What IS Cooperative Foodscaping?
Cooperative Foodscaping is the practice of gardening for people and pollinators in equal parts, with attention to the ‘like needs’ of each plant – and the pollinators that visit them.
By combining our veggie crops with ornamental flowers, native plants, medicinals, pollinator host and nectar plants, and ‘functional’ plants (those that help to improve our hyper-local growing conditions, by adding nutrients, providing shade, or absorbing water) we can provide healthier food to humans and pollinators alike.
Most veggie gardeners realize pretty quickly that it’s not enough to plant squash, tomatoes, and berries if you don’t have hard-working pollinators visiting your garden, spreading the nectar of love between each row.
While this seems easy enough to fix by simply adding some flowers here and there, the truth is that pollinators need a lot more support than most of us are actually providing them with.
Even though we may be generous with our flower plantings and careful enough to include blooms for every season, to a bird, butterfly or bee, it really comes down to location, location, location.
Have you ever seen a bed of flowers that’s just swarming with bees? Pollinators are attracted to big blocks of color, large swaths of plants, and gardens that allow them to collect pollen easily, without having to exert a lot of energy flying long distances from flower to flower.
This is where the ‘Cooperative’ part of our Foodscape comes in!
By designing our beds (or rows, or containers, or sidewalk strips, or perimeter plantings – whatever you’ve got going) to be mixed-plantings that share similar bloom times, we can attract a lot more pollinators right to our veggie plants and keep them there all day long.
Our plants are now cooperating with one another to 1) attract pollinators and 2) confuse pests and disease who thrive when we plant easy-to-find buffets of their favorite snack crops, as we typically do in a normal veggie garden.
This is just Polyculture, but with extra attention to bloom time.
As hunter/gatherers, humans accessed their food from forests and other natural vegetative systems, such as river banks and open fields. As we evolved, we began to rely more on organized agriculture which allowed us order over our crops, and more importantly, our finances.
The downside? Only hindsight would tell us that we were voiding a sacred cooperative contract, with other species both visible and invisible, that were playing a huge role in supporting these beautifully complex food-growing systems.
Today, whether we realize it or not, home gardeners take their cues directly from industrial agriculture. While we may feel like our methods are light years away from those endless rows of corn and soy, we’re still borrowing a lot of their knowledge.
But the further we can stray from Monoculture, the stronger our plants and backyard ecosystems will be.
Where should you start? With YOUR soil.
I am very passionate about using soil minerals to 1) boost the nutrient quality of your homegrown food and 2) repel pests and disease from your plants.
Before you sprinkle or spray anything on your garden soil (compost included), you should get a very clear picture of exactly what’s going on in there.
This is vital because many of us have mineral excesses that prevent our plants from accessing all existing nutrition in our soil.
Understanding if you have an excess before you add any more amendments, helps you to avoid throwing more gas on the fire (and attracting even more bugs, blights, and mildews).
If you don’t have any mineral excesses – hallelujah! That means that you’re even closer to balancing your soil nutrients and ‘turning on’ your trace minerals. Trace minerals are the key to growing ‘superfoods’ in your own backyard.