Over the last decade or so, you may have heard a lot about regenerative farming or regenerative agriculture.
When we talk about regeneration, we are talking about renewal, restoration — systems that are cyclic, and restored to a better state that is more enduring.
Over time, land has been degraded by harmful human practices. Regenerative agriculture sets out to right these wrongs through holistic land management. It involves maximizing natural photosynthesis in plants to sequester carbon and protect the soil. It is about boosting biodiversity, managing water wisely, and growing healthy soil, which leads to healthy plants, which leads to healthy people. The ideas are simple, but the impacts are immense.
And what can be achieved on farms can also be achieved on a domestic scale in our gardens. Taking the ideas of regenerative agricultural production and implementing them at home is what regenerative gardening is all about.
Regenerative gardening takes its name from the concepts of regenerative agriculture. It draws from the ideas of organic gardening, no-dig gardening, permaculture, and other sustainable gardening movements. It recognizes that everything comes back to the soil.
What Does it Involve?
Regenerative gardening first and foremost involves taking care of and improving the soil — it involves not treating soil like dirt and recognizing that it is a living ecosystem upon which all of our efforts in the garden depend.
Here are some of the key strategies of regenerative gardening:
Plant perennials, not just annual crops, to sequester more carbon and keep soil covered.
Choose the right plants for the right places, to maximize plant productivity and create symbioses. Recognize that sometimes even “weeds” can be the right plant in the right place.
Layer plants and add biodiversity to maximize photosynthesis on a site. (A forest garden with layers, from the tree canopy down to the rhizosphere, is one example of this.)
Keep a living root in the soil as much as possible, avoid leaving areas of bare soil. Use cover crops, green manures, living mulches, crop rotations, successional planting, sown pathways, etc.
Garden organically: Avoid all synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
Don’t dig or till — disturb the soil as little as possible.
Avoid stepping on growing areas to reduce compaction issues.
Sheet mulch to add organic matter, and use no-dig techniques to make new growing areas.
Embrace wildlife, nurturing beneficial interactions, and valuing nature’s cycles. Working with nature rather than fighting it to maximize plant growth.
Consider integrating garden livestock (such as backyard ducks or chickens) wisely into the system.
Why We Should Embrace Regenerative Gardening
One thing for us all to remember is that the health of the soil in our gardens is directly linked to the health of the edible crops we grow, and when we eat the food we grow at home, to our own health. When nutrients are lacking and soil is degraded, those nutrients will not be made available to us through the food we grow and eat. Simply put: healthy soil means healthy ecosystems, means healthy people.
But beyond this, the health of the soil, on a global and local scale, also has wider ramifications. Healthy soil with plenty of organic matter teems with beneficial soil life. It catches and stores water more effectively, and sequesters more carbon from the air — an important carbon sink. By keeping living roots in the soil, and living, photosynthesizing plants in active growth at all times, we catch and store more water, and sequester more carbon too.
A regenerative garden is a healthy and beautiful natural system, tailored and harnessed by us to meet our own needs and the needs of the wider world. Sun, water, soil, and plants in regenerative systems work holistically, providing us with what we need not just to survive, but to thrive.