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Quick Breakdown Of Bio-Intensive practice.

 
Travis Schultz
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What is Bio-Intensive.

John Jeavons is working around the world to teach villages and poverty stricken areas how to sustainably grow their diet in very small spaces. Though I think true Permaculture practice is more sustainable on the long term scale.
I do not think though that Bio-Intensive does not still play a very important role in teaching people how to stack functions, build fertility and organic matter, growing mass amounts of food in small spaces, and many more.
He emphasizes that you only really need 2 tools, a garden shovel, and a digging fork. So many plants in a small space require lots of water in dry climates though, and irrigation would be needed. In Michigan last year I spent maybe 2 hours total watering 4000 sq ft for the entire season.

The key components of Bio-Intensive are-

1. Bringing in lots of organic matter
2. For first 3 years minimum you need to bring in organic amendments to repair soil deficiencies.
3. 60% of garden grown as compost crops to feed the other 40% (if compost crops can be wild harvested you can use more of your garden for market or food crops)
4. Starting most seeds in large deep wooden flats, to allow multiple crops in the same spot each year, maximizing total production per sq ft.
5. Double digging by hand, no machinery, as it destroys all the life of the soil. I also add a handful of amendments or compost to the lower trench of the double dug bed as I am digging it.
6. No infrastructure to contain the garden beds themselves, just double dug and shaped with a rake.
7. Offset spacing.
8. Living mulch.
9. Companion planting.

Hopefully I got most of it covered there.

I am going into my third season as a Bio-Intensive farmer, with very good success for not having a ton of experience going into it. His method, if done right, can make the novice gardener grow crazy amounts of food in a very small space. For most families needs who are not growing grains or calorie crops, all they would need is 2 to 4 beds for all the vegetables they could eat. I have helped so many people install these same 100sq ft double dug beds in their own yards and everyone is having great success.

A hard able bodied worker can do a bed in 2 hours, it’s definitely worth the time to at least try a bed or two in your own systems, shape them however you need to, and watch your plants thrive.

Below is a picture of my first Bio-Intensive garden. Up until that point I had just 2 small raised beds at my old property. This was mostly new to me that first year and the results speak for themselves.

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John Polk
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3. 60% of garden grown as compost crops to feed the other 40%

For clarification, it should be pointed out that these 'compost crops' are not solely for compost.
They include oats, wheat, corn and other cereals, plus crops like legumes.

These crops all produce edible products, but have a tremendous quantity of bio-mass in their stalks and foliage. They serve both as food crops and compost crops.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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it should be pointed out that these 'compost crops' are not solely for compost.
A guy I worked with for a couple seasons practiced the method of having half of his garden for compost crops. He had read Jeavon's book, and had a friend at Rodale Institute who he consulted with often. He was definitely not bio-intensive, but had a few things in common. Though he tilled his soil, his methods were pretty decent, and his soil was excellent considering the tillage.

For compost crops he grew Rye, peas, and vetch together. Non of these were used as crop plants for food production. They were sawed down when the peas just began to flower to maximize the nitrogen both in the soil and in the composting green material. These were sawed down with a brush saw, and were hauled to massive compost piles, which were then applied liberally to food crop plants. The soil in the compost growing area was either replanted in this same combo, cycled into the food plant rotation by being either planted with food plants directly in the stubble, or tilled first and then planted.

When we teamed up for a larger project on the second year, I tried to encourage no till, but the dude was in his 70's and had a fancy new Kobota tractor... there was just no way he could have gardened on this scale by hand digging at his age and condition. I did convince him to read Teaming With Microbes, and he did reduce his tillage.

Anyway... the reason that I mention it, is that the compost crop element can be done in a number of different ways. The main point is that a good chunk of the garden could be primarily used for growing soil/fertility/compost.

I do like the idea of getting food crops out of the production of compost areas. This function stacking is probably more necessary in a developing nation/village, or in places with limited space, but should be considered by all farmers.

The thing that I want to get across is also that once a good seed stock is developed on the farm, all crops can be grown and used for compost production/food production.

Personally, after studying and conversing with Emelia Hazelip (Before she sadly died), and connecting with the work of Elaine Ingham, I am lead to believe and practice that the fertility can be built and stabilized in a soil system just by minimizing the amount of plant matter that is removed for consumption or sale from the garden. Thus, carrot tops, for example, are left in the garden where they grew. Pea plants are left in the place, while only the pods are removed (and once shucked of peas, the pods returned to the spot they grew).

The vast majority of the molecular structure that makes up the plants comes not from the aggregate minerals, but from atmospheric gasses. In this organic chemistry manner the carbon dioxide, the hydrogen and oxygen from water, the nitrogen fixed by legumes and brought by rain, the oxygen in the air, and other gas cycles which come from waste products of microbial metabolisms all form complex molecules. Most of this is not derived from the soil but from the atmosphere, and thus with the majority of the plant being left in the soil or as mulch there is a lot more returned or remaining, than that which is removed to market or home consumption. In the same thought, the soil organic matter is steadily improved and thus increasing the availability of micronutrients and trace minerals to succeeding plant introductions either by seed or transplant. By not tilling the soil, by not breaking the soil structure, by keeping a good mulch layer, and by planting diverse species and root depths/types then we build diverse microbial communities which build a subsequent macro network of expansive soil living organics and long term carbon sequestering through dead microbes building humus.
 
Travis Schultz
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John Polk wrote:
3. 60% of garden grown as compost crops to feed the other 40%

For clarification, it should be pointed out that these 'compost crops' are not solely for compost.
They include oats, wheat, corn and other cereals, plus crops like legumes.

These crops all produce edible products, but have a tremendous quantity of bio-mass in their stalks and foliage. They serve both as food crops and compost crops.


Thats very true, there are some non food cover crops but you should be able to get either food, fiber, or medicine from your cover crops.
 
Travis Schultz
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
it should be pointed out that these 'compost crops' are not solely for compost.
A guy I worked with for a couple seasons practiced the method of having half of his garden for compost crops. He had read Jeavon's book, and had a friend at Rodale Institute who he consulted with often. He was definitely not bio-intensive, but had a few things in common. Though he tilled his soil, his methods were pretty decent, and his soil was excellent considering the tillage.

For compost crops he grew Rye, peas, and vetch together. Non of these were used as crop plants for food production. They were sawed down when the peas just began to flower to maximize the nitrogen both in the soil and in the composting green material. These were sawed down with a brush saw, and were hauled to massive compost piles, which were then applied liberally to food crop plants. The soil in the compost growing area was either replanted in this same combo, cycled into the food plant rotation by being either planted with food plants directly in the stubble, or tilled first and then planted.

When we teamed up for a larger project on the second year, I tried to encourage no till, but the dude was in his 70's and had a fancy new Kobota tractor... there was just no way he could have gardened on this scale by hand digging at his age and condition. I did convince him to read Teaming With Microbes, and he did reduce his tillage.

Anyway... the reason that I mention it, is that the compost crop element can be done in a number of different ways. The main point is that a good chunk of the garden could be primarily used for growing soil/fertility/compost.

I do like the idea of getting food crops out of the production of compost areas. This function stacking is probably more necessary in a developing nation/village, or in places with limited space, but should be considered by all farmers.

The thing that I want to get across is also that once a good seed stock is developed on the farm, all crops can be grown and used for compost production/food production.

Personally, after studying and conversing with Emelia Hazelip (Before she sadly died), and connecting with the work of Elaine Ingham, I am lead to believe and practice that the fertility can be built and stabilized in a soil system just by minimizing the amount of plant matter that is removed for consumption or sale from the garden. Thus, carrot tops, for example, are left in the garden where they grew. Pea plants are left in the place, while only the pods are removed (and once shucked of peas, the pods returned to the spot they grew).

The vast majority of the molecular structure that makes up the plants comes not from the aggregate minerals, but from atmospheric gasses. In this organic chemistry manner the carbon dioxide, the hydrogen and oxygen from water, the nitrogen fixed by legumes and brought by rain, the oxygen in the air, and other gas cycles which come from waste products of microbial metabolisms all form complex molecules. Most of this is not derived from the soil but from the atmosphere, and thus with the majority of the plant being left in the soil or as mulch there is a lot more returned or remaining, than that which is removed to market or home consumption. In the same thought, the soil organic matter is steadily improved and thus increasing the availability of micronutrients and trace minerals to succeeding plant introductions either by seed or transplant. By not tilling the soil, by not breaking the soil structure, by keeping a good mulch layer, and by planting diverse species and root depths/types then we build diverse microbial communities which build a subsequent macro network of expansive soil living organics and long term carbon sequestering through dead microbes building humus.


Awesome info man, thanks.

Yeah I do not take most of my material away and compost it elsewhere. The majority of it is kept right in place to help mulch. I also bring in a lot more compost material for mulching because I am selling so much food. It is not a complete closed loop yet in my system. But its also in its infancy.
 
Tobias Ber
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i think, the term "compost plants" is leading into the wrong direction of thinking. i read the free ebook from that site and it names that principle "carbon farming".
that lines up with the chemistry that roberto talks about.

the goal of the author is to be independent of external inputs. this is good in some cases, but not in all cases/situation.

i think, permaculture has better approaches for most cases/situations. like getting wood for hügelkultur. or having sunchoke or comfrey in unproductive corners of your land to chop, carry and drop (and sometimes harvest for other functions).

 
Travis Schultz
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Tobias Ber wrote:i think, the term "compost plants" is leading into the wrong direction of thinking. i read the free ebook from that site and it names that principle "carbon farming".
that lines up with the chemistry that roberto talks about.

the goal of the author is to be independent of external inputs. this is good in some cases, but not in all cases/situation.

i think, permaculture has better approaches for most cases/situations. like getting wood for hügelkultur. or having sunchoke or comfrey in unproductive corners of your land to chop, carry and drop (and sometimes harvest for other functions).



I tend to stray away from thinking any one method is the end all method, myself. But, I think permaculture has the most widely adaptable and sustainable practice. I feel Jeavons would be happy people are using some of his methods and experimenting to see where people can better close the loop, according to their situation and their farm.

I have said it before and I will say it many times lol I am very passionate about the idea of any one method being right, because that says that other methods are wrong. When nobody has ever gardened all areas of the earth with all methods and been able to state that any one method works. Few (if any) have been able to match Fukuoka's work. And I think thats a perfect example of one persons own evolved methods only working as good as they could for the person who made them. I have lived by that, and I use bits and pieces from so many natural farming methods, but what I do will not just work for everyone.

I love that people can stray away from the "rules" of bio-intensive, or bio-dynamics etc etc and still get amazing results, and for some they can do even better (on their own piece of land).

 
Tyler Ludens
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I think biointensive can be a very productive part of a larger permaculture system, because it enables the gardener to grow large amounts of food in a small space. If the carbon/compost ingredients are sourced from the larger permaculture system, the vegetable garden can be even smaller, possibly as small as 1000 square feet to provide a nearly complete vegan diet for one person, or all the vegetables for a non-vegan family. In my opinion, biointensive practices are perfectly compatible with permaculture. The small area needed for growing food may be important in areas where irrigation water is at a premium, or there are simply space constraints.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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In my opinion, biointensive practices are perfectly compatible with permaculture. The small area needed for growing food may be important in areas where irrigation water is at a premium, or there are simply space constraints.
I totally agree. And I would add that in Northern or Temperate climates where there are much less perennial veg crop options, this method (or a variant of it) is the quickest way to maximize your yields of annual veggy crop plants in a small area.
 
Travis Schultz
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
In my opinion, biointensive practices are perfectly compatible with permaculture. The small area needed for growing food may be important in areas where irrigation water is at a premium, or there are simply space constraints.
I totally agree. And I would add that in Northern or Temperate climates where there are much less perennial veg crop options, this method (or a variant of it) is the quickest way to maximize your yields of annual veggy crop plants in a small area.


Very well said guys. I have been missing being able to communicate with other intelligent people... Really been struggling not having any friends or family that I can talk to about this. I end up driving my wife crazy talking about permie stuff at 10pm when shes trying to sleep! Thank god she is on board with everything we are doing, she just does not want to listen to my ideas 24/7 lol.

I do not have internet at the farm, so I use internet while im working or I park near a cafe. But at night I can sit there and type up posts about new topics and get my permie brainstorm fix every night before bed. I cannot sleep if I do not get some of these thoughts out of my head.
 
Tobias Ber
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i think of biointense like a toolbox. a set of (somewhat) specific tools. this is true for all gardening methods.

there is the saying: when you only have a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

so it s awesome to have a wide array of tools, perspectives, ways of thinking, gardening-principles etc. ... (no mono-crop in our brains )

i d like to add that square-foot-gardening can have a place in these systems, too. like in zone 1. you ll have a very small but intensively tended area to get YOUR SPECIAL VEGGIES (your personal must-haves), herbs, greens n stuff. you do much more controlling there, because the certain veggies have a much higher value for you. so you try to guarantee a steady production in a convenient location near your house.

it uses raised boxes instead of double digging, lot s of compost, polyculture and very dense planting




we have to find out what works best in our special situation.
 
Travis Schultz
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I rented Mel's book from the library before I decided that I would go with Jeavons book. After reviewing them both, and putting it into practice, I am very glad I went with Jeavons.

If I had to be honest, I would say I just do not like the square foot gardening. Obviously completely adaptable to any other situation, but to me the amount of input needing to be brought in, beyond just the organic amendments, frankly scares me.

Isn't sq ft gardening where he says to bring in all that peat moss and vermiculite? If I remember correctly. Because first off vermiculite is far from sustainable, and peat moss breaks down into a much more acidic form. Furthermore, with Bio-Intensive, you do not need rot resistant and or arsenic treated wood to build a frame for your bed. I know this helps with weeding the edge of your bed by having a wooden wall where the bed just stops rather than slopes down. But so does mulch, or cardboard and wood chips in the pathways. I couldn't imagine having to build 40 wooden boxes like that to be able to grow my diet.

But a merging of the two methods is probably best. I am sure I use many "square foot gardening" methods and do not even realize it. I think Mel's book is more for the small gardener rather than the person trying to grow their diet.
 
Tobias Ber
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hey travis... yay, it s about the scale. square foot gardening is best for beginners and small places. it makes not much sense for market-gardening (maybe in some niches, probably for herbs or so, where you might want to have very high intensity and control)

... but...

would it help in situations when there is literally no soil? like the keyhole gardens used in africa. make the raised beds from stones or logs, compost whatever you can get and do diverse and dense planting like in square foot gardening.

one has to see, if/where these intense planting methods fit into the permeculture setup.
 
Travis Schultz
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Yeah I totally agree.

If you are in any area that literally has no usable soil, then it is imperative to bring in soil, peat, verm, and compost (at least if you expect to get a crop anytime soon). I am an advocate of bringing in raw amendments for the first 3 years to correct any imbalance in the soil. Too much or too little of many different elements and minerals will make it so plants cannot uptake many other nutrients.
 
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