Then you must have known how tiring it is to protect your food crop from wandering hungry critters, and how much effort it takes to keep your vegetable or fruit plot from being trampled by passing wild animals.
Even if you don’t have this experience under your belt, you probably have noticed how much attention this little area could have gotten. Various animals and insects make their home near or around gardens, feeding off the produce or helping themselves to nectar and pollen in the flowers. Some also decide it’s a safe place to live; bushy plants provide covers for small animals like birds or mice and trailing ground creepers make a wonderful haven for bugs. Your little garden provides numerous ecological niches for a diversity of animals! Even if your area is small and sparsely planted, it still makes a beautiful home for at least one type of organism. But you may be wondering, “What does this mean for me?” or “Why should I care?”. There’s a reason for both your health and the planet’s health!
When you start planting different species together, you are creating a habitat which is quickly populated with organisms looking for a home. This means you made a home for animals that are in need, creating a sort of sanctuary for species that may be dying out from the destruction we have brought upon the environment. With these species coming together, they can keep the garden environment healthy, depending upon the habitat you provide.
If you plant a bird-attracting bush like currants, blackberries, elderberry, etc you will have your own pest-management service! The birds will make shelter in the bushes and whilst they’re there, they’ll also go around your plants eating any insects that may be damaging your crops. Some bees may move in as well, keeping a pile of old sticks or leaving an old log around can attract these wonderful pollinators. Most will be solitary native bees, which are in desperate need of a home and healthy, organic food. They’ll buzz around happily, keeping to themselves (unless provoked) whilst pollinating your precious plants.
There are many, many ways to make habitat for all these critters in your garden, whilst having plenty of food, of course. The first in creating natural homes is to have an abundance of different plant life. The short name for this is diversity. Having diversity in your garden can lead to a healthier you and a healthier environment! The different plant life means creating a unique array of homes that suit the needs of the animal in residence. Creating diversity doesn’t have to mean only planting different types of vegetables or fruits, it can also mean building layers to your garden, like a forest. In a forest, there are: vines, canopies, sub-canopies, ground covers, bushes, herbs, and roots. You can implement some of these parts of the forest into your garden. For example, in my food forest patch, I have planted bananas as a canopy layer, lemongrass as a bush, pineapple sage as an herbaceous layer, sweet potatoes as both root and vine, and mint as ground cover. It all works together to create a thriving ecosystem which has certainly attracted an abundance of life. The bananas shield the mint from the strong subtropical sun and the mint/sweet potato protect the ground from erosion by holding it together with their roots. The lemongrass and pineapple sage are both lush protective homes. In the garden, I have seen numerous lizards take shelter on the bright green banana leaves, blending in with their natural color. They sunbathe in the mornings, hide from predators, and eat bugs that land atop the wide flat leaves.
Many different types of insects make their home in the garden too; fire ants can sometimes be seen scavenging for sweet fruit scraps along the ground. Occasionally, little spiders would weave their webs between plants, catching mosquitoes and sand gnats that happened to stumble in. You can also make homes for wildlife by applying a layer of mulch. This can be shredded or whole newspaper, cardboard, tree leaves (I used white oak from the forest), or vegetable/fruit scraps thrown atop the soil. Overtime, these will break down from the fungi, bacteria, and other miniscule organisms, giving rich, dark soil back to the earth that plants absolutely love.
The garden two months after planting. Mulch is layered beneath the plants to provide nutrients and water retainment. As you can see, it’s extremely sandy where I live!
Creating these gardens doesn’t mean you have to have a large plot of land, it can be done even in extremely cramped conditions. Small backyards, even in urban areas, can form their own version of layered gardens, whilst still providing copious amounts of food. It’s all about finding what benefits each other when in close proximities. Obviously, a mint and lemon balm would compete for the same area, but an apple tree with lemon balm underneath would work together. The apple would provide a cover from the sun whilst the lemon balm would deter pests with its potent scent. These two are called companion plants, meaning they help each other by being planted close together. You can grow an enormous amount of food in a small area using this technique. Companion planting leads to having numerous species in one garden, which is called polyculture.
In some climates, you can have a year-round garden outdoors. Make sure to grow plants that produce in each season (except winter in cold climates), this will allow you and wildlife to thrive all year, increasing the abundance and diversity of the environment! As I say, if you care for Mother Nature, she’ll care for you. Happy planting!
Meet the Author: Jace Ancell
Hello! My name is Jace, I am 16 years old and I live in Southern Coastal Georgia. I am an aspiring writer and plant ecologist, seeing the beauty this planet has to offer is one of my most favorite things! I enjoy photographing the abundant nature around me and doing sustainable gardening to ease stress, and perhaps add, to the environment. I am also fond of creating fantasy short stories relating to these interests I explore.