Monday, January 7, 2013

What is biointensive vegetable gardening and why?

I am far from an expert on gardening.   Luckily, I've always had a green thumb.  I can pretty much make anything grow, but I've also had my share of mistakes.  The best way to learn how to garden is to experiment and try different things and not be afraid that you'll fail.  That's the only way you'll learn.

Also, I'm taking liberty to change things as I see fit or want.  Please don't take my word as final.  This is a very loose adaptation of biointensive gardening.  So, if you don't want to use open-pollinated seeds, fine. (You won't be able to save the seeds, though, so not so economical) If you want to buy plants  instead of growing your own, fine!  We are having fun here and hopefully grow some delicious veggies along the way.  The thing I want to accomplish is that you will find a way to garden alongside me in your neck of the woods.  We can encourage each other along the way and share triumphs and fails together.

I've grown vegetables using different techniques, but I find that biointensive vegetable gardening is perfect for the backyard grower who: 1.) doesn't have a lot of time, 2.) doesn't have a lot of room in which to grow vegetables  and 3.) wants to grow organically and economically.

To begin, biointensive growing is an ancient form of growing so it's not a new technique.  You may have heard the terms French biointensive, Square Foot gardening, Grow Biointensive.  These all basically follow the same guidelines: Using wide beds filled with loose, friable soil loaded with composted organic matter. Plant or sow closer together to create a microclimate and a living mulch. Use open-pollinated seeds to create biodiversity in the garden.

Soil:  Soil is loosened deeply, usually down 12" or more.  Double digging is a  key term that is used in biointensive gardening. It is explained here.  However, I am not convinced that it is only way to achieve deeply aerated soil.  The purpose is so that the plant roots can stretch out and grow unrestrained in order for them to accept micronutrients deep within the soil.  Double digging is back-breaking!  Believe me, I've done it.  And I'm not going to do it anymore.  I believe you can get nice deeply loose soil through raised beds or by adding compost deeply directly on the beds.  You can even use a rototiller (but don't overuse it or you will break down the structure of the soil)  However, once you get that deep loose soil, it must remain free from any foot traffic or compaction. Think deep, loose and rich!

Beds:  Biointensive beds are wider than traditional rows, generally 36"-48".  Wider means more plants and then planted closer together.  Paths can be any size you'd like.  Consider your situation.  Will you be tending the garden yourself?  What space limitations do you need to consider?  Will you be mowing the path or needing to move a wheelbarrow down it?  Also, the bed should be wide enough that you can reach comfortably to the center of the bed from each side.  This will alleviate your need to step into the bed and therefore compressing the soil.  You don't want to do that.

Using open-pollinated seeds:  First of all, when you choose your seeds I recommend using only open pollinated seeds. By doing this you will be creating biodiversity in your garden.  Through open pollination, natural pollinators like insects, wind and birds will pollinate your seeds.  Therefore, each plant may have a slightly different genetic makeup which will enable it to adapt better to it's natural environment. Because of this you may notice a subtle taste difference in your vegetables within the same seed family. Even better, after harvest, you may save the seeds from the plants. These seeds will be replicas of the mother plant.  Hybrid seeds won't do that.  So if you get a delicious tasting tomato make sure to save the seeds for next season.  No more buying seeds=more economical.
Next time I'll be discussing garden layout and seed selection.  Also, frost dates and the length of the growing season.  Begin thinking where you'd like to put your beds.  Remember, you'll need at least 6 hours a day for most vegetables to grow.  However, looking out your window now is probably not the best indicator.  I'm from Michigan and the trees are bare now in January and the sun is lower in the sky. Think what it will be like from May-October.

Now, think what growing your own food means to you.  Are you looking for the perfect-tasting tomato?  Do you like the feeling of security that  a well-stocked pantry provides?  Does having your hands in the soil feed soil?  I'd like to know!

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