It’s frustrating when our vegetables aren’t easy to grow. When the lettuce and broccoli get eaten by bugs, our fruit trees don’t produce, and we have to rely on commercial fertilisers, pest controls and other products to get a decent crop.
Wouldn’t it be great to grow food that virtually looks after itself? To easily grow strong, healthy and self-sufficient plants that produce food for us than the insects!
Well, you can by “growing from your strengths.”
We simply do this by getting to know our growing conditions and choosing plants which do well in these conditions.
Bananas, for example, need protection from strong winds; lettuce, cabbage and other greens grow best in sunny positions in temperate climates; raspberries and gooseberries prefer partial shade… so we only plant them where we can provide these conditions!
Growing from your strengths your plants are easy to grow. You’ll produce more food in good times, have fewer setbacks when the weather plays up, and grow ‘sustainably’, less reliant on fertilisers, pest controls, and other inputs.
Most of us take pride in getting our gardens looking beautiful and the nuts and bolts of managing our farms up-to-scratch: fertiliser applications, soil preparation, when to plant what, and so on – but we need to get our ‘ecological operations’ in better working order! These are the free ecological services – nutrient cycles, water cycles, solar energy capture, and beneficial connections provided by functioning agro-ecosystems.[i]
Growing from our strengths, we get the help needed from our plants to bring back these free ecological service!
Nature grows from her strengths.
It is one of the reasons why natural ecosystems are so productive.
A walk through any native woodland or forest illustrates how the distribution of plants varies, reflecting the changes in microclimate, soil, drainage and other environmental conditions. You will have seen these patterns yourself. For example, the differences between vegetation growing on the north or south sides of a ridge, and between different soil types. Being aware of these differences, you’ll begin to notice other smaller changes such as how mosses prefer the shady side of a tree and how a hollow can provide a home for water-loving plants. These patterns occur because every plant and animal has its preferred niche – the environmental and climatic conditions required for it to thrive.
Here’s a hypothetical example for a single growing condition like soil moisture or shade. The diagram shows how the population of a particular plant or animal species will be highest where the conditions are ideal. For example, some plants prefer waterlogged soil, others some moisture, but not too dry.
In reality, a range of environmental conditions influences where different plants and animals live, for instance: climate, soil, drainage, wind and shade. Competition with other species, and being eaten also impacts their distribution. For example, some plants only naturally grow along the beachfront where there is less competition from other plants, but do well in gardens with all sorts of soils because we reduce the competition.
We have niches too!
Have you ever heard someone say about a friend who is doing well – “she has found her niche”? They then explain how she has found her dream job where she’s thriving, able to use her talents and expertise – just like your plants in their dream conditions.
‘Growing from your strengths’ is not a new approach – traditional farmers and gardeners have been doing it for thousands of years. They know their land intimately, having the benefit of generations of accumulated wisdom, and use this knowledge to grow plants which do well in these conditions.
What’s the best way to get to know my growing conditions?
Lots of resources are available to help you understand and map your growing conditions. However, most are overly complicated and take a lot of time to do when most of us have countless other things we need to get done!
Not so with a GrowMap!
With a GrowMap, the only skill required is looking closely at how water moves through your property, your soil, patterns of sun and shade, and other environmental conditions. Set aside a day, go out and record what you see on a sketch map, take notes and lots of photos.
GrowMaps are fun to do with children and great learning experiences for your whole team!
Find out what plants will be easy to grow in the different environments on your land, and use your GrowMap to improve your growing conditions by “retrofitting” your back yard, landscaping your new garden, planning your farm or community garden.
[i] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Eco-logical Farming Handbook, Published by Learning from Nature.
[ii] © Jude and Michael Fanton, The Seed Savers Network