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Jeavons Center Mini-Farm Report
By Eric Buteyn, Former Mini-Farm Manager

150 Pounds of Squash from 25 Square Feet?!

Lower Salmon River Squash

While I am writing this article, the garden is almost fully transitioned from tall, fat, strong summer crops to short, small, but hardy winter crops that we trust will help protect and weave together our valuable built-up mountain soil, preventing gravity (and hopefully winter rains) from pulling nutrients down to the valley. Then in the spring, these beds of wheat, rye, barley, oats, triticale, vetch, and fava beans will erupt again into the more vertically impressive garden.

 Some of most exciting crops of the 2014 summer garden included the 10-ft-tall Dale sorghum that yielded 105.9 lb of dry biomass in a 100-sq-ft  bed and the Orange King tomatoes that produced 52.6 lb in 25 sq ft  (210 lb per 100 sq ft) which is more than 3 times the US average for fresh tomatoes. Also, the Lower Salmon River winter squash that we grew between and beside four compost piles really thrived!


We technically planted the squash in only 25 sq ft: five 1ftx5ft slices of a 125-sq-ft growing area. These slices were separated by four large compost piles. From these five slices, 152 lb of squash were harvested! This is well above intermediate GB yields, even if the crop had taken up all 125 sq ft! Let’s think why we were able to get such an impressive yield.


First, the heat generated by vigorous microbial activity in the compost piles not only heated up the piles, but also warmed the soil below and adjacent to them, allowing for more continuous nutrient cycling and faster root growth for the squash, even during the cold nights that plague us on the mountain. The air around the piles was warmed as well, ensuring easy pollination of the female flowers. Despite nighttime temperatures that rarely stay above 60 degrees here, the radiant heat from the piles surely kept air temps closer to the 70- to 92-degree range that is optimal for squash pollination.


Second, although we use plenty of carbonaceous material to build our compost piles, some leaching of nutrients can occur, which isn't a terrible thing if there are established squash roots under the piles. We suspect this had a hand in giving us such a high yield.


Finally, the moisture retention that the compost piles provided early on ensured consistent root/soil contact and nutrient uptake for the squash. In turn, the squash plants grew vigorously, covering the compost piles and preventing excessive drying of the piles. This mutually beneficial situation resulted in a healthy and very well protected bed that probably required much less water than a typical, wide-spaced squash bed would need.


Giving credit where credit is due, I want to acknowledge Luke Howerter, one of the Field Coordinators at our Golden Rule Mini-Farm last year, who planted Pink Banana squash between compost piles and had a similarly exciting result!


On a personal note, this is the last garden report I will write, as I've chosen to join my wife-to-be, Renee, in my hometown Denver, where we hope to eventually create and host another John Jeavons/Ecology Action-inspired mini-farm that will further expand this valuable network.


To close this article, and my three years of official involvement with Ecology Action, I want to express my gratitude to those who came before me, each having an impact on the vast wisdom base that we all have the amazing opportunity to access. In addition, I would especially like to express my thanks to John, to whom I’ll be forever linked in our mutual, faithful vision of healthy, joyful, sustainable communities across this great creation!

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