For the gastronomically inclined, a kitchen garden is designed to provide food for the table. Although I am not a particularly gifted gardener, there is something incredibly compelling about growing my own food and using that food to feed my family.
Going into this year’s harvest season, I have already begun planning next year’s garden. Some things worked well this year, and some things simply did not. Also, I had an opportunity to explore regenerative agriculture, a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds and enhances the ecosystem.
Farms can be certified organic by avoiding prohibited chemical substances, but regenerative farming does everything possible to make the soil healthy and mineralized, build organic matter and good structure, and build soil resilience. Instead of focusing on chemistry, regenerative farming focuses on soil biology.
Although designed for farming, regenerative agriculture has applications for kitchen and home gardeners. According to “Modern Farmer,” the system aims to build “…healthy, mineral-rich, biologically-diverse soils that grow healthy, mineral-rich food while also improving soils [and] crops…” In other words, more and better foods!
Regenerative agriculture in practice
My introduction to this practice came at the American Chestnut Land Trust, a citizen conservation organization in Calvert County, Md., “…dedicated to protecting, caring for and sharing land within the Parkers Creek and Governor’s Run watersheds.” Along with managing 22 miles of trails across 4,000 acres of preserve and conducting guided canoe trips on Parkers Creek, ACLT uses regenerative farming to grow crops that benefit a local food pantry.
Directed by chief gardener RT West, ACLT’s Double Oak Farm includes educational demonstration gardens using home gardening methods that are natural and biologically healthy. Much of the land ACLT has preserved was once tobacco farmland, depleted of nutrients over dozens of generations. Today’s urban gardeners can also face less than ideal soil conditions. West began tackling his problem with 400 cubic yards of composted horse manure to start repairing the damaged soil. As much as possible, he returns vegetation to the soil, even scrounging mown grass from nearby fields.
West is also a strong proponent of no tilling. He says that turning over the soil, 6 to 10 inches deep “…destroys the organic soil, turns it upside down”. Organic no-till gardening uses a variety of methods to manage weeds and reduce or eliminate tilling without chemical herbicides. Home gardeners can consider cover crops, crop rotation, mulching or physical barriers such as weed-suppressing mats that can be planted through in one pass.
It begins with “Grow it…”
ACLT also hosts innovative gardening programs for local school and youth groups. Many of those programs focus on “Grow it; eat it!”, following foods literally from seed to table. One group’s pie-shaped “pizza garden” is divided into wedge-shaped plots: one for tomatoes, one for peppers, one for onions, one wedge for each element of a tasty pizza. RT West said that one group even grew wheat to make the dough.
In another long plot, a group of gardeners was growing various types of cotton. “That’s ‘grow it; wear it’,” joked West.
I have much to think about for next year’s garden. I need to call Veteran Compost to deliver a load of their best. And, what about cover crops? Should I lose my tiller and start collecting lawn clippings and scatter them on my garden? And, how about that “pizza garden”? Whatta’ great idea!
As the title says, just wait until next year’s garden.
Kitchen Guy Pesto
Use pesto on pasta, potatoes or simply spread on slices of crusty bread. Basil, the base ingredient in pesto, is easily grown either from seeds or plants. Usually I plant some of each to ensure a continuous crop. Basil also comes in many varieties including sweet, citrus, chocolate and cinnamon.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic peeled
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pack the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and cheese into a food processor (or blender) and grind to a rough paste. With the machine running, add the olive oil. If the paste is too dry, add a bit more oil. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Fresh Pesto can be stored up to one week in a glass jar in the refrigerator.