Biointensive Sustainable Food Growing

A full presentation of Biointensive methods can be found in John Jeavons' book, How to Grow More Vegetables..., which can be ordered from Bountiful Gardens or Ecology Action. This book is now published in seven languages and used in more than 100 countries. Here is a quote from the 1995 edition:

"We 'farm' as we eat. For example, if we consume food that has been grown using methods that inadvertently deplete the soil in the growing process, then we are responsible for depleting the soil. If, instead, we raise or request food grown in ways that heal the Earth, then we are healing the Earth and its soils. Our daily food choices will make the difference. We can choose to sustain ourselves while increasing the vitality of the planet."  

Five Components of Biointensive Food Growing
Double-dug, Raised Beds
Crops are planted in beds that are "duble-dug"–the gardener digs 12 inches down and then loosens the soil to an additional 12 inches. Having loose soil 24" down enables plant roots to penetrate easily and incorporates air into the soil, creating a "raised bed" effect.

Intensive Planting
Seeds or seedlings are planted in 3 to 5 food-wide beds using a hexagonal spacing pattern. Each plant is placed the same distance from all seeds nearest to it so that when the plants mature, their leaves touch. This provides a "mini-climate" under the leaves that retains moisture, protects the valuable microbiotic life of the soil, retards weed growth, and provides for high yields. The method avoids problems encounterd when planting in narrow rows.

Garbage, manure, vegetation, and many other forms of organic matter, when properly composted, provide the elements necessary to maintain and even improve soil structure and the biological cycles of life that exist in the soil. Compost also creates better aeration and water retention. As the soil's health improves, optimum plant health is maintained and garden yields are maximized.
The Biointensive gardener concerned with sustainability will plant crops specifically for use in the compost pile, rather than importing materials and thus depleting soils elsewhere.

Companion Planting
Research has shown that many plants grow better when near certain other plants. Green beans and strawberries, for instance, thrive better when they are grown together. Some plants are useful in repelling pests, while others attract beneficial insect life. Borage, for example, helps control tomato worms while its blue flowers attract bees. Also, many wild plants have a healthy effect on the soil; their deep roots loosen the subsoil and bring up previously unavailable trace minerals and nutriments. Use of companion planting aids the gardener in producing fine quality vegetables and helps create and maintain a healthy, vibrant soil.

Whole System Synergy
Biointensive is a whole system food raising method in which all components must be used together for the optimum effect. Merely spacing your garden plants closer together, for example, is not enough. Farmers experimenting with such intensive spacing in Europe, while not using companion planting and still employing chemical fertilizers, found themselves beset with deteriorating soil fertility. As soil fertility decines, quality and yields diminish, populations of beneficial insects are reduced, and plant resistance to disease and pests is lowered.

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