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Biointensive Gardening
 
If you only have a small space for a veggie garden, implementing the principles of biointensive gardening will maximise the productivity of your space so you can plant and harvest more veggies per square metre than planting in a conventional manner.
So what is biointensive gardening?
 Biointensive gardening is an organic food production system, which focuses on growing large amounts of food on small areas of land, while simultaneously improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil. A happy combination of biodynamics and French intensive gardening, it was originally designed for developing countries low on resources, machinery and fossil fuels. This method is all about achieving long term sustainability on a closed loop basis and is particularly effective for back-yard gardeners and small-hold farmers.

Origins of biointensive gardening
The early roots of biointensive agriculture (BIA) can be traced back hundreds of years. Most recently, it was revitalized by an Englishman named Alan Chadwich, who in the mid 1960's had the good fortune of studying several forms of organic farming in France and Germany. That landed him a job at the University of Santa Cruz, where he converted a useless piece of land into something like the Garden of Eden. That attracted several converts, who in turn continued to develop the method into a science. John Jeavons, one of the originals, has carried the torch for the last four decades, doing continuous research on the effectiveness of BIA.  His book ‘How to Grow More Vegetables’ is considered the definitive work on sustainable agriculture.
Jeavons broke down the biointensive method into 8 distinct parts:
  • Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive Planting
  • Companion Planting
  • Carbon Farming
  • Calorie Farming
  • The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  • A Whole-System Farming Method
As a home gardener, you too can put these 8 principles into practice to improve your soil and grow more veggies.
 
Double-dug, raised beds
This method involves the use of raised garden beds that have been double-dug down 24 inches by hand.  A standard 1.5m x 6m bed may require 4 – 8 hours to double dig, but once set up, it needs very little work for 4 – 6 years, as long as you don’t walk on the beds and compact the soil.
Double digging creates a bigger growing area from which plant roots can easily get the air, water, and nutrients they need.  Weeding is simplified because seeds are planted closer together, leaving little room for weeds to grow.
 
Composting
This is a major part of the closed system of gardening.  All organic matter is highly valued and gathered up in piles big enough to break the matter down with intrinsic heat and resident soil microorganisms.  Diversity of plant material to build the compost piles is vital to maintaining healthy soil nutrients.
Each new crop needs 1-2cm of compost added to the beds.  Your biointensive soil should contain several billion microorganisms per handful!  Organic matter in conventional soil is much lower.
Intensive planting
Ideally seeds are started in flats that can be carefully transplanted with very close spacing.  However seeds can be planted directly into the beds at measured distances from each other.  The goal is for the leaves of mature plants to touch creating a canopy which reduces evaporation, inhibits the growth of weeds and keeps the soil environment rich with microorganisms.  Plants can be started ahead of time to create a continuous crop in small areas.
 
For example, in normal planting you would plant separate rows of lettuces and rows of capsicums etc. With biointensive gardening, you would go ahead and plant your rows of lettuce. They grow close to the ground and can grow close to each other. Then, you would plant capsicums among the lettuce because they grow taller, and have tall stems. This will not interfere with the lettuce growth and the lettuce won’t interfere with the capsicum’s growth because the capsicums grow above the lettuce. It is a great combination.

Companion Planting
Certain plants complement one another and thrive better together, like beans and corn.  Other companion plants seem to repel garden pests or attract beneficial insects.  Marigolds for example will attract beneficial insects.
 
Carbon Farming
Growing the next crop’s food is accomplished through using high-carbon crops like beans and corn to create compost.  This is the key to any sustainability.  More than half of the crops grown are used for both eating and for making compost.  Grains, corn, fava beans and sunflowers and any other high-carbon crops that have lots of bulk are best.
 
Calorie Farming
The rest of the plants are selected for being the most nutrient and calorie dense for consumption.  For example beetroot and sweet potatoes have highly nutritious leaves and yet have good calories in the roots.
 
Open Pollinated Seeds
Commercial seeds are an extra expense for those who are aiming for self sufficiency.  They won’t replicate and usually need a chemically-dependant growing system.  On the other hand, open pollinated or heritage seeds have been selected over many generations for adaptability to different growing environments without compromising yields.
 
A whole system approach
There is no need to re-invent the wheel.  This system works anywhere if all the parts are used.  There are so many other wonderful insights you can incorporate, like rotating crops, systematic replanting and when to harvest crops.
 
As ye sow, so shall ye reap the benefits
Bio-intensive gardening makes it possible to grow food using:
  • 67% to 88% less water
  • 50% to 100% less fertilizer
  • 99% less energy than commercially grown food, while using a fraction of the
    resources
These techniques can also:
  • Produce 2 to 6 times more food
  • Build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, if properly used
  • Reduce by half or more the amount of garden space needed
At Vital Veggies, wherever possible we incorporate biointensive technologies to educate our clients in the use of closed loop, sustainable systems and to achieve the best outcomes from their urban food gardens.
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