Five Ways to Help the Natural World by Growing Food
We are going to continue to restore the land at Whaelghinbran Farm by growing more food there. We are going to think carefully about how, when, where and why we grow food so that our food system will benefit many of the wild plants and animals that are losing places to live and prosper in New Brunswick. To do this we are designing a Restoration Orchard - an orchard that produces local food and also clearly benefits the natural environment at the same time.
First though, can you really restore land? To restore means to bring back a piece of land to the same natural landscape it once was. But what does that mean? Pre ice-age? Pre-European? Pre 1950’s? Pre clear-cut? We don't necessarily bring back all aspects of what it once was, with all the same plants and animals when we restore land - but we work to restore the natural processes that clean water, prevent erosion, and provide sustenance.
You can restore your backyard by transforming your lawn into a food forest garden. A forest garden produces healthy treats while also creating ideal places for friendly critters, adding needed nutrients and minerals to tired soil, and it can ideally withstand the pressures of a changing climate.
CFI transformed a lawn at the Sackville Community Garden (above) by planting many different trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers and adding lots of dried plant material like straw and woodchips. Some plants create shade, plant material keeps the soil moist, and flowers provide food for bees. The community now harvests food from the forest garden and uses it to raise funds for community projects.
Here are five ways you can grow food and make a difference to the natural world:
#1 PRODUCE FOOD FOR BOTH ANIMALS AND US
In New Brunswick you can grow many different large fruits, berries, seeds, nuts and herbs - add mulch plants for soil life, nest boxes for birds and some veggies too!
- Apples, pears, plums, raspberries, hascap berries, highbush blueberry, baking cherry, hazelnuts, chestnuts, heartnut, quince, elderberry, currant, gooseberry, Russian olive, serviceberry, wild raisin, highbush cranberry, thyme, lavender, hyssop, lemonbalm, oregano, calendula, chives, mint, chamomile, Echinacea, rhubarb, and countless flowers for pollinators
#2 STORE WATER and REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS
By planting trees and changing the earth just a bit, you can slow rainwater as it runs down a hill. This allows more time for plants to use the water and allows the soil to store and hold more water for drier months. For example, you can build ponds to collect water when there is excess (spring and fall) and use it when your garden or orchard is in need (mid-summer). If you use gravity to run water from pond to orchard you rely less on fossil fuel energy.
#3 BUILD SOIL
One way to build and care for the soil is to add abundant plant material (mulch) on top of the soil. This is similiar to how plant material naturally deposits on a forest floor and slowly decomposes back to soil via worms, bugs and fungi. If you can grow mulch on site, even better - less use of fossil fuel! Mulch is any seedless and dried organic (living) material, this can include straw, woodchips or seaweed. You can also include nitrogen fixing plants such as peas, beans, Siberian pea, or lupines.
#4 REGULATE CLIMATE
Trees, shrubs and herbs not only keep the dirt moist and cool for soil life but also keep the air under them cool by creating a moist air under their canopy. This important function creates a more stable environment in drier months and reduces the need for watering once the plants are established.
#5 CREATE HABITAT
If you want to attract pollinators and birds (we do!), then it is best to know what kind of habitat, fruits and flowers flying insects and birds need. Creating an edge around your property (a weedy place) creates a food source and habitat for many pollinators and beneficial insects.
In our Restoration Orchard at Whaelghinbran Farm we hope to attract all kinds of beneficial animals to our orchard by choosing the right combination of plants. The beneficial animals will help us pollinate crops (bees), till and fertilize the soil (small critters) and eat pests (birds and wasps) – not to mention countless benefits that we might not be aware of. We will also need to be in tune to how these plants will compete or help each other and how to place them so we can easily harvest produce, maintain the space, and achieve our goals of an abundant and restorative orchard.