Doing regenerative farming and gardening – eco-logically, we tackle the root causes of our poor growing conditions by repairing the ecosystems in our gardens and farms.
Ecosystems are complex, but repairing them is relatively straightforward because three ecological functions drive most of the action in our farms and gardens – nutrient cycles, water cycles, and solar energy capture.
With repaired nutrient cycles, 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.
Water cycles are enormous, but we can improve them by increasing water infiltration and storage in our soil, reducing water loss through evaporation, and getting excess water draining freely down through our soil to reduce waterlogging.
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
Virtually all of the natural resource issues holding us back are resolved by repairing these ecological functions. For example, by repairing our nutrient cycle we naturally feed our plants, improve water infiltration and storage in our soil, reduce waterlogging and sequestrate carbon!
How do we Regenerate our Ecosystems?
Rather than having “what regenerative practices should I use as your leading question”, you apply the ecological principles listed below to develop solutions suitable for your climate, other growing conditions and the food you grow. Off-the-shelf regenerative practices tend to get treated as one-size-fits-all solutions. Developing techniques suitable for your unique circumstances is more eco-logical!
1. Grow from your Strengths
Get to know your growing conditions. You can then use plants, livestock, and other living organisms that thrive in your conditions to help you improve the functioning of your ecosystems. These could include, for example, suitable deep-rooted and biomass-producing plants to improve your nutrient cycle and tree species to reduce water loss from evaporation.
You don’t need to dive in deep, get tied up in knots, or spend days recording stuff! It’s unnecessary, and if you’re anything like me – you have too many other things to do. That’s why at Learning from Nature we developed the GrowMap to quickly identify and map the different growing conditions on your land. Specialist skills aren’t required.
2. Build Connections
Recruit plants, livestock, and other organisms to build connections between your environment’s living and nonliving parts. By creating these beneficial connections, we enable our ecological systems to operate and enhance the capacity of our ecosystems to withstand unfavourable conditions and effectively utilise the resources and energy our nutrient and water cycles and plants make available.
For example, suppose your goal is to improve your nutrient cycle. In that case, you use plants to increase the supply of root tissues, root exudates, leaves and other organic waste materials to feed your soil organisms. Grazing livestock can also be employed to increase the supply of organic waste materials from above the ground to your soil organisms.
3. Mimic Nature
Explore ways to mimic the architecture and types of plant communities that would naturally grow on your land.
Gabe Brown, a world-renown regenerative farmer from North Dakota in the United States, designs his crop production and grazing management by mimicking the native Prairie grasslands and behaviour of wild Bison in his region.
He maintains a continuous cover of living plants using a diversity of crops and cover crops providing a range of ecological services. He maximises plant biomass recycling in his soil using mob grazing.
On our farm in tropical northern Australia, we’re developing production systems mimicking the architecture of the forest communities that would naturally grow on our land. We’ve done this by switching from producing cassava and sweet potatoes in a single layer of vegetation to developing multi-layered production systems. We’re still focusing on producing carbohydrates, but are using perennial plants like breadfruit, jackfruit and cooking bananas instead.
4. Co-Create with Succession
Mimic the sequence of changes in the architecture and types of plants as Nature repairs degraded ecosystems in environments similar to your own. By accentuating the qualities you want, you shift your energy from holding back succession to co-creating ecosystems that can self-organise and self-evolve over time.
Understanding how to apply these principles, you combine your ingenuity with billions of years of research and development, carried out in every climate and soil type on the planet, including your own! There are many regenerative practices available and you can develop your own. We’ve included a comprehensive inventory in the Eco-logical Farming and Gardening Handbooks.
Remember that when 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!
Additional Support from Learning from Nature
Suggested articles –
- What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening
- Principles of Regenerative Farming and Gardening
- How to choose Regenerative Practices – that Work!
- What is Healthy Soil?
 Wendy Seabrook, 2021, What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening. Learning from Nature
 Eugine P. Odium, 1971, Fundamentals of Ecology. Publ W.B. Saunders Company
 Wendy Seabrook, 2021, Principles of Regenerative Farming and Gardening, Learning from Nature
 Wendy Seabrook, 2021, How to Build Healthy Soil – Eco-logically, Learning from Nature
 Gabe Brown, 2018, Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture – Gabe Brown, Chelsea Green Publishing