Gardening and living by three \”ecological rules\”


\"\"Spring semester is underway at the University of Massachusetts and I\’m teaching a class called Sustainable Living with about 300 students.   My next several posts will share some of the lessons from this class.  My first lecture is called Ecology \”Rules\”.

The three ecological rules for living sustainably are:

  1. Use current solar income whenever possible.
  2. Recycle everything (waste = food).
  3. Encourage biological diversity.

This post looks at how we try to \”obey Mother Nature\’s rules\” in my own household and garden and makes suggestions for you to consider in your own life.

1. Use Current Solar Income

Well, the obvious use of solar income growing food in the garden.

We have a big garden, with two unheated hoop houses that allow us to grow food during three seasons in New England.  \"\" But if you live in an apartment, you can still grow some food in planters and window boxes.  Or check with your town hall and ask about access to a community garden.  Or join a CSA (many deliver directly into the city).  But if you have a big back yard, why not try \”food not lawns\”.  Lawns require too much fertilizer and water and produce nothing.

A simple way to use solar energy \"\"is dry your clothes outside.   I enjoy feeling like I\’m somehow beating the oil companies this way.  And while it is a small thing, I like to feel the sun on my back while I\’m hanging the laundry out.

And if you own your own home, there is no better investment than solar hot water!  \"\"

Although, both oil and wood are originally solar, wood heat is much more \”current\” than oil and can be regenerated in a lifetime.  So we burn wood for supplemental heat.  It also provides a back up when the power goes out in a winter storm!

I suspect there are lots of other actions we could take to obey Mother Nature\’s first rule.  Why don\’t you add your own below in comments box?

2. Waste=Food

So, here\’s the second rule…..  everything cycles, or \”waste=food.\”  And of course the easiest way to obey this rule is to compost food wastes.  \"\"We collect all of the organic waste (except meat) in a small bucket on the kitchen counter.  It goes out to a compost pile to turn into organic matter, which goes on the garden to grow more food.  In Mother Nature, there is no waste!

\"\" Some of the food \”waste,\” like old tomatoes, go to our hens, which turn that \”waste\” into fresh eggs.  Have you ever had a fresh egg?  It tastes different than the industrial version.

There are other ways to turn waste into food.  The ashes from the wood stove (waste) go onto the garden to grow more food.   Wood ash has potassium (potash), an essential nutrient for plants.

And how about recycling old newspapers and cardboard by using it as a mulch on the garden?   Non-glossy newsprint is safe and prevents weed growth, builds organic matter, and provides a great home for worms that turn leaves and garden residues into fertilizer.



The newspaper is covered with hay and then watered down.  We do this every fall to get the garden ready for planting in the spring.  We try not to rototill at all, since this kills the worms which help feed the garden.

3. Support Biological Diversity

And the third rule…… well, the first two don\’t work well without biological diversity.  A monoculture, either a 1000 acre corn farm or your front lawn violates Mother Nature\’s rules.  And the best way to mix things up in the garden is to make sure you have both plants and animals!   Animals…… really?

Well, yes.  Animals in the garden are needed to recycle nutrients.  Here are our \”meat chickens\” feeding (and pooping) in the old strawberry patch.  \"\"

Chickens are one of the easiest animal to include in your garden.  We raise 25 broilers each summer.  They are around for about 8 weeks and then \”into the freezer.\”  Lots of communities are working to change their zoning rules to encourage backyard chickens and hens for food self-sufficiency.

There is one backyard animal that is even easier than chickens….. that\’s bees.  We harvest about 8 quarts of honey each year from our bee hive. \"\"

Oh sure, you say…. I can\’t do that!  Well, its not all that difficult and there are lots of your neighbors who have already joined the \”homegrown revolution!\”

But if you are not ready for chickens and bees….. well, then start with worms.  Yup, that\’s right.  They can help recycle kitchen wastes all winter long.

\"\"This little \”worm condominium\” supports a few thousand worms that quietly eat food waste, producing lovely potting soil.  And the hens love to have a few worms as a snack during the winter when the ground is frozen and they can\’t scratch up their own bugs.  Try it!

The food waste goes in and the worms do the rest.  Its called vermiculture farming (worm) and its simple!

How are you obeying Mother Nature\’s rules?  Post your ideas in the comments box below!

But I don\’t want to \”obey\” the rules

There is a part of me that rebels when I hear the word \”obey\” or \”obedience\”.   But lets look more closely at that word \”obey.\”  It comes from the Latin \”obedire\”, which is to hear or listen.  Perhaps that is what it means to \”obey\” Mother Nature\’s rules, simply to listen deeply.

I remember my first Permaculture course, when we we told to go out and sit in a garden and observe quietly.  I was surprised by the difference between this garden brimming with biological diversity (birds, bees and bugs) and my own which was productive but sterile.

\"\"When I sit and listen to Mother Nature\’s \”voice\” I seem to become part of something much bigger than myself.  I can feel the energy of the earth and I feel at peace.   And yes, I try to obey the rules.

After all, these ecological rules have evolved over 4.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error (or perhaps divine intent) on this planet.  Our own human cleverness isn\’t working so well and seems to have gotten us into quite a mess.  Maybe we can learn something by listening to Mother Nature!

How do you live by these three ecological rules?


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my posts.