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Welcome to the week-long blog series to grow more food in your mini homestead garden through bio intensive methods. In yesterday’s post I discussed the first two parts, let’s discuss the next three. As a refresher, here are the parts to growing with this method:
- Deep soil preparation,
- Feed the soil with compost,
- Use organic fertilizer (only when needed) “on the approved list of the California Certified Organic Farmers [CCOF]” ,
- Close spacing of plants in the growing area,
- Companion planting,
- Use open-pollinated seeds,
- Include high-carbon and and high-calorie plants and,
- Think of it as whole-system farming (closed systems).
So let’s discuss parts 3, 4, and 5.
3. Using organic fertilizer.
Hopefully you’ll only need to use this once per season. I think of organic fertilizer as things like kelp, ground oyster shells, compost tea, worm castings tea, legume cover crops that have been “chopped and dropped”. These are things that are at it’s most basic form, not messed with or processed. Teas are concentrated mixes of water and the compost or castings. Simple enough, right? Kelp, oyster shells and legumes are still practically in their original form. Chemicals and compounds haven’t been extracted or added. And if you build up the soil properly with compost each year, you should only need fertilzer on the heavy feeders like squashes or tomatoes. Or to amend the soil for things that need more acidity like blueberries (check your PH before you try to make the soil more acidic).
Legumes are a neat bunch. Things like green beans, peas, alfalfa, clover, and lentils are in the legume family and they are able to “fix nitrogen.” Nitrogen fixing means that the plants can pluck nitrogen right out of the air. And when the legumes are cut back, the nitrogen is added to the soil and then other plants are able to use it.
Now, regarding the “approved list”. I couldn’t find one. I could find a list of what’s not permitted for certified organic producers through the federal code of regulations. But the CCOF website only allows members to view their materials list. I’m not a member, I don’t plan on being one with my “whole” almost 1000 sq foot mini farm (and that includes 400 sq feet for the eventual chickens and honeybees).
4. Close spacing of plants in the growing area.
This is where we get “intensive” with bio intensive. We don’t plant in rows. Instead, we plant in a hexagonal shape, or somehow offset the plants so that they fit in just a way that their leaves barely touch, giving us more plants in the same area.
In row planting the plants are measured on their center and spaced apart according to their maturity size. For example, you would plant an Early Girl tomato 36 inches apart in rows. In a 3 foot x 3 foot area that would give you ONE plant of Early Girl if you’re doing rows. But, when I do intensive planting, I’d put SIX to NINE plants in that same 3 x 3 space. Here’s a visual to help:
The first image shows hexagon planting, the second, row planting, the third is an overlay. I count 15 plants on the hexagon grid and 12 on the row. The images are the same size, as you can see from the overlay.
5. Companion planting.
This isn’t just “plant tomatoes with carrots because they’re friends.” This is (not not necessarily all):
- plant things that share the same water requirements
- plant legumes (nitrogen fixers) with squash (heavy feeders)
- plants flowering plants that flower throughout the season to encourage honeybees. Look for early flowering plants and late flowering plants.
- plant things like corn, with sturdy stalks, to provide vine support
- utilize all the layers of your garden (tall trees, small trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, ground covers, vines, and roots)
- use green mulch: living plants that cover the soil to prevent the sun from baking it, block out the weeds, and hold in the moisture longer
- this also means keeping similar plants further away from each other. You might wind up with orangeish lemons, or really big oranges if you plants lemons, oranges and grapefruits together (I’ve seen it happen. They were tasty but you never know if that will give you good results or bad results). And dill should not be planted near fennel. Be mindful of similar plants being cross pollinated and not giving you the results you want. Some sites recommend planting dill and fennel together, I personally would not do it.
The points above are also known as “guild building” and is an element of permaculture, a style of growing food that I study and follow. A great book to read about permaculture and guild building is “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway. (affiliate link)