Minerals, compost and other biological fertilisers aren’t the only tools available to get the ecosystems in our farms and gardens functioning again.
Ecological support species are plants, animals and fungi you can use to increase the availability of nutrients for your plants, reduce pest and disease problems, and lots more…
Using ecological support species you create functional biodiversity. Biodiversity is not what is important. What’s crucial is the functional connections between species.
Natural ecosystems have an enormous diversity beneficial connections between plants, animals, microbes and their environment in comparison to our gardens and farms. Functional connections that ensure virtually every bit of solar energy captured by plants and nutrients recycled by soil organisms is utilised efficiently. Connections made through food – predators, parasites, and herbivores, are just the tip of the iceberg!
If you are thinking – “designing my farm or garden to have the functional biodiversity found in natural ecosystems is a lot to ask!” ‘No worries’, as we say in Australia! Ecological support species are a tactical tool to get you started*.
Plants with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are an awesome example.
79% of the air we breathe contains nitrogen, but we can’t do anything with it. It needs to be converted first into a non-gaseous form. Some nitrogen is converted by lightning strikes, but most is converted by bacteria living in our soil or in the roots of ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants.
It’s an amazing connection and also hugely important – the average nitrogen content of proteins is 16%.
Insectary plants are another example.
Insectary plants provide pollen and nectar supplies for beneficial insects and birds – the natural enemies of our insect pests. Planting insectary plants will help you reduce insect pest problems.
Use the deep-rooted Daikon radish to de-compact your soil and bring up leached nutrients
Get our list of useful types of Ecological Support Species
They will help you wherever you grow. And here’s a couple of example showing how Hydroponic growers and market gardeners design beneficial connections into their production systems using ecological support plants.
What species can I plant?
It depends on your growing conditions, but here are some lists to get you started.
- Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier, 2005, Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2: Design and Practice. Chelsea Green
- Bill Mollison, 1988. Permaculture A Designers Manual, Tagari Publications
- Martin Crawford, 1998. Nitrogen-fixing plants for Temperate Climates
- Wendy Seabrook, 2013, The no mower food grower’s guide
If you know other resources – post a comment below, and let us know.
* There are several other tactical tools to you can use to create beneficial connections in your garden and farm. For details see our Ecological Farming Handbook.