As one of the first blog posts for our garden project, I wanted to highlight exactly what is GROW BIOINTENSIVE (“GB”). Maybe people ask what makes our farming method unique and how it differs from other farming methods … so, here we go!
8 PRINCIPLES OF GROW BIOINTENSIVE
There are 8 main principles that really distinguish GB from other intensive-planting methods.
1. Deep Soil Preparation
In GB, we prepare our soil to a depth of 24”. This is quite unique. Conventional farming methods typically loosen the soil to a depth of 6-8”, on average. Why do we loosen soil? For aeration. Yes, air. A soil with good soil structure is composed of 50% air! In order to do this, we double dig our beds. What is double digging you ask? Well that’s an entirely different blog topic … But it’s a process of manually digging / loosening the soil in your beds to 24”. This allows us to aerate the soil up to 4x as deep as conventional farming and means the roots of our plants can access more nutrients, hold more water and generally have more room to grow. More roots = more plant. This is one of the ways in which we are able to produce exceptionally high yields in such a small space, which is a characteristic of the GB method.
Growing sufficient cured compost is the heart of our method. Each year, we plan to grow enough compost so that we can replenish our beds without using outside resources. Yes, we plan – it’s actually built into our yearly garden plan! Crazy? I think it’s brilliant. We do this by allocating 60% of our growing space to compost crops (see “Carbon Farming” below). This is how we are able to grow abundant fertility, literally, year after year, and for centuries to come. Adding compost to our beds helps in many ways; it adds nutrients and organic matter, which is crucial to feeding the crops as well as the microbes in the soil. Compost unlocks nutrients previously unavailable by way of it’s humic acids, so it can make your soil even more fertile. It holds water (meaning less is lost to evaporation), holds nutrients, improves soil structure and buffers PH. It’s a no brainer.
3. Intensive Planting
We maximize the space in our growing beds by planting hexagonally, as opposed to in rows. This way, we give our plants the precise amount of growing space, and uses all of the soil space. When plants mature, their leaves will touch the leaves of the plants next to them, creating an umbrella over the soil, something we call “living mulch.” The shade created below holds water in the bed and minimizing the amount of water required (great in droughts!), it also protects the soil and inhibits weed growth. Intensive planting maximizes the amount of calories / veggies you are able to produce, so you can get the absolute most out of even the smallest space. It’s great for urban spaces.
4. Carbon Farming
Carbon farming is very much an extension of growing compost. As plants grow, they harvest carbon from the atmosphere (the CO2 to be specific), and through photosynthesis, they convert it into carbon bonds and create their plant bodies. Pretty amazing. So, we are literally taking carbon from the air and turning it into physical plant material. When we harvest our crops, the carbon in their bodies, throughout the composting process, becomes transformed into a more stable form of carbon, or, organic matter, and we put this back into our soil to fertilize it. Organic matter is crucial for a balanced agricultural system – and has incredible benefits. It feeds the soil microbes, and their relationship with our plant root system is critical for a balanced, thriving garden system.
[Photo: Amaranth in hand, corn in the back]
The crops we grow for carbon include grains such as corn, quinoa, wheat, rye, sorghum, amaranth, sunflowers to name a few. They have a lot of “brown” or “mature material” or structural carbon, which in the end, turns into more hummus, which is our ultimate goal as hummus is incredible stable and can last up to 5,000 years!
5. Calorie Farming
We’re not only carbon farmers, we’re also calorie farmers! The crops we use to grow carbon also have loads of calories in them – corn, amaranth, rye, barley, wheat (carb-rich!) …. they have the dual action of providing our soil with long term fertility, while also feeding. This is why the GB method is so perfect, and frankly, was designed for, subsistence farmers. If you ever wanted to homestead, GROW BIOINTENSIVE would be the way to go. You can grow all of your calories, all of your compost, on the smallest amount of land, almost indefinitely. Talk about food independence.
6. Companion Planting
We note the best attributes of all of our plants and use them to our advantage. This creates an even more thriving, dynamic and well balanced garden. We interplant flowers to attract beneficial insects. We plant beans with our corn to fix nitrogen (replenishing what the heavy-feeding corn removes), shading the soil, and the corn acts as trellis for the beans to climb. We also know that tomatoes and basil grow quite well together, so I generally interplant basil with my tomatoes. Cucumbers like shade, so I will put them behind some of our taller crops. There are endless examples; the goal here is to create as much biodiversity as possible and leverage the unique characteristics of each crop to your advantage.
7. Open Pollinated Seeds
These are seeds that are pollinated naturally, by insects or the wind, and originate from similar parents (the same plant variety). They differ from hybrid seeds, which are the result of intentionally crossing 2 different plant varieties (each with characteristics they want to “pass on” to the next generation) and this crossing is done manually by humans You can’t save seeds from hybrids; well technically you can, but you won’t have a reliable crop the next year. The offspring will be a mix of both parent traits so you will end up with a wide variety of plant characteristics. Seeds from open pollinated crops however, have fixed traits and will be true to their parent, allowing you to select seeds from the best, most vigorous plants. Over time, you will end up with crops that are adjusted to your local environment. This is the only way to grow.
8. Whole System Method
As with any “whole”, you don’t want to deconstruct it into parts. That’s when things get problematic. We’ve already seen what happens when we manipulate a whole functioning system or entity (the packaged, processed food industry comes to mind, and the debilitating impact it has had on our nation’s health). This last principle really just means please use all of these pieces of GB together as one. If you don’t, you run the risk of seriously destroying your soil. Just like GB can grow significant amounts of food and soil fertility if practiced correctly, it can also destroy your soil fertility at just as an alarming rate. So, just like a whole food is greater than the sum of it’s parts, so is our GB method.
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