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   Traditional gardening methods are founded in the creation of soil through the use of zero tillage and mulch. Criticized by more conventional gardening factions, traditional First Nations gardens and gardeners were often considered to be “messy” or “lazy” for leaving the ground undisturbed and old plant growth in place. As modern agriculture methods are failing in a changing climate the wisdom of traditional methods are reclaiming their place in our communities. One such community is Fairford First Nations in Manitoba. With the help of traditional gardener Audrey Logan they hope to launch a new gardening initiative this spring.

Like all oral history passed from generation to generation the traditional gardening method is complex and intermingled, it’s not something that can be related in any single article or workshop. We continue our lessons with the importance of insect habitat creation and preservation, a bit of a prequel to our story of the first sister; Sun root  .

Traditional gardens are designed for the long haul, most function on a 4-7 year cycle which begins with the collecting of mulch material, the more the better, this can include leaves, small brush and organic solids depending on surrounding habitat. What this accomplishes is the attraction of soil dwelling insects and worms. By providing a food source in the decayed organic matter worms begin to aerate and turn soil layers providing rich nutrients and humus for future plantings. The life teachings of First Nations describe this as one of the four elements, stage one, Earth.

After a year or so, the mulch piles have done their job, they’ve smothered small plant growth and left a bare patch for the garden as well as built the first layer of soil.

It’s time for our first sister Sun root to begin her ground breaking journey. In Traditional Gardening, mulch is used every year, this continuous supply of organic matter provides much-needed water retention, additional soil creation through worm food and a habitat for bees and pollinators, many of whom are solitary creatures. This stage of garden development is tied into the second element water. Once the ground has been prepared by the first sister, beans and squash are added concluding the successful triad of the three sisters. The squash and beans can climb the sun root stalk fulfilling the role of our third element; Air. After harvest, stalks from all plants are left to protect ground covering mulch and attract snow, this is where some pollinators leave their eggs. By prematurely removing plant stocks gardeners unwittingly destroy entire generations of helpful insects. In the oral traditions of some communities, the Monarch butterfly leaves her eggs on the Milkweed as a gift every year. This is a valuable gift indeed as the height of her eggs on the stalk dictate the water level of the following season. As in the balance of life not all insects are desirable but they are needed and will always come with a natural predator to keep them in check. Leaving nesting material in the garden will provide habitat for predators which often a have longer life span than prey.

Once a garden has reached maturity and provided all it can, fire the forth element may be used to cleanse the soil and release trapped nutrients.




  1. carlos lindayag says:

    very nice information. thanks for sharing=)

  2. David Wofford says:

    Traditional gardener really entails a lot of time before it fully matures. I understand why conventional gardeners criticize this type because in conventional gardening , it is more time saving. However, when regards to the quality of the soil, I am not sure what method is better than the other. In your own opinion, which method is better?

    David Wofford

    For those people who are interested to create a butterfly garden, you can visit this URL.

    • admin says:

      Hello David, thank you for your comments and question. Let’s talk micro-organisms. In a traditional gardening situation, soil health is robust due to the natural build up of micro-organisms by the slow composting of mulch materials. Worm action, Earthworm and Nightcrawler in this case, not Red Composting worms as our climate in Manitoba is to cold for them, adds aeration and Humus. The plants in the Three Sister collection also add nitrogen (beans) as they break down. I would say this provides a really nice balanced soil that continuously self-renews. Conventional gardens if fertilized organically can also have excellent soil health. They do not self renew however, each year the gardener must add new material in the form of compost or vermicompost. The micro-organism count will also slowly decline with nothing for the little guys to eat. With no mulch cover worms will withdraw to a more food rich environment and eventually the soil health will degrade. I think the absolute worst thing you can do is get your garden hooked on chemical fertilizers, after only one year soil micro-organisms will be gone and contrary to company propaganda some components of chemical fertilizer (glyphsate) do not just dissolve away.

      So, traditional gardening methods though time consuming continuously support healthy soil development while conventional methods do not support soil building.

      • Audrey Logan says:

        As well during the four or seven year time the young woman that inherits the care of that land after her ‘coming into womanhood ceremony’ will use that time to learn how and what to grow for the needs of her community, land use was never a private thing as in colonial growing and it taught patience as well as mutual respect.

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