ecofriendly homestead

eco friendly homestead glossary

Understand gardening words in organic gardening and regenerative agriculture

There are so many words related to gardening, farming, and environmentalism, that it can be hard to know what they all mean. Here's a list of words related to gardening, with a specific focus on organic gardening terms.

Browse our gardening glossary for clear word definitions plus links to dive deeper by topic.

Gardening Definitions:

adaptability/adaptation definition

In the agricultural sense, adaptability is a favored quality of a plant to thrive in changing growing conditions and varying environments. When working with plant breeding and seed saving, farmers will choose seeds from the most robust plants. Over time, these plants become adapted to the habitat where they are grown.

agricultural runoff definition

Agricultural runoff results in chemical applications on farmland getting washed out after heavy rainfall or watering. These chemicals can end up in rivers, streams, and waterways. According to the EPA, it’s common to see excess amounts of agricultural fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pesticides, and herbicides in runoff. Too much of these chemicals can harm aquatic life and make water unhealthy.

agriculture definition

Usually refers to large-scale farming and growing of food. Smaller farms may be classified as small-scale agriculture or market gardens.

albedo definition

Albedo is a way to calculate how much light reflects off of various surfaces. If something absorbs more light, such as black plastic, it becomes quite hot. Alternatively, if something reflects light, such as a raised bed mulched with light colored straw, the soil temperature will be cooler. It can be beneficial to work with albedo depending on the season and your growing needs. This same principle is why cities can reduce their overall temperature in the summer by adding in green spaces, living roofs, and vining plants to cover buildings. Vegetation will reflect more light than the typical dark pavement, and so if the vegetation is shading the pavement, the temperature overall will be cooler during the summer months (source).

alternative agriculture definition

As a counter to the modern-day norm of conventional agriculture and what has been normalized in society, alternative agriculture goes back to systems of growing food that have been practiced for millennia by our ancestors. In today’s world, alternative practices include organic growing, no-till, crop rotation, cover cropping, and enhancing biodiversity (source).

animal husbandry definition

The practice of tending to livestock. Typically the term is applied to livestock that provides a yield or service of some kind, for example, milk, meat, eggs, or fiber.

ark of taste definition

A part of the Slow Food Foundation, the Ark of Taste organization that preserves local and/or endangered food, and strives to preserve culture and biodiversity while also providing income for traditional farmers. You can grow food that is preserved by the Ark of Taste, or support other farmers around the world who maintain these cultural heirlooms.

beneficial bacteria definition

Bacteria in the soil that support the health of the soil and plants, especially annual plants. We can encourage beneficial bacteria through organic growing methods, minimizing disturbance to the soil (no-till), encouraging biodiversity, and working with systems such as JADAM to inoculate the soil.

beneficial fungi definition

Fungi in the soil that support the health of the soil and plants, especially perennial plants. Fungi will form beneficial relationships with annuals as well, except for plants in the beet and brassica family (Frost, No-Till Growers Handbook). Mycorrhizae is the term for the fungi “root system,” which supports the vitality of plants through a web of sorts. We can encourage beneficial fungi through organic growing methods, minimizing disturbance to the soil (no-till), encouraging biodiversity, and working with systems such as JADAM to inoculate the soil.

beneficial insects definition

Beneficial insects support the health and vitality of plants in the garden by either supporting pollination and/or by eating other bugs that are known as “pests.” A popular example is the ladybug, who eats aphids but does not cause damage to plants in the garden. You can encourage beneficial insects with organic growing methods, encouraging biodiversity, and planting attractant plants.

beneficial nematodes definition

These little creatures are like microscopic beneficial insects. While some nematodes can cause damage to plants, some nematodes will feed off of bugs that can wreck havoc in the garden. In the UK, for example, you can purchase a specific kind of nematode that feeds off of slugs, reducing your slug population without chemicals or anything that harms the food chain.

beneficial wildlife definition

For gardeners, there are certain animals that you may wish to encourage in the garden in order to help regulate bugs that can damage crops. For example, creating space for birds with a birdbath will encourage them to poke around the garden and eat some slugs or grubs. Salamanders, spiders, garden snakes, and frogs eat slugs, beetles, flies, caterpillars, moths, and mosquitoes.

beyond organic definition

Also called “no-spray” or “chemical-free.” While there is no official definition of beyond organic, it generally means that no pesticides or herbicides are applied to the land or crops. Some pesticides and herbicides are approved for use in organic farming, and some gardeners and farmers choose to go “beyond” the organic regulations and not apply those chemicals to their plants. Since there is no certification process or standards, it’s best to ask a farmer or gardener what they mean when they say they are beyond organic.

biodiverse garden definition

A garden with a variety of life on all levels, from microscopic to plants to animals. A biodiverse garden is the opposite of a monoculture, where interplanting is practiced, animals and insects are balanced and encouraged, and the soil microbiome is healthy and active. This creates a healthy and resilient ecosystem that is naturally pest and disease resistant.

biointensive planting definition

Intensive planting or biointensive planting is a term often used in gardening and homesteading situations, where we grow a maximum amount of food in a small space but also balance that out with things like cover crops, compost, and other regenerative practices. Not to be confused with intensive agriculture.

carbon definition

While it might be strange to hear an environmentalist saying this, carbon is actually a good thing in the garden. That’s because carbon belongs in the soil, not in the atmosphere. No-till practices, such as keeping soil covered, planting cover crops in the off-season, and minimizing soil disturbance all build up carbon in the soil and help retain it there. When we build carbon in the soil, the soil becomes loose, easy for roots to penetrate, and holds more water (USDA).

carbon dioxide definition

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, so if there is too much carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, the climate will shift. For millennia, we had this sweet spot on our planet where the levels of carbon dioxide were “just right” and created the environment for humans and animals to thrive. We have yet to find another planet like this. Unfortunately, the burning of fossil fuels gives off carbon dioxide, so as more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, the more out of whack our climate becomes.

carbon sequestration definition

A way of gathering carbon from the atmosphere and putting it in the ground. Plants and trees naturally sequester carbon, and soil is the 2nd largest carbon sequestering surface on the planet, after the ocean. If we implement certain farming and gardening practices, we can increase the amount of carbon sequestration that happens, while reducing our carbon expenditure at the same time. Carbon sequestration must be seen in tangent with keeping fossil fuels in the ground in order to decrease the long-term effects of climate change.

carbon sinks definition

A carbon sink is an area that captures and holds a lot of carbon. Forests, mangroves, no-till farm fields, and the rainforest are examples of carbon sinks. These are habitats that we should protect and encourage.

carbon-smart agriculture definition

The process of creating carbon sinks and sequestering carbon on farmland.

climate change definition

Formerly known as global warming, climate change is a more correct term as it encompasses changing weather on a whole. Extreme temperatures (both hot and cold), storms, floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc., are included in the scope of climate change.

climate-smart agriculture definition

Climate-smart agriculture aims to build resilience by implementing systems to regulate temperatures, breed plants that are adaptive to extreme climates, and produce food during this time of climate change.

compost definition

A huge asset in the garden for providing nutrients to plants and building soil fertility. The process of composting can reduce the issue of food waste ending up in landfills, which forms methane, a greenhouse gas 20x more potent than carbon dioxide.

compost tea definition

a tea for your plants and soil made from “brewing” compost in water and applying it to your garden

cover crop definition

A crop that is planted on otherwise fallow land in order to build soil health, provide organic matter, and capture carbon.

crop rotation definition

In the practice of crop rotation, crops from different families are not planted in the same area in sequential growing seasons.

A 4 year growing rotation has been proven to be better for your soil, crop yield, and the environment.

1 bed may grow nightshades in year one, and then will need to wait until year five to grow nightshades again. In between, lettuces may be grown in year 2, then beans in year 3, and brassicas in year 4.

cultivation definition

In terms of gardening, to cultivate means to actively grow something on the land - sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings, tending to the plants, and harvesting plants if applicable. In certain texts, cultivation may mean tillage. See tillage for more information.

desert farming definition

Building systems to enhance crop yield in desert conditions, where temperatures swing to extremes and rainfall is low.

drought-tolerant definition

In gardening, a drought-tolerant plant is one that does not need much water to thrive. Some plants greatly prefer to have times of low water, whereas other plants don’t mind either condition. Some perennials are not drought-tolerant until they become established in your garden, typically after their first growing season.

dry farming definition

Dry farming is a technique where crops are grown without irrigation during times of limited or no rainfall. Dry farming is a sustainable method of farming that relies on soil moisture conservation and crop selection.

The Hopi people, who live in the arid regions of the Southwest, have been practicing dry farming for centuries.

ecological knowledge definition

Also referred to as indigenous ecological knowledge or traditional ecological knowledge, this is wisdom that comes with a relationship with all components of a regional environment. This knowledge provides an understanding of how to thrive in specific regions by being familiar with certain patterns, causes and effects, and relationships.

ecological service definition

A “service” provided by a plant or animal in order to benefit the greater environment. A common example is pollinators, which provide the ecological service of helping plants to produce fruit and increase genetic diversity. Certain plants provide nitrogen for the soil that other plants can utilize. Moses have been found to filter pollutants from the air. These services create a healthier ecosystem.

edaphic definition

“of or relating to the soil”, from the Greek édaphos meaning bottom or ground - Merriam Webster.

edaphology definition

The study of soil and how it relates to plant health, including the soil biome such as bacteria and fungi. As gardeners, becoming familiar with the basics of edaphology or soil science can greatly improve the vitality and yield of our garden.

erosion/soil erosion definition

The process of soil being removed from its original location due to water or wind.

food forest definition

A planting system popular in indigenous societies that looks to how regional forests work and applies those principles to grow food in the understory, midlayer, and canopy.

food sovereignty definition

A branch of activism that strives for communities and individuals to have food security through the growing of their own food, outside of commercial systems.

food system definition

The way in which individuals and communities acquire their food, whether through their own backyard, small local farms, or bigger agricultural systems and markets.

free range definition

In the United States it means that chickens have access to an outside area. This loose definition has prompted the Humane Farm Animal Care program to develop a specific definition, where chickens have access to 2 sqft, per chicken, and can be outdoors for at least 6 hours a day. Pasture-raised chickens under this certification are given just over 100 sqft per chicken, are rotated through different pastures, and have day-long access to the outdoors (Certified Humane).

glyphosate definition

An herbicide popularized by Monsanto and used in RoundUp. RoundUp Ready Crops are resistant to glyphosate, so that the crops can thrive while competing plants die off. This herbicide is not allowed in organic farming.

This chemical is banned in countries such as Mexico and Germany. It’s also note-worthy that some US cities, such as Portland and Seattle have banned the use of glyphosate except in extreme instances. The WHO labels glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, while the US EPA says there are no human health issues from the chemical (Environmental Health News).

grass fed definition

Typically in reference to dairy cattle or beef cattle who are fed grass and other forage instead of mature grain. This is more in alignment with their natural diets. This is an interesting topic to follow because grass-fed cows actually emit more methane than grain-fed cows, but when you look at the carbon sequestration levels of the pasture itself, the process becomes CO2e (carbon equivalent) negative (UK National Trust). The results can depend on well-managed grass-fed cows, and rely on pasture-rotation, but similar results were shown as possible in a study put out in 2018 (source).

greenhouse gases definition

Commonly used to refer to one or more of the following gases: Carbon dioxide, Methane, Chlorofluorocarbons, and/or Nitrous Oxide, which accumulate in the atmosphere and result in changing weather patterns found in climate change.

indigenous knowledge definition

Also called Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK, indigenous knowledge is the wisdom of indigenous peoples and their practices. In gardening and farming, this term is applied to indigenous food growing techniques.

integrated farming definition

A process that looks at both the ecological and the economical best practices for producing food on farmland. Often it refers to the practice of mixing animals in with a crop growing space so that the animals can naturally fertilize the soil and integrate cover crop residues before the food crop is planted (NCAT).

intensive agriculture definition

Farming for efficiency and maximum production at the cost of the land and humans, due to extra labor, chemical applications, and soil degradation (source). **Note that this is different from the terms intensive planting or biointensive planting that is often used in gardening and homesteading situations, where we grow a maximum amount of food in a small space but also balance that out with things like cover crops, compost, and other regenerative practices.

ipcc definition

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which puts out various reports on climate change, science, studies, and data yearly. It is a part of the United Nations, and was formed in 1988. You can read their most recent reports on their website.

jadam definition

A method of organic farming based on Korean natural farming. JADAM is developed by Master Cho's son (see entry below for KNF). JADAM is based on adding very low-cost inputs to your soil in order to boost soil health and beneficial bacteria, and has natural sprays for pest control. It is organic and no-till.

korean natural farming definition

(KNF) Korean indigenous practices taught by Master Cho. Works with creating beneficial soil inoculants and amendments, composting, and animal management in a way that supports health of the soil, crops, animals, and humans (source).

land tending definition

(aka land stewardship, land husbandry, etc.) - The practice of improving the quality of the land with careful decisions made in favor of the health of plants, soil, wildlife, and people.

landrace definition

(also known as adaptivar landrace) - A long-practiced method of plant breeding where many different varieties of a plant are grown together, typically with low input. The goal is to see what genetics survive your desired growing conditions and meet your flavor preferences. Cross-pollination from different varieties are encouraged. The seed produced by the “winners” of the landrace are planted in a similar situation the following growing season. Each growing season, the plant will become more and more adapted to your growing environment and taste preferences. Landrace techniques have been shared and explored extensively by Joseph Lofthouse.

latitude definition

Latitude is important in gardening because it determines where you are in a north or south direction on the planet, and thus your hours of sunlight throughout the year. If you are in Mexico, you get more hours of sunlight in the winter than Sweden, but Sweden gets more hours of sunlight in the summertime. Locations a great distance away from the equator and closer to the poles have greater swings in daylight hours from season to season, while locations close to the equator have less fluctuation.

low-input gardening definition

A method of gardening that looks to plants that are adapted to one’s specific growing conditions, and does not rely on inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or sometimes even added water outside of rainfall.

methane definition

A greenhouse gas that is 28x more potent than carbon dioxide, meaning an equal amount of methane will cause 28x more atmospheric warming than the same amount of carbon dioxide over a century (EPA).

microclimate definition

A nuanced area of your garden where factors such as slope, shade, and direction can create slightly different environments. For example, a grove of tall trees may provide a cooling effect on a certain area of your yard, while an open meadow may be warmer.

mulch definition

Any kind of material that covers the soil. Common mulches are grass clippings, organic straw, organic hay, fallen leaves, leaf mold, or compost. Each type of mulch has nuanced benefits in terms of what they provide for the soil, but over all natural mulch materials break down overtime and add matter to the soil, help retain moisture, and hinder weed growth.

mycorrhizal fungi definition
nitrogen definition

An essential nutrient for plant growth. For a fertilizer's NPK rating, the N is the proportion of nitrogen within the product. Signs of nitrogen deficiency are pale to yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Nitrogen is in the air, and some plants have a symbiotic relationship with organisms in the soil that help them to transform atmospheric nitrogen into a usable nutrient for the plant. Nitrogen helps with the green leafy growth of plants.

no-till definition

also known as no-dig. Tilling the soil is the process of turning over the soil mechanically or manually in order to prepare an area for a new growing season. Tillage disturbs the soil biome, and has negative effects on the environment and health of the soil and garden in the long run. In a no-till system, soil may be tilled once initially to begin gardening in a brand new space, but from there soil is disturbed at a minimum, and instead various practices are carried out to improve the health of the soil over time.

phosphorus definition

An essential nutrient for plant growth. In a fertilizer's NPK rating, P is the proportion of phosphorus within the product. Phosphorus helps with the stem, root, and tuber development of plants. Signs of phosphorus deficiency are small and misshapen tubers or roots of root crops or purple-tinged leaves (PennState + GlobalNet).

pioneer farming definition

A method of farming that in modern times focuses on the self-sufficiency and food sovereignty of the farmer. It can also be a historical overview of the way that colonizers in the 19th and early 20th century grew food as they moved west in the United States. Not to be confused with pioneer species, see below.

pioneer species definition

The first plants to show up in a cleared area after an environmental disturbance, such as a fire or clear-cutting. Pioneer species are able to establish themselves where most other plants in the eco system cannot, and they help to nourish the soil in a way that secondary species can then start to become established overtime, before the area can then be populated with native species.

pollinators definition

Your garden’s BFF for fruit development, seed vitality, and over-all food production. Pollinators include bees, wasps, hummingbirds, butterflies, and even bats.

potassium definition

An essential nutrient for plant growth. Often you’ll see fertilizers with an NPK rating, where the K is the proportion of potassium within the product. Potassium helps with the fruiting and rooting of plants, supports water uptake, and enhances photosynthesis efficiency. Signs of potassium deficiency are small and misshapen fruits or stressed plants (PDA).

regenerative gardening definition

Based off of regenerative agriculture, regenerative gardening applies organic principles, no-till gardening methods to improve the quality of the land, no matter how big or how small your garden is. Soil health is key in regenerative gardening, and regenerative gardeners minimize soil disturbance, keep the soil covered, and tend to the soil microbiome in order to create a diverse, healthy, and productive garden. In this way, regenerative gardens end up supporting the ecology of the land and sequestering carbon at the same time.

regenerative landscaping definition

The regenerative farming principles applied to landscaping, where choices are made to improve the health of the environment while looking at the aesthetics of a place.

resilient garden definition

A garden that can adapt to varying and often extreme weather, such as drought, heat, or wind. Systems that go into a resilient garden are selective plant breeding, water catchment, mulching, irrigation, windbreaks, and mindful tree planting.

rotational grazing definition

In animal husbandry, grazing refers to the ability of an animal to eat their most natural and unprocessed diet in a pasture. Rotational grazing is a system where animals are rotated throughout different pasture areas, so that each area of the pasture can recover and refresh itself, absorb manure nutrients, and minimze compaction from over-grazing.

ruminant definition

Animals such as goats, sheep, or cows, which have multiple stomach chambers and have the capacity to eat a lot of food in a short amount of time and then process it later by chewing their “cud” while they are relaxing in a safe place and “ruminating” about their day.

seeds definition

Little bundles of joy, shining capsules of potential, a way to pass history down from one gardener to the next, the precursor to a bloom or a harvest

self-watering definition

A pot or raised bed system where a reserve of water is placed at the bottom of the container, which is then wicked up by the soil to become available to the plants. This is also called bottom-watering. This method means that you do not need to manually water your garden in a typical overhead fashion or install irrigation. Bottom-watering your plants can reduce fungal disease in your seedlings.

syntropic farming definition

also syntropic forestry, and/or syntropic agroforestry - An organic method of tending the land by looking at systems as a whole and assessing the health of the whole ecosystem instead of looking at things on a crop-by-crop basis.   Syntropic farming is based on the idea of syntropy, or the interconnections between all organisms in an area and how they support each other. It creates lush and thriving ecosystems where the soil is rejuvenated, biodiversity is enhanced, and food harvests are abundant (source).

three sisters definition

Three sisters or four sisters is an indigenous method of companion planting in the Americas where squash, corn, beans, and sometimes sunflowers, are grown together in one location. The sprawling squash provides shade for the soil and helps with water retention. The beans fix their own nitrogen from the air. The corn provides support for the beans so adding in stakes or a trellis is not needed. It maximizes production in a small space, and also yields nutrient-dense and long-storing food.

tillage definition

Tilling the soil is the process of turning over the soil mechanically or manually in order to prepare an area for a new growing season. Tillage disturbs the soil biome, and has negative effects on the environment and health of the soil and garden in the long run. In a no-till system, soil may be tilled once initially to begin gardening in a brand new space, but from there soil is disturbed at a minimum, and instead various practices are carried out to improve the health of the soil over time.

usda organic definition

The USDA sets standards for food that can be labeled as USDA organic. In agriculture, produce + the soil its grown upon must not have any prohibited chemicals applied to them. While most synthetic chemicals are not allowed, there are some exceptions. One of the chemicals allowed in organic farming that show some troubling side effects are copper products, which can be applied as fungicide and herbicide.

vermicomposting definition

Vermicomposting works with large amounts of worms to break down items that usually would be put into a typical compost pile, but instead of being broken down in a typical composting process, the worms amplify the process. The increased worm poop/castings has more nutrients than regular compost, but it requires quite a large system to get the same compost yield as a typical compost pile (source).

water catchment definition

Collecting rainwater in various ways to store for later application on your plants.

water-wise definition

Methods of gardening that require less water input than a standard garden.

weeds definition

“A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

worm farm definition