In regenerative farming and gardening, we use practices designed to get our ecosystems functioning again, thereby realising the potential for our land to provide more support with growing food. Soil carbon, organic matter, water infiltration, and biodiversity are valuable measures to track our progress. But they are the products of functioning ecosystems. We need ecosystems that work for these to improve.[1]

In most farms and gardens, our ecosystems haven’t worked well for so long, we’ve largely forgotten about the services they naturally provide. Like any production system with poorly maintained parts, our input costs have gone up as underlying problems have mounted up. Our systems are more likely to break down when under extra strain from droughts, flooding rains, extreme heat, unusual pests, and disease outbreaks.[1]

It doesn’t matter what climate we grow in, what we grow, or our property size. Getting our ecosystems functioning again, we grow nutritious food less reliant on fertiliser, pest control and other inputs, make the practical act of growing food a solution rather than a cause of climate change, and have the joy of bringing Nature back into our farms and gardens again.

Here’s a summary of the eco-logical approach detailed in the Learning from Nature Eco-logical Farming and Eco-logical Gardening Handbooks.

Step 1 – Understand what’s holding you Back

Currently, the emphasis in the regenerative movement is on using a practice-based approach.[4] In deciding what to do, we look at the different practices available and choose the ones we think will best help us solve the natural resource issues holding us back. Our choice is often influenced by seeing practices demonstrated at field days, working for our neighbours, or just because everyone is currently talking about them. Using this approach, we can get some improvements to our growing conditions. But we don’t necessarily use our time and resources effectively. Practices are generally one-size-fits-all solutions, having to be adapted for our specific use, and don’t always work.

Rather than having “what practices shall I use?” as your leading question, a more targeted approach is to understand the underlying ecological causes for the issues holding you back, the principles of how to solve these problems, and then apply the principles using practices suitable for your growing conditions.

Ecosystems are complex, but fortunately, there are three key functions that drive a large percentage of the action,[2] [3] and virtually all of the natural resource issues holding us back are resolved by repairing these ecological functions, and by creating functional biodiversity enabling efficient use of these resources in our ecosystems.

Icon illustrating nutrient cycle - part of what is regenerative farming and gardening

Nutrient Cycles

Repairing our nutrient recycling systems, soil organisms recycle the nutrients in plant and animal waste materials, unlock nutrients from mineral particles, and make the nutrients available for plants to reuse.Icon illustrating water cycle - part of what is regenerative farming and gardening

Water Cycles

Water cycles are enormous, but we can improve them by increasing water infiltration and storage in our soil and reducing water loss through evaporation. Done on a regional scale, cloud cover increases, and we get more rain.

Icon illustrating Capture of Solar Energy - part of what is regenerative farming and gardening

Capture of Solar Energy

Why do we only think of fertilisers when we want to grow more food? Plants capture and store solar energy using their photosynthetic panels. Growing more solar panels, we increase energy supplies for the ecosystems in our farms and gardens.

Icon illustrating Beneficial Connections - part of what is regenerative farming and gardening

Build Connections

We create resilient and resource-efficient ecosystems by employing biodiversity to create beneficial relationships between plants, other living organisms, and the non-living parts of our environment.

 

For example, if waterlogging is holding us back, we typically blame ‘heavy clay soil’. But our soil has become ‘heavy clay’ because of a poorly functioning nutrient cycling system. Improving nutrient recycling in our soil, we enable soil organisms to reconstruct topsoil with aggregates and organic matter, and drainage improves. Insect pests are another example. Usually, we resort to organic pest controls or buying ‘bugs to control bugs’. However, by creating habitat supporting populations of insects and birds that predate and parasitise these pests, we build connections tackling the underlying causes, and our farms and gardens become naturally pest resistant. Similarly, if you want to improve pollination, water infiltration and storage in soil, focus on repairing the ecological functions and connections providing these benefits.

Step 2 – Apply Eco-logical Principles

We’ve developed a set of comprehensive eco-logical principles that are straightforward to apply and emphasise what’s important.

Image showing eco-logcial principles

There are many different regenerative practices you can use to apply these principles. A comprehensive inventory is included in the Eco-logical Farming and Gardening Handbooks.

Choosing practices mimicking how the ecological functions holding you back get naturally repaired in your growing conditions, you combine your ingenuity with 400 million years of research and development, carried out in every climate and soil type on the planet, including your own!

Using eco-logical approaches to regenerative farming and gardening, we rely on the ecological services provided by plants, livestock, and other living organisms rather than on fertilisers, pest controls, and other commercial products.[5] It, therefore, makes sense to ‘grow from our strengths‘ by getting to know our growing conditions and using plants and animals that thrive in these conditions to produce food and provide ecological services helping us tackle specific resource issues.

For example, Gabe Brown, a world-renown regenerative farmer,  repairs his nutrient recycling systems getting guidance from the ecological processes occurring in the natural vegetation in his region. He uses practices mimicking the growth, diversity, continuous vegetation cover, and natural recycling of organic waste materials in the Prairies, and ecological support species in his cover crop species mixture.

On our farm, the native forest across the road is our model of best practice. Farming in the tropics, the practices Gabe Brown uses – cover crops combined with mixed crop rotations and livestock integration – do not grow and recycle sufficient plant biomass to repair our nutrient cycling system. We are developing multi-layered production systems using perennial food plants combined with ecological support plants to produce heaps of biomass, shade, windbreaks, and a pest-resistant landscape.

Step 3 – Getting Started

Starting anything new, it’s generally not a good idea to try and change everything at once.

Trial techniques and species, see what works best, and be aware that what you do may not work. That’s how we learn! Keep a record of your costs, learn from and share your experiences.Image showing Action Learning Cycle for Regenerative Farming and Gardening

 

 

Get help with applying these eco-logical principles using our Eco-logical Farming and Gardening Handbooks, or specific resources to get your soil ecosystem functioning again and improve your water cycle here.

Image showing Learning from Nature Publications

 

References for How to do Regenerative Farming and Gardening

[1] Wendy Seabrook, 2021, What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening. Learning from Nature

[2] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Ecological Farming Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature

[3] Eugine P. Odium, 1971, Fundamentals of Ecology. Publ W.B. Saunders Company

[4] Wendy Seabrook, 2021, How best to decide what Practices to Use, Learning from Nature

[5] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Ecological Farming Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature

[5] See the tools inventories in the Eco-logical Farming Handbook and Eco-logical Gardening Handbooks

 

Featured image Tom Fisk

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