Gaia Grows – Creating a Sustainable Ecosystem

Photo credit - Kathleen Miller.

Kathleen Miller

Gaia’s Farm and Gardens

Creating Sustainable Ecosystems

All forms of life must have energy. The main source of energy for all life forms is light from the sun.

Plants capture light through photosynthesis and then turn it into other forms of energy, such as carbohydrates, sugars, waxes, and oils that are then consumed by organisms and, in turn, supply them with energy. Energy moves through all living systems from the sun to the plants, then to the herbivores, which eat grasses, leaves, fruit, seeds, and other organisms. In turn, they are eaten by carnivores. 

Everything eventually decays and ends up in the earthworm’s gut, where the remaining energy is released as carbon dioxide and water. By growing plants, whether in a garden or forest, you are starting the process of capturing energy from the sun. That energy then flows through all organisms in various ways, which form a network or web.

Energy can be lost from the system, or you can save it and reuse it. When you are conscious of the flow of energy, you can use it many times. Matter consists of all the elements, gases, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and other life nutrients. The total amount of matter in the world is constant.

Earth elements can change to other forms as they cycle through various organisms. All matter cycles through living and non-living materials, such as animals, trees, plant life, etc. The cycling of matter is driven by the sun and the flow of energy. When there is a surplus to any system, it causes pollution, which is a design failure. When inputs are not fully utilized, it is called bioaccumulation.  Surplus fertilizers not taken up by crops move into rivers.

Humans interrupt natural cycles when they release large quantities of materials that cannot move easily into webs or networks to transform themselves into other forms. Many products are labeled biodegradable, which means a substance will be broken down into another form to move into the food chain. It is often broken down, but bioaccumulates can’t be absorbed, which becomes a pollutant of soils and waterways.

Using animals, compost, mulches, and plants, we expand the range of materials being cycled and speed up the process. The flow of energy and the cycling of nutrients take place through food chains. When food chains come together, they form a food web.  Together, food webs form the foundation of any ecosystem. A small web has few species and is vulnerable. The more complex the ecosystem’s structure, the greater the strength and the flow of energy and cycling of matter.

The key to a resilient system is biodiversity. The Earth has a large range of ecosystems, and each has different factors that act upon them. Climate and soil are the main factors of the vegetation of an ecosystem. As more species are added to an ecosystem, the stronger and more stable, it becomes. To start, plant with local species and stick with plants and animals that do well in your region. Stacking is using space and time economically by increasing the species.

You can do this by planting densely to shade out weeds, planting shade-loving species under trees, and planting vines to climb orchard trees and interplant crops. Growing different crops with each other increases biodiversity. Every ecosystem is within another ecosystem and does not exist alone. The edge is where two or more ecosystems meet and is known as an ‘Ecotone.’ These spaces are vibrant and productive.

A ‘Guild’ is a group of plants that support each other and thrive when grown together. They have evolved in the same place and under the same conditions. A good example of a ‘Guild’ is planting climbing beans, corn, and winter squash using a technique known as companion planting. The three crops are planted close together and benefit from each other. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, to prevent the establishment of weeds.

The squash leaves also act as a “living mulch,” creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests and insects. Humans are consumers, but we also are the custodians of land and resources and have to help maintain and care for ecosystems vital to our planet. Gaia (Mother Earth) should be imagined as one super-organism evolving. She is a living organism and self regulates to keep in balance for good health.

Just imagine that the forests are like the kidneys filtering and cleaning water; the oceans are like the lungs; rivers are like the blood system, and rocks are like the bones. Each system is intimately connected to the other systems, and when one is destroyed or disease affects one part, the whole system is compromised. The destruction of forests causes an imbalance in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is our responsibility as stewards of the land to ensure our water is clean, rivers protected, and our forests are maintained.

As a species, we need to take any destructive part seriously because future generations have the right to good healthy food, clean water, air, and resources.

Sustainable living, gardening, and farming is based on an understanding of ecosystems, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It has been defined as an integrated plant and animal production practices that will last over time. Having a harmonious relationship with Gaia (Mother Earth) provides food for people, enhances the natural environment upon which the community depends, makes efficient use of resources, and integrates natural cycles that sustain economic viability and enhances the quality of life for the community as a whole.

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