How Old Farm Knowledge can help you in your Backyard Organic Garden

On a recent trip to visit family I spoke to my grandparents in different capacities about their gardens. What struck me was the value of the old knowledge and methods often handed down often from their grandparents to them and now from them to me.

This knowledge is invaluable as in recent generations gardening has been dominated by methods that tend not to be organic and are centred around commercially available products. So why are we re-learning these methods?

Following the First and Second World Wars there was an agricultural revolution with the introduction of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and mechanical advances. These advances lead to the large scale agriculture techniques we see all over the world being applied to home gardens.

Unfortunately organic gardening suffered further as interest in home gardens in North America declined following the Second World War in conjunction with the new methods promised higher yields with less effort.

Fortunately today organic gardening is gaining popularity and we find ourselves relearning some of the traditional garden knowledge and methods.
I feel one of the most interesting take away message from my grandparents is not just the methods and practices themselves but how they approach gardening as a whole.

I have found I am drawn to the concepts of treating the whole garden experience as an experiment with lots of trial and error and the using what you have available to grow more food.

Today I thought I would talk quickly about how I have implemented this concept in my garden.

Formal Experimentation Citizen Science:

Immediately as a scientist I think about how I can set up formal experiments in the garden. Generally speaking when doing experiments at home they fall under the title of Citizen Science.

Citizen science is a really powerful tool to evaluate methods, practices and products in the garden.

Trials like the Rock Dust and Biochar home garden field trials were set up to provide evidence to support or refute claims product claims. Through the use of the scientific method supported by a study design and lab results we are generating results we can apply to these claims.

Now citizen science does have limitations. Often there is not a large enough sample size to pass say the peer review required for publication. It is important to state and understand the limitations of the results being presented. Science is an ever evolving self-correcting beast and we continue to work to further understand.

Small Scale Trials

If trials are not your cup of tea more simplistically trial and error is a great tool. On a small scale I will often try new methods such as the use of leaf and woodchip mulch in small areas of my garden while continuing with my old methods.

If the practice proves to be harmful then there is only a small area of loss. That said I was happy with the results I found so I started mulching on a much larger scale.

Later I would use Citizen Science and Research to further investigate the method resulting in a very compelling argument for the practice.

When I first started to look into low cost simple gardening I found giving up methods that I had associated success with the hardest.
Sometimes simply researching the issue has resulted in me abandoning practices.

For example one year I had a really good tomato harvest after years of failure. It also happened to be the first year I have used Epsom salt as recommended by many online sources. So I associated the success with the Epsom salt instead of the warm spring good soil and many other factors that all contributed to the success of the season.

As I would find out this spring the practice for most situations does not add any benefit and my good season was likely do to other factors. In the case of Epsom Salt and tomatoes there was more than enough research and evidence out there to refute the claims and simply taking a critical eye to the claim really helped clear things up for me.

Free and Local Resources

When my grandparents were learning to garden there were far fewer products available. So they used their resourcefulness and learnt or were taught which free and local resources worked well to feed and fertilize the garden.

As a part of my testing garden assumptions series I have taken some of the practices recommended to me by my grandparents and will use the tools we have just spoken about to put them to the test along with and head to head against products and their claims.

My hope is that you are able to take the evidence generated by myself and and others on the YouTube Community to archive the best possible results in the garden. If I can have results like what is behind me in Zone 3 with little effort and cost imagine what you can do!


About Stephen

The Alberta Urban Garden Channel hopes to promote organic gardening that is simple, sustainable and does not have to cost a lot. We do this by investigating the Science behind gardening, methods, practices and products to make sure that you will have the best chance of successfully growing your own food at home.