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Piedmont Ecoyarden

Re-establishing the human niche within the local native ecosystem.


An ecoyarden is a native ecosystem with human members.

Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved as a component of the ecosystems we inhabited.

The local ecosystem is the part of the wide Earth and vast Universe we have direct contact with. Here we can see and hear and touch and smell and taste the soils and stones and biota of Earth, all made of elements fused in a supernova 4.6 billion years ago, then evolved into the solar system and an incomprehensibly beautiful and complex ecology since that time.

In modern life our connections with local, native ecosystems have withered. An ecoyarden reconnects us, healing and restoring these relationships spiritually and physically as we interact with an ecoyarden, and through harvesting and eating from the ecoyarden.

An ecoyarden explores the possibilities of living with and within local ecosystems in the modern context. There is no requirement to gain all or any set amount of sustenance from an ecoyarden, only that we regularly harvest and eat from it. Ecoyarden food replaces agricultural food, extending the benefits of ecoyardening beyond the hedgerows of the ecoyarden itself to soil conservation, water conservation, and reducing environmental damage from pesticides.

Ecoyarden practices are similar to other Earth-friendly disciplines, such as traditional forest gardening, organic farming and gardening, permaculture, and the way of natural farming of Masanobu Fukuoka. An ecoyarden has different priorities than these disciplines, such as a high priority to local native ecology, sharing control of the garden with the local ecosystem.

Ecoyarden practices, an evolving list:

* Learn about local ecosystems and traditional foods and medicines.
* Let the ecosystem have its due voice and fair share in the ecoyarden. Foster native species. These species co-evolved relationships we do not much understand although we seek to.
* Start by removing invasive plants and animals. Just this practice can have a transformational effect on the ecoyarden as the native ecosystem restores itself in the newly created space.
* Let the ecosystem do the work. Native human culture was not work intensive. An ecoyarden should not be either, leaving time for family, art, science, cultural practices, and career.
* Spend time in an ecoyarden. An ecoyarden is a place of reuniting with the local ecosystem. It is a sacred space allowing learning, contemplation, and communion. A Leopold bench is a great accessory for an ecoyarden.


Ecoliteracy: Know local plants and animals, and their integration with local ecosystems. This practice can be extended to other ecosystem components such as microbiota, climate and climate changes, and geology.

Ecoliteracy practices:

* Identify organisms in the ecoyarden, or another space you can visit regularly. Keep a species list.
* Take classes and workshops. Local Universities, community colleges, botanical gardens, parks, conservation organizations, arboreta, and local naturalists provide classes. Join Meetup groups if appropriate ones are available in your area.
* Obtain references and field guides. Books are traditional, ebooks save paper and are light to carry, and online sources of information and collaborative websites can be very helpful. Sam Thayer's books “The Forager's Harvest and “Nature's Garden” are in-depth studies of wild edible plants. Newcomb's Wildflower guide is a classic. For advanced identification, use books such as Albert E. Radford, Harry E. Ahles, C. Ritchie Bell's “Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas” and Alan S. Weakley's “Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States”. www.carolinanature.com is valuable for IDs, especially for woody plants. herpsofnc.org is likewise for reptiles and amphibians. Bugguide.net is good for terrestrial arthropods. Collaborative websites such as iNaturalist.org can be helpful. Various government websites and other websites can be useful, such as plants.usda.gov.


Be a part of the ecosystem: Allow the rest of the ecosystem to act on the ecoyarden. Use ecological principles from native cultures, academia, permaculture, food forestry, and from the natural farming philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka. Because of the focus on integrating with the local ecology, ecoyarden priorities are focused on the needs of the ecosystem as a whole, without priority for the human component.

Ecosystem inclusion practices:

* Carefully observe the ecoyarden site and surroundings before starting work, and practice patient observation of the evolving ecoyarden at various times and seasons.
* Favor native genes, species, and ecosystems. Gather seeds or plants to transplant nearby whenever possible. Local genetic diversity has evolved with local ecosystems.
* Lawn mulching and invasive species removal are sometimes necessary starting tasks. Cardboard "lasagna" mulch or wood chip mulch are effective at killing most grass. Leggy grasses are easily pulled up as they appear through the mulch.
* Perennial plants are less labor intensive. Annuals are mostly early successional colonizers. An ecoyarden should be permanent.
* Prefer seed sowing to transplanting. Sowing seeds is a suggestion, transplanting is a demand.
* Volunteers are welcome! The ecosystem will gift the ecoyarden with unexpected treasures. Never pull an unidentified plant or squash an unidentified bug!
* Bare soil is rare, at least in southeastern North America. Most soil should be covered in plants or leaf litter.
* Perennial plants are less labor intensive.
* Do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified organisms, or chemical fertilizers. An ecoyarden should be steered to a balanced system.
* Do not till or otherwise break the soil. When pulling up invasives and out-of-place plants, or harvesting for roots, repair the hole and replace leaf litter.
* Prune sparingly.
* Bare soil is rare, at least in southeastern North America. Soil should be covered in plants or leaf litter. Allow plants to crowd.
* When gathering seeds or plants for inclusion in an ecoyarden, gather from nearby wild populations. Local genetic variation is adapted to local ecosystems.


Invasives: Learn which species are invasive in local ecosystems. Resources mentioned above under ecoliteracy often cover invasive species. The website https://www.invasive.org/ has particular information for North America. Removing invasive species can be a difficult part of maintaining an ecoyarden, however the rewards are great as well. Often unexpected native species can colonize soil made available by removing invasives.

Invasive species practices:

* Refrain from introducing alien species, even those that are thought to be relatively safe. We can't really know!
* Removal by pulling, cutting, mulching, or planting competing organisms is favored.
* Don't go overboard. If a species from adjacent bioregions appears in an ecoyarden, consider accepting it. Especially in a time of rapid climate change we should tolerate changes in range.
* Don't go overboard. In eastern North America there are many species, including common lawn weeds, that are said to be introduced with little supporting evidence. Yarrow, for example, was recently shown to be a native species after two centuries of being thought to be introduced.
* Introduced is not the same as invasive. Introduced species are a potential threat, invasives are a current menace. Prioritize removing invasives.
* Don't ignore non-plant invasives. Invasive insects and invasive disease microorganisms are examples.


Let the ecosystem do the work: Following Fukuoka-San, much of what farmers and gardeners do in our culture is unnecessary or even counterproductive.

* Minimize mechanization. If you own a tractor you are tempted to use it to the detriment of the yarden ecosystems. Lawnmowing should be unnecessary without a lawn.
* Mulch, when necessary, instead of composting. Mulch is composting in place. A healthy yarden should be self sufficient, as is any ecosystem.
* Established perennials rarely need water. If needed, establish swales to retain soil moisture. Water storage is primarily for human use.
* After establishing an ecoyarden, most work should be during harvest.
* As an ecoyarden matures, the amount of work should decline and the harvest increase, so that the ecoyarden's needs are met with less work as we age.


Ecocommunion: Celebrating components of our bioregion as evolving beings with rights to be respected, and celebrating ourselves as a component of the local ecosystem. We are a native species, a part of a greater whole. An ecoyarden seeks to recreate in our daily lives communion with the local ecosystem. This is an internal change in ourselves, and a change in how we value and respect the co-inhabitants of the ecosystem.

* Convert your yard or other space into an ecoyarden, a place for the native ecosystem inclusive of people.
* Spend time in a sit spot in the ecoyarden or another place or places where you can contemplate in a native ecosystem.
* Take walks in nature. These can be alone, guided groups, or unguided groups. Often these are organized by conservation organizations.
* Eat from an ecoyarden.


Earth is approaching a biological crisis potentially rivaling the end-Cretaceous extinction event. We are at a crossroads. In the words of Thomas Berry:

"The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner".
The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation's mission to conserve half of Earth's land and water is a bold plan, and its success is uncertain. An ecoyarden is about the other half, preserving biodiversity where today there are lawns, non-native gardens, and waste areas overrun with invasive species. And an ecoyarden fosters a return to our evolved relationship with ecology, Earth, and the Universe.

Mulch your lawn! Start an ecoyarden!