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John Jeavons' Method

 
Alison Thomas
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I've just received my latest copy of The Permaculture Magazine and have been inspired by Deano Martin's article that talks a lot about the Jeavons method. I discovered Jeavons after Fukuoka and a disciple of Fukuoka's in her own way, Emilia Hazelip and whilst I was impressed with Jeavons, his ethos seemed to go against the 'teachings' of the other two so he took a back seat. I have spent the last two years creating my Hazelip beds and mulching like mad. Both 2010 and 2011 saw us with severe droughts (even though we're in the Northernish part of France, near Le Mans) so water retention was critical. Some crops failed in those years due to drought but at least we had a harvest. This year however has been wet and the slugs have had a field day with the mulched areas and all that gets planted in it. Marry that up with the mice finding a cosy home in the straw and then eating 600 pea seeds, the ants loving the extra warmth of the mulch and setting up aphid farms everywhere, blight on the potatoes and the tomatoes, and basically this year is, as the Queen once said, an 'annus horribilis'. I think we're in line for 2 lettuces and 3 winter squashes!!! So something's got to change here. I'd be interested to hear of others thoughts/experiences with the Jeavons method.
 
P Thickens
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I highly, highly, highly reccommend the book Mini Farming. Mr. Markham compares many methods, their philosophies, the pros and cons, and relates his experience with each. Armed with that information you can choose which versions or methods would work for you, as we did. http://www.amazon.com/Mini-Farming-Self-Sufficiency-Brett-Markham/dp/1602399840/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343315362&sr=8-1&keywords=Mini+Farming

I do a relaxed/hybridized version of the Biointensive method in our beds. I just can't be as detail-oriented and record-keeping as I should! I figure that's all right since we've got enough food coming in. But I highly reccommend John Jeavon's works as his calculations on caloric output, the mechanics of crop rotation and interplanting, and "How to sustainably create as much food as possible on a small amount of land" are groundbreaking. It helps one get a good overview of the necessary inputs and outputs, which current Permaculture literature does not.

The plan we're following is to permaculture as much as we can, everywhere on the property, but to keep a few hundred square feet of raised beds in zones 1 & 2 for herbs and "yuppie chow". Yuppie Chow is that stuff that everyone thinks about buying from the farmer's market, the fancy crops like heirloom slicing tomatoes and bok choy and such -- you know, expensive as hell but not the majority of one's calories. Yuppie Chow. Those crops take a lot of fussing over. Jeavon's work on spacing plants, compost ingrediants, yields, interplanting and so on is invaluable for this. The rest of our place is permacultured, orcharded, woodlotted, or pastured for benign neglect and widespread calories (such as sunchokes and orchards). We chose this hybridization of methods based on how we eat and what we like to eat. I think that, for me, using just one method, like using just one crop, might not be the best course.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote: whilst I was impressed with Jeavons, his ethos seemed to go against the 'teachings' of the other two


Do you mean all the double digging he recommends? He does mention you can stop digging when the soil is in good condition. Personally I don't see a conflict of ethos between the methods, just a difference of technique. There's nothing in Biointensive that I can identify which is counter to the ethics of Natural Farming or Permaculture. My main gripe about Biointensive is it is a lot of work, and too much work unless one is trying to get maximum yield from the minimum space. Permaculture is never about maximum yield, but rather about a functioning system which does most of the work for you, in my opinion. The idea of having a very small area where one practices Biointensive to produce specific hard to grow crops or vital survival food makes sense to me, trying to do it in a large area would be too hard to my (lazy) way of thinking.

 
William James
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I saw that article too. His statement that you can double dig without destroying soil structure is curious. I've double dug, and soil doesn't come out in neat little squares that you can re-package somehow (at least not the sub-soil). It approaches something more akin to "big mess"

That said, I have seen that adding manure or compost deep in the soil adds fertility in the short term. It also can add problems like gley and manure- or compost-borne seeds coming up. Also you might not know what those cows/goats/pigs have been ingesting and you might not want that in your soil.

I think a balanced approached would be to set the system rolling with the double-digging or tilling, then work for long term humus creation via roots digging down and laying dying organic matter on top. If you're tilling every year, in time I would think that your open niches get filled up with perennials or stuff that aerates the soil itself. At least that's what I'm shooting for.

I actually didn't till at all this year and the soil is so compacted that nothing can expand it's roots and compacted soil weeds are in abundance. Next year I'll be doing selected tilling in certain areas. The place where I buried a rotten log and planted daikon on top actually is pretty soft. But we're in serious drought. Nothing is doing well.

Maybe your mulch is too thick? Any time you do something that creates habitat, somebody comes to live there.
The other thing is learning what slugs like and not planting that anymore. I noticed that only some lettuce was eaten. Next year I'll pass on that specific lettuce. If you get basil up pretty high and transplant it does better, slug-wise.

As for the mice, I'm seeing a cat in your future. Or just using that free aeration somehow. Smash in the hole in a bit and put a seed down.

best,
William
 
Tyler Ludens
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William James wrote:I saw that article too. His statement that you can double dig without destroying soil structure is curious. I've double dug, and soil doesn't come out in neat little squares that you can re-package somehow (at least not the sub-soil).


Using Jeavons' method you don't mix the topsoil and the subsoil, they are kept separate as much as possible during the digging process, the subsoil being loosened within the hole and the topsoil placed back on top of it.

 
Judith Browning
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We do not till but dig beds once or twice to remove rocks, shape them to raised beds (we didnt know about hk then...we could have added logs), fill the paths with leaves to walk on and add to bed surface when they break down. I use a broadfork to lift but not turn the soil to relieve compaction. once or twice a year depending on crops and amount of hard rain. Mulch is always a judgement call but I tend to have either mulch or a cover crop covering bare dirt. I think it does encourage voles and mice and prevent birds from helping with some eggs and larva found in the soil. so lately I am rethinking that and trying a little bare soil for brief periods. It is such a wonderfully fluid learning process isn't it? I am not really comfortable with cut and dried "methods" but have my own basic principles I stick with while exploring possibilities.
 
Brenda Groth
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haven't really heard of him, will have to do some study on it
 
Tyler Ludens
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John Jeavons' website: http://growbiointensive.org/
 
Eric Markov
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John Jeavons gardened in California, a dry climate with heavy clay soil.

I used his method at my previous house (in CA) for a small garden. Double dug every year adding lots of municipal compost in.
The garden did very well after a couple of years, but it is a lot of work. And you can only double dig when the soil has just right amount of water in it.
If it's too wet, you be compressing muck, too dry and you'll need a pick axe to work it.

If you have space and are looking to maximize harvest to effort, it might not be the ideal approach.

In my new California residence, I tried a quick dig to loosen the clay soil, then cover crops, and a under the influence of Fukuoka, tried to make it a no-till garden.
Terrible results. The clay was too heavy, no vegetables, expect pole beans, would grow well.

I even tried to add a massive amount of municipal compost to a small bed to see if I could do a one time double dig and then no till.
Even this failed. When it was watered, the water would flow right through the compost soil and get stuck in the subsoil. So the top half meter of soil would be dry and the subsoil would be muck. Plants didn't like it. I believe this is why Jeavons recommends only adding some organic matter each year, not massive amounts.

This year I made hugelkultur beds and also an experimental "wood chip bed", dug down 1.5 feet and added massive amount of wood chips. I'm getting my best garden ever from these beds.
Hopefully they can become no-till from now on.

Whether double dig would be good for your beds really depends on your soil.

Yes cats chase away mice.
For slugs, I had lots when I mulched with grass clippings. Now with wood chip mulch I don't have very many.



 
Nicole Castle
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My only problem with Jeavons is not his work, but how misrepresented it gets by many others. That and it won't work here.

All of the methods by the various garden gurus have their pros and cons and are applicable in one place with soil/crops/pests/diseases/weeds/etc. but not another. I think the best thing to do is study and evaluate many methods, experiment and find what works best for you on your land.

 
Tyler Ludens
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For my part I was simply never able to produce enough compost to make a significant difference to the soil. Burying logs, as a "sunken hugelkultur" has been what seems to work for me here in a hot dry climate with clay soil. I still think there is value in a lot of the information available from Jeavons' Ecology Action. As others have noted, it needs to be evaluated in light of local conditions.

 
P Thickens
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Biointensive is a good method, I think, exemplified by how well it's worked in different areas: Africa, South America, etc. It is valuable on its own (not the least for its perfect layout of spacing requirements... genius!) but Jeavons had another contribution: his research.

He has tables and charts of information about what the best situations are to grow which crops, how much of X+X+X+X crop you'll need to grow to make enough calories, macro and micronutrients to feed 1 person, and then how much compost you'll need (and what goes into that compost) to replace the nutrients that were eaten. I found this invaluable, as it helped my mind understand the idea of farming for food from a very different standpoint than any other outlook.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I agree, P, definitely lots of information about the perennial question "How much land do I need?" Ecology Action has several research papers about various diets to grow in the smallest space, and other topics, available here: http://www.bountifulgardens.org/products.asp?dept=104
 
Richard Nurac
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Thank you Tyler for the link to John Jeavon's website where I watched his presentation to Google.

He recommended just one book to the audience "Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan" by F.H. King, a classic which can be downloaded free and which I am only now reading. Written in 1911 it is most interesting. Here is one of King's reference to nightsoil, a crucial fertilizer in those times: "The International Concession of the city of Shanghai, in 1908, sold to a Chinese contractor the privilege of entering residences and public places early in the morning of each day in the year and removing the night soil, receiving therefor more than $31,000, gold for 78,000 tons of waste. All of this we not only throw away but expend much larger sums in doing so."

True sustainability I think will require grappling with notions such as these.
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Farmers of Forty Centuries" is available on this page: http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/01aglibwelcome.html

I was fortunate to find it as a book years ago.
 
David Miller
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The work that Jeavons and company have done is incredible. Their works are my most valuable pre-permies knowledge base. Don't miss their video series on http://www.growbiointensive.org/ too, great stuff.

Farmers of Forty Centuries is also invaluable, very meandering but excellent.
 
Alex Ames
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Allison I hope you will not entirely abandon the Hazelip ideas. In other words due to the
intensive work required in the Jeavons method I am suggesting staying with your current
system and testing the Jeavons techniques in a small area to see if it works better for you.

I am using the Hazelip style beds with mulch. I can't claim perfection of any type. It is frustrating
to see slug damage and other problems but this is an interesting way to grow things. I am far from
abandoning it but I think that is actually what I need to do more of to make the system work.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Alex, do you have any slug predators (ducks, toads, lizards, etc) or have you installed any slug predator habitat (rock piles, mini-ponds)?

 
Alex Ames
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Alex, do you have any slug predators (ducks, toads, lizards, etc) or have you installed any slug predator habitat (rock piles, mini-ponds)?



I have lizards, garter snakes and lots of birds. As it stands right now I am not using ponds or rock piles, etc. but
it would seem there is enough predatory activity to keep things in balance fairly well. Frogs are still missing.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Looks good. I think one of the hardest lessons of ecological gardening is being willing to "share" with the various critters. There are a lot of holes in my vegies!

 
Alex Ames
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Looks good. I think one of the hardest lessons of ecological gardening is being willing to "share" with the various critters. There are a lot of holes in my vegies!



My fig tree has been getting lots of bird activity. Yesterday a fox was sitting under it and I don't think he was eating figs!
He appeared to be looking for somebody to share... by being his dinner.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Foxes eat fruit, but he might have been waiting for birdie dessert.

 
Alison Thomas
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Crickey, I've just watched the composting video on their website - how labour intensive!!! And water EVERY day - not very sustainable especially where you have water restrictions like we sometimes do. I was impressed that they could make compost in 9 weeks though. I've been making compost for years but I don't get a 'return' for about 4 months but then I don't water it every day either.
 
Leila Rich
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I appreciate their efforts to gather data, although I think some of it gets rather OTT for domestic gardening.
What I really like is the emphasis on supporting and strengthening soil by actively growing carbon and compost crops.
But I think that soil goodness is undone by all that double-digging. No matter what anyone says to me, I cannot believe it serves anything but people's desire for food, fast
Actually, add compost to that rant above.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote:And water EVERY day


The method uses less water than regular gardening.

"67% to 88% less water" http://growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
 
William James
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I think Alison was referring to the need to water the compost every day or every two days, and the work involved in that, not the total water used in this method of cultivation.
For instance, I use zero water on my compost. Granted, adding water and turning might get me more or better compost, but I'm lazy.
W
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ok thanks. My personal opinion about all the digging and watering of compost is that it's probably counterproductive, as turning compost a lot can cause a loss of nitrogen, and digging a lot can cause a loss of humus in the soil. I don't even make compost, personally. I just mulch....
 
David Miller
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What I got most from studying the biointensive method was to plan my system to be completely self sufficient. It taught me how much of my land would be needed to provide a circle of fertility so as to allow complete solidarity. I take what I need from their work and move on with the rest. I'm with Tyler in that I'm giving up composting on the regular and moving to mulch. My research unearthed the massive losses involved in composting so it had to go. I still utilize their ratios for "yard waste" composting but I've moved on. A great deal of their techniques are invaluable but as with everything, take the good research the rest on your own land and move on.
 
Alex Ames
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote:Crickey, I've just watched the composting video on their website - how labour intensive!!! And water EVERY day - not very sustainable especially where you have water restrictions like we sometimes do. I was impressed that they could make compost in 9 weeks though. I've been making compost for years but I don't get a 'return' for about 4 months but then I don't water it every day either.


One of my favorite understandings of the term sustainable is whether or not I can keep providing the inputs
needed from me to keep it going. If that is doubtful from the outset, well why even jump off into it. Find a method
that suits you and stick with it. Even if you continue to tweak it as you go along to make it your method.
 
P Thickens
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Leila Rich wrote:But I think that soil goodness is undone by all that double-digging. No matter what anyone says to me, I cannot believe it serves anything but people's desire for food, fast


Double-digging is only required the first time. Then one uses a broadfork to 'loosen' soil, which is just jamming it into the bed and prying it up a little, which just fluffs existing material.
 
Leila Rich
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PT, I was being a bit of a drama-queen!
"I'm not into double digging, full stop" would have been more accurate.
 
P Thickens
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Leila Rich wrote:PT, I was being a bit of a drama-queen!
"I'm not into double digging, full stop" would have been more accurate.


*hands over Drama Queen Tiara*

O Great Queen, it is of a certainty that if Double Digging does need to occur, thou shalt order one of thy Loyal Minions to undertake it from thine lofty perch. (And they better do it too! )
 
                        
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
William James wrote:I saw that article too. His statement that you can double dig without destroying soil structure is curious. I've double dug, and soil doesn't come out in neat little squares that you can re-package somehow (at least not the sub-soil).


Using Jeavons' method you don't mix the topsoil and the subsoil, they are kept separate as much as possible during the digging process, the subsoil being loosened within the hole and the topsoil placed back on top of it.



One size doesn't fit all. My subsoil is coase sand. It already has perfect drainage, why loosen it? Over time your worms and other soil organisms will take the humus deeper and deeper on their own. Why do all that work when the worms are not only willing but eager to do it for you? If you want to get humus deeper into your soil you can use a posthole digger. Go as deep as you can with it and then fill the hole with coarse early stage compost. Once again the worms will spread it around. I don't believe in doing work that Nature can do on her own.
 
Tyler Ludens
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hoodat McCoy wrote:

One size doesn't fit all.


I agree. People should find the methods which work for them in their individual situation.
 
leila hamaya
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote: This year however has been wet and the slugs have had a field day with the mulched areas and all that gets planted in it.


yep, slugs suck!
ah i try to make friends with all of the different critters, but i have to admit to harboring a bit of anger with the slugs. they are bad here.
some ideas, research i have done into warding off slugs (though it is tough to get enough stuff to make this work)

eggshells, sea shells, copper, pine needles (?) sea weed (the salts, they hate salts, but not great for garden either so around edge with seashells)
moving the plants around also seems to help...like planting medicinal herbs that they wont like...where there used to be cabbage....rotating. usually a new area has a certain amount of slug free time. i have a very tall raised bed and they dont usually get all the way up there.

and also...it sucks but it works somewhat-going out right at dusk, when they come out of hiding, and one by one picking them off and teaching them how to fly by flinging them really far !!!
they are slimy, but its pretty effective to minimize the damage.
you can also put boards around your beds. during the day they hide out...and if you have placed conveinant places, like a nice board, for them to hide...when you pick up the board during the day there should be a few slugs hiding out on the bottom when you turn it over.

other methods- bowls with a little beer in them (or other things) they will go for the beer and it will mess them up bad.....

but agreed, learning to share, totally its true =)
with the ones you cant find!
and teaching some of them to fly the hard way!

as for the rest, i agree with the basic ideas here, sometimes one method is appropriate, other times and places another method is better.
i will occasionally dig deep and had read about double digging long ago and tried it out a few times. the main thing with tilling deep (imo) is you have to add a LOT of organic matter if you are going to do it.

...but yeah i think...theres a time to till, theres a time to do lasagna or hugelkulture...and no one should get too stuck on just one method. i've met some people who think tilling is evil, and you should only do sheet mulching and raised beds...i appreciate somewhat where they are coming from but i dont agree and i think thats being too extreme. and i think its way too extreme to till every year or anywhere close to that much.

if you are working with really difficult soil to begin with, or if theres a lot of invasive plants, or you want water trenches and berms- other times...theres some times where tilling and digging deep is the thing to do, imho. though i prefer the lasagna gardening and sheet mulching mostly, sometimes i go in with a pitchfork and just loosen everything up cultivate the soil a bit and get it lumpy for water to sink in better....
....and sometimes i dig really deeply and add a bunch of stuff in some area. usually with the very beginning of the bed, or if i am for some reason inspired to do so (not often, usually not at all!)
 
deano Martin
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Hi All.
I'm glad that at least one of you found my article interesting.
What i'm trying to do is to combine the patterns of Bonfils and Jeavons, with some of my own ideas added. There's still a long way to go, and I'm also trying to integrate chickens into the system to use for slug control, and to eat the ground layer prior to planting out the following year's grains.
The grain experiments were quite small this year, but are expanding.
If any of you are trying a similar type of grain/vegetable rotation, I would be keen to exchange information.
I'm only an occasional visitor to these forums, but
 
deano Martin
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For Alison
There is so much conflicting advice about drought/mulching. If you read Steve Solomon, or Widstoe, they recomend digging, and hoeing to get the water down deep, and prevent the loss of water by capiliary action. It's pretty dry here, and I find that mulch acts like a sponge, encouraging more surface roots. That's fine if you can irrigate, but if not, plant roots are high up, and the water table is low. Not mulching may encourage the plant roots to forage deeper, and follow the water down.
I had to remove the straw from my paths as there were too many slugs in it. It worked well in two dry years, but not in a wet one. A flexible approach seems much more appropriate than a dogmatic 'one way only' system, which was the idea behind the article in PM.
Wishing you all well in your endeavours
Deano
 
Mathew Ritchie
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You might want to try gypsum CaSO4·2H2O it is very good at improving clay soils and lasts long.
Eric Markov wrote:John Jeavons gardened in California, a dry climate with heavy clay soil.

I used his method at my previous house (in CA) for a small garden. Double dug every year adding lots of municipal compost in.
The garden did very well after a couple of years, but it is a lot of work. And you can only double dig when the soil has just right amount of water in it.
If it's too wet, you be compressing muck, too dry and you'll need a pick axe to work it.

If you have space and are looking to maximize harvest to effort, it might not be the ideal approach.

In my new California residence, I tried a quick dig to loosen the clay soil, then cover crops, and a under the influence of Fukuoka, tried to make it a no-till garden.
Terrible results. The clay was too heavy, no vegetables, expect pole beans, would grow well.

I even tried to add a massive amount of municipal compost to a small bed to see if I could do a one time double dig and then no till.
Even this failed. When it was watered, the water would flow right through the compost soil and get stuck in the subsoil. So the top half meter of soil would be dry and the subsoil would be muck. Plants didn't like it. I believe this is why Jeavons recommends only adding some organic matter each year, not massive amounts.

This year I made hugelkultur beds and also an experimental "wood chip bed", dug down 1.5 feet and added massive amount of wood chips. I'm getting my best garden ever from these beds.
Hopefully they can become no-till from now on.

Whether double dig would be good for your beds really depends on your soil.

Yes cats chase away mice.
For slugs, I had lots when I mulched with grass clippings. Now with wood chip mulch I don't have very many.



 
Kris Minto
Posts: 137
Location: Ottawa, Canada -- Zone 4b/5a
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I just watch some of their video and I cannot see a farmer who makes their living off their land make any profit with the amount of work require with this method. I was exhausted just watching the video and thought of how much time it would take me to plant my urban garden every year.

Why would you double dig every year before planting? I thought the point of double digging was to loosen the compacted soil below.

Kris
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