Updated: Feb 6, 2022
A couple of months ago, in our newsletter, we started writing that: "Yes, climate change is an urgent issue, but understanding biodiversity must come first.” This is not only about understanding but also about knowing to appreciate it better, conserve it, and contribute with everything in our hands.
We can apply processes in our daily lives, simple things that help mitigate the climate crisis because "what we do, counts," people say. Our actions count to giving back to the earth at least one tiny part of everything we receive from it and influencing our family, friends, or neighbours to do the same.
There is a way to bring biodiversity closer to our homes while giving back to earth much of what it provides to us. Home gardens and orchards play a vital role in the war against climate change.
Although there are no recipes, we can give some examples of how to achieve this because everything depends on the space we have and the climatic conditions of the place where we live. However, going through successful experiences helps gain the motivation to take the first step.
In this particular case, we tell about the experience of María José Iturralde, the CEO of Humans for Abundance, who, with this small (maybe not so small) action, has turned part of her garden into a natural urban forest.
She has edible products, grows native plants that attract local wildlife (birds, butterflies, insects, etc.), exchanges products with neighbours, and her garden has the power to change the relationship with nature of anyone lucky enough to visit her.
For me, being in her house is like entering a hidden garden. I asked her questions about how the process of growing plants went; I am curious to see and identify every single species. While she tells me her story, my gaze is lost among so much green around without being capable of concentrating on a fixed point.
María José tells me that to achieve this; the first thing is to recognize that the process takes time. For her, Florcita’s help was vital and, although neither of them had any knowledge about the development of home orchards, they were both determined to produce their food, healthy and chemical-free so they began to experiment together.
It is a trial-and-error job that allows us to know what works best in each space. First of all, if the soil has not been properly treated, it does not have the necessary nutrients for the products to grow, so it is essential to feed it so that, little by little, it can recover its function.
Taking Care of the Soil
So, as part of the trial-and-error section is sowing soil.
The best way to start is by composting. When earthworms degrade organic matter they generate a large number of microorganisms essential in healthy soil.
We can take advantage of the organic waste from our homes to turn it into fertile soil and return nutrients to the garden.
Then, add animal feces from chickens as they provide nitrogen to the soil, an essential nutrient for plants and agricultural products.
It is essential to cover the soil with leaf litter, it becomes like the skin for the soil. It serves to maintain proper moisture and temperature.
Without it, bare soil erodes, loses nutrients, and ceases to fulfill its functions.
Collaborate with your Surroundings
As the process of soil nutrition is taking place, it does not mean that you cannot start planting; in fact, you can begin with creeping plants because they provide the soil with phosphorus, another essential component.
Thus, in addition to painting the environment different shades of green, they help protect the soil from sun rays and eliminate the temptation to turn it which, contrary to popular belief, is not a good practice because it takes away the soil's properties. Clover seedlings can be a good start.
María José tells me that you can continue planting fruit trees once the soil gets healthier. They add color to the garden and the necessary life for the local fauna to return, "the decision of what to grow should also consider the animal species that can feed on the products of our garden,” she says.
It's like a mutual collaboration, just as the joint work between María José and Florcita, they both realized that you can offer food to birds and insects while they help the flowers on the trees to continue blooming after pollination. "In my garden, the birds are back; they eat loquat, avocado, and chayote," she adds.
Location! Location! Location!
It is also essential to plant vines. Their particular way of growing is excellent to place them near the garden’s enclosures and take advantage of all the available space.
These species help maintain a constant temperature and generate a more friendly environment for all species.
As the garden grows, the trial-and-error period continues. The soil is already fertile, but now it is necessary to find out what grows best in the garden according to the conditions of each place; it is essential to understand the ideal way to arrange the seeds and seedlings.
For example, some species grow upwards and take up little space in the soil; these plants can grow next to other products, shorter in height, or the ones that grow sideways. While I look around the garden, I notice that the white onion, which is a tall plant, rises next to the lettuce, and the reason becomes evident: while growing together, they don’t block the sunlight on each other; and both grow well.
The same happens when I see tall plants like peas and beans next to the chard and spinach. This disorderly order attracts my attention; it is like breaking the traditional schemes of agriculture where only one product stands out.
Ornamental Plants are Essential Too
In addition to edible products, ornamental plants are also part of this game. In the end, "it is like having a beautiful garden, which also produces food and naturally attracts native fauna like bees that come to pollinate.” Floral diversity increases between creeping plants, fruit trees, vines, and ornamental species.
The advantage of having many species is that the biology of each one is used to benefit others. For example, some ornamental species attract nematodes which are types of worms that can act as parasites to plants. In this case they do not harm them.
However, were it not for the ornamental plant, these nematodes, still present in the soil could negatively affect the growth of edible products.
"Our tomato plant survives thanks to the marigolds that keep the nematodes busy, and therefore don't have time to mess with my tomatoes," says María José with a chuckle. "The plants help each other, and that is thanks to the fact that we plant diversity.”
Teamwork Really Does Make the Dream Work
Finally, these projects also have a very positive social impact. We can find friends, relatives, or neighbors with a garden at home. If everyone grows different products, then trade can happen, which is what María José does with other people in her neighborhood.
She tells me that "my neighbor has chickens, she produces more eggs than she needs and offers them to me in exchange for some vegetables from my garden. Sometimes I give her avocados, zucchini, or chayote, depending on what I have available or what she needs".
The experience is is tremendously more beneficial when we work together. Florcita is María José's right-hand woman, with whom they have shared knowledge and experiences. Together, they are becoming more and more experts in the process. Now, harvesting is an activity they share every day which allows them to feed themselves and their families with fresh and healthy products.
The impact of these actions is also economic and environmental; just by producing our food and treating organic waste properly, the carbon footprint is reduced by large. Globally, food production is responsible for 26% of total greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere; part of that percentage corresponds to food wasted either in the distribution process or in households.
Producing our food reduces the impact, waste, and transportation costs. The key is to understand that we are not the owners of the planet; we are inhabitants of a borrowed space with an immense amount of goodness that we must take advantage of, but with the required respect and care.
As I leave María José’s house and the door closes behind me, I am suddenly moved by a new feeling. I remember I have two tiny planters that, up until now, rested unused, gathering dust saved for “when I have more space…” But now, I know that space shouldn’t be a limiting factor.
My mind is already taking me to my mini-garden filled with native plants eager to attract zooming hummingbirds and butterflies. Step by step, I remind myself. Maybe a mint plant and some lettuce for my daily fresh salads is a good place to start. I look forward to what the result will be…
What About You?
Designing a home garden is like playing with our creativity to make change happen. It is one of innumerable ways to do so. Look around and see the possibilities. You can also choose the direct actions taken by Humans for Abundance restorers who are already doing the work. We'd love to have you join the team.