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To learn more about the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, click a topic below.

  • What is
    GROW
    BIOINTENSIVE?
  • Why
    is it
    important?
  • How
    it works
    to build soil
  • Grow soil
    and grow food
    in the smallest space
  • The
    broccoli
    test
  • Getting
    started with
    the method

GROW BIOINTENSIVE®:
A SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION FOR GROWING FOOD.

A Thriving GROW BIOINTENSIVE GardenWe have dedicated our research to rediscovering the scientific principles that underlie millennia-old traditional farming systems. These have guided us to the eight essential aspects that are the foundation of GROW BIOINTENSIVE:

  • Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive Planting
  • Companion Planting
  • Carbon Farming
  • Calorie Farming
  • The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  • A Whole-System Farming Method


Image © 1995 Jim Bones

Most life in nature occurs at the interface of soil, water, air and sun. GROW BIOINTENSIVE soil preparation practices create growing beds with more surface area to maximize the effect of nature’s life processes. Double-dug beds, with soil loosened to a depth of 24 inches, aerate the soil, facilitate root growth, and improve water retention. The health and vigor of the soil are maintained through the use of compost. Close plant spacing is used to protect soil microorganisms, reduce water loss, and maximize yields. Companion planting facilitates the optimal use of nutrients, light and water, encourages beneficial insects and creates a vibrant mini-ecosystem within the garden. A focus on the production of calories for the farmer and carbon for the soil ensures that both the farmer and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. The use of open-pollinated seeds helps to preserve genetic diversity and enables gardeners to develop their own acclimatized cultivars. All of the components of this system must be used together for optimum effect and to avoid depleting the soil.

GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using:

  • 67% to 88% less water
  • 50% to 100% less fertilizer
  • 99% less energy than commercial agriculture, while using a fraction of the
    resources

These techniques can also:

  • Produce 2 to 6 times more food
  • Build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, if properly used
  • Reduce by half or more the amount of land needed

 

THE NEED FOR GROW BIOINTENSIVE®!

Mother and Child Growing Food Using the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Method

Globally, the health of farming is being threatened by severe challenges:

  • Because of population growth, pollution of water sources, and greater use of water for industry, by 2050 each person on the Earth will have only 25% of the water that was available in 1950. Current agricultural practices use 80% of the Earth’s available water.
  • There may be as little as 40 years of farmable soil remaining globally. For every pound of food eaten, 6 to 24 pounds of soil are lost due to water and wind erosion, as the result of agricultural practices,
  • 95% of the seed varieties ever grown in agriculture are now virtually extinct. Much of this is due to the growing of relatively few crops, and the frequent use of hybrid seeds for the crops that are grown. Seeds that are no longer used soon lose their viability and are rarely available.
  • Global warming may cut agricultural production in half within as little as 20 years. In February, 2004, the Observer in the United Kingdom reported that climate change is a greater threat to the world than terrorism.
  • With supplies of petroleum and natural gas running out, conventional agriculture—heavily dependent on these resources—will become more expensive, raising food prices accordingly. As natural gas to make inexpensive nitrogen fertilizer is depleted, it may take significantly more land to grow the same amount of food, when conventional agricultural practices are used.
  • The number of farmers globally keeps decreasing. In the US, only 2/5 of 1% of the population now farm. Many people would like to farm but are unable to afford the land and equipment current wisdom says is necessary for a farm to be economically viable. Other farmers have been forced off their land due to heavy competition from globalization and subsidized food. As farmers go out of business, their skills—often passed down through millennia—are also lost to the world. Once thriving communities that served rural populations deteriorate and die as farmers leave.

Need2

GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming can provide a solution to many of these challenges. The method:

  • Requires 67% to 88% less water than conventional agriculture.
  • Properly used, is capable of building up soil while growing food.
  • Grows a wide variety of crops, using only open-pollinated seeds.
  • Requires no petroleum or natural gas products. It is based on human energy and will still be productive when oil runs out.
  • Can produce high yields on small pieces of land with limited resource use, making it accessible to almost everyone who would like to grow food.

Small-scale farming is as old as agriculture itself. One study of 15 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, found that per-acre output on small farms can be as much as four to five times higher than on large ones. Russia, over the years, has often produced 30% to 50% of its food on household plots representing as little as 3% to 5% of all Russian farmland. The productivity of small-scale farms is also being widely recognized by agricultural economists who call it the “inverse relationship between farm size and productivity.”

 

 

SOIL AND GROW BIOINTENSIVE®

Willits, CA GROW BIOINTENSIVE Test Garden

All of life on Earth depends on six-inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains! The soil is a living organism that must be fed and nurtured to keep it feeding us. Down through the millennia farmers have known this and have renewed the soil with organic matter and other nutrients.

However, this basic understanding has been lost by the current conventional agriculture. Soil has been viewed as simply another commodity, an inert medium for growing, and has been inundated with chemicals to provide high yields and kill insects and plant diseases. In the process, once-fertile soils have become severely depleted of organic matter, nutrients, and micro-organisms—the army of invisible, beneficial workers in the soil. Depleted soils are in danger of being blown away by wind or washed away by rain.

Thirty percent of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the last 40 years due to severe erosion.

  • As little as 40 years of farmable soil remain globally.
  • For each pound of food eaten in the United States, approximately 6 pounds of soil are lost to wind and water erosion, resulting from agricultural practices.
  • Twelve pounds of farmable soil are similarly lost in developing countries, with 18 pounds of farmable soil lost in China for every pound of food eaten.
  • Approximately 213,000 people are added to the planet daily, requiring about 34,000 more farmable acres each day to feed them—acreage which does not exist.
  • Due to all of these factors, by 2014 only about 64% of the world’s population is likely to have an adequate diet.

On June 15, 2004, the United Nations observed that the world’s land is turning to desert at an alarming speed—at twice the rate that was occurring in 1970.

Conventional farming methods lose topsoil at a rate of 6 to 18 pounds of soil lost per pound of food eaten. In contrast, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of farming has the capacity to produce up to 20 pounds of soil per pound of food eaten!

Ecology Action started its research in 1972 in its first research garden on Syntex Corporation land at the Stanford University Industrial Park. ‘A’ and ‘B’ horizons soil had been removed and the garden was created on ‘C’ horizon subsoil. In 1980 it was necessary to give up this site because Syntex needed the land. Before the garden was moved Doug Maher, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the soil in one of the growing beds. He listed the results in his Soil Science Master’s thesis, finding that the humified carbon level in the upper 1 to 1.5 inches of the soil had been built up in only eight years to a level that would have taken nature alone 500 years to accomplish. The thesis extrapolated that GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques, properly used, have the potential to build soil up to 60 times faster than it can be developed in nature.

In the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system, soil fertility is maintained by allotting 60% of what is grown to compost crops. A focus on the production, through these crops, of calories for the gardener and carbon for the soil can ensure that both the gardener and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. Because this biologically-intensive method requires much less area to produce the same yield of crops as conventional agriculture, if it were used globally at least one-half of the world’s acreage could be left in the wild for the preservation of the all important plant and animal diversity.

“The soil is a living organism. Like all other living organisms, she breathes, feeds, grows, develops, and moves. Nature gave her external and internal spiritual beauty. This must be understood by first seeing, then feeling, understanding, and above all, falling in love with her.”
---Irina Kim, Biointensive practitioner and teacher in Uzbekistan

 

 

The 60-30-10 crop ratio used in the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Method

To download this image as a PDF click here

 

60/30/10

CLARIFICATIONS AND EXAMPLES
(General Aids for Planning Your Diet)

60-65% of the area — “Carbon-and-Calorie Crops” — High-Carbon-producing and
    significant-calorie-producing (weight-efficient
[see below]) crops

Grains: Wheat, Cereal Rye, Oats, Barley, Triticale, Corn, Sorghum, Amaranth, Quinoa, etc.
Fava Beans (grown to maturity for dry bean and dry biomass production)
Sunflowers (sunflower seeds very high in fat; maximum to avoid copper toxicity = 0.62 lb / day)
Filberts
Raisins

30% of the area — “High-Calorie Root Crops” — Area- and weight-efficient crops for     calories

Crops for this category need to be both area- and weight-efficient. As defined for this worksheet, a crop is considered to be “area-efficient” if the annual area needed for total calories is 16 beds (1600 sq     ft) or less, assuming GROW BIOINTENSIVE intermediate yields; it is considered to be “weight-
efficient
” if the daily weight of food to be eaten for total calories is 9 pounds or less.1

    Potatoes (12.2/6.7) Maximum to avoid potassium toxicity = 2.5 lb /day

    Jerusalem Artichoke (12.3 / 7.0)**

    Garlic (10.8 / 3.6)**

    Leeks (6.6 / 8.7)

    Parsnips (10.8 / 7.1)

    Sweet Potatoes (11.2 / 5.0)

    Salsify (11.8 / 6.5)

    AREA in 100-sq-ft beds / WEIGHT in lb: e.g., it takes 12.2 beds of potatoes to produce the 2,400 calories per day needed by an average person—who would have to eat 6.7 lb of potatoes per day.
    ** Jerusalem artichoke and some varieties of hard-neck garlic may produce significant amounts of dry biomass.

The crops below are weight-efficient, but require more area to grow and produce relatively little biomass. Therefore, they should be included in the 10% “Vegetable Crops” category.

Peanuts (34.1 / 0.9) Very high in fat

Soybeans (58.0 / 3.8)

Beans (except Fava Beans) (56.8 / 4.7) Burdock (17.8 / 7.3) (assuming Carrot yield)

Cassava (20.1 / 3.3) May produce modest amount of carbon

The following crops can be area-efficient if yields are high enough, but the daily weight of food exceeds the guidelines, so they should be included in the 10% “Vegetable Crops” category.

Onions, Regular (12.7 / 14.0)  |  Turnips + Tops (8.8 / 19.4)
(assuming 2 crops are possible OR yield is two times intermediate)

Rutabaga (13.4 / 14.7)

NOTE: For diet diversity, you may choose crops that are less weight-efficient (e.g. regular onions, 14.0 lb per day); in which case, you need to have a significant amount of food from crops that are more weight-efficient (e.g. filberts (0.8 lb per day) and/or increase your design area.

ROOT CROPS THAT ARE NOT GOOD CHOICES FOR THIS CATEGORY:
Carrots (30.0 / 12.3)    Beets / Mangels (roots only) (40.8 / 12.3)    Radishes (48.1 / 26.4)

5-10% of the area — “Vegetable Crops”

            Low-calorie-producing, low-carbon-producing miscellaneous vegetables
                       for vitamins and minerals


1 In the book One Circle by Duhon, an “area-efficient” crop can provide total calories with 700 sq ft or less (550 sq ft for a woman, 850 sq ft for a man), and a “weight-efficient” crop can provide total calories in 6 pounds or less for a man or 5.5 pounds or less for a woman.

60/30/10 Clar. Revised 2/15/06, based on updated nutrition information in the 7th ed. of How to Grow More Vegetables.
© 2006, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1997  Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits CA 95490-9730.

To download this clarifications sheet as a PDF click here

THE BROCCOLI TEST:

CHEMICAL AGRICULTURE
vs. ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
vs. GROW BIOINTENSIVE® AGRICULTURE

Broccoli grown using conventional, organic, and GROW BIOINTENSIVE methods. The GROW BIOINTENSIVE Broccoli is larger and more vigorous
Chemical Agriculture
Organic Agriculture
GROW BIOINTENSIVE Agriculture

What is the most effective way to grow healthy crops in poor soil while improving the fertility of the soil?

The following comparative yields were obtained from chemical, organic and GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture-type tests run in our compacted "C-horizon" material at Ecology Action's first site in the Stanford University Industrial Park in Palo Alto, California. This material, which is broken down rock, normally takes about 500 years to become soil. The topsoil and subsoil from this site, the "A- and B- Horizons", had been previously removed during a construction process. Several crops were grown in side-by-side trials with each test acting as a "control" for the other tests. The broccoli test described below is a typical example. The plants in the above photograph are representative samples of the broccoli plants grown with each of these techniques. In addition, the relative differences in the results are representative of those which occurred with each of the crops tested in this way.

Chemical Agricultural Practices
The stunted broccoli plant on the left was grown using chemical agricultural practices: loosening the soil about 7 inches deep and adding chemical fertilizer as indicated in its directions plus 2 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in rows with the conventional distance between rows and between plants within the rows. The broccoli heads were about 1/4 the size of an adult person's little fingernail.

Organic Agricultural Practices
The broccoli shown in the middle was grown using organic farming practices: loosening the soil about 11 inches deep and adding an appropriate amount of organic fertilizers plus 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in rows with the conventional distance between rows and between plants within the rows. The broccoli heads were about 4 inches in diameter and weighed about 4 ounces each.

GROW BIOINTENSIVE Agricultural Practices
The broccoli shown on the right was grown using GROW BIOINTENSIVE agricultural practices: loosening the soil about 24 inches deep and adding the same appropriate amount of organic fertilizers plus 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in raised-growing beds 6 feet wide by 19 feet long with standard GROW BIOINTENSIVE offset spacing (and no widely spaced rows), so the plants' leaves touched at maturity. The broccoli heads were about 10 inches in diameter and weighed about 10 ounces each, or 2.5 times greater than in the organic farming test and 120 times greater than in the chemical agriculture test. In addition, the overall yield for the GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture test was 7.5 times higher per unit of area than the organic farming test, because 3 times more plants could be planted per unit of area with the close "living mulch" crop spacings used in raised-bed growing-areas.

After this initial test in 1973-1974, it was discovered that more than 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet is not normally sustainable. However, 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter, including 50% soil, should produce similar, though different, parallel results

 

 

GETTING STARTED WITH GROW BIOINTENSIVE®!

Growing your own food can be rewarding on many levels, and can bring benefits both to you and the planet. It is empowering to know that you are able to provide for yourself in such a basic way. The taste of fully-ripe food fresh from the garden may be an eye-opening experience. Fresh air and exercise are added benefits. And each food item that comes from your backyard rather than the supermarket means less of the oil use, resource use, air pollution and soil pollution that are required for commercial growing, processing and transporting of foods.

We realize that the thought of learning how to grow all your own food can seem overwhelming. Don’t overdo! We recommend starting slowly and simply, with one 100- square-foot bed. Reading How to Grow More Vegetables or The Sustainable Vegetable Garden will show you how to double-dig the soil and become aware of the other processes that make up the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system. A smaller area to work in can lead to successful growing and self confidence in the process. You will gradually learn about your own soil, microclimate and mini-ecosystem and the plants that thrive best there.

You will be surprised to see, when using GROW BIOINTENSIVE, the amount of food that can be grown in such a small space. Dig in and enjoy!

 

 

Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula has been a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization since 1971.

©2006 Ecology Action.

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