Veganic Farming and Gardening…why not?
As a life long organic gardener, I’ve always been on the lookout for better, environmental ways to do things. Each season, as I learn and grow, I try to make at least one small change in my gardening practices that helps to make our food and flora healthier, or soil more fertile and the world a better place.
That being said, my gardening practices aren’t perfect. I still rely on horse and chicken manure, a gas powered rototiller, some plastic tools and supplies, etc. I also am not making best use of cover crops and grain production. As you can see, there’s definitely some room for improvement. That’s generally, my mode of operation…Set it up and then fix it up. So, once again, this season I am taking stock of what I am doing now and what else can be done. Veganic farming has piqued my interest.
Keeping healthy and fertile soil in the garden is my number one priority. The first thing that I took a look at this year was the use of animal fertilizers. How could I get rid of them, or at least reduce their necessity?
Currently, we have a lovely flock of chickens. Their used straw supplies us with the main source of nitrogen for the compost pile. We only have about 25 birds, so the amount of nitrogen rich straw that we get is somewhat limited. However, it does give the compost pile an occasional, nitrogen boost to keep it cooking and steaming, especially through the cold, winter months. As for the chickens…they’re our pets and we wouldn’t dream if getting rid of them. They’re old friends. (Our little, Japanese Bantum, “Mrs. Banty” is going on 12 years old.)
We also still use horse manure once in awhile. For many years, we owned horses, mostly rescues, so we always had piles of horse sh*t. The addition of the manure to our garden made a noticeable improvement. Sadly, our last horse died about two years ago. We’re getting too old and too poor to take in any more horses. I do miss the ponies, but I also miss that manure. I guess that I’m not quite ready to give up its use.
This season, someone gave us a truckload of horse poop, which was very generous. We gladly took it and layered it in the compost heap. While I’m happy to have it, I always worry about bringing things like this in from the outside, for fear of introducing unwanted, noxious plants. Hopefully, the pile will heat up enough to kill off any plant intruders.
We’ve already experienced the invasion of daikon, clover, thistle and bind weed that originated from our horse hay of past. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we’ll ever get those out of the garden.
That being said, it would probably behoove us, no pun intended, to just get rid of horse manure entirely. But what do we replace it with? There’s bat guano…it’s expensive. Cover crops don’t really do that well over the winter. They also show up too late in the spring, thereby competing with new crops, and frankly, they’re a pain to dig under by hand. Their are other commercially prepared meals, but I question their “organic” origin and once again, we have that problem of bringing in more invading plant species.
Comfrey Fertilizer…Totally Veganic
One idea that I’m looking into is growing comfrey for fertilizer. I’ve read that the leaves, when composted, turn to a perfectly balanced, liquid, plant food. I need to do some more research on that one. I may try growing a few comfrey plants in the flower garden this season to test this idea. It can’t hurt. (Note: Comfrey should not be ingested by humans, or animals, as it has been shown to be a carcinogen to the liver.) Supposedly, the large leaves break down pretty quickly, so we should have a steady supply throughout the growing months.
I’ve found some other great ideas on the Go Veganic website. One is to rethink the use of cover crops. I know what I said above, but cover crops, if done right can greatly improve the soil, which is where it all starts. For one, cover crops can prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss through exposure. That’s major, right there. Cover crops can help protect the eco-structure of the beneficial plants, fungi and small creatures, such as earthworms through the winter months. Maybe, I just tried the wrong cover crops in the past. I need something that comes up in the cold, wet winter months, dies out early and is easy to till under by hand. Right now, I just let the native grasses grow over last season’s beds. Any other suggestions are welcome.
Mulching during the growing season is another good practice, which I try to do, but sometimes I just run out of steam. It means gathering more leaves, grasses, etc. and spreading them out over the young plant beds. Again, I have the problem of possibly introducing invasive species. I could use newspaper, or cardboard instead. I’m not crazy about the inks in the newspaper being added to the garden soil. Also, newspaper and cardboard are not the most beautiful things to look at, albeit they are practical and in abundant supply.
Mulching and composting with chipped, small wood is a very good idea. The smaller branches of trees and shrubs harbor the most nutrients. I also have a huge, over-supply of plants and shrubs that grow in our surrounding forest. Now…If only I had a chipper/shredder. It’s on my list. I suppose that I could rent one, but it would take me an hour to drive to the rental place, an hour to drive it back and then there’s the cost of renting it. I do wish that I still had an neighbor close by that I could share tools and sage advice with. Our only neighbor up here on the mountain moved away last month. I’m missing them already.
Inoculating the soil with micorrhizal fungi can boost the garden soil’s ability to take in phosphorus and potassium. We are already doing this and I do believe it helps. We also live in a rainy forestland that is full of various fungi growing naturally, so I do believe that our soil is already microrrhizal rich.
Veganic gardening isn’t just about putting things into the soil. It’s also about carefully using crop rotation to minimize nutrient depletion is also a big help. I do that…to a point. I don’t have fifty acres of totally flat, river bottom land to work with. My gardens are tucked into small, irregular spots of semi-flat, hillside benches. I only have so much room to grow things and sometimes I have to plant the tomatoes, or kale right where they grew last year, although I try my best not to. Of course, leaving a bed, or two fallow each year would be nice, but not always possible.
I know…it sounds like I’m just complaining. Trust me, I just need to go through this doubting, excuse ridden, sad faced process in order to move forward. I mean, really? Don’t we all? It’s part of the many, thoughtful ways to finding solutions. I’m just setting up my, “road blocks,” so I can find ways to knock them down. I’d love to hear from my readers, so please post your constructive, non-commercial posts. (Trolls, don’t bother. I’ll just delete your comments.) In the mean time, I’ll continue to edit this post to give you more information on veganic growing.