It is not always very easy to think of a title for posts that sum them up in a few words, particularly before they are written and are just some words and concepts circulating in my head, however I think I could equally have called this one – Please Resist Too Much Interfering with Nature.
This is not necessarily easy to do, it needs practice and an understanding of why it is important. I have to relearn it each year, in particular each spring.
This is the most amazing time of year. Today the sun is shining, birds singing etc and the garden is running away in a tide of energy and lush growth. We have just returned after over a week away and the growth and change over that time is very clear. Everywhere (well not quite) there are dandelions, goose grass is charging across the ground and up the hedge, foxgloves are starting their climb upwards and the stinging nettles are clumping up. In the borders self sown forget me nots, pansies and calendulas are blooming. Some fruit bushes and trees are in blossom and some early seedlings are germinating.
Some years ago – before I found out how natural processes build health and fertility in a garden and learned to trust nature and leave her alone as much as possible – I would have been desparate to get into the garden and dig up the nettles, remove the goose grass, dig out the dandelions and docks and generally “tidy up”. Not so now.
- Dandelions are loved by bees – just watch them and see how many visits they get, and also from butterflies. They are edible as well and last year I used dandelion petals to flavour cup cakes which gave a mild vanilla like flavour and even the neighbours liked them! If there are tooooooo many and my partner objects I will take some out, but grudgingly!
- Nettles are edible and nutritious as well; they provide habitat for insects and can be used for to make a liquid fertiliser.
- Goose grass is easily pulled out and concentrates minerals in its’ tissues which can be returned to the soil by just dropping the plants to the ground where they grew.
- Foxgloves flower for weeks and feed the bees continuously during that time. They look beautiful as well, though they are of course poisonous to us.
All plants serve a purpose whilst they are growing, even those that are apparently neither beautiful or useful to us humans – they are all part of a living, dynamic ecosystem, they are interacting with all the other living things in that system, seen and unseen, above and below ground. The greater the plant mass and diversity of plants the greater the possibilities are for these interactions and for a healthy soil and garden.
Basically I only take things out when I know they are going to cause a problem if left in. In this garden that is buttercups, clove root and grass removed on sight; as far as I can recall at this moment just about everything else is left at least for a while because:
- It is alive, functioning and interacting.
- It is edible or useful in some other way.
- In time it will be removed and put on the ground to decompose and feed the soil and its’ dependent creatures.
There are also other plants that are not “weeds” but which other people may have removed thinking they have finished their usefulness. Land cress for instance is sold as an annual salad leaf, but if you leave it it will live for years and flowers now (the plant with yellow flowers below). Insects love the flowers and we use the greens all year round (often cooked as they are strong tasting).
The field beans in the photo above have been in the garden since last autumn surviving whilst not much else can.
I particularly like the way that the plants cosy up to one another, nature does not leave gaps like gardeners do.
So we get to a place where more and more nature does the gardening, I just tweak and adjust at times whilst spending more time watching, marvelling and enjoying the show.
I will be interested to read your post when it’s done!
I know you wrote in your book and mentioned even in this post about dynamic accumulators. What’s your take on this article: http://permaculturenews.org/2015/04/10/the-facts-about-dynamic-accumulators/ ? I think the guy just needs to follow the money and look into experiments with rye and buckwheat in field culture because in that area those crops are called “phosphorus scavengers.” Also, he wants info on how long it takes for the nutrients to be released, which from what I have seen can be defined by what stage of decomposition the nutrients are released, for instance some things are released from the fresh juices while others aren’t released from the carbon across structure. I’m looking into this myself more in depth and thought you’d have a well educated opinion on the matter.
Love the post. It’s these tiny details people just need to keep hearing to get the best results in their garden. One “weed” I’m really enjoying letting go and weeding everything else from inbetween is creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea). It makes an excellent, low growing, easily removed ground cover. In some spots it is mixed with mint and alpine strawberries making what I think is a breathtakingly beautiful scene.
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Hi there and what a good question, which I will endeavour to answer …..
A blog I follow (https://portageperennials.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dynamic-accumulators-iii-you-dont-need-them/) recently posted about a general change of mind / questioning over the concept of dynamic accumulators which I read with interest and an open mind. It made many of the same points as the article you reference in your question. I am not a trained soil scientist and have not gone back (as others now have) to the references behind the references in permaculture texts but I certainly can accept that we should be relying only on things that are proven.
So I agree with the author that we should not be relying on dynamic accumulators alone to improve soil; but also that continuing to use them as part of an holistic approach to soil improvement is a reasonable thing to do given that they may work for reasons we don’t know yet. The fact that we don’t as yet have all the data we would ideally need does not mean we need to radically change what we do, but we do need to be careful how we explain / justify it.
However as I think about this it occurs to me that any minerals incorporated in plant tissue that is left to decompose in the landscape must be contained within some part(s) of the residual products once that plant tissue has decomposed. I don’t think that minerals can just disappear into thin air as it were – as far as I am aware they are not likely to combine with some gaseous compound and evaporate. Therefore logically they either remain in the immediate environment (perhaps in the humus content of the soil or within the bodies of soil creatures) or they are removed from the landscape, perhaps being leached out by water.
A quick look on Wikipedia in relation to humic acids shows:
The presence of carboxylate and phenolate groups gives the humic acids the ability to form complexes with ions such as Mg2+, Ca2+, Fe2+ and Fe3+. Many humic acids have two or more of these groups arranged so as to enable the formation of chelate complexes. The formation of (chelate) complexes is an important aspect of the biological role of humic acids in regulating bioavailability of metal ions.
I take this to mean that metallic minerals are present in humus and where chelate complexes are formed, their affinity (attractiveness to) for binding to metals is enhanced.
Of course this does not tell us relative proportions or absolute amounts but it does (I think, and I am relying on my A level chemistry of some decades ago here) indicate a pathway whereby minerals absorbed by plants may be subsequently made available again to the next generation of plant growth.
I don’t want to open a messy can of worms but I am sure people will have opinions about all this!
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Yes, I’m sure people have opinions –and I think a lot more scientific facts about the subject than these articles writers realize. Your notion that the minerals a plant takes up must eventually return to the soil is to a fair degree right. Although Nitrogen can return to the air as N2 rather easily, hence our need for N fixers to break it back down. Most of the other nutrients though, unless bound up by some very unique process, are generally made more bioavailable.
Anyway, I’m putting together a post on my own view and just wanted to know what your view was on it. I thought you’d have a fairly well rounded one. Thank you for supplying so much background. I really appreciate it.
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Incidentally… I’m confused about ‘field beans’, and having done some Googling about them, I’m even more confused. Some websites say that Phaseolus vulgaris is the field bean, and some say that broad beans (Vicia faba) are also known as field beans. Is it the latter in your photo?
Hi there, it’s vicia faba in the picture. I grow them from green manure packs of field beans or from Hodmedods (http://hodmedods.co.uk/product-category/dried-pulses/whole-fava-beans/) which are intended for cooking but I grow them and then cook what I grow!
I like your thoughtful comments. In my little patch, there are lots of low-growing ‘weeds’ in the spaces between the perennial and annual plants that I’ve put in. If they’re not competing at the same height then I think it’s best to leave the ‘weeds’ in, as they protect the soil and as you say, provide nectar for bees etc. I’m spreading strawberry plants and Siberian purslane around the garden as ground cover. Salad burnet is there as a fairly effective ground cover too, but the taste of it leaves something to be desired. It’s OK sprinkled into a salad in small quantities where it won’t be the dominant taste. I’m sure there must be other edible low-growing plants to share the role of ground cover, but I haven’t decided what fits the bill for me just yet.
Always enjoy reading your blog. Long may it continue.
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