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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Mimicking nature

ono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group, which has its office in Greenfield, spoke to the Greenfield Garden Club a couple of weeks ago. His inspiring talk explained how gardeners could mimic nature and require less work and inputs to create a garden that would give us what we desire out of our garden and what wildlife and pollinators require.

He gave some very specific advice, beginning with the suggestion that vegetable gardens and gardens that need substantial cultivating be sited near the house where their needs will not be forgotten. I can tell you how valuable this advice is from my own experience. The Herb Bed, the Front Garden, the Daylily and Rose Banks, all of which are right in front of the house, get more attention because those south gardens warm up first in the spring and because it is easy to do a small job or two as I come and go in and out of the house.

It is easy to remember to spread compost and other organic fertilizers on our vegetable and flower beds wherever they are, but remembering to weed or watch for problems is easier when the garden is right in front of us.

Water is becoming more of a concern as we often seem to have too much or too little. This has inspired many people to invest in rain barrels, which collect rain off our roofs to use later in the garden when there is a dry spell. Those who have used 50-gallon barrels quickly learn that they don’t hold much of the roof run-off and add more barrels.

Neiger has arranged it so that the runoff from his roof runs into a small artificial pond that he created below the house. The pond holds about 300 gallons of water. When the pond is full, there is an overflow pipe that takes water to a small bog garden featuring pitcher plants that he planted when his son was young. When that area is full, water runs down to the vegetable garden. His goal is to get as much use out of all the water he can collect and keep it usefully on the site.

Those of us who don’t have enough room to move rainwater across our property could buy a larger water tank to collect more water off our roof. We can count on that tank costing about a dollar a gallon, so a 400-gallon tank would cost about $400. We can also plant a rain garden that will keep rain on our site and out of storm drains.

He also told us that gray water is now legal in Massachusetts. If we can separate out our sink and bath water, that gray water can be drained into our gardens. We would have to pay attention to the type of soaps and detergents we use. His passion is to produce no waste and to recycle any waste elements of our house and garden as much as possible. Compost!

He is a proponent of permaculture, growing perennial plants for food as well as for ornament. He explained the Edible Forest Garden in terms that I could finally understand. The idea is to mimic nature in the way the forest grows with tall trees, then understory shrubs and then ground covers. An edible forest in my garden simply means to include a fruit tree or two, some berry bushes and then ground covers. Rhubarb and asparagus are familiar perennial edible “ground covers.” How simple.

If you are interested in perennial crops, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book, “Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles,” will give you full information about familiar and unfamiliar crops, many of which are hardy in our area.

Those of us who live in town will not be able to, or need to, include the food, fuel, fiber, fodder, farmeceuticals, fertilizer and fun that make up Neiger’s productive landscape, but all of us can include several of these elements. In the acre surrounding my house, I have food in my vegetable gardens; some fodder for my chickens, which then supply some fertilizer; compost for fertilizer; an herb garden for farmeceuticals; and fun in the Lawn Beds, including small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even some ground covers. I want to point out that bee balm, mint, yarrow and other pollinator magnets are among the perennials in the herb and flower gardens.

How many of these elements do you have in your garden? Begin with fun.

‘Silent Spring’ talk Feb. 2

While Jono Neiger gave us some new ecological ways to think about managing our domestic landscapes, Emily Monosson, teacher and environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts, will be leading a discussion at the Greenfield Library with those who have read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson on Saturday, Feb. 2. This talk, “The Relevance of Silent Spring after 50 Years,” is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this book, which could be said to have started the whole environmental movement and new ways of. “No book since then has had the impact of ‘Silent Spring.’ Carson saw an acute toxic change ... and synthesized an immense amount of research. The changes in our environment today are more insidious,” Monosson said.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site:
www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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