Nature's time frame

How You Can Achieve More with Less Work on Nature’s Time Frame

Are you working on nature’s time frame?  You work hard on your property, and you can’t wait to reap the fruits of your labor. But if you try to rush against the pace of nature, you’ll only end up making more work for yourself. When you take a moment to think on nature’s time frame, you can actually get more done with less work. Working with nature can mean slowing down. But you’ll achieve more in the long run, and you will have a powerful ally in nature that will help you make the living world around you come alive. Let’s dive into how this works.


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Let me ask you a question. What would you do if you took a walk through your garden and saw aphids all over your vegetables?

Would you try to get rid of them right away? (Organically or otherwise…)

When we see a problem on our property, we often want to solve it immediately. But this can actually result in more problems over time.

That’s because we’re thinking on your own time frame, and not on nature’s time frame.

But chances are, nature already has solutions in the works that will come undone by our hurried, well-meaning efforts to deal with the problem.

What if, rather than trying to get rid of the aphids, you observed them instead?

Watch and wait. Before long, you’d probably notice some little black and orange larvae crawling around with the aphids.

Those are ladybug larvae, and they just love to eat aphids. If you wait, those larvae—and the adult ladybugs—will likely eliminate the aphids in just a couple weeks.

You want me to wait a couple weeks and let the aphids eat my vegetables!?

Yes! The reason is that those larvae will feast on the aphids and then grow up to become adult ladybugs. This means next year there will be more ladybugs and less aphids.

Nature doesn’t work immediately, but it works efficiently. By thinking and acting on nature’s time frame, you can save yourself time and energy in the long run.

If you wipe out the aphids as soon as you see them, then there won’t be any food for the ladybug larvae. So you’ll have less ladybugs next year, not more.

The result is predictable. More aphids. So you end up spending even more time trying to get rid of them.

You end up having to do the ladybug work each year!

This is just one example of how taking a step back and thinking on nature’s time frame can save you time and give you a powerful ally that will help you make the living world around you come alive.

Keep reading to learn how thinking and working on nature’s time frame can save you time and energy!

But you also need to provide the habitat that beneficial critters like ladybugs need to thrive. This involves rewilding your property. So before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print worksheet covering 5 steps to rewild your property.

Dealing with Pests on Nature’s Time Frame

Deal with pests on nature's time frame

Supporting beneficial predators like ladybugs, snakes, and spiders goes a long way towards controlling pests on your property. I had a swarm of aphids show up on my lupines and other plants early in the summer. But soon the ladybugs showed up. (Along with other predators.) Before long, the aphids were gone, and I didn’t even have to lift a finger.

Are you tired of fighting pests? Maybe it’s time to slow down. Working with nature’s time frame can let you get off the pest control treadmill and let nature take over some of the load.

The story of ladybugs and aphids is a classic one for natural pest control. But the same principle applies to other garden pests.

It’s a basic pattern: As prey numbers increase, their predators increase in numbers.

In other words, the more prey animals you have, the more predators you get. But there’s always a lag between the increase in prey and the corresponding increase in predators. It takes time.

Often though, when people see a pests, they jump in to “save their plants” instead of thinking on nature’s time frame.

The result is that the pests are killed off, but the predators never show up. Or else they’re killed right alongside the pests. This is the common result of the use of insecticides and other harmful chemicals.

And the pests just keep coming back.

In the fantastic book The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters Sean B Carroll shares a story about farmers applying insecticides on their crops, only to discover an increase in pests.

“It was not that plants treated with insecticides had as many eggs, nymphs, and insects on them as untreated plants—they had more! Indeed, insecticide treatment caused up to an 800-fold increase in insect density. This meant that insecticides weren’t preventing hopperburn, they were largely responsible for causing it. How the hell could that happen?"

The reason was that the insecticide also killed off all the spiders in the farmers’ fields. Without their predators, the pest insects became an infestation despite the use of toxic insecticides.

Unfortunately, far too often, instead of observing and learning from these mistakes, we just double down on the toxins. The result is a damaged environment, toxic food, and more human labor and energy going towards fighting nature instead of taking a step back and learning to work with nature on nature’s time frame.

But predators need more than just food to eat. They also need shelter—they need homes. Growing flowers, planting native plants, adding habitat features like rock piles and log piles, and leaving some areas wild will provide the space that predators need to live.

Though it will take time for the predators to find these new homes you made for them.

Remember to think on nature’s time frame. Don’t create these features and expect the predators to show up that same day.

Instead, make adding habitat for predators a part of what you do every year. When you do this, you’re thinking on nature’s time frame by creating the space for predators to move in so they’re ready to help you out when the pests show up to eat your vegetables.

When you think and act on nature’s time frame, you create a balance with pests and predators.

And the result? You get off the pest control treadmill and gain a powerful ally that does the work for you.

Wild Tip:

Predators like barn owls are very effective at rodent control and can be attracted by installing special nest boxes. If you have issues with voles, moles, or gophers this can be a great way to deal with these pests.

Building Soil and Preparing for Planting on Nature’s Time Frame

There are many advantages of mulch

Mulching is a great way to build soil and prepare an area for planting.

When you’re prepping a new area ready for planting, do you add fertilizer or bring in topsoil to get the area ready?

I have used this approach before (bringing in topsoil), and I may again in the future. At times this approach makes sense. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t work over large areas—it’s just too expensive!

The advantage, of course, is that this expensive approach can result in making a new garden highly productive right from the start.

But if you take a step back and think on nature’s time frame you can build soil over a large area without bringing in soil or fertilizer.

Sheet mulching is a basic way to do this. But it still requires you to bring in mulch and find cardboard, newspaper, or burlap bags. But by putting down the material 6 months to a year before you’re planning on planting, you can work with nature.

The grass or other existing plants along with the cardboard, newspaper or burlap bags and some of the mulch will break down, resulting in improved soil that is ready for planting.

If you keep the soil mulched or covered with perennial crops, the soil will steadily improve through the slow but steady action of soil life, like fungi and earth worms.

Wild Tip: More or Less Time?

It may seem like working on nature’s time frame takes a long time. It may seem like you have to wait a while to see results. But the thing about working on nature’s time frame is that you’re letting nature take over most of the work.

In other words, working on nature’s time frame actually takes less time.

Less time than slogging long hours on a non-stop treadmill to fight pests or fertilize plants without using nature as your ally.

Rushing nature’s time frame is actually the longer route. Like working through a fever, you may feel like you’re getting ahead. But you’re really just falling further behind.

When you work on nature’s time frame, you are working toward a partnership with nature that results in less work for you and more abundance for all.

By taking a step back and thinking on nature’s time frame, you can support and enhance the life in your soil. The result will be deep, rich soil that your plants will thrive in.

Methods like tilling and adding fertilizer can give you a short-term boost. But relying on these methods means you will need to keep doing this work year after year.

Tilling will also deplete the soil life over time, making you even more dependent on outside inputs in years to come.  

But if you instead focus on building soil life, you start working on nature’s time frame. And you gain billions of little soil building-allies (fungi, bacteria, and other life in your soil) that never stop working to create deep, rich soil.

Here are 7 great ways to build soil on nature’s time frame by promoting beneficial soil life:

  1. Use sheet mulching to prepare an area for planting.
  2. Keep the soil covered with mulch or plants.
  3. Grow perennial plants (woody and non-woody).
  4. Apply compost or worm tea to establish beneficial soil life. (This doesn’t need to be continued once the soil life is established.)
  5. Don’t till your soil.
  6. Practice chop-and-drop mulching.
  7. Add beneficial fungi to your soils.

Learning How to Slow Down

Start working on nature's time frame

My property is always a work-in-progress. But every year, by working on nature’s time frame, I have less issues with pests and more abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.

It can be tough to start thinking and working on nature’s time frame. I know I get impatient at times. But when I give in to that urge and push too hard, the result is always more work for me.

Sometimes, I’m willing to take on some extra work. Like with the new garden I’m building for my kids. I’m taking the extra time and energy to bring in great garden soil so I can get results more quickly. My kids won’t be young forever!

But this isn’t sustainable, and I can’t do it over large areas. It would be too expensive to follow this same approach in our food forests and larger garden areas.

Also, I don’t want to use chemicals or traps on a never-ending cycle to try to deal with pests. I bet you don’t either.

But predators don’t show up overnight. It takes time to cultivate an abundance of soil life to build soil.

So what do you do?

The key is to get started with a few simple initial tasks to help you work on nature’s time frame.

For pest issues? Start creating the habitat for predators. Plant flowers, add rock piles, and add a couple barn owl boxes around your property.

But you also need to give the predators time to deal with the pests.

To build soil on nature’s time frame, start practicing chop-and-drop to make use of your dead plants each year. And plant perennial plants where you can.

If you make compost, look into making compost tea so you can quickly establish beneficial soil life over large areas. Then just make sure to keep the soil covered and stop tilling so the soil life can build in numbers and start building soil.

It takes time. But each year you’ll see a steady improvement until the moment when your garden just “pops” despite you putting in less time than before.

This is the reward of thinking and working on nature’s time frame. You gain a powerful ally that lets you step back and slow down while continuing to move forward faster than ever.

What have you learned by working on nature's time frame? Leave a comment to share!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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