How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine
By John Jeavons
Ten Speed Press
Book Review - Part I
(Part I summarizes the theory of biotensive farming and Part II practical techniques.)
Originally published in 1974, How to Grow More Vegetables remains a vital resource for farmers, agricultural researchers and planners, sustainability activists and home gardeners, as the world confronts the challenge of feeding a global population of 7-9 billion without access to the cheap fossil fuels that have run “industrialized” agriculture for the last century. The book is unique in that it combines theory and research (and includes a fifty-three page bibliography of references) with a cookbook style manual for households preparing for a future in which they grow most or all of their own food.
Although most people associate “technology” with machines, I use the word in its literal sense: “science or study of the practical uses of scientific discoveries (Collins Modern English Dictionary).” The Chinese method of “miniaturized” biointensive agriculture is 4,000 years old (see F.H. King’s 1911 book about this method, Farmers of Forty Centuries). However the “GROW BIOINTENSIVE” methods described in How to Grow More Vegetables are also informed by thirty plus years of research into soil, plant and ecological science. Thus they represent an innovative technology in the truest sense of the word.
Growing Soil, Not Crops
The GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach, developed by John Jeavons and Ecology Action of the Midpenninsula (Palo Alto), is centered around preserving the microbial life (mainly bacteria and fungi) that are abundant in healthy soil and which are essential to plant health and growth. Up to 6 billion microbial life-forms live in one 5-gram sample of cured compost (about the size of a quarter). This microbial life, so essential to plant development, is destroyed by specific aspects of industrial farming. This is the main reason for the relatively poor yields of factory farms (in contrast to traditional biointensive methods). It’s also responsible for the extensive destruction of our topsoil. Repeated plowing and chemical fertilizers disrupt the delicate ecology of topsoil organisms, and pesticides and herbicides are as deadly to soil bacteria and fungi as they are to insects and weeds.
In his introduction, Jeavons reveals that industrial farming destroys approximately six pounds of topsoil for each pound of food it produces. China’s soils for example remained productive for more than 4,000 years, until the adoption of mechanized chemical agricultural techniques led to the destruction of 15-33% of their agricultural soil. Another example is North Africa, which was the granary for Rome until overfarming converted it into a desert. According to Jeavons, the world only has enough topsoil left to last 42-84 years.
Quadrupling Crop Yields
Based on thirty-plus years of horticultural research, Ecology Action members have ascertained that the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, can produce enough food to feed one person (on a vegan diet) with 4,000 square feet of land. This contrasts with the 7,000 square feet required to feed a vegan using fossil fuels, farm machinery and conventional chemical or organic techniques. Without fossil fuels and machines, the amount of land required (using conventional chemical or organic techniques) would be 21,000-28,000 square feet.
At present it takes 31,000-63,000 square feet per person to produce an average US diet (including eggs, milk, cheese, and meat), using fossil fuels and mechanization and conventional chemical or organic techniques.
In addition to producing a 200-400% increase in caloric production per unit of area, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method also significantly reduces water consumption (by 67-88%) and increases soil fertility (by 100%).
To be continued with an overview of specific GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques.Share and Enjoy: