All of the well-known gardening methods work in the sense. That you can successfully grow food using any one of them. Whether it’s the Mittleider method, Biodynamic Gardening, Lasagna Gardening, dig, or no-dig. So, if they all work, why did I choose the method that I use? I’ll answer that question in today’s video. I’ve talked a lot about my approach in other videos, so today I’ll just describe it briefly. I plant intensively in beds, using a no-dig approach. I keep the soil covered with organic matter. And I apply compost, vermicompost, and mulch to the soil surface without digging it in. I make all of over compost and vermicompost myself, and all the organic matter I use in the garden is free. Compost, vermicompost, and mulch give our soil all the nutrients. It needs, and I don’t have to rely on commercial fertilizers.
I also plant cool weather nitrogen-fixing crops in late summer when there’s space that isn’t occupied by food crops. And I plant in polycultures to reduce pest and disease pressures. When possible, I rely on predators to control pests but sometimes I resort to manual control. I don’t use any pesticides. So, why did I choose this approach over some of the well-known gardening methods? It really comes down to my personal values and goals. I mention three of these goals at the end of every video. I want to grow a lot of food. But I don’t want to spend much and I don’t want to work harder than I have to. But there are two other goals that are very important to me.
I want my approach to work with nature instead of against it, and I want the methods that I use to be well supported by scientific research. Now let’s take a look at each of my five goals and talk about why I think my approach is more consistent with them than some of the other popular gardening 101 methods. The first goal is to grow a lot of food. We achieve this by planting intensively in beds instead of using a traditional row-based approach. We also maximize our vertical space by growing some crops on trellises or stakes. This approach was initially inspired by square Foot Gardening and later influenced by Biointensive plant spacing.
We also apply permaculture principles, such as growing shade-tolerant crops in the understory of taller crops. All of these methods combine to allow us to grow more food in a small amount of space than we could use a row-based approach. So, how much of our food do we grow? One of my side projects this year is to get a better idea of how much food my wife and I eat from the garden in a year. Though I’ll have a more accurate estimate at the end of the year, my best guess right now is that we eat over a thousand pounds of food from the garden in a year and that it has a market value of more than six thousand dollars. I can’t think of a better use of our 700 square feet of growing space.
My second goal is to not spend much. I do use elemental sulfur on our blueberries and I buy a few products for our potting mix, but other than that I don’t buy anything for our soil. I don’t buy fertilizer, compost, rock dust, mycorrhizal amendments, composttea, none of that stuff. And make all of my own compost and vermicompost from free organic matter that would otherwise be thrown away. And I mulch the garden with free resources like leaves, grass clippings from untreated lawns, and chop and drop garden waste. Soil testing has shown that this approach has resulted in surpluses of most nutrients and no deficiencies. So. buying additional products would simply be a waste of money.
We also save money by growing a lot of perennials and self-sowing annuals and by saving seeds. Keeping the ground covered with mulch keeps our water bill down and direct sowing in the garden whenever possible reduces our electricity bill in the grow room. All of these things not only save us money they make us much more self-sufficient. If suddenly tomorrow all gardening 101 products vanished from the market, our garden would continue on almost as if nothing happened. Contrast this with the Mittleider method, for example. Though this method certainly works, it’s completely dependent on regular applications of synthetic fertilizers, which cost money and increase your reliance on external inputs. People who follow this method also often purchase their growing medium instead of growing in the soil. My third goal is to not work harder than I have to.
I don’t want my garden to become a full-time job. So, if the gardening 101 practice doesn’t support one of my five goals. My attitude is this: if I don’t have to do it I’m not going to do it. For example, I don’t plow, I don’t double dig, I don’t turn compost, I don’t dig compost into the soil. I don’t aerate the soil with a garden fork, I don’t use compost tea and other teams, and I don’t use any of the products I mentioned earlier.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. In addition, keeping the soil covered with mulch means that I don’t have to spend a lot of time weeding or watering the garden. Contrast my approach with Biointensive gardening 101, which definitely works, but recommends double digging and turning compost frequently. Double digging is not only a lot of work, but it’s also counterproductive because it destroys soil structure and disrupts mycorrhizal networks.
And though turning compost frequently is helpful if you need compost fast, if you can afford to wait and don’t need it in a hurry, you don’t need to turn it. So, again, if it doesn’t support one of my five goals, I just don’t do it. My fourth goal is to work with nature. When it comes to soil fertility, this means I want to promote the soil food web.
Compost, mulch, and no-dig promote the soil food web by providing food and habitat for beneficial soil organisms like earthworms, beneficial bacteria, and mycorrhizal fungi. These organisms build soil structure and they release nutrients in the soil so that they’re planted available. Another great example of working with nature is growing in polycultures to help manage pest and disease issues. Polycultures attract a broad diversity of beneficial insects including pest predators and they make it more difficult for pests to find their host plants.
And mulching with woodchips has had a dramatic impact on our slug population. They used to be a big problem for us, but now there are ground beetles everywhere living in the woodchips and ground beetles eat slugs. They’ve reduced the population to the point where they’re not even an issue. A few other pests predators we rely on in the garden are wasps, which eat cabbage worms, and ladybugs, and spiders, which control aphids. Working with nature is much more sustainable and I believe more effective than trying to fight it. I often shake my head when I see gardeners dusting or spraying their garden vegetables with toxic chemicals. Especially when those chemicals kill indiscriminately, including beneficial insects like pollinators and pest predators. That otherwise would help them control their pest problems.
My fifth goal is to use gardening practices that are well supported by science. Yes, I do rely on my own observations of what works and doesn’t, but it’s also important to me that the gardening 101 practices I implement here in the garden are consistent with research. And the benefits of compost, vermicompost, mulch, and no-dig are all well-established in research. I also look too hard data for feedback on how my approach is working and whether or not I need to make any changes. A professional soil test every few years tells me exactly what my soil needs and doesn’t need. I see one of the biggest benefits of a soil test is that it tells me what I don’t have to buy and what I don’t have to put in the soil in terms of amendments and fertilizers.
Another aspect of this evidence-based approach is that I need to be open to change. My gardening 101 practices in response to new evidence. A great example of this is when I stopped using compost tea a few years ago. After looking into the research on compost tea and determining that it really doesn’t provide any benefit beyond using compost alone. Not using compost tea has saved me so much time, and I’ve seen no downside in the garden. Oh, there you are! Hey boy! I hope this video gave you a better idea of why I use the methods. I use it in my garden and perhaps it inspired some of you to use similar methods. That consistent with your goals and values. If you found this video helpful, please give it a thumbs up. And if you haven’t already,