystems "in the wild" don't have these problems that conventional gardeners do. In the wild, an increase of a certain pest would mean an increase in the predators of that pest!
The problem with this sort of thinking is that for nature, 50,000 years is the blink of an eye. We've moved so many pests out of their natural range that some of these things have no predators in certain ranges, and it may take thousands of years for a predator to develop. Or that predator may never develop and the pest kills off its host and then goes extinct. Nature heals the niche over afterwards. These are perfectly natural processes, but they're not really acceptable to us.
In the mid-atlantic states, we've got a problem with invasive stink bugs. Pretty much nothing eats them. They have no predators in the US. You pretty much have to do something about them or they destroy your crops. For nature, fruits with a whole bunch of rot spots on the outside isn't a big deal... seeds are still viable. For us, it is a big issue.
So, part of the answer to the OP's question of how our Pioneering ancestors dealt with this, is that they didn't. We've introduced an awful lot of pests over the last 100 years that nature hasn't really sorted out how to deal with yet.
So, do what you can. Rotate your crops. Encourage predators. But don't worry too much if you need to intervene every once in a while.
In 6 months we've solved our pest problems, by not focusing on them. What we did focus on was creating diversity. We now use absolutely no form of pest control in our garden and yields are great. Here's what we did.
- stopped planting big patches of the same plant. Every bed is now a mix of whatever. We had one lot of kale that was repeatedly eaten by cabbage moth larvae. The next lot of kale I grew with a handful of herbs, bergamot, ammi majus, borage and mint. Guess what? This kale has not been touched at all.
- Planted as many borage seedlings as we could raise. Everytime there was a bare patch in the garden I stuck a borage seedling in there. Everything growing near borage grew faster and healthier than before.
- Every garden bed gets a good handful of good bug mix, many places sell this. It's worth it's weight in gold. Our garden went from having the odd bee in it to being an absolute hive of insect acitivty, and none of it seems to be detrimental to our crops. Thrip, aphid and leaf miner populations have all but disappeared. We now have swarms of bees, hoverflies, ladybirds, butterflies, predatory wasps and other insects I cant even name.
- Plant close and dense. We shove seedlings in close and weed the odd one out if they are causing a loss of vigour. If we can see the dirt we sprinkle some seed in there too.
- Plant flowers with the veges. Cornflowers, hollyhocks, lunaria, shasta daisies, nasturtiums, sweet peas, cosmos, zinnia etc. all grow side by side with our edibles.
- Grow green manure. Instead of chopping and dropping ours we mow and feed it to the chickens.
- Created water gardens. Very simple and inexpensive. We used old laundry tubs already on the property. Put a few inches of dirt in the bottom, planted water chestnuts, filled up with water then threw in frogbit, duckweed and azolla. Our frog population are now very happy.
The turnaround here was fast and amazing. Our garden powers on and we haven't needed to reach for any pest control and have even removed our bird netting too. We grow strawberries in the yard and have lost none to birds, slugs or snails.
don't know if this was mentioned but you can grow your own insecticide......for example tobacco and pawpaw both contain toxins that kill insects......all you have to do is mash the leaves and add some water then spray on your plants. Replacements for limestone include wood ash....that will increase the pH like limestone.....