How Can I Get The Most Food From My Garden?
…and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms.
Abraham Lincoln made that statement as part of his speech before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in September, 1859. In that speech he encouraged farmers to farm in smaller spaces. That the labor of farming would be lessened if they grew their wheat from five acres, down to one acre. But my biggest take away from that speech was that every member of this nation should be able to derive “a comfortable subsistence” from their own postage stamp on this planet. That we should all be growing and/or raising food for ourselves. But, who has the space and the time for all that?
My opinion? Bio Intensive Mini Farming is the answer to get the most food out of your garden.
In his article “Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming” John C. Jeavons estimates that all the fruits and vegetables for one person, one year, over a 6 months growing season, can be grown on 100 square feet. That number goes to 4000 square feet, per person, for adding livestock. So for a family of 4, like mine, we’d up that number 4-fold to 16,000 square feet. I don’t have the space for that on my little suburban lot. But I do have the space for 1/4 of that, which is my goal for 2018. I want to grow 25% of my fruits and vegetables by end of 2018. From there, we can be strategic about what livestock to raise. I can’t do any rudiments on my lot. Too small, and municipal codes forbid it. But I can do chickens, or quail, or ducks, or honeybees, or rabbits, or maybe even goats.
This small amount of square footage per person requires intense farming and purposeful planning for incorporating closed systems within the “larger” farm system of your backyard.
Here are your steps to “Bio Intensive” gardening.
Jeavons laid it out best in in the article.
- Deep soil preparation,
- Feed the soil with compost,
- Use organic fertilizer (only when needed) “on the approved list of the California Certified Organic Farmers”,
- Close spacing of plants in the growing area,
- Companion planting,
- Use open-pollinated seeds,
- Include high-carbon and and high-calorie plants (you’ll want to ready why, below) and,
- Think of it as whole-system farming (closed systems).
I will lay out steps 1 and 2 today and follow up with another post tomorrow for the next steps.
1. Deep soil preparation.
Jeavons promotes double digging soil to a depth of 2 feet/60 centimeters. He says that this brings oxygen to the microbes that are lower than the top soil. Honestly, I ain’t got time for that, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t either. I prefer the sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening approach. This involves laying down wet cardboard to smother weeds and sod, piling manure or compost on top of that, and a variety of other layers of things that are beneficial to the soil and will eventually break down and feed the microbes. If you are using manure, do this in the early fall to give it time to compost over the winter and kill any harmful bacteria and microorganisms. Once you’ve built up the soil, Jeavons says that just 2 inches of cultivation will be needed. It’s significant to note that Jeavons also writes that double digging, “…may even deplete the quality of the structure.” This is another reason why I sheet mulch in raised beds.
2. Feed the soil with compost.
Compost is one of the easiest things to make. Composting is a verb, it is the action of the breakdown of biological material into a useable soil amendment. There’s even composted materials on the forest floor. We call it compost as a short way of saying “composted materials”. Compost has a blend of “browns and greens”. Browns being things like dried leaves and dried grass clippings. Greens are vegetable and fruit scraps, green grass clippings or manure. There’s different sciences to this (there really is a science to it, too) on what is the best ratio. I go for a 25:1 ratio of 25 parts browns to 1 part green. Usually that is just me cleaning the rabbit cage with the browns being the wood shavings and the greens being the manure. I’ll throw in kitchen scraps too. Eventually it all get’s composted no matter what, just depends on how long it will take to totally break down.
A word on manure: Cow and chicken manure must be composted. Rabbit and goat manure do not. I compost my rabbit manure because it’s there and I’m not going to separate it from the wood shavings as I clean the cages. And I prefer a nice dark/black compost rather than the fresh manure and shavings.
If you’re really getting into this, I heard on Nick Ferguson’s podcast (Home Grown Liberty) once that you can build a closed system with rabbits and chickens. Chickens will eat the rabbit droppings (some of you have stopped reading at this point). So if you have meat or breeder rabbits outside, you could build something that allows the rabbit pellets to drop down the bottom of their cage onto the ground and the the chickens scratch and peck and munch on the droppings as well as any flies or maggots.