Make the Cycle!
When growing your own food, you want your fruits and vegetables to be as nutritious as possible, right? The nutrient density of our food has received more attention in recent years. Perhaps you've heard that the produce you buy at the grocery store is somewhat depleted. Magnesium, Manganese, Selenium and other mineral levels are dropping. The alleged culprit? Depleted soils. Is this a real issue? It certainly is in at least some countries.
Regardless, this growing concern highlights a basic reality in farming and agriculture. You can't keep removing, without also replenishing. We can work hard to grow spinach, kale or chard in an effort to boost our body's iron or magnesium levels. But as we work our little plot, year after year, consuming nutritious crops... something can happen.
Depletion: Imports < Exports
Our planet Earth is a closed system. The water, carbon, oxygen and every other element must be recycled and reused again and again. If any given resource is consumed faster than it is replaced, we lose our sustainability. We could view our yards and garden areas in a similar fashion. Little islands. How much are we importing? What about our exports?
Fruits & veggies given to friends & family are exports. After we eat our harvest and expel waste through public sanitation systems, we are exporting nitrogen and lots of other minerals. If we bag our grass clippings and throw them out. If we put our kitchen scraps into the trash. If we throw our leaves out on the curb. Then we are exporting nutrients off of our lot. These are all outputs that will eventually need to be replenished.
So we try to build fertility in our soils by importing fertilizers. Or we may buy bagged composts or manures. What can be done to reduce our reliance on external nutrients sources? Nutrient cycling is the key!
Nutrient Cycling Through Composting
Fertilizing lawns is a common practice across America. Does it come as any surprise when we think of all those grass clippings that are bagged and hauled off-site? What if we simply mulched those clippings? As those clippings break down, the nutrients are restored and suddenly our grass doesn't need extra inputs!
This is just one example. Think of all of those ways that you can harness the power of decaying organic matter. Cardboard scraps? Feed them to the worms and make your own worm castings. Autumn leaves? Let them break down and turn into leaf mould, a perfect garden mulch. Kitchen and plant waste? Compost that stuff and make your own soil amendment.
It's a double win! None of these materials need to get shipped off-site (which wastes resources). Once they've been decomposed, these can replenish your soils, reducing your reliance on fertilizers.