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What is Bio-Intensive Growing?

The regenerative agricultural platform, to me, is one of the most important growing aspects that can be utilized in any growing platform. From the frantic bee pollinating our flowers to the slow digestion of organic matter through fungi enzymes. It positions the Market Gardener's perspective to emphasize the dynamic role ecology and natural processes play in the overall health of a system and its individual constituents (i.e. our plants)!

 

Putting the bio in bio-intensive

As many of the lovely people who have come to the Nature Cycle Market Garden would know, we put a great emphasis on managing the soil through natural techniques to ensure nutritious, healthy plants. Our entire soil remediation program is based around, not remediating the soil specifically for plant growth, but remediating the soil to an optimal ecological environment. Growing using Bio-intensive methods means acknowledging that the optimum growth and health of plants is provided for by the various soil organisms and natural processes that facilitate a dynamic growing system. To some this will make no sense and to others it will be common sense. By having an environment favorable for life you are ensuring a minimal level of natural processes are consistently occurring within the growing areas; From living, to dying, to eating and excreting; From biodegradation to nutrient assimilation; From the carbon cycle to the water cycle and beyond! The more processes working in conjunction with each other, the healthier the system. There is a reason forests are one of the most resilient plant systems on the planet, this is due to plants over 100's of millions of years having designed an incredibly efficient recycling system!

 

An intensive cropping system

The intensive part of Bio-intensive represents a dense cropping system in which a high yield per m2 can be achieved. The typical intensive system is one based around plant spacing being a width at which the plants once mature have their leaves touch, covering the bed and leaving no empty space. It effectively means the growing space is being utilized at its most efficient cropping density. However, the intensive system is directly linked with the quality of the soil! To ensure healthy plants in dense crop spacing's, it needs to be ensured that the plant roots are going to have their own soil profile and aren't going to be competing for water and nutrients. Basic profiles work on the x, y, z axis which to us will be length, width and height. To facilitate a plants dense spacing along the length and width of the bed, its roots need to be encouraged to grow vertically through the soil profile. This loops us back to the Bio part and the need for soil remediation. Now we see why the word is hyphenated, one part is intrinsic to the needs of the other.

4 Main factors for bio-intensive growing

The 4 main factors I think are needed for bio-intensive growing are:

  1. A dense crop spacing: We started the Nature Cycle Market Garden by remediating the top 300mm of soil, the plant roots are now encouraged to grow vertically rather than horizontally. This allows us to fit up to 2.5x more plants in the same m2. It also adds the benefit of the plants providing a living cover for the soil. They provide a shaded micro-climate, which helps the plants weather temperature fluctuations and strong winds, which slows moisture loss and drying of the beds.
  2. Denizens of the soil: We acknowledge that natures system is the best for providing nutrients for our crops, this is one of the main justifications for using bio-intensive methods. The breakdown of organic matter and movement of soil by bacteria, fungus, worms and ants is one of the major processes we are instilling into the land.
  3. Maximizing space: The Nature Cycle Market Garden beds are about 75c,-85cm across while the pathways are around 30cm-45cm. The reason behind this is that we are fitting the maximum amount of production space onto the land while still being able to ergonomically access each bed for harvesting. This combined with the dense crop spacing equates to the highest yield per m2 off the available land space.
  4. No-till Market Gardening: Every time the soil is tilled it is being filled with oxygen. When the soil microbes come into an abundance of oxygen they increase their activity. This results in the microbes breaking down all the organic material and minerals within the soil profile, creating amazing crops for the first year or 2 but then completely depleting the soil leaving it unable to grow crops in. The blades on the tillers also pulverize all the soil organisms we have been encouraging into the beds. We had a broadfork made up for us by a steel fabricator. It is the width of our beds, has teeth that penetrate 250mm into the ground and leaves the soil organisms in one piece. A 10m2 bed will take about 15-20 minutes to broadfork.

To learn more about Market Gardening and how to set up your own Market Garden be sure to check out;

  1. Green Manures in the Market Garden
  2. Understanding Soils in the Market Garden
  3. Building Biodiversity in the Market Garden
  4. Composting in the Market Garden
  5. DIY Bug Hotel