Natural Garden Amendments

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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Ten years ago when Dennis first moved to where we now live the old driveway was where one of our gardens is today. In 2008, when I first came here, the trees in the area for our newer garden had just been felled. Now these areas are fertile gardens created using the natural resources that are so abundant here on the island – from our yard, the forest, shore and neighbors farms. It’s amazing, what a vast supply of materials and fertilizers that lie scattered literally around our feet. All it takes is an open mind, creativity and a way to get it and you can turn any ol’ piece of ground into an healthy and productive garden.

We never buy any amendments for our gardens or orchards. No matter how organic, the plastic bags, the obvious processing, the involvement of cash and the transport kinda’ ruins the “natural” for me. Our goal is to use as much as we can from our own farm and after that, go as short distance as possible. We really never have to go further than 5 miles to get what we need for the gardens and for us it’s well worth the drive if that means not going to the store later in the year to buy produce brought here from all over the world. We attribute much of our gardening success and by extension, our success of living with limited cash and a high level of food security to the free resources around us.

Here follows a few examples of way we use natural materials to improve our garden and orchards:

The one major island resource we use is the seaweed that’s washed up on the beaches here, generally considered one of the top amendments to use in a garden. In spring we use it to mulch around plants to suppress weeds, add nutrients and to keep the moisture in the ground. We plant our tomatoes by digging a hole, dumping a 5 gallon bucket of seaweed and planting the tomato right in it. We add the seaweed to our compost pile, we put about a foot thick ring of it around our fruit trees, we feed it to our chickens and to our pigs. In the fall as we harvest the produce, we cover every bed with it for the winter. We get it by the trailer load and use about as much as we can muster getting in as many ways as we can think up.

We use oak leaves as mulch for crops that might be planted too close to for it to really work laying down the bulky seaweed, like leeks for example. The leaves need to be shredded, and in preference to chickens over machines, throwing the leaves in the chicken pen will not only take care of the shredding and make the chickens happy, but also add to the fertilization.

Instead of buying bales of straw, I bring home day lily leaves I cut back in the fall doing landscaping and gardening around the island. Once again, I throw them in the chicken pen, and after a few weeks they’re ready to be used as mulch over our newly planted garlic.

Last summer we were preparing a new building site and had to move the last residues of brush piles stacked up about a decade ago. Under a layer of remaining sticks was about a foot of wonderful, rich wood duff that we spread in our orchard.

We fertilize our fruit trees and flower beds with compost from our outhouses. We use a bucket and sawdust system and empty the content in simple pallet-bins letting it sit for a year before we break the piles open and use it. We use a separate bucket for urine, which after being diluted is an excellent nitrogen resource to water over high feeding crops.

Every year we raise a couple of pigs that we largely feed from the same natural resources; the forest and the yard. Once fall is upon us and it’s time to butcher them we take great care to waste as little of the animals as we can. We boil and salt and smoke and at the end the bones are left. Those we burn until they become brittle and we crush them into bonemeal and spread them over our phosphorus loving crops. From ashes to ashes, from the land to the land. There are always new ways to improve your soil and with a keen eye you’ll will be amazed how close, and abundant, the resources are.