9 gardening techniques, unusual and elegant, that inspire me

This post is part of my project about agroecology.

Over the years, through my studies in agronomy, my travel observations, my scientific and esoteric readings, I came across numerous unusual gardening and farming techniques that I found elegant and inspiring.

I would like to try implementing them in our future experimental food forest, and I have already started to experiment with some of them.

Here I start with 3 of these gardening and farming techniques, and I will add more next week!

How to work with snails and slugs (not against)?

For a few years now, every time I notice snails or slugs are starting to eat my vegetables, I stay equanimous.

As I observe them climbing, salivating, crunching, my hands start to tremble. Should I pick them, one by one, to feed the hens? Should I suffocate them into beer like it is written in my “Ecological and Spirited Gardening” book? Should I buy these bright blue organic snail-killer granules in my “Natural Gardening” shop? As all these belligerent ideas flow through my mind, as the leaves of my vegetables keep disappearing, one after the other, my French instinct awakens and I find myself also starting to salivate: “Should I eat these snails?”, I wonder.

But instead, I don’t move, I don’t touch them, I don’t eat them. I stay equanimous. And I observe.

This is because a few years ago, I came across a blog (which, unfortunately, I cannot retrieve) where another gardener-observer shared his very inspiring experiment.

He would wake up in the middle of the night, and go to visit his lettuces with a lamp torch. Hidden behind a cabbage, he would carefully observe snails’ behavior. And here is what he found: while snails were climbing on every single of his lettuces, they were only eating some of them, leaving the other lettuces intact. And here was his interpretation: snails taste the leaves, but when the lettuce is healthy enough, it produces phytochemicals that naturally repel the snails.

Eventually, this zen gardener would not try to do anything against snails and slugs, he would lose some of his lettuces, but the surviving ones would stay whole and healthy even without him trying to protect them.

In other words, the snails may just be eating the lettuces that are already weak, already sick. Maybe I am using store-bought seedlings, instead of seeds already more adapted to my soil? Perhaps these seeds were even genetically altered in a lab? Maybe this lettuce, to be healthy, has to be specifically fertilized with the “Organic Fertilizer” from the same brand? Or, perhaps, it is just because this lettuce has access to a little less water, or sun, than that one?

Then, are these snails just trying to help me understand what can and cannot actually grow here, on my land? Are they trying to remove and recycle sick, unadapted, genetically altered lettuces? Would I really get benefits from eating such sick lettuces anyway? Perhaps, these snails and slugs are just the dedicated garbage collectors of my garden-ecosystem?

If I react very fast, to save as many lettuces as I can, I cannot observe, and I prevent myself from reaching a deeper understanding of what’s going on. If I accept losing some lettuce plants, while observing carefully, I will end up with completely different insights and ideas about what may be happening and what to try next.

I find this kind of approach very inspiring. It starts a completely different relationship between me and my ecosystem!

On the one hand, under the guise of “ecological” products or practices, I am still talking about “fighting against” or “getting rid of” snails and slugs. It is me — the very intelligent and educated Lénaïc Pardon —, trying to correct in “natural and ecological” ways the ecosystem which doesn’t work properly.

On the other hand, I am trying to understand the behavior, the role of snails and slugs in my ecosystem, trying to figure out what this unbalanced situation can teach me about my ecosystem and my practice. In this case, I am instead trying to think like an ecosystem, as I also proposed in my essay about another “bug” of ecosystems, “invasive” plants.

When we grow vegetables for commercial purposes, it can be very risky to experiment with this kind of practice. But, as non-commercial gardeners, we have the freedom to try radical experiments, we are the avant-garde of farming, we can venture off the beaten track to show other possible ways.

Like, for instance, observing slugs and snails eating our lettuces, realizing then that these small animals are, actually, our little master-gardeners, trying with a dedication to clean up our mess, and struggling to get our attention to eventually be able to teach us how ecosystems actually work…

How to save time by reintroducing perennial vegetables?

One of the current trends in agroecology and permaculture communities is the development of food forests, or garden forests.

The key idea behind these projects is to try to mimic the highly productive ecosystems that natural forests are. One of the principles to achieve this is favoring perennial plants, like fruit trees, nut trees, berries, that you plant once but that give you back more and more food, year after year, for decades.

If we don’t have a large land, or if we like to keep our vegetable garden, there is one intermediate way to still integrate this perennial aspect into our practice: perennial vegetables.

Actually, we already often grow some perennial vegetables in our gardens, like rhubarb or artichoke. Perennial herbs, like rosemary or lavender. Or even perennial fruits like strawberries. But we have also forgotten many other plants that our ancestors had yet kindly selected for us.

This year, close to the rosemary or the lavender, why not add a perpetual kale?

And a perennial celery plant, also called lovage, and used as a condiment?

Photo of a perpetual kale growing in a garden.

Perpetual kale

If we enjoy playing with this alternative way of growing vegetables, the following year, let’s add a bed of perennial leeks, and a bed of the surprising tree onion!

We could even, for instance, try to plant some perennial leeks in our strawberry bed, where they might tend to grow straight up while still leaving light for strawberries to mature?

Photo of a perennial leek growing in a garden.

Perennial leek

If we notice that a part of our garden rarely gets frozen in the winter, or if we have a greenhouse, why not establish a sweet potato bed?

While sweet potato can be cultivated as an annual, it is a perennial in tropical and subtropical countries.

If well protected in the ground, after the winter, the sweet potatoes will sprout again, producing abundant edible foliage.

Photo of a sweet potato plant invading our rooftop garden in Taiwan.

Sweet potatoes invading our rooftop garden in Taiwan.

While we start to feel more comfortable with perennials, we could even extend our production to more unusual and rare perennial vegetables. For instance, in a shadowy area of the garden, a few edible ferns and some cute hostas will happily cover the spot.

Surprisingly enough, in my agronomy studies, I had never heard about these amazing ancient perennial vegetables. Nowadays they seem to be back in the spotlight, and that’s how I came to discover them, while trying to simplify the gardening work.

Indeed, one of the interests of perennial plants, is that they can help us save time. No need to prepare the seedlings and the soil every year, less weeding work for the large perennial vegetables like perpetual kale that make a dense shadow, and even fewer worries about greedy insects and diseases as, often, those ancient forgotten vegetables are hardier than newer varieties.

If your neighbors don’t already grow some of them to share with you, you can easily discover many other kinds and order them from online shops, like these, in the US, and in the UK.

For a similar amount of work, these ancient and perennial vegetables can reward us with abundant production over the years!

How to work with trees to regulate weeds in the garden?

In manual farming and gardening, weed control can be one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks. Slash and burn techniques in forested lands used to be one way to address this issue.

Let’s imagine we are living in a forest.

The dense canopy catches all the available light, preventing the growth of most plants below. To enjoy this weed-free area, we slash a patch of the forest, burn the vegetation debris, and plant vegetables and crops. As the area has been weed-free for many years, or decades, nearly no weed grows over the first year. A few grow over the second year. In the third year, however, weeds start to become so established that our weeding work is significantly increased. At this point, we shift to another patch of this dense forest. We slash, burn, and start over again.

The intense and hard work of slashing and burning every few years still requires less work than manually uprooting weeds, every week, on a given piece of land.

In some ways, we can understand this slash-and-burn practice as delegating to trees the heavy work of weeding, thanks to their dense shadow, over many years.


But then, what about if we still like to ask trees to weed for us, while avoiding the slash-and-burn stage?

A long time ago, while browsing the internet, I came across a project presenting a technique that was precisely trying to do this. It is called “inga alley cropping”, and was developed in Honduras, Central America.

Alley cropping is a farming practice that belongs to the big family of agroforestry, in which we grow together trees and crops. In the inga alley cropping system, we plant inga tropical trees, very close to each other, in rows, creating narrow alleys of less than 2 m width (~2 yards).

As the trees grow, they start to shade the alleys, slowly controlling weeds. At some point, we prune all their branches at chest height, that is, we pollard the trees. While the alleys are suddenly inundated with sunlight, covered by a thick mulch of dead leaves, we plant vegetables.

Our vegetables start to develop in weed-free and sunbathed alleys, favoring their growth and greatly limiting our weeding time. A year later, after we harvested the vegetables, and after the branches have grown again, we prune them again and plant new vegetables, and so on, year after year.

When I discovered this technique, I felt very enthusiastic, and I even sent a spontaneous application to join the project! What I liked was that this practice was trying to understand and mimic nature’s mechanisms.

But I also liked how so many functions were elegantly brought together.

Weeds are indeed controlled by trees’ shade. But the thick mulch of dead leaves also keeps the soil cool and moist, even though we trimmed all the branches. Minerals are pumped deep by the trees’ roots and regularly brought back to the surface through dead leaves. Fresh carbon, feeding soil life, is also added every year through these very same dead leaves. As the inga tree is from the legume family, it can fix nitrogen, some of it also ends up in dead leaves. And, to top it all off, the pruned branches can be used as a local and renewable fuel for cooking. All this with just this simple design and only manual tools.

Unfortunately, the Inga Foundation, which develops this practice, has never replied to my application!

But the design keeps inspiring me a lot, when I imagine, for instance, how to use pollard trees to grow living garden beds, or when I try to imagine how to use other trees with edible leaves, like the lime tree, to create similar alley cropping systems in colder climates.

How to grow strawberries at 4000 m altitude?

In 2008, I am traveling across South America with Morgane, an agronomist friend, when, at 4000 m altitude, in the Peruvian high plateau where it usually freezes during the night, we come across strawberries…

While the bus drives us through the Altiplano, the highlands of the Andes, we impregnate ourselves with this peculiar landscape.

Photo of the Peruvian Altiplano, with sheeps grazing, a bright green grassland, and stone walls.

Long valleys, villages. From time to time a deep blue lake. Further, rocky grasslands notched by energetic torrents, grazed by llamas. And a few trees here and there.

Photo of a herd of llamas in the rocky grasslands of the Ocongate District, Peru.

In higher latitudes, such a high plateau would probably be covered by snow most of the time, but here, not so far from the equator, the valleys remain covered with green grass. Because, although it freezes every night, the strong sunshine rises the temperature again every day.

Photo of a hilly grassland and kids in the Peruvian Altiplano.

We arrive at the Ocongate District, facing the valleys descending from the impressive Ausangate mountain range. Outside the bus, the sky is blue, the sun strongly heats our faces, but the dry and thin air stays cold.

A beautiful place, yet tough, where we continuously feel the powerful energy of nature flowing around.

Photo of the Ausangate moutain range, Peru.

How can we grow strawberries at such an altitude, in such a tough environment?

If we get off our bus at Ocongate, it is because we are visiting another agronomist doing an internship in agricultural development. He is working for an institution that explores ways to increase the nutrient diversity in the diet of local people. One of their projects is to support the construction of small greenhouses for people to increase food diversity by growing their own vegetables… and strawberries!

Photo of a small village with a green house in the Altiplano, Ocongate District, Peru.

While we visit a few greenhouses, some feel a bit abandoned, colonized by wild plants. Some others, in contrast, look like mini food forests perfectly maintained with care and love.

Discovering such warm and luxuriant cocoons of nature in the middle of this harsh monotonous grassland creates a feeling of excitement, a feeling of freedom.

Everything feels possible!

Photo inside a clay greehouse in the Altiplano, Ocongate District, Peru.

The design of the greenhouses is quite simple: a wall of about 50 cm height (20 in) and higher gables made of unbaked earth bricks from local clay, on top of which a structure of PVC tubes supports a transparent plastic sheet. During the day, the small wall accumulates heat that radiates back during the night, preventing the inside of the greenhouse to freeze.

This visit showed me that, even in a tough environment, we can create microclimates using simple designs and simple materials, like for these greenhouses. Through this strategy, it is possible to increase the diversity of our production, up to the surprising result of growing strawberries and other delicate vegetables at 4000 m of altitude.

In any garden, in addition to a small greenhouse, we can also create microclimates by playing with natural elements.

A stone wall blocks the wind and radiates heat during the night. An evergreen grove slows down the wind and protects its understorey from frost. A pond buffers temperature shifts. Etc.

Why establish a multispecies herd?

We often hear about the differences between polyculture and monoculture. But what about multispecies and monospecies herds?

While monoculture simplifies an ecosystem, polyculture stays closer to natural ecosystems by trying to maintain higher biodiversity. Similarly, a monospecific herd of cows grazing a field is a simplification of ecosystems where normally, a wide variety of herbivores graze in the same area.

One year after our stay in South America, my friend Morgane flies to central Asia for her master’s thesis, to study the pastoral farming system in the Mongolian steppes, where shepherds breed multispecies herds!

So, why establish a multispecies herd?

In a French article that Morgane co-authored in 2013 with two colleagues, they describe the study area as a steppe of grasslands on a semi-arid high plateau with harsh winters and only ~100 mm of rain per year. In such conditions, crops cannot grow, but Mongols have developed over the years a nomad grazing system that allows them to harness the grass of the steppe.

Morgane and her co-authors continue explaining in their article that herds in Mongolian steppes are traditionally multispecies herds. Although this diversity has decreased recently, some goats, sheep, cows, yaks, horses, and camels still graze the steppe altogether. Indeed, owning a multispecies herd provides several advantages in these harsh natural conditions.

First, a diversity of herbivores helps to make the most of different kinds of forage resources. Sheep and goats are the most adapted to graze on steep and rocky areas, while camels can travel far, without drinking for 3-4 days, and accept to eat vegetation growing in salty swamps. When they are grazing in the same area, different species will prefer different plants. In these harsh conditions, having different kinds of herbivores helps the breeder to make use of all the available resources.

Second, in the event of natural perturbations, like a disease, a drought, a cold wave, every species reacts differently. Thus a multispecies herd is more resilient.

Third, the animals provide of course a greater variety of productions, like milk, meat, wool, leather, riding animals, and even dried dung as fuel for heating and cooking! All these productions guarantee better autonomy, but also better economic resilience, because for instance, if the price of sheep wool collapses, breeders have other goods to sell.

Forth, it spreads the workload more evenly throughout the year, as peaks of work like milking don’t happen at the same time depending on the animal species.

If you want to dig more into this topic, there is also a group of 18 European researchers who wrote a thorough review paper about how multispecies farming can help improve livestock farms’ sustainability.

I find such multispecies breeding systems very interesting, as they apply to livestock what we often hear for crops. By mimicking the herbivores’ biodiversity that happens in nature, multispecies herds can help make better use of natural resources and increase farms’ resilience.

But, I also see multispecies breeding as a kind of utopian, more romantic version of breeding, in which we picture a happy family of many kinds of animals living peacefully together!

That is why it inspired me to think of how to integrate a mini multispecies herd in our future experimental food forest, with a handful of hens, some sheep, and a few pigs. Not really for eating them, but for eggs, wool, manure, their support in grazing and maintaining the land, and of course, their bucolic company.

How to passively catch and store water evenly in a land?

Nowadays, catching and storing water seems more and more critical for gardening and farming. In some circumstances, the soil itself is a great water tank.

Sketch of valleys, ridges and rivers.

Of course, ponds are a good way to store water. They are also highly productive ecosystems, increase biodiversity, help regulate microclimate, etc.

But another way to store water is to remember that soil is also a natural water tank. Have you ever seen trees stay green while the drought has already dried out the grass for weeks or even months? This is how much water can be stored in the soil.

If our land is sloping, one way to help catch and store more water in the soil is to create horizontal structures through the landscape. These can be terraces, swales, stone walls, living walls, hedges, that follow contour lines. During a rain event, runoff water is thus trapped and forced to infiltrate into the soil, saturate it, and then go deeper and recharge the aquifer.

Sketch of valleys, ridges, contour lines, and swales preventing water from runoff.

But if our land is very steep, erodes easily, or in case of a very strong rain event, are our horizontal structures going to withstand the shock? Or will they tend to break near talwegs, that is, in the bottom of valleys where runoff water tends to converge and flow quicker?

In such a case, there is another variation used in permaculture to catch and store water in the soil efficiently. It is called the keyline principle.

Instead of creating horizontal structures following contour lines, let’s create structures that are always going a bit downwards, always from the talweg down to the ridge of valleys. These structures can be stone walls, living walls, hedges, or even just small trenches.

Sketch of valleys, ridges, and off-contour lines following the keyline design principles.

In this case, during a rain event, runoff water is not trapped, but diverted away from the talweg, towards the ridge. While horizontal structures need to be strong enough, especially close to talwegs, these more advanced ones are less likely to face a strong current as they disperse the water flow energy from the talweg to the ridge, bringing water from saturated talwegs to dry ridges.

This keyline design was developed in the 1950s by the Australian P. A. Yeomans. He went so far as to find the elegant geometry behind this principle.

In most valleys, there is a specific point above which land is convex and tends to erode, and below which it is concave and deposits tend to sediment. He calls it the key point.

This key point is part of a specific contour line that he calls the keyline of this valley.

And the magic geometry happens when we draw on the landscape lines that are parallel to this keyline. Those lines, slightly sloping, are the ones that will always tend to lead water away from the talwegs, and towards the ridges. For this to happen, the valley needs to have this specific convex/concave shape, though.

As water is spread evenly over the landscape, including on the ridges, we make better use of the whole water storage capacity of our land. And, as these lines are not perpendicular to the natural water flow, the risk of breakdown is much lower, and they require less material and maintenance to be efficient.

Isn’t beautiful?

But I have an additional thought about this technique.

Horizontal structures and terraces are like the beginner taichi student. She tries to use her muscles to block and push back the partner, and she falls. Structures following the keyline principle are when this taichi student becomes a master. Without using a lot of muscles, she subtly diverts the movement of the partner. The partner falls, but she stays balanced!

This keyline principle is not just a clever farming practice, it really is a spiritual and philosophical teaching. It is observing and respecting the partner — water —, accepting the natural course of things — water flows from top to down —, using soft and subtle curves, and yet profoundly influencing reality.

If you want to dig into this topic, P. A. Yeomans wrote a open access book, The Keyline Plan, where he gives more details about what to do when the valley doesn’t have this convex/concave shape. And Andrew Millison also proposes seven short videos to explain how to apply the keyline principle to permaculture design.

How to grow objects in the garden?

A few weeks ago, I am visiting the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. Among many beautiful artifacts from the ancient China, I come across a tiny bottle that blows my mind…

In the 18th century, during the Qing Dynasty, the practice of snuffing tobacco powder was very common in China. Chinese people stored their tobacco powder in small bottles, called snuff bottles. Accompanying the popularity of this practice, craftsmen developed techniques to make these small bottles from a huge variety of materials.

While I go through the exhibition in the museum, I see numerous examples.

Some snuff bottles are made from bamboo, colored glass, porcelain. Some are literally carved within pure minerals like agate, jade, turquoise, lapis lazuli. Even in amber and coral. I discover one made of beewax and another carved in a walnut shell… All of these snuff bottles amazingly witnessing a great artistic creativity and very advanced craftsman skills. You can browse the full collection on the museum’s website.

But, as I continue the visit, one snuff bottle catches my attention even more. It is a… molded-gourd snuff bottle.

Picture of a molded-gourd suff bottle from the XIXth century, displayed in the National Palace Museum of Taiwan.

Molded-gourd snuff bottle, picture from the National Palace Museum, Taiwan (CC-BY).

This very small bottle of 4.5 cm width and 10 cm height (~1.8 x 4 in), with such sophisticated shapes on it, is a fruit from the gourd family, that was grown inside a mold.

Do you believe it?

Look, if we watch on the bottom side, we can see the tip of the gourd, this clearer roundish spot!

Picture of the bottom of a molded-gourd suff bottle.

Molded-gourd snuff bottle, picture from the National Palace Museum, Taiwan (CC-BY).

Gourds have been used across all continents in the History to make useful objects, like water bottles, bowls, sieves, lampshades, bird houses, etc. Luffa is a specific kind used to make natural sponges. Fruits from other plants, like the calabash tree, have also been used in the tropics to make basins, bowls, cups, spoons, and music instruments.

What a nice factory to manufacture objects: silent, powered by solar energy, free and open-source, self-replicating. Just nature.

In the examples I have just mentioned, people grow simple and minimalist objects keeping the natural and organic curved shapes of the fruit. But, as I realized with this snuff bottle, if we prefer, it is also possible to grow very sophisticated objects from gourds!

To grow such complex shapes, the baby gourd is put in a plaster or plastic mold, and, as it matures, it fills the mold and takes its shape. What stunned me the most when I saw this small bottle, is how advanced this ancient craft was, just two hundred years ago, while it is now almost forgotten.

In English, there is not a lot of information easily available on how to mold gourds. But in Chinese, we can find more examples if we search for 模制葫芦 (that is, ‘molded-gourd’). Like this video showing the removal of the plaster mold, and this one showing different shapes on a market. Some people are also revisiting this old craft from a contemporary point of view, like the Gourd Project, which plans to grow compostable cups.

To create these objects, one needs to master the growth cycle of gourds as well as the skillful preparation of the mold. I really like it. It is a kind of marriage between gardening and crafting!

And, if we have a garden, a permaculture farm, a food forest, doesn’t make a lot of sense to grow our own objects?

How to orquestrate the garden’s processes with proteodies?

Several years ago, while I am working in a research center in agronomy, in Paris, we organize a one day trip with a colleague to visit a biodynamics vineyard in the Loire Valley, South of Paris. We discover there an unexpected farming practice that uses sound waves.

Usually, when we think about biodynamics, we think of spraying highly diluted solutions on plants. A farming technique similar to homeopathy, that was developed by the German Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century. The winegrowers we visit with my colleague are indeed making such high dilutions and spraying them on their grapevines. They invite us to visit the vineyard, to see by ourselves how the vitality of the sprayed plants differs from the ones not sprayed.

But, as we walk through the vineyard, something else catch our attention.

Not far from our trail, we distinguish a kind of box hidden below the foliage of a row of grapevines. The box seems connected to a battery and a solar panel. After getting closer, this box appears to contain speakers pointing towards different directions.

Speakers, I thought? Are they trying to repel insects using unpleasant sounds?

The winegrower explains us that the speakers are emitting a specific sequence of sounds, that stimulates the expression of precise genes of the grapevine plants, favoring their growth. Such a sequence of notes, inhibiting or stimulating the expression of a specific gene has a name, it is called a proteody, a protein-melody.

Proteodies! The music of proteins.

I had never heard about such a thing in all my studies! Yet, this story started when I was very young, with Joël Sternheimer, a French specialist in quantum physics and also musician.

As he explains in his website Genodics (in French), Joël Sternheimer was inspired by the work of Nobel Prize Louis de Broglie, who stated that a wave, called matter wave, can be associated to every given amount of matter. For a given molecule, there is one matter wave with a specific frequency.

Joël Sternheimer tried to calculate the frequencies associated to each of the 20 amino acids, the elements that form our proteins. He found that these 20 frequencies can be transposed into 20 music notes that we can play on any music instrument. Then, for a given protein, he could write this series of notes on a music sheet, creating proteodies!

But the most interesting is that, while he was experimenting with these protein-melodies, he realized that, when he was playing the melody of a specific gene of a plant, the expression of the gene was enhanced in the plant! He then founded his company, Genodics, that proposes proteodies for farmers to support the vitality of their crops.

Joël Sternheimer also developed a theory to try to explain how a sound wave may be translated to a matter wave in living beings, and then how it may influence genes expression.

Interestingly, some researchers consider his work as ‘pseudoscience’, as it as not been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If, like me, you often venture to the frontiers of science with curiosity, you already know that it is a very common phenomenon. While a researcher claims having discovered something and has already launched a business based on it, other researchers claim this discovery to be pseudoscience and his business to be a scam.

Such situation can be very disturbing, because, suddenly, we realize we cannot rely anymore on a scientific knowledge that we thought to be unified and consensual. We realize that science is nothing else than a social phenomenon, with people trying to make a good job, but also with conflicts of interest, hierarchies, politics, competition, alliances, contradictions, and so much uncertainty. But this realization is great, because it forces us take back our responsibilities, to stop blindly trusting experts, to investigate, to build our own opinions and to take our own decisions.

So, for now, if our decision is to trust the work of Joël Sternheimer, then it means that in terms of gardening, sound matters!

My aunt often tells me that she talks to her plants. Since a couple of years, I sing with my best voice while gardening.

And then, when I say in our experimental food forest project, that I would like to invite artists to give concerts below the trees, do you start to realize that it is not just because I am such a romantic French gentleman?

Instead, it is a deliberate self-serving intention!

A bunch of musicians, playing in the middle of our fruit trees? A free music fertilization for our vegetables? Wonderful!

How to fertilize a garden with meditation?

About 10 years ago, my grand-mother handed me a copy of an article that she found in a magazine. This text claimed that some farmers in India were meditating every morning in their fields to increase crop yield.

Increasing yield using meditation? Can meditators materialize nutrients just with their minds? I couldn’t imagine how such thing might happen and I remained unsure what to think.

Ah!, I thought, sometimes grand mothers are a bit too credulous. But it makes them cute!

Soon after, I started to venture into meditation to tackle my numerous health challenges. I made a few Vipassana retreats over the years, like this first one that I describe with humor and precision (in French), and I started to understand better what meditation is about, and to experience more deeply the entanglement between mind and body, mind and matter.

While learning and practicing, I wondered if there had been scientific work made about meditation. As I researched, I realized that, a huge number of academic scientists and independent researchers have indeed been studying meditation for decades.

A few of them specifically studied the effect of meditation on plant growth… Here is a sample of three of the most recent studies.

In 2015, in India, the yield of wheat was increased by 38% in organic fields where farmers were meditating, compared to organic fields without meditation1. In 2016, in South Africa, the fresh weight of carrots was increased by 10% when the scientist meditated 15 min every morning, compared to the carrots growing in the same conditions but without meditation2. In 2016, in the UK, the dry weight of bean plants that received a one time positive mental intention from a group of 50 people was 22.7% higher than that of bean plants growing in the same conditions but without mental intention3.

From 10 to 38% of yield increase? That is not negligible! I would also like to increase my tomatoes harvest by 20% just by meditating! That would be quite elegant. Who could find a cheaper and more ecological way to fertilize a garden?

Maybe my grand mother was right? Who dared to say that my grand mother was too credulous?!

Overall, this little list of experiments shows that, all around the world, some people are indeed seriously researching on the impact of meditation on plant growth. They are trying to make robust experimental designs and rigorous statistical analyses, and their results show that a very interesting phenomenon is effectively happening. I still don’t know exactly how it works, but I found that there are already numerous sophisticated theories out there, trying to explain it.

If we want a rigorous and scientific understanding of what happens, however, we need much much more of such experiments. With different plants, different meditation kinds, performed by different research teams independent from one another, very strong statistical analyses, etc. Given the very few people working on it right now, it will take decades and decades before science can provide robust results…!

But we don’t need to wait for science.

We don’t need to wait for academic scientists to deeply investigate this topic. We can already do it ourselves. One of the very interesting aspect of this farming practice is that it is even more simple than low-tech practices. Everyone can sit, meditate to wish her vegetables are vigorous, and to observe the results by herself. And try again and again, until she understands in which conditions it works, and in which conditions it doesn’t.

And then, when I wrote in our experimental food forest project that, I would like to host meditation retreats, do you start to realize that it is not just because I am such a nice spiritual person?

Instead, it is a deliberate self-serving intention!

A bunch of meditators, sat in the middle of our carrots? A free meditation fertilization for our vegetables? Wonderful!

  1. Parrott, N. (2021). Subtle agroecologies: Farming with the hidden half of nature (p. 384). Taylor & Francis.

  1. Ndiritu, J., Hlongwane, J., Baranzika, T., & Nyembezi, L. (2016). Applying psychoenergetics to enhance seedling development and crop yields.

  1. Rubik, B. (2016). Interactions of pyramidal structures with energy and consciousness. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 12(2), 259-275.

See you next week for more unusual and elegant gardening practices ideas… ;)

Did you enjoy this post?

Great! Then, you may also like to read my essay about invasive plants, or to discover our food forest project.

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To share my experiments, I write a monthly newsletter, called my 🔭 Laboratory Logbook. I send this letter on the 1st day of each month to my gracious readers to update on my work in progress, my observations, my — hopefully elegant — experiments. If you like to follow my explorations, then I invite you to subscribe below ;)

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Lénaïc Pardon
Lénaïc Pardon

I am a kind of researcher-explorer. I am French, introverted, and hypersensitive. I value a lot freedom, creativity, and altruism. I am curious about almost anything, but I do have a preference for topics around simple living: permaculture, nature, craftsmanship, autonomy, philosophy, the mysteries of life… More about me and my work >