Early Beginnings of Biointensive Gardening
Biointensive gardening (farming) takes many forms and may be listed under various names ("French Intensive", "organic" gardening, "The System", etc.), although they all represent a model of crop develop that includes soil development, composting (low waste), plant-extract based pesticide use, raised garden beds, companion planting, cover crops, double digging, and possibly several other farming/gardening methods.
Many of these gardening/farming practices date back thousands of years and span many cultures. Ancient agrarian's through-out the world often used raised beds to increase crop yields, and terraced hillsides to make marginal lands productive.
In the mid-eightieth century, it was small farmers in France who pioneered the incorporation of many of these methods into a "system" that used modern scientific experimentation, combined with the common wisdom of local farmers, and practices borrowed from many other cultures.
The French "kitchen garden" or potager was the foundation of the French method. Soil was heavily composted annually and edible crops were crammed into neat rows of raised beds, with flowers and herbs planted beside them. Walking paths were kept to a bare minimum so that the planted areas could be maximized and not disturbed or compacted by foot traffic. As their methods improved, highly productive France farmers became leading exporters of fresh fruits and vegetables to other European countries.
Introduction to the United States
A visiting professor from England, and avid gardener, Alan Chadwick, introduced the French Intensive method to the United States at an experimental plot at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1960s, early 70s. Over the course of a few years, a barren hillside was transformed into a highly productive vegetable garden, which became the prototype for a much larger experimental "farm", on the Santa Cruz campus a few years later.
Following in Professor Chadwick's footsteps, in 1974, Author John Jeavons, in his book: "How to grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine", introduced the French Intensive concepts to an eager public. His book is now printed in many languages, and has recently come out in its seventh edition. It is considered the comprehensive manual for biointensive and organic gardening/farming.
On a much smaller scale, the Ohlone Biointensive garden incorporates many of the ideas from the French Intensive method to grow herbs and vegetables on a year round basis.
The garden is designed as an "outdoor" classroom/laboratory where students can experiment with sustainable gardening techniques. Our twenty one raised beds are widely spaced to allow for large groups to roam the garden freely, as well as, working together on various projects. In keeping with the tradition of "sustainability", our raised beds are filled with certified organic compost provided by Waste Managed (WM EarthCare™) (formulated from the "green bin" debris of local communities, and our pathway groundcover woodchips are provided by Cal Tree Care, generated from local tree trimming wastes.
As our garden continues to evolve, our own "green wastes" are composted and later returned to the beds to help add nutrients. Alan Berling, student, has been a leader, expert, and friend to Ohlone College and we appreciate all his efforts - thanks Alan!
Surrounding the main garden is an area devoted to the planting of many varieties of beneficial insect attracting plants to help create a place of beauty and provide habitat for migrating butterflies.
Different crops are planted in the spring and then again in the fall. To date, the garden has included tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, okra, melons, artichoke, beans and various natural herbs plants such as basil, mint, sage and others. In the fall, crops such as lima and other beans are planted to help fix nitrogen in the soil naturally and reduce soil erosion. Students learn which crops grow best together, called companion crops, and plant them in the same garden region.
Controlling unwanted pests naturally is a major challenge and a number of techniques are experimented with in our garden. The Cucumber Beetle and other undesirables have been brought under control through the use of organic concoctions including vegetable oil, liquid soap, chili peppers and garlic. Students are constantly experimenting with different natural methods to control whatever pest enters the garden.
To keep the garden sustainable and the soil healthy, composting, cover crops, raised beds and drip irrigation are a few of the techniques that are used. Composting and cover crops return nutrients to the soil naturally as opposed to relying on chemical fertilizers. Raised beds protect the soil from erosion, allow better access to the plants and soil for harvesting or planting new crops. The drip irrigation system minimizes water losses from evaporation and runoff.
Ohlone's garden uses native populations of insects and birds to pollinate many of our crops. Numerous varieties of flowers have been planted to attract a variety of desirable native bees, butterflies, ladybugs and beetles. Fostering natural pollinators in a garden is very important and saves over $3 billion annually in the U.S. according to the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Ohlone College offers a course - ENVS 107 Introduction to Sustainable Agriculure - where students learn about farming practices around the world and techniques for creating and managing a sustainable, organic garden.
For more information contact, Professor Narinder S. Bansal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sunol AgPark
- Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems - UC Santa Cruz
- Marin Agricultural Land Trust
- California Certified Organic Farmers
- USDA Organic Production
- Food & Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
- Pesticide Action Network
- Sustainable Table
- No Dig Vegetable Garden - Raised Organic Gardens
- Farm Fresh To You