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Bio-Intensive Can Deplete Your Soil

 
Travis Schultz
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Bio-Intensive can deplete your soil.

With the new Bio-Intensive thread up and running (thank you!) I am going to share some information that I found with my first 2 seasons as a Bio-Intensive farmer.
Bio-Intensive works largely in part because of the 1). Deep bed prep, and 2). The high amount of compost and organic amendments.

With proper handling and conditions you can grow your seedlings so that the roots never hit the bottom of a flat, what this does is allow your seedling to continue growing vertical roots deep into the soil and tap into nutrients and minerals that it otherwise would not be able to utilize. If the roots do hit the bottom of your flat, what happens is a message is sent up top and the plant stops trying to send so many roots down deep and instead sends them horizontally to then invade and compete with the plants around it.

By adjusting your transplanting technique you can assure each plant is ready to fill in the full 2 feet of broken op soil.

Furthermore, with the addition of so many more plants in the same space you need to use a lot more nutrients to keep everything growing and healthy. This can also get some into trouble if they assume they corrected their soil deficiency problems but really have made little improvement because of how much the plants used up in one season.

My first soil test onsite before making any adjustments had me at a minimum amount of P, a slightly larger percentage of K, Incredibly low Cal, and extremely high Mag. After adding 8 yards of worm castings, all of the recommended soil amendments, and quite a bit of extra nutrients and compost tea all summer long, I had only made a slight improvement the next year (at least on the soil test).

Spring of 2015 I had a second soil test done, this read slightly better P and K, better Cal to Mag ratio, better cation exchange ratio, and an almost 2% increase in organic matter.

So what that tells me is that the plants and microbeasts pretty much ate the raw nutrients I game them, but because of the high amount of roots decaying in the soil over winter, and the large amount of living and sheet mulch left on the beds, we had a nice bump of organic matter. After 2 years of only double digging once, my soil has had very little compaction. If I take a large clump in my hands, I can crumble it very easy, but when looking at a slice of soil or clump taken from a bed, it is just a maze of tunnels from worms and beetles. I will have to take a picture of it in spring to show all of you how great the soil is after 2 years of not double digging.

John Jeavons says to double dig after each season, and you can just broad fork it in between crops. So far I have not needed to do that at all.

There is little magic involved with growing large amounts of plants in small spaces, more plants mean you need to feed heavier. If you are afraid of raw nutrient burn, you can add the recommended amounts at the beginning of season (at least 2 weeks before your seedling roots touch the nutrients) and continue to do micro feedings throughout the season. I usually just use lots of compost tea and fermented plant extracts as micro feedings, although some manures and maybe feather meal definitely wouldn’t hurt a couple times throughout the season. If you start to see nutrient deficiency in certain beds or crops, your only hope for a quick feeding is fermented plant extracts and compost tea. Raw amendments take too long to become bio-available.

Again, I am going to add a picture of my Bio-Intensive 4000 sq ft model garden as an example of what the practice can do for the somewhat novice gardener.

My Tiny Home
Quitting the Rat Race With No Savings
Our Homestead
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Tyler Ludens
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The Ecology Action website has a strong warning about the possibility of depleting the soil with biointensive methods:

All of the components of this system must be used together for optimum effect and to avoid depleting the soil.

http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html

 
Travis Schultz
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I didnt know they had that disclaimer up there, that was something I figured out on my own. Luckily I foresaw it rather than realize it half way through the season. Thank you soil tests.
 
Matthew Drewno
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I am farming on a 1/4 acre degraded site once a road, then under cover of eucalyptus trees, overgrazed for 70 years by sheep and llamas and I have seen a sharp increase in the productivity of our land in the 5 years since the use of biointensive techniques. When I started there literally was no topsoil. I have seen several other biointensive farms which have had similar beginnings. Our inputs have been limited to a one-time compost input of 1/4" over each of the 100 sqft growing beds 6 years ago, as well as a few mineral inputs over the years including a little potassium sulfate, manganese, magnesium, hi-cal lime sulfur and gypsum. Our goal is to balance the soils asap, and then close the loop. Unfortunately I live in a location where composting my own humanure is not an option, so there is a major portion of the loop that remains open.

I just wanted to chime in about biointensive practices depleting soil. On our site we have seen soil organic matter increase 3.1x faster on a per year basis than a USDA NRCS no-till study. There may be many reasons for this, but I do believe that a big part of it is our emphasis on carbon farming, close plant spacing and composting.

The 8 elements of biointensive must be used together, if they are separated the system can become the opposite of what it is intended to be. For example, we typically reach 2-6x the yields of conventional, organic and GMO agriculture per unit of area. That means we can deplete our soil 2-6x as fast. If one is importing compost, they are strip-mining another soil to get their nutrients and organic matter. For those who have met John Jeavons, you might have become familiar with his "in the world of the future" line- well, in many places, that world of the future is now. In the next 50 years we will be running out of soil and water in a big way. That said, the art of growing your own soil and reducing your resource useage through the microscaling of agriculture is a good one to go for.

Goal of Biointensive: Understanding that agriculture is responsible for the majority of loss in habitat, destruction of ecosystems, use of resources/fossil fuels, environmental contamination/pollution, greenhouse gases; microscaling agriculture has the potential to reduce the human impact on the environment and allow for the restoration of functioning ecosystems. Therefore, our aim is to develop a system which functions on a pattern understanding which can be applied to any growing region around the world, including the US (which, in my opinion, is probably the most difficult place to teach it because we have become so disconnected from the soil and our communities in this culture). Therefore, the following 8 principles have been developed as a pattern to grow a complete diet, in the smallest space possible, using the fewest resources necessary while giving as much back to Nature as we can.

The 8 principles of whole systems sustainability taught in biointensive are:
1. Deep Soil preparation
2. Close plant spacing
3. Composting
4. Carbon Farming
5. Calorie Farming
6. Companion Planting
7. Open Pollinated Seeds
8. Whole Systems Perspective


An example of where this can go in the wrong direction is if you prepare the soil deep, plant things close together, but dont add compost. You will drain your soil pretty quick and yields will suffer significantly.

I hope this helps better understand the dynamics in a biointensive system which can lead to soil depletion, and which if practices correctly can increase soil significantly leading to higher yields with less weight on the planet.

Feel free to contact me for specific questions, as I cant get to the forum as often as Id like!!
Take care,
Matt
 
Tyler Ludens
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Matthew Drewno wrote:Unfortunately I live in a location where composting my own humanure is not an option


I'm wondering about that. Do you actually have "poop police" who make sure you aren't composting human poop? It might be impossible to get a permit for a composting toilet, but it's difficult for me to imagine living in a place where people are so intrusive they look at your compost heaps to make sure there's no human poop in there. We have a composting toilet outhouse on our place, but one can only get a permit for septic systems, as far as I know. My big personal rule of behavior is "Don't flounce." So far I've never been prevented from doing something because someone wouldn't give me permission to do it. Just sayin'

 
Travis Schultz
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Matthew Drewno wrote:I am farming on a 1/4 acre degraded site once a road, then under cover of eucalyptus trees, overgrazed for 70 years by sheep and llamas and I have seen a sharp increase in the productivity of our land in the 5 years since the use of biointensive techniques. When I started there literally was no topsoil. I have seen several other biointensive farms which have had similar beginnings. Our inputs have been limited to a one-time compost input of 1/4" over each of the 100 sqft growing beds 6 years ago, as well as a few mineral inputs over the years including a little potassium sulfate, manganese, magnesium, hi-cal lime sulfur and gypsum. Our goal is to balance the soils asap, and then close the loop. Unfortunately I live in a location where composting my own humanure is not an option, so there is a major portion of the loop that remains open.

I just wanted to chime in about biointensive practices depleting soil. On our site we have seen soil organic matter increase 3.1x faster on a per year basis than a USDA NRCS no-till study. There may be many reasons for this, but I do believe that a big part of it is our emphasis on carbon farming, close plant spacing and composting.

The 8 elements of biointensive must be used together, if they are separated the system can become the opposite of what it is intended to be. For example, we typically reach 2-6x the yields of conventional, organic and GMO agriculture per unit of area. That means we can deplete our soil 2-6x as fast. If one is importing compost, they are strip-mining another soil to get their nutrients and organic matter. For those who have met John Jeavons, you might have become familiar with his "in the world of the future" line- well, in many places, that world of the future is now. In the next 50 years we will be running out of soil and water in a big way. That said, the art of growing your own soil and reducing your resource useage through the microscaling of agriculture is a good one to go for.

Goal of Biointensive: Understanding that agriculture is responsible for the majority of loss in habitat, destruction of ecosystems, use of resources/fossil fuels, environmental contamination/pollution, greenhouse gases; microscaling agriculture has the potential to reduce the human impact on the environment and allow for the restoration of functioning ecosystems. Therefore, our aim is to develop a system which functions on a pattern understanding which can be applied to any growing region around the world, including the US (which, in my opinion, is probably the most difficult place to teach it because we have become so disconnected from the soil and our communities in this culture). Therefore, the following 8 principles have been developed as a pattern to grow a complete diet, in the smallest space possible, using the fewest resources necessary while giving as much back to Nature as we can.

The 8 principles of whole systems sustainability taught in biointensive are:
1. Deep Soil preparation
2. Close plant spacing
3. Composting
4. Carbon Farming
5. Calorie Farming
6. Companion Planting
7. Open Pollinated Seeds
8. Whole Systems Perspective


An example of where this can go in the wrong direction is if you prepare the soil deep, plant things close together, but dont add compost. You will drain your soil pretty quick and yields will suffer significantly.

I hope this helps better understand the dynamics in a biointensive system which can lead to soil depletion, and which if practices correctly can increase soil significantly leading to higher yields with less weight on the planet.

Feel free to contact me for specific questions, as I cant get to the forum as often as Id like!!
Take care,
Matt


They CAN be separated as long as the person doing it understands what they are doing and not just skipping steps and cutting corners. There is no discovery in this world without experimentation.

I myself do not like following someones system to a T. Because what works for them on their land and in their trials is not always whats going to work for everyone else. You can also measure the organic matter in your soil through a lab and know for sure if you are depleting it or not. With only adding a half inch of compost on each bed my first year with Bio-Intensive, I gained almost 2% organic matter. That was due largely in part to the amount of composting roots in the soil.

I preach to everyone to experiment wherever they can, and learn what works best for them.

I no longer make big compost piles on a weekly basis, or turn on a regular basis as bio-intensive would have you do. I instead compost most material in place on the bed as a sheet mulch. I also source as much compost material as I can from other parts of the farm. I do make compost piles but thats mostly for the chickens and for my compost tea.

Fermented plant extracts are something Bio-Intensive does not touch on, but using those methods with nettle, mullien, horsetail, etc etc you can add mass amounts of nutrients to your soil and plants by utilizing the growing tips of local weeds growing in the margins of roads and around the farm.

Fermented plant extracts make the plants bigger, that means more roots and material to compost without having added compost to make them bigger in the first place. Now thats my kind of nutrient cycling lol

Glad you are having good success with Bio-Intensive. I have noticed huge improvements in my soil with these methods, and also the methods of many other natural farming systems, not just bio-intensive. I use a lot of straight bio-dynamic methods that John does not include in his book also.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Travis Schulert wrote: I instead compost most material in place on the bed as a sheet mulch.


That's exactly what I do. But the materials I'm using to sheet mulch are coming from outside the garden - tree chips and leaves and poop that results from my sheep grazing and browsing, and from my chickens foraging.
 
Travis Schultz
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Yeah man, I just take my scythe out to a field,chop some tall grass. Or use a bag attachment on my push mower when mowing round the garden.

I get good manure when i can, but its in short supply compared to herbacious material.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Pure biointensive only uses plant material for compost anyway, so you're doing it closer to the "right way" than I am!

 
Travis Schultz
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Pure biointensive only uses plant material for compost anyway, so you're doing it closer to the "right way" than I am!



LOL!
 
Matthew Drewno
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Matthew Drewno wrote:Unfortunately I live in a location where composting my own humanure is not an option


I'm wondering about that. Do you actually have "poop police" who make sure you aren't composting human poop? It might be impossible to get a permit for a composting toilet, but it's difficult for me to imagine living in a place where people are so intrusive they look at your compost heaps to make sure there's no human poop in there. We have a composting toilet outhouse on our place, but one can only get a permit for septic systems, as far as I know. My big personal rule of behavior is "Don't flounce." So far I've never been prevented from doing something because someone wouldn't give me permission to do it. Just sayin'



Tyler,

I dont have a poop policeman looking over my shoulder, but an ecoresort has given me the land to run a garden on- they have a restaurant, and are CCOF Organic Certified and I make the decision to leave poop out of the equation for now. And I wouldnt advocate putting poop in a compost pile...i would compost it separately, off to the side and let it go through its process on its own- you can leave it sit longer which is just safer overall...

But, man do I hate flushing the toilet....
 
Matthew Drewno
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Travis Schulert wrote:

They CAN be separated as long as the person doing it understands what they are doing and not just skipping steps and cutting corners. There is no discovery in this world without experimentation.

I myself do not like following someones system to a T. Because what works for them on their land and in their trials is not always whats going to work for everyone else. You can also measure the organic matter in your soil through a lab and know for sure if you are depleting it or not. With only adding a half inch of compost on each bed my first year with Bio-Intensive, I gained almost 2% organic matter. That was due largely in part to the amount of composting roots in the soil.

I preach to everyone to experiment wherever they can, and learn what works best for them.

I no longer make big compost piles on a weekly basis, or turn on a regular basis as bio-intensive would have you do. I instead compost most material in place on the bed as a sheet mulch. I also source as much compost material as I can from other parts of the farm. I do make compost piles but thats mostly for the chickens and for my compost tea.

Fermented plant extracts are something Bio-Intensive does not touch on, but using those methods with nettle, mullien, horsetail, etc etc you can add mass amounts of nutrients to your soil and plants by utilizing the growing tips of local weeds growing in the margins of roads and around the farm.

Fermented plant extracts make the plants bigger, that means more roots and material to compost without having added compost to make them bigger in the first place. Now thats my kind of nutrient cycling lol

Glad you are having good success with Bio-Intensive. I have noticed huge improvements in my soil with these methods, and also the methods of many other natural farming systems, not just bio-intensive. I use a lot of straight bio-dynamic methods that John does not include in his book also.


Travis,

I love your thoughts on experiments! Our system is not designed to a T, it is quite flexible actually. It is a set of basic principles that can be applied anywhere. When you take a look at where we are likely to be in about 25-50 years from now, you might come to the conclusion that close-system farming is the only game in town...people might actually be fighting over compost and water! Therefore, I like to think that even though our system scares some people off because it does imply a pattern to help people achieve sustainability, I am confident that someday our methods will be used quite widely.

Your garden sounds like it is thriving!

I also wanted to make a note that I dont turn my compost piles unless I have to, and in fact consider that to be a critical reason why our organic matter has risen so sharply. More and more our work in biointensive is pointing towards the benefits of not turning your compost. The only real advantage turning offers is faster compost, and faster isnt always better. Turning a pile introduces a lot of oxygen and brings the pile back to that "beginning point" where a lot of carbon is burned off in that decomposition stage. If you let a pile age as it goes, and allow it to experience a complete maturity on its own, you are left with a qualitatively different substance. It like to think of it as a good cheese or wine- let it age for a while and it will taste better In addition, I get more quantitatively out of my piles if I do not turn. I keep good records on my piles, so this I am confident of. Also, the type of materials you include in the pile, namely more structural lignins and such will also go a long way to increase longer term soil organic matter...food for thought!


 
Tyler Ludens
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Matthew Drewno wrote:
I dont have a poop policeman looking over my shoulder, but an ecoresort has given me the land to run a garden on- they have a restaurant, and are CCOF Organic Certified and I make the decision to leave poop out of the equation for now. And I wouldnt advocate putting poop in a compost pile...i would compost it separately, off to the side and let it go through its process on its own- you can leave it sit longer which is just safer overall...

But, man do I hate flushing the toilet....


Sorry, I didn't realize your specific relationship to this land, and yes, I agree human poop should have its own compost heap.

 
Matthew Drewno
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The poop situation is especially frustrating when you are working with degraded land- every bit of OM and nutrient helps! Ive seen a few gardens/mini-farms incorporating cured humanure into their soils and im a bit jealous....i get the feeling that almost all nutrient fertilizers and inputs are substitutes for cured humanure. I can't wait to see the day when its more culturally accepted as an essential component to a sustainable food-soil system...Mr hanky almost turned the boat around for us- maybe we need a new south park episode about humanure.
 
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