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Posts Tagged ‘biointensive’

Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

For many years I had compost bins lined up on the edge of my garden. Discussion about compost generally included what kind of bins I used and where I sourced the materials to put in them. My bins were made from pallets I acquired for free. Each of three sides was made by pounding two t-posts into the ground and sliding a pallet over them. If one side needed to be replaced, that could be easily done, since the sides weren’t tied or nailed together. The fourth side was made by using bungee cords to hold it in place. To remove the compost, I released that side by removing the bungee cords.

The ingredients of those piles were usually animal bedding (from our animals or some I brought in from other places), leaves (from here or elsewhere), food scraps from our table, and maybe grass clippings. The compost bin was a handy place to toss garden residue—weeds and spent plants. Gradually I stopped including outside materials in my compost as I studied GROW BIONTENSIVE (GB) methods and produced more of my own compost biomass in my garden. The bulk of the material I used to bring in was for the carbon. With GB I grew more grains and corn, using the straw and stalks for carbon. Eventually, all the compost materials were coming from my own garden.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Rethinking the materials is only part of rethinking compost piles. If you are into tidy, and think compost requires a bin, you may have a hard time thinking outside that, but I urge you to try. Besides keeping them tidy, bins serve to keep animals out of your piles. If you include food scraps in your piles and have a dog, or neighborhood dogs frequent your place, you may want a bin. However, if your compost pile is within your fenced garden, you have already fenced out the critters. Once I put a fence around the garden I did away with the bins, but the piles were still on the edge of the garden space. It was when butternut squash grew wild around and over my pile one year that I began to think about the nutrients that were leaching into the ground each year beneath the piles and not being used.

Having to walk back and forth to the edge of the garden to put compost materials there that had grown in the garden, or to retrieve compost for the beds, also served to nudge me into planning to have my compost piles as part of my garden rotation. By the way, I did away with the notion that compost needed to be turned regularly long ago. Left to what they do best and the microbes turn all that organic matter into finished compost all by themselves. I do water occasionally to keep them hydrated.

Now I devote a garden bed, actually more than one, to compost. On my garden map, compost is shown, just as all the crops for the year are. The two biggest times for starting a new pile for me are in June when the grains are harvested and in October when the cornstalks, sweet potato, and peanuts are harvested. It is in October when the new compost bed is put to use. Whatever bed is designated to store compost for the coming year is where I start the new pile in October. The pile I created in the summer that needs more time to cure will be moved to this new compost bed. That is the only time it gets turned. If the new compost bed is part of the garden rotation it will be located next to the old compost bed, making the transition an easy one. You do not want to do any long distance hauling—just fork it from one bed to the next.

numbered compost piles

numbered compost piles

The rest of the compost in that bed, including the one started the previous October, should be ready to spread, which I do in September and October before I plant cover crops. Throughout the year there will be other materials added to the piles as weeding and harvesting is done. There will also be finished compost available to add to beds each time a new crop goes in. By following GB guidelines and having at least 60% of the garden devoted to compost crops for the year, it is easy to have an abundance of compost. To keep track of the order the piles were made, so I know which will be ready to use next and which needs to set longer, I use old smooth metal fence posts (the kind used for electric fence) with blocks of wood on top with a number painted on them. Some people have little signs for their piles that say such things as “use me”, “feed me”, or “working.” The pile that I make in the fall will not be ready to use until the next fall. Wanting to make the best use of all my resources, including space and available nutrients, I plant butternut squash around the base of that pile and let the plants grow over it. Besides soaking up nutrients from beneath, the plants shade the pile, preventing weeds from moving in. By the time the winter squash is harvested, the compost is ready to spread.

In October I plant winter rye in the bed that the compost vacated. That cover crop soaks up all the nutrients that may have leached from the piles and gives them to the corn that will go into that bed the following year. When the rye is shedding pollen (about May 7 here in Zone 7), I cut it with a sickle and leave it lie in the bed as mulch. Two weeks later I transplant corn into the mulch. Generally there is a small amount of a legume, such as Austrian winter peas, sown and harvested with the rye. I have my best crop of corn in the bed that follows the compost.

This might all seem confusing, but if you take time to think it through, it will become clear. In Grow a Sustainable Diet I explain GROW BIOINTENSIVE methods and how to plan to have 60% of your garden in cover crops for the year. In that book I also have a garden map and explanation for the Garden of Ideas that shows compost as part of the garden rotation. My DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden shows compost making in the beds and the management of the cover crops with hand tools through the growing season. Think outside the compost bin and make compost an integral part of your garden!Homeplace Earth

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John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

Ecology Action began more than forty years ago when John Jeavons was seeking the answer to his question of how much space it would take to grow food for one person for a year. The focus on this work expanded to include also growing the crops to feed the soil. Besides researching growing a complete diet and the cover/compost crops needed for the soil, all in as small a space as possible, Ecology Action seeks to educate people worldwide to better feed themselves while building and preserving the soil and conserving resources.

Ecology Action maintains a website at www.GrowBiointensive.org where you will find information about their work, intern/apprentice opportunities, and a list of publications, some of which are in languages other than English. The outlet for Ecology Action’s research is Bountiful Gardens. There, in addition to seeds, you will find the Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE® publications. You can also purchase the DVD Grow Biointensive: A Beginner’s Guide in 8 Easy Sessions through Bountiful Gardens or watch each session for free at www.johnjeavons.info/video.

In January 2014 Ecology Action held a 2-Week Farmers Course at their place in Willlits, California. This important event contained lectures from twelve different sustainability experts from around the world plus hands-on learning experiences. Through the wonders of the Internet, you now have access to some of the lectures in that course. Having produced two DVDs myself, I have an appreciation of what an undertaking it was to have the Farmers Course filmed, edited, and made available to you at www.vimeo.com/ondemand/ecologyaction. There are four free lectures and another seven lectures available for $1.99 each or $11.99 for all seven.

Ecology Action holds 3-Day Workshops which consist of lectures with a half-day of hands-on activities in the garden. Watching these Farmers Course lectures will give you a taste of what a 3-Day Workshop is like if you’ve never been to one. If you have, these lectures will support what you’ve already learned and supply you with new insights and knowledge. One advantage of being able to watch them on your computer is that you can stop if you need to take a break or if you want more time to take notes.

HTGMV 8--BLOGOne of the four free episodes is a 40 minute introduction to the course which is different than the paid Introduction. The free episode shows a number of speakers from throughout the course besides John Jeavons; including Steve Moore, Jake Blehm, Eric Buteyn, Jed Diamond, Patricia Mayagoitia, Juan Manuel Martinez Valdez, Samuel Nderitu, and Peris Wanjiru. The $1.99 Introduction contains John’s full lecture on the world situation (parts of it are in the free introduction). Although the world situation looks dire, John stresses that we are each the solution to a dying world, which is actually a theme throughout the course.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets  #34, #32, and #36.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets #34, #31, and #36.

If you want to get the full benefit of these videos it is good to already be familiar with John’s book How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV). If you want to better understand his Diet Design lecture, it would be good to have first read Ecology Action’s Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #31 Designing a GROW BIONTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farm. In the Diet lecture, he refers to worksheets that are found in Booklet #31. Booklets #34 Food for the Future Now and #36 An Experimental 33-Bed GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Farm are also good resources. When attending an Ecology Action 3-Day Workshop it is recommended that you have read the Ecology Action publications ahead of time.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

I consider Ecology Action Booklet #32 GROW BIOINTENSIVE Composting and Growing Compost Materials a companion to John’s Compost lecture. In that talk he speaks of the importance of building organic matter in the soil using compost, specifically compost made from materials grown biointensively in your garden. Compost holds 6 times its weight in water, which is an important consideration in times of water scarcity. You can store water in your soil by using compost to increase the organic matter in your garden. John explains why compost piles that are cool, rather than hot, contain more microbes than the hot piles and puts to rest any thought of needing to turn your compost piles regularly. It is better to let them molder in place, particularly if that place is in rotation in your garden. You can find more information about having a compost pile in your garden rotation in my DVDs and my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. The short and long range benefits of having a carbon to nitrogen ratio greater than 30:1 are also part of this lecture.

The lectures in this series include Operational Seed Security Systems by Sameul Nderitu from Kenya. He explains how his organization, G-BIACK, is encouraging farmers to save their own seeds. Just as in the U.S., farmers in Kenya tend to buy all their seeds each year from seed companies. In Kenya it is illegal for a farmer to sell seeds unless he has fulfilled all the requirements of a seed company, which is prohibitive. So, instead of selling their seeds as seeds, they sell them as food, which is legal.

Samuel’s wife, Peris Wanjiru spoke of Women Empowerment Programmes through G-BIACK . The women in Kenya are predominately illiterate and responsible for all of the household. If G-BIACK can teach the women biointensive gardening, solar cooking, and baking (to mention only a few of the subjects), they can help the whole family much more than targeting the men for education. G-BIACK stands for Grow Biontensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya. Samuel and Peris are graduates of the Manor House in Kenya, which expects its graduates to go back to their communities and make a difference. G-BIACK is the non-profit that they started and it has made a difference in the lives of so many people in Kenya. In turn, those people go back to their communities and teach others.

Steve Moore’s lecture on Farm Layout and Agroecology brings permaculture to the program and explains how a Biointensive garden needs to blend into the natural world and not be separate from it. Biointensive is actually the intensive gardening part of permaculture. Part of GROW BIOINTENSIVE teaching is that at least half of the area managed should be left to the wild. We need the wild areas of the natural world to filter our air and water, store water, and remove toxins.

There is more, but you will just have to watch these videos and check it out for yourself. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about GROW BIOINTENSIVE, John Jeavons, Ecology Action, and the whole crew of folks you will be seeing on the screen.

Homeplace Earth

 

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4.1 How Much To Grow - BLOGHow Much to Grow is the title of Chapter 4 in Grow a Sustainable Diet. If your garden is small and whatever you get from it is a welcome addition to your table, you might not be concerned with exactly how many pounds are produced of anything. You are just happy to have homegrown food in your meals. If you want to be able to predict how much your harvest will be so you can plan to have a certain amount for your family to eat, you can put pencil to paper now and do some calculating.

butternut squash

butternut squash

Chapter 4 contains a worksheet (you see part of it here) to help with those calculations. (There is a link in the book that will take you to PDFs of all the worksheets so you can print them out.) Whether you are trying to decide how much to grow for your family or for your CSA, the process is the same. Decide how much you want for each week and how many weeks you will be eating it, or in the case of a CSA, how many weeks you need to put it in the CSA boxes. If you have no idea how many pounds of something you need, go to the grocery store and pick out a reasonable quantity for a meal in the produce department. Weigh it on the scale that is right there. Multiply that weight by how many meals per week that item will supply and you have the pounds needed per week. The number of weeks you want to eat something could be only the weeks it is fresh from the garden, or every week of the year if you are preserving for eating out of season. Rather than the weight, you may need to know the count; how many of something you will have, such as butternut squash. Sometimes you can find that information in the seed catalogs, and sometimes not. From my experience, I know that I can expect about 4 squash per plant. If the catalog doesn’t have that information for the variety you choose, read the description of all the varieties, as well as the specifics for each crop to get an estimate.

Finding out how much is needed is the easy part. You need to know how much you can grow in your area and pounds/100 ft² is a good universal measure to use. How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons has Master Charts that can help you with that. The Master Charts have columns for Biointensive yields and for the US Average for each crop. Use those figures as guidelines. Your yield will depend on many factors, including your soil, climate, and management style. You might already know how much you can harvest in the area planted. If not, this exercise should encourage you to record your harvests this year, at least for the crops you are most interested in.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Remember the charts are only guidelines. For the Biointensive yield, the Master Charts give three numbers; the beginning yield that you could expect getting at some time, the intermediate yield that could be reached after good soil building, and a high yield that few might reach. The Biointensive yield of winter squash is shown as 50/100/350. There is no US Average shown in the Master Charts, but my research determines that number to be 49.5 pounds/100 ft². The target yield I use for butternut squash is 150 pounds/100 ft². I have reached that yield and sometimes higher in my garden. For cowpeas, the Biointensive yield is 2.4/4/5.9. The US Yield of cowpeas isn’t shown, but through my research I’ve determined it to be 2.6 pounds. I live in a great climate for cowpeas and have found I can use 5 pounds/100 ft² as my target yield. On the other hand, I would love to plan on getting 100 pounds/100 ft² regularly with my potatoes, but the voles keep the yield below that. The Biointensive yield for potatoes is 100/200/780 and the US Average is 84.2. Depending on the variety, I don’t always reach the low Biointensive yield of 100 pounds for tomatoes. The US Average for tomatoes is 67 pounds for fresh and 153.4 pounds for processing tomatoes per 100 ft².

From your garden map you will know how much space you have available. My post Making a Garden Map can help you with that. It becomes a balancing act, deciding how much space to allot for each crop. Having a target yield makes planning easier. Your target yield may need to be adjusted from year to year, but at least you have someplace to start from. Between cover crops and food crops, plan to have your beds full all year. Immediately after your early spring crops are harvested, plant the next crop. Leaving the beds empty is an invitation for Mother Nature to plant her favorites, which we tend to think of as weeds.

The rest of the page of the How Much to Grow worksheet that you don’t see is a space for comments and three columns for the amount of calories, protein, and calcium per pound of food. It is always good to leave space for comments—something about that crop you want to remember. Since I keep records for my certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Minifarming teacher, I am interested in the amount of calories, protein, and calcium in each crop. There might be other things that you want to record in those additional columns.

Use this information to enhance what you are doing, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep track of what you can. As you find you have more questions, add the appropriate recordkeeping to your system. Most importantly—have fun in your garden this year!Homeplace Earth

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GrowSustDiet~Cat100%25My new book Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed  ourselves and the earth is now available through my website at HomeplaceEarth.com. The home page contains two recently added preview videos about our DVDs. The purchase page contains more information about the book, plus the “add to cart” button to buy it.

You’ll find more information about what this book is about at my August 13, 2013 post  Grow a Sustainable Diet–the Book! 

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cucumber plants surrounded by water

cucumber plants surrounded by water

This year hasn’t been one of favorable weather, as far as gardening is concerned, with warm weather slow in coming in the spring. Now, here in Virginia, we’ve had a wet summer. The water table tends to be high at our place. That means that in the low spots, there will be standing water when we have much rain.

My garden slopes to the northwest corner. The west side of the garden is the wettest in this kind of weather, particularly in that northwest corner. I decided to check just how much the drop was on the north side of my garden from east to west. I ran a string from one side to the other, using a level to align it correctly. The string was 12” above ground on the east side and 24” above ground on the west side—a 12” drop! The bed in that corner is good in the drier years, but marginal at best at other times. I’ve ignored it for far too long and have decided that I should address this problem this year.

Before I tell you what I’m going to be doing with the bed in that low corner, I want to tell you what I’ve already done in my garden to help with such issues. Although we have too much rain right now, more often, the problem is too little rain. The best place to store water in your garden is in the soil. Double digging the beds when you establish your garden will open the soil and give water a place to be. Of course, if your garden is in the low spot of your yard and you double dig your beds, you might have to dig a trench around your garden to route the extra water somewhere else to hold it for awhile in times of heavy rainfall. Double digging is a job for when the soil is dry, not something you would be doing if you currently have standing water. I know some of my readers are in drought prone areas and find it hard to imagine too much water. If that is you, kindly forward this post to folks you know in wetter areas.

Having permanent beds and permanent paths is a help. The beds are double dug to start and then not walked on. Your feet are confined to the paths, which can be mulched. Not wanting to find mulch materials for my paths, I’ve gone to growing white clover in them. When I formed my beds I dug out the1½ ft. wide paths between them and put that soil onto the garden beds. It gives the impression of raised beds without using any materials to frame them. You can see the benefit of that in the first photo. Extra rainwater can drain from the beds and slowly seep into the soil in those paths. The cucumber plants you see in that picture did fine, once the weather evened out. When that photo was taken we had had 6.25” of rain in seven days.

garden-august 2008-combined-BLOG

garden with permanent beds, cover crops, and compost

Organic matter helps hold nutrients in reserve for your crops, otherwise, too much water can wash them away. You can build organic matter in your beds by growing cover crops and by adding compost. I have cover crops in my rotations and regularly add compost to my beds. If you are not familiar with gardens with permanent beds and permanent paths, compost, and cover crops, you might want to watch my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. You can see a preview of it here. Having enough cover crops in your rotation to use them as compost material enables you to avoid bringing in compost materials that might be harmful to your garden. Find out more about that issue in my post Killer Compost.

If you’ve done all of the above and your garden, or places in it, are still too wet, use this as an opportunity to explore new things. Take a good look at what is going on. It might be that you are still building your soil and things will get better. However, if you know this is a recurring problem, reconsider what you’ve been doing. You could change the crops you grow there. In 2004 I grew rice in my waterlogged corner and was successful with a harvest of 8 pounds per 100 sq. ft. However, I learned that rice needs to be hulled and I never got around to doing that. Maybe I should try that again. I could have a rotation that includes rice in several beds in that area, separate from the rest of the garden rotation.

Knowing that is the wet corner, I have basket willow and hazelnut (filbert) trees planted in that area of the garden. Take time to research plants that do well in wetlands or rain gardens. In my smaller garden I was happy to acquire some Siberian irises for the wet area when a friend was giving some away. During one year of heavy rainfall, cattails showed up uninvited in a wet area. These things are great for my borders, and I believe having a wetlands is good for any ecosystem, however, I would really like to get some vegetable production out of that garden bed in the northwest corner of my garden that is 12” lower than the other side of the garden.

I am considering building the height of the bed with hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is basically a compost pile with a thick base of wood, sequestering carbon in the soil for the long term. Sepp Holzer promotes this technique in his book Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. I wouldn’t want to use wood big enough to burn in our wood stove, but we have some brush piles around here—a result of some much needed pruning of our bushes and trees. I could move that brush to the low bed, adding garden weeds and other green material as I go along. Some soil will most likely go into the building, but most of the soil will be on the top layer. Hopefully, this summer or fall we’ll be digging out the area where the garden washing station is and putting down pavers. I’m not in a hurry to do this work (on the garden bed or the pavers), so whenever (and if)  it happens, the soil will go to the brush pile/compost pile that is on the low bed. I already build compost piles on some of my beds with the finished compost being distributed each season. What goes into a hugelkultur bed stays there. I would have to build the pile much taller than I want the finished height of the bed to be. Just as a compost pile is reduced to a lower level in the process, this bed would become shorter, also.

Homeplace EarthOn the other hand, cattails would be at home in that spot, just as it is, and wouldn’t involve nearly so much energy on my part. There are always choices and things to learn in a garden.

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potatoes and sweet potatoes-BLOGIn my last post I wrote about how many more calories you could get if you grew beans and corn out and harvested the dried seeds. If you really wanted to grow a lot of calories in a small space, however, you would take a look at potatoes. The low Biointensive yield shown in the Master Charts of How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons is 100 pounds per 100 ft². There is an average of 349 calories per pound in potatoes—a little more in russets and less in white potatoes, with red-skinned spuds in the middle. If you were really hard-core in growing your calories, I suppose you would grow the russets at 358 calories per pound rather than the whites at 318, but I don’t care for the russet varieties as much as the others. A yield of 100 pounds, which is the best yield I’ve had, would give you 34,900 calories per 100 ft² bed. Comparing it to the corn that I talked about in that last post, with flour corn at 18,216, potatoes would give you 1.9 times the calories. Looking at the beans, with dried beans at 6,152 calories per 100 ft², growing potatoes would give you 5.7 times the calories in the same space.

In order to get all your calories from potatoes, however, you would have to eat many more pounds of potatoes than either beans or corn. To reach 2,000 calories per day, you would need to eat 5.7 pounds of potatoes, 1.2 pounds of flour corn, or 1.3 pounds of dried beans. Your calorie requirements might even be more than that, depending upon your age, sex, and lifestyle. The weight of the corn and beans is the dried weight. When considering the eating, multiply by 3 for the cooked weight, unless it is made into bread and tortillas, then multiply by 2. Hopefully your diet will be more diverse that just potatoes, corn, or beans, but this is how they would compare.

A man once told me that in survival training in the military, he was told that you could get everything you need from a diet of potatoes and milk. According to nutrition charts, a diet of too many potatoes could be toxic in potassium. On the other hand, if you need potassium, eat more potatoes. Having fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, in your diet would help rid your body of toxins. I think it was in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price that I read that the people he met in the mountains of Peru ate mostly potatoes dipped in a “gravy” of kaolin clay. The clay would have helped rid the body of toxins. It depends on the soil, climate conditions, and how it is grown, whether a food has certain nutrients or toxins in it. Studying indigenous diets is important if you want to grow all your own food. Our culture has lost some of the practices that were important in bringing food to the table. Sometimes they are the key we need to be successful in our endeavors.

Sweet potatoes are another good calorie crop. They might yield a little less per bed, but have a little more calories per pound. At the low biointensive yield that would mean 30,750 calories per 100 ft². In HTGMV Jeavons designates crops as area-efficient if they produce significant calories per area and weight-efficient if the amount that needs to be eaten for all one’s calories is 9 pounds/day or less. Of course, potatoes head the list of crops that are both area-efficient and weight-efficient. Other crops on the list besides sweet potatoes are Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, parsnips, and salsify.  The information about area and weight efficiency for these crops is in HTGMV and is available online at http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html.

You might not be growing all your food, but putting a hearty meal on the table occasionally that consists of only food you have grown is pretty satisfying. Check out my Homegrown Friday posts to see some of my experiences on that in 2011 and 2012. If you have done something similar, by all means, add a comment and tell us about it.

 It is good to know what to grow and prepare that will fill you up. There are so many factors to consider when planning your diet around what you grow. You want to make sure it is a sustainable diet, so while you are growing crops for high yields in some things, you are also growing crops that will feed back the soil. That’s where the grains come in. They are weight-efficient, but not area-efficient when it comes to calories, but they produce a lot of necessary carbon for your compost making. The beans, also, are weight-efficient and not area-efficient. You could, however, grow pole beans up the corn stalks and that would up your yield of calories per 100 ft². Beans and grains pair well together to provide the necessary amino acids that make up protein. I’ll talk about growing protein in the next post. See you then!

 

More about Growing Calories at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/growing-calories.aspx.

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  1. BB corn-BLOGHave you ever wondered how much space it would take to grow your food? Maybe you’ve wondered just how much space it would take to grow all of a certain crop to have enough for the year. The answer to both questions is–it depends. It depends on what you want to eat and how you are growing it. John Jeavons asked what was the least space needed to grow all one’s food more than forty years ago and has been working on the answer ever since, including the sustainability aspect. You need to consider the soil and grow soil building crops along with your food crops. I wrote an article that is in the new (Oct/Nov 2012) issue of Mother Earth News called A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency. It includes planning charts for vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. There is an additional chart online for oilseeds. You can find the article and charts online, however it all looks much nicer in the magazine. You can use that article to begin your own planning.

The charts with the article show estimates of yields you might get if you follow the GROW BIOINTENSIVE® principles explained in Jeavons book How To Grow More Vegetables. I follow those methods, so my blog posts and videos will give you additional understanding of how to put GROW BIOINTENSIVE into practice. The charts also have a column showing the average yields in the U.S. for conventional production. These figures are guidelines for you to use in your planning, but in reality, what you really need to know is how much you can grow in your soil, in your climate, with your schedule, etc, etc. In other words, there are a lot of variables. My suggestion is to just jump right in and get growing. Learn as you go, see what you can do, then improve your skills and soil each year.

In 1997-98 I had a small CSA and decided to include snap beans in the offerings. I had already been selling vegetables to two local restaurants for five years, so I was attuned to doing a trial and estimating the harvest, or so I thought. I had grown a bed of beans in the garden close to the house and had measured the yield and recorded the time it took to harvest, wash and pack. I set my price according to those figures. The crop for sale, however, was planted in another garden on our property, in beds that had not been in production for as long and had not received the mulch and compost over the years that my trial bed had. The yield was not as high and it took longer to pick the same amount of beans, since each grab brought a few beans, rather than a handful. It was definitely a lesson learned. Knowing what I had achieved with the trial bed, however, gave me hope for the newer garden and a yield to aim for.

If you really want to provide a significant portion of your food from your garden you would be looking at growing things that fill you up, so you would be thinking about growing calories. In Jeavons book there are columns in his Master Charts that show how many calories, and how much calcium, and protein are in each pound of food for each crop. Consider corn. If you are already growing sweet corn, using the beginning biointensive yield of 17 pounds of kernels per 100 square feet, you would have 6,800 calories of food in that 17 pounds. If you grew flour corn-corn for cornmeal- and achieved the beginning biointensive yield of 11 pounds of dry kernels, you would have produced 18,216 calories in 100 square feet of garden space. Of course, the sweet corn, depending on the variety, might have been ready to harvest 3-4 weeks earlier than the four corn. The corn stalks provide important carbon for your compost pile. If you grew sweet corn, it is to your benefit to leave the stalks standing for 4 weeks after the harvest of the ears, giving them a chance to produce more lignin. If you were doing that, you might as well grow flour corn.

There is nothing like growing staple crops.  In her book, The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe talks of growing five staple crops that “you need to survive and thrive”. Those crops are corn, beans, potatoes, squash, and eggs. (She prefers duck eggs). Deppe has to avoid gluten, making corn her grain of choice. She even includes her recipe for cornbread that has no wheat flour in it.

beans-dried and canned--BLOGFor fun, let’s take a look at beans. If you grow snap beans and achieve the beginning biointensive yield, you would have 30 pounds of beans from a 100 square foot bed. Those 30 pounds of snaps would give you 4,230 calories. If you grew those beans all the way out to dry seeds, the beginning biointensive yield is 4 pounds of dried seed, giving you a yield of 6,152 calories in the same space. Of course, they would be in the bed longer and you would have to keep the bean beetles from taking out the plants before they reached dried seed stage. One great advantage of growing dried beans is that they don’t need to be cannned. Just put the dried beans in a jar and store them in your pantry. Cowpeas are my dried bean of choice. They grow better for me to dry seed than other types of beans and the bean beetles ignore them. Find out what grows best in your area. At Ecology Action in Willits, California, pinto beans grow well. I have never been successful with growing pinto beans to seed here.

This should widen your thinking as you make notes for next year’s garden. Some more thoughts about planning a diet of homegrown foods are at my post On Growing All Your Own Food. I was recently at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, and at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello in Virgnia the weekend before that. It was encouraging for me to meet so many people who are anxious to learn to grow their food. It proves there is hope for the world, after all. We are living in exciting times and we need to embrace that. Enjoy the adventure!

 

Find more on Planning for Eating at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/planning-for-eating.aspx.

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