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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Five Tips on Gardening With a Living Safety Net

No one lives in a vacuum… and plants don’t either. Even in a total monoculture, you’ll find occasional weeds, plus fungi, bacteria, yeasts and other soil life. Modern factory farming does a good job of killing almost everything but the main crop (which, in the case of genetically modified plants and pesticide-laden produce, may then turn around and kill us) but it’s still not able to make things totally sterile— and that’s the way things are supposed to be. Wild. Abundant. Intermixed. Layered with all the amazing bits and pieces of Creation into a living web of life.

ladybug seriesMany people have seen my gardens and said “Whoa, you don’t have any pests, do you?” I hate to disabuse them of that pleasant notion, but I do indeed have pests. I just don’t have nearly as many as a lot of other local gardeners. I have a few explanations for that.

Having a lot of life around is a good thing. A healthy garden shouldn’t be a sterile place. It’s a web of life…we’re just there to tend things for a bit as we pass through this sphere on our way to the next. Some plants won’t work well for you. Some years you may lose something you love. However, experimentation has taught me that the “easy” way out — scorched Earth — isn’t usually necessary.

One more thought: my front yard is rapidly becoming a food forest. Not everything there makes food. I’ve got plants that bloom, plants that fix nitrogen, plants that shelter predators, piles of brush for reptiles and amphibians to hide in, plants that provide shade and create microclimates, wood chips and logs for fungi to eat, leaves to cover the ground and feed worms and plenty of stuff that just looks beautiful even if I haven’t discovered its “purpose” yet. This is a far cry from the heavily sprayed peach and pecan orchards and perfect rows of Roundup Ready corn that grow in my neck of the woods. I confess: my fruit sometimes has spots on it and my leaves are occasionally perforated with little bug bites, but they’re fresh, healthy and organic…and they thrive despite being untouched by the wonders of modern science.

Would you rather wipe out the many checks and balances in your garden — or have to do all the spraying, weeding, bug-picking, worrying and squashing all by yourself? I’ll take the latter— and revel in the rich Eden that results.

For survival plant profiles, ideas on growing tons of food, and madcap gardening inspiration, visit David’s daily blog at

Photo by David Goodman