A Gift Worth Giving—How to Give Back to Your Land
It’s the season of giving. We give gifts to the people we cherish, and to people who need a helping hand. But what about the land? Working with nature will help you grow more food—there’s no question about it. But it’s also a worthy endeavor in its own right. Giving back to your land is a beautiful way to embrace the spirit of generosity this holiday season.
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I write a lot about how to work with nature to be able to grow more food. And that’s a wonderful reason to work with nature!
But it’s not the only reason.
This time of year, many people across cultures and faiths have traditions to celebrate the darkest days of the year by extending the spirit of generosity toward their friends, families, and communities.
A gift is a way to say, “I care about you,” or “I cherish you.” Even, “I love you.”
Maybe it’s time we extend these ideas to the living systems that sustain us.
Those of us with access to land to grow our own food have lots to be grateful for. We should all cherish the land that supports us and be thankful for it.
And we should give back.
Giving back to your land means cultivating abundance not just for your own sake, but for the wildlife, plants, fungi and microbes that call your property home.
This in turn will result in more abundance. As Robin Wall Kimmerer so beautifully frames it in the book Braiding Sweetgrass, “All flourishing is mutual.”
Let’s dive into 11 ways you can give back to your land.
But before we do, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print checklist of these 11 ways you can give back to your land.
Build Soil to Give Back to Your Land
Healthy soil is literally the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. You can't cultivate abundance for people, plants and wildlife without it. But all too often, the way people manage their soil degrades the soil instead of building it.
At the most basic, you build soil when you keep the soil covered, limit how often you disturb the soil, and add organic material to the surface.
This will increase your soil life, and you will build soil. You will see the results as your plants grow faster with less need for inputs such as watering or fertilizing.
Ready to give back to your land by building soil? Here are 4 ways you can build soil on your property:
- Mulch your soil: When you apply mulch to your soil, you protect it from erosion and provide organic material that will break down, resulting in more soil. Mulch not only protects your soil, but also the soil life, like earthworms and fungi, who are your partners in the soil-building process.
- Add woody debris to your land: Woody debris can also help build soil by protecting it from wind and rain when placed on the surface, or by adding organic material to your soil when buried in a hugelkultur bed. Woody debris can also provide homes for fungi and other beneficial critters.
- Chop-and-drop your plants: Cutting and dropping your prunings and dead plants instead of hauling them away for disposal keeps the organic material in place, which returns nutrients to your soil and helps build your soil.
- Plant perennial vegetables: When you plant perennial vegetables, you not only reduce the amount of time and energy you have to spend planting each spring, you also reduce the amount you disturb the soil.
When you build soil on your property, you give back to your land. And in return, your land will give back to you in the form of abundant harvests.
Retain Water on Your Land
One of the best ways to give back to your land is to help it hold more water. Luckily, if you use the practices above to build your soil, you will also increase the water-holding capacity of your land.
When you build soil by adding organic material like mulch, you increase how much water your soil can hold.
You can also use more active methods to retain water on your land through earthworks.
Helping your land retain more water is a great way to give back to your land, and the result will be an explosion of life on your property.
Here are 4 ways to give back to your land by helping it retain water:
- Plant a food forest: A perennial food growing system like a food forest will transform your property. Trees and shrubs cast shade, reduce wind speed, and help build soil over time—all of which can help retain water on your land.
- Practice low-water gardening: Using less water for your food-growing won’t directly increase the amount of water retained on your land, but it will ensure more water is available for other plants and life on your property.
- Install swales on contour: Swales are essentially ditches that run along the contour of the land with a berm on the downhill side. These features slow down surface water and sink it into the ground so it will stay on your land longer.
- Install hugelkultur beds: These beds involve burying large amounts of wood in soil to create mounds that are fantastic for growing food. The wood decomposes, releasing nutrients and adding large amounts of organic material to the soil. This can even eliminate the need for watering by increasing the amount of water the soil can hold and supporting fungi which can draw water in from the surrounding land.
These methods can all be implemented on a small amount of land—even in a suburban backyard. But of course, if you have more space, you could build ponds and other large water catchment features.
Regardless of the scale, when you increase the amount of water your land can hold, you are giving back to the land and supporting an abundant diversity of life.
Give Back to Your Land by Supporting Wildlife
Cultivating abundance for people, plants and wildlife means working with nature and striving to find a balance with the living systems that sustain us. This means attracting and supporting wildlife and rewilding your property.
That’s another way to give back to your land.
As someone who wants to grow with nature, you can support you and your family while also supporting the living world around you.
In return, your land will give back to you by keeping pests under control, increasing fertility, and providing beauty and a feeling of connection to our living world.
Here are 3 ways you can give back to your land by supporting wildlife.
- Plant native plants: Native plants support more insect life than non-native plants by supporting the “picky-eater” specialist insects. This in turn results in more birds and other wildlife, which helps your land reach a natural balance between predators and prey.
- Install habitat features: Logs, snags (dead standing trees), brush piles, and rock piles all create places for critters to live and hide. Add these features to your property to support more wildlife.
- Plant hedgerows: The dense plant growth in a hedgerow provides shelter and homes for birds and other wildlife. We always see birds hanging out in our hedgerows.
There are many ways to give back to your land by supporting local wildlife. But these 3 methods are relatively easy to implement, even on the small scale.
And the results are stunning. Just today, I was enjoying watching dozens of birds hanging out in my front food forest. Watching the birds each day is one of our favorite parts of living somewhere that's alive with abundance for people, plants and wildlife.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Some people think that the best way to care for the land is to leave it alone. Given the dismal track record of mainstream society, many people think humans literally aren’t capable of having a positive impact on the land.
But the truth is, when you grow with nature, you can have a tremendous positive impact on your land, resulting in more plants, more wildlife, and more abundance for all.
You can do it by giving back to your land.
And the rewards are immense.
And isn’t that what gift-giving is really all about? Strong relationships built on mutual flourishing, shared between people and communities—or between people and the land.
So as you enjoy your winter holidays—whatever you celebrate—take a moment to think about how you can give back to your land in the coming year. The 11 ways outlined in this post are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to what you can do.
How are you giving back to your land? Let me know in the comments!
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