Is it possible to implement permaculture practices in the vegetable garden? From soil to the way you water, you have a huge impact on how your vegetables can grow in a more sustainable way. Today I’m sharing all about how you can practice regenerative vegetable gardening at your home.
I’ve talked a lot about regenerative gardening here, but many gardeners have asked me how they can apply these practices to their vegetable gardens. Most people’s love of gardening begins with the vegetable garden, and although it’s a small section of my yard, it’s still one of my favourites.
When people think of regenerative permaculture practices, they often don’t think of the vegetable garden. It’s my mission to change that today! I want to show you how you can grow a vegetable garden that becomes a part of the ecosystem while still giving you a hearty harvest.
What I’m talking about today is only a bite-size bit of what you’ll find in my book, The Regenerative Garden. Be sure to check it out for the true guide on how you can make your whole garden, from vegetables to the front porch, a harmonious place for the surrounding environment.
This post will cover…
What is a Regenerative Vegetable Garden?
A regenerative garden tries to create a space as close as possible to the way mother nature intended it. Without human input, the space can thrive on its own. A regenerative garden is designed for all who visit it. Pollinators, good bugs, wildlife, microorganisms, and of course, the garden itself. It knows it’s a shared space in a larger ecosystem!
So how does this apply to the vegetable garden? A regenerative vegetable garden is a place you can create in your own yard where you grow your edible food, all while keeping the above in mind.
It’s about maintaining good soil health, retaining water whenever possible, and consciously picking the type of vegetables you grow.
It’s important to remember that we’re looking for progress and not perfection here. You can still grow vegetables in a more meaningful manner without getting rid of your favourite veggies when practicing regenerative vegetable gardening!
Beneath our feet lies a whole kingdom of microscopic organisms. This unseen world should be the primary concern for any kind of gardener, especially one growing veggies from it. If you’re ever having issues growing vegetables, look to the soil first.
Adding layers of compost over the top will improve soil structure and add nutrients to the soil, all things your veggie garden needs.
The less we interfere with the soil, the better. This can include practicing a no-till garden, leaving the leaves and debris to create their own natural mulch, and stopping picking every single weed in sight. Yes, those weeds are there for a reason! They’re working overtime to fix the soil no other plants want to hang out in.
In the garden, vegetables typically require the most amount of maintenance and watering. It’s important to put systems in place to redirect any rainwater to go back into the garden. This not only limits our need for watering but helps during times of drought as well.
Rain barrels are one of the best things a vegetable gardener can implement into their home.
This water collection method directs rainwater into a storage system that you can then use for future watering. They’re fairly easy to make yourself and can hold plenty of water for all your vegetables.
For small vegetable gardens, one of my other go-to tools is an olla water catchment system. This system uses unglazed terracotta pots that are buried in the ground and then filled with water. They slowly irrigate the surrounding soil and works as a slow irrigation system.
Types of Regenerative Vegetable Gardens
Want to see some real-life examples of regenerative gardens in action? Here is a snapshot of some of the clever designs you can implement in your vegetable garden to make it more self-sufficient.
A hügelkultur is a German word that translates to “hill mound” as it’s a huge mound of compost with a garden bed up top. On the inside, you fill it with things that take a long time to compost, like logs, fruit pits, eggshells, and more. You then cover it with layers of carbon-rich material and compost. Atop, you add a layer of compost and plant away.
This neat design increases soil fertility, fills up space without needing to bring in new soil, and increases the ability of the soil to hold onto water. It will require much less watering than most vegetable crops and works well for those nutrient-hungry crops like potatoes or blueberries.
Wicking beds act as a giant self-watering container. Built in the ground or as a raised bed, they capture water runoff and then store it in a reservoir for the plants and soil to soak up as needed. This greatly reduces any need for watering!
To build a wicking bed, you layer the bottom with an impermeable barrier that holds the water. Installed drainage pipes help with water flow, followed by a layer of rocks to separate the soil and water. It is then filled with soil before planting. Wicking beds can even be fed by overflow spouts and connected to help with overflow.
Even the smallest backyards can grow a food forest. These are essentially forest gardens that are packed with a variety of food. It’s completely self-sustaining, and once planted, you don’t need to do any kind of work or maintenance.
Vegetables to Plant in a Regenerative Garden
You can grow whatever kind of vegetables you want while still practicing regenerative vegetable gardening. I’m not going to tell you that since your carrots and lettuce need lots of work, you can’t grow them. It’s more about the way you grow them than choosing to do so!
Ideally, you do want to include some perennial vegetables, fruit trees and shrubs, edible flowers, herbs, and plants to include to help the pollinators working on your vegetables. Add a good mixture of these amongst your annual vegetables.
Saving seeds allows you to create your own food and plant security and grow plants that have already been successful in your garden. For instance, tomato seeds can be fermented and used the following season. Peas and beans can dry in their pods and then stored. Even strawberries start well from saved seeds!
A wonderful thing to do with these saved seeds is starting a seed library. You can encourage others to try their hand at regenerative vegetable gardening and share your unused seeds with the community.
Planting a Guild
Guilds are another excellent regenerative way to have an edible garden. This is a collection of plants that are grown together that benefit one another. Together, they enhance the production and growth of the other plants.
For instance, a fruit tree guild has the fruit tree at the center, surrounded by fruit bushes, pollinator plants, insectary plants, nitrogen fixers, groundcovers, and mulch plants!
In The Regenerative Garden, I provide some awesome guild recipes, including an apple tree guild, fruits and shoots, herbal medicine guild, and more.
There’s SO much you can do to practice regenerative vegetable gardening, but here are a few more tips to help you with your veggie transformation:
- Cover crops greatly reduce soil erosion and help to keep weeds in check. Underneath your perennial vegetables, add a layer of cover crops such as alfalfa, clover, mustard, or radish.
- Try sheet mulching in your gardening bed. This is where you build a garden bed by layering sheets of various carbon and nitrogen sources. Typically, this involves layers of things like wood shavings, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, manure, compost, and cardboard. This lets you build soil, suppress weeds, and mulch all at once!
- To suppress weeds in your vegetable garden, add quick-growing plants between your slow-growing vegetables and perennials. For instance, radishes, spinach, and lettuces can be planted between harvests like cabbage, squash, blueberries, etc.
- Extend the vegetable season using umbrella greenhouse cloches. These help to capture and store energy to extend the season for those living in cooler climates.
- Companion planting can help to deter pests, promote pollination, and get you an overall better crop. Plus, these plants can also be edible!
Every single practice mentioned in The Regenerative Garden can be applied to your vegetable garden. It’s all about how to easily build a self-reliant, more earth-friendly garden.
In the book, you’ll find instructions on how to build many of the projects mentioned above, including a rain barrel, hügelkultur, wicking bed, olla water catchment system, and guild recipes.
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