Self-sustaining garden

Cynthia Care with one of the chickens in her winter garden in Talent. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Cynthia Care has been gardening all her life, and for the past 11 years she's been practicing and teaching sustainable gardening at her Talent property. She produces most of her own food on a double city lot, with help from a few ducks and chickens.

"The emphasis is on how to garden in a way that is good for the environment, your neighbors and the gardener," Care explains. "Once established, the garden will basically maintain itself. You feed the garden, and the garden feeds you and it's this beautiful cycle.


Cynthia Care will teach a class on "The Self-Sustaining Garden" March 14 at North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland. Call 541-488-6606 for information.

She will also teach a class, titled "Intro to Permaculture — the Self Sustaining Garden," June 28 for Jackson County Master Gardeners at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center on Hanley Road in Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 to register.

Contact Zack Williams at 541-261-5759 about future classes through Regenesis Ecological Design.

"It's blending permaculture with the science of biodynamics to create beautiful, functional and sustainable gardens."

The concept requires rethinking our relationship to our land and what we consider beautiful. According to Care, it is essential to observe and understand the needs of our particular garden, the soil and microclimate.

"Increasing biodiversity creates a more resilient garden," Care says.

"One thing most people don't realize," Care says, "is herbicides and chemical fertilizers are made from petrochemicals, which are a finite resource and poisons, really. Repeated use of petrochemicals will kill the microorganisms naturally in the soil that help plants grow.

"Ultimately, they turn the soil to hardpan. But even organic fertilizers and pesticides have to be transported and use up carbon resources."

As much as possible, Care recommends a closed system. Her ducks and chickens, for instance, both provide fertilizer and eat insects harmful to the plants she grows. Ducks love earwigs, and chickens will eat baby slugs. Feeding young chicks cut-up slugs helps them develop a taste for the larger ones.

Zack Williams, owner of Regenesis Ecological Design in Ashland, also is a proponent and teacher of sustainable gardening.

"You want to do as much as possible on site," Williams says. "The emphasis is not bringing in outside resources. Like harvesting your own rainwater."

Williams says there is a misconception that this is a "hippie" concept. It is actually based on Australian studies of permaculture, which is a scientific approach to balancing nutrients. And using organics means you are creating more nutritious and healthful products to eat.

Both Care and Williams say the best way to fully understand how to create a sustainable garden is to read books and learn about the natural cycles of plant development. Williams recommends "Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening," edited by Anna Kruger, $25.

"It's really excellent," Williams says, "but make sure you get the illustrated version."

Care recommends adding these books to your library:

"Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture," by Toby Hemenway, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95.

"Landscaping With Fruit," by Lee Reich, Storey Publishing, $19.95.

"Perennial Vegetables," by Eric Toensmeier, Chelsea Green Publishing, $35, and "Wild Edible Plants of Western North America," by Donald R. Kirk, Naturegraph Publishers, $12.99.

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