biointensive growing methods

The method appears to allow any soil to be turned it into a bountiful garden or mini farm.

biointensive growing methods

EdibleScapes Gardens closed to public: COVID-19 (23 March 2020)

Closing the garden was a sad decision because the communal EdibleScape project was about to become more accessible to the public. This decision was made so that we can continue to donate fresh produce to food relief organisations in this difficult time.

During the closure, we will communicate our gardening methods and reading resources on our website. We hope it will be useful to new gardeners and trigger some exchange of knowledge with experienced growers out there.

Ediblescapes Inc. is a social and ecological service organisation working towards food sovereignty and justice for food growers and consumers. We align ourselves with urban agroecology principles in the hope of creating a resilient circular economy model that can be replicated by urban communities.

Agroecology is not simply a step by step process; it is a holistic method of producing food through cultivating living soil with entrenched respect for the relationship between humans and other living beings in the ecosystem.

As shown in the pictures below, diverse plants grow close together in the same space as sapling edible trees and flowers. This multi-crop garden is an adaptation of biointensive growing methods.

Pic1: lettuce, corn, sunflower
Pic2: Radish, lettuce, rocket, corn
Pic3: Amaranth in lettuce garden bed

The set of pictures below show how flowers and overhanging leaves attract and entertain bugs, luring them away from edible vegetable leaves underneath. The bugs are eaten by birds, which in turn distracts the birds from ripening fruit. Flowers attract beneficial insects that eat the bugs too. This is a natural pest control method.

Pic4: Bug eats amaranth leaf and ignores the lettuce leaf.
Pic5: A larva on the amaranth flower
Pic6: An insect eats a bug
Pic7: Biointensive growing: lettuce, tomatoes, flowers and herbs planted at the Women’s’ Week Working Bee, March 2020.

In Pic7 above, a new garden bed accommodates dense and diverse plants. This is possible because the growing garden substrate had been prepared with a consistent percentage of organic matter mix in a double depth of loose soil, allowing plant roots to grow to a depth of 60cm if needed.

Steps to create a typical EdibleScapes garden bed
1: Micro-catchments

Each garden bed is designed with rainwater micro-catchments:deep trenches dug along a contour and filled with composted mulch.  The top trench harvests rainwater while the lower trench is designed to retain infiltrated water. In one to two years the mulch in the trench will became humus rich with living organism and will be the perfect organic matter to mix into the garden bed.

Pic8: Typical deep trench, filled with mature mulch all along garden borders.
2: Amend soil structure

In order to augment the volume of ‘growing soil’ and amend the soil structure, soil is mixed with up to 25% of aged organic composted mulch. The objective is to produce a garden bed with loose soil to the depth of 60cm.

The garden in Pic9 has been cleaned up and prepared for the Autumn – Winter season, as shown in Pic12. From 1 metre wide the garden was extended to 2 metres wide.

The mulch on the walking track was incorporated into the garden soil. Two catchment trenches were dug deep along the upper and lower garden 2 metres apart and filled with aged composted mulch.

Pic9: 1-year old garden, of 1m wide and with mulch track borders

To be noted: As this garden is 1-year old, it has two trenches with aged mulch.  The new dig reveals the mulch is halfway transformed into humus. This satisfice EdibleScapes’ objective to cultivate living soil that healthy and nutritive edibles plants will grow in.  

3: Add solid fertilisers

After the garden bed is prepared, EdibleScapes adds 4 layers of organic solid fertilisers composing:  

  • 1 cm of fermented green manure (BIO-SOL)
  • 1 cm of vermicompost
  • 2 cm of aged compost
  • 3 cm of bokashi
Pic10: add Biosol + Vermicompost
Pic11: add compost + bokashi
Pic12: 4 bio-fertiliser layers

The diverse combination of fertilisers introduces macro-organisms to increase the living soil, inoculate it with microorganisms, mycelium and mycorrhizas, activate fungi, bacterial, yeast and humic substances that decompose the organic matter into humus, and secure sufficient mineral trace elements presented in the growing soil.  

Pic13: garden worms
Pic14: mycelium
Pic15: mycorrhiza

Pictures 16 to 22 show EdibleScapes’ adaptation of the ‘Double-digging Procedure’ (described in chapter 1, ‘Deep Soil Creation and Maintenance’ –General Double-Digging Procedure, from John Jeavons’, “How to Grow More Vegetables” 8th Edition. (*). This method is also known as GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming. The method appears to allow any soil to be turned it into a bountiful garden or mini farm.

Pic16: Dig out the upper 30cm of the trench and move it forward into the anterior trench
Pic17: Loosen the lower part of the trench another 30cm deep.
Pic18: Move back the working digging board about 30cm.
Pic19: Spread a portion of the fertiliser layer into the loosened soil in the trench
Pic20: continue to dig out the upper part of the new trench and move it forward into the front trench
Pic21: Continue the complete texturizing double-digging process for the remaining garden bed.
Pic22:  The complete texturised double-dug bed is completed.

To be noted: EdibleScapes adds small garden beds to the landscape each time. Each garden bed is produced with only collected organic matter from site or very close to site. We do not utilise any commercial acquisitions nor use any energy consuming prefabricated elements, such as trees cut into wooden beams, mined metal or plastic products from fossil fuels.  Nor do we utilise any machinery.

More importantly, the EdibleScapes system is $0 budget farming. By developing healthy and nutritious soil that will remain as fertile humus for very long time, we are creating a positive regenerative system that is fully self-sustaining. This garden will not require any new external organic matter in the future, because the soil cultivation system increases available organic matter from the crops grown here.  The system is efficient in its use and retention of infiltrated water due to the micro-catchment trenches that are integrated with organic matter. These provide a living environment for macro and microorganism to reproduce, which transforms organic matter into stable fertile humus.

5 Seed Propagation

Parallel to preparing the garden bed, seed propagation it another essential element to growing healthy food.  Chapter 5 of Jeavons’ book has a system to learn from, which EdibleScapes is adapting to grow seedlings and transplant them into garden beds. The EdibleScapes Journal is documenting the experience to share our learning with the local grower community and website enthusiast.

23: Open-pollinated seeds.

24: Seeds planted in a diagonally offset spacing pattern.

25: Seeds can germinate 2 to 7 times faster in a mixed growing substrate because of the humic acids in the compost.
26: Transplanting into a second 15 cm deep soil tray.

27: Correct seedling replanting
28: Seedlings in a tray require much less water than seedlings in a bed.

Biointensive growing references:
* John Jeavons, “How to Grow More Vegetables”.

Margo Royer-Miller, “A farmer’s Mini-Handbook: GrowBiointensive, Sustainable Mini-farming”.

Ecology Action, “Climate Change and Grow Biointensive”

GROW BIOINTENSIVE: A Beginner's Guide, from John Jeavons and Cynthia Raiser Jeavons

Ecology Action: Biointensive Farming


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