We’re a busy world. Scratch that. We Americans are a busy people upon this world. Go, go, and go some more, ever looking for that way to eek out a bit more from the day, yet all the while dragging so much that we can’t sleep, don’t enjoy much of anything, and resort to “energy drinks” to make it to the next day’s treadmill. We do great harm to ourselves physically and emotionally on this endless loop of “increased productivity.” In a land of time-saving inventions, we’re overstressed, overburdened, overbooked, and overextended.
And so is our land. The same approach applied to our rat-race lives is reflected in the soil that bares our food. We cram as many animals as possible into feedlots, grow as much of one crop in one acre as we can, toss an assorted cocktail of chemical pesticides and fertilizers onto all of it and expect that somehow we and our land that feeds us can maintain such a pace over the long haul.
As you enter the next growing season, consider planting less this year, or said differently, consider allowing a portion of your plot to go unplanted. That’s what we do. Every year, we let one garden bed go unplanted. We heap on compostables like leaves, straw, dead garden vegetation, manure - whatever we would normally toss on the formal compost pile – and leave the bed alone for one full year. We garden the rest of the beds for the remainder of that same year. The results are impressive: increased tilth, nutrient make-up, microbiology, worms in the left-alone bed. Basically, a year’s worth of composting right on the growing bed leaves you with textbook soil, the loamy stuff gardeners dream of and strive for. All by adhering to a discipline of selectively not growing.
Equally impressive is the growth of plants placed in soil that has been left alone for the year. Whether tomatoes or corn, the plants are more vigorous and more productive than their counterparts in ground that has had continual planting. Last year, we set tomatoes and peppers on our rested bed. Huge fruits and plentiful. The peppers were truly a wonder. Hot and mild were planted: Anaheim, jalapeno, and sweet italian. Truly a bumper crop. This year we’ll follow that bed with potatoes, beans, and squash.
An added bonus to this system is weed suppression. My compostable heaps in the beds are well over a foot deep, dense, and border to border in the bed. The lack of light prevents the emergence of weeds. To be sure, some plants will germinate… we had several dozen asparagus rise up to fringe the edge of the beds, as well as pumpkins. This was ok with us… friends now have the crowns and they are growing well in another yard. The pumpkins made their way into muffins.
Another use for this system is repository of chicken and rabbit entrails from what we butcher. The remains are easily handled by the worms, bacteria and other microbiology at work. And when covered by a foot-high pile of dense compost, critters don’t even know that the remains are there, so they aren’t exhumed. I realize that thought might make you squeamish… you’re putting guts in your garden beds? Yes. They’re part of the ecology, the life cycle. And besides, why pay for bone and blood meal, and then throw entrails in the garbage can, when I can bury them, save the money on soil supplements, and keep senseless waste out of the landfill? Again, bear in mind that these remains are well below ground level, and will remain undisturbed except by worms for a full year… more than enough time to fully decompose and work their nutritive value into the soil.
Entering our third full year of gardening, bed number three is now slated to be non-farmed. It will be given its chance to rest after three straight years of producing mightily for us. And next year, bed number… and so on until we return to give bed number one its rest.
If you have a larger garden, consider dedicating a portion of it to go fallow each year. Consider the longterm health of your soil and the plants that soil will call home. And if you have a small garden, consider dedicating a small portion as unplanted or provide the entire garden a season off to recover.
And lastly, consider the benefit to yourself to the practice of going fallow: that is one less bed to tend this growing season, which gives you more time to focus on more important matters… like the rest of the garden….