Welcome to the LEHR Garden blog! This is going to be my place to talk more in detail about LEHR Gardens. There’s a lot to talk about on that subject, so stay tuned. I will post as I am able. To start off with, though, I wanted to get into what a LEHR Garden is and what makes it different. LEHR is an acronym for Linking Ecosystem & Hardware for Regeneration. It’s also a German root work meaning “to learn” or “to teach.” These parts are all critical to what makes a LEHR Garden unique, so let me break them down separately.
First of all, though, let me explain the current state of agriculture. Right now, we are engaging in industrial agriculture on a massive scale. And this industrial agriculture is causing massive damage, not just to our ecosystem, but also to our ability to feed future populations. The idea that industrial agriculture isn’t sustainable isn’t a new one and the search for what will replace it has been going on a long time. But most of those solutions focus either on the ecosystem, often to the exclusion, or at least reduction of the technology, or on the technology, often to the exclusion or reduction of the ecosystem. A LEHR Garden includes both and uses them not just at a high level, but also working in conjunction with each other. The role of the technology in a LEHR Garden is to enhance and accelerate the productivity and function of the ecosystem. So now let’s get into each of those words.
An ecosystem functions by cycling nutrients and energy from one organism to another. The measure of health in an ecosystem is its biodiversity. “Having plants AND animals” in your agriculture is NOT a complete ecosystem. A complete ecosystem includes plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, soil organisms, and so much more. And, like I said, it needs abundance and biodiversity.
HardwareTechnology is a tool. Like any tool, it needs to be used properly. An ecosystem needs to function as a whole, so using technology to try to replace a portion of that whole is ultimately not going to be as effective as having a complete ecosystem. But if the technology is used properly, such as to maintain the right conditions for health and growth of the whole system, it can be a huge benefit.
In a LEHR Garden, the ecosystem and the hardware are working together, each piece playing the part it needs to play, but both parts working together.
A LEHR Garden is intended to be a form of regenerative agriculture that can easily be attained in urban areas. There is still considerable debate about what constitutes regenerative agriculture, but most agree that regenerative agriculture is 1) a method of food production that 2) creates soil and sequesters carbon in that soil, and 3) creates habitat for local wildlife. A LEHR Garden meets all of these definitions. We will certainly be talking more about this aspect in future blog posts.
The learning aspect of a LEHR Garden is an important one. As I have taken on this journey, I have learned so much and have found that there is so much that many don’t understand. While a LEHR Garden doesn’t need a huge amount of knowledge to operate, for those who seek to understand how it works, there much to learn. In particular, I find the prospect of teaching people how to make soil particularly exciting. Living soil is one of the most important substances on the planet and the very basis of terrestrial life.
So, what’s the result of all of this? Like many new food production methods, a LEHR Garden is productive, low-water use, and sustainable. But it brings a few new features to the party. The first is that it is low effort. A LEHR Garden can be maintained on just a few hours of effort a month. Nearly every task that requires attention is handled by either the hardware or the ecosystem that operates in the system. A LEHR Garden also requires no chemical inputs. Fertilizers are not needed since the soil making process handles that aspect. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides would get into the water and harm the delicate aquatic ecosystem there. But they aren’t needed, either. By creating a complete ecosystem, including healthy soil, the plants are healthy enough to fight off most pests and diseases on their own. But the ecosystem is also attractive to beneficial insects and other predators, like lizards and birds who come to eat the pests from the garden.
One of the more interesting features of a LEHR Garden is the soil. When setting up most gardens, the purchasing of soil is a huge initial expense and the maintenance of the soil is an ongoing expense as well. The soil in a LEHR Garden is quite the opposite. A LEHR Garden makes its own soil out of materials sourced from the urban waste stream. Often, these materials are available for free with just a little searching. I am talking about things like wood chips and food waste. A LEHR Garden processes these items down into soil while your plants grow in them. But then something magical happens. In a LEHR Garden, the water flows through the soil. As those materials break down, they eventually turn into smaller and smaller particles, and those particles block the flow of water. Eventually, the soil needs to be taken out and replaced. But the soil removed from the LEHR Garden is nutrient dense, biologically active, composed mostly of earthworm castings, and contains many compounds, like glomalin, that are an amazing amendment for an in-ground garden. So a LEHR Garden actually produces soil as an output!
As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s a whole lot to unpack in this blog. I do hope you’ll come back! Also, for those of you who have joined me from my old blog, Mad Bioneer, welcome! I think you’ll find lots of great info here.