As you probably already know, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE (GB) Sustainable Mini-Farming method I developed with Ecology Action over the past 48 years of research and fieldwork is designed primarily to grow a complete diet, along with soil-building compost crops for sustainability. But it also provides a small area for growing vegetables that are tasty but not as calorie or carbon-dense, or for growing income-generating crops (a maximum 10% of the planted area, 2% preferred in the case of income crops to ensure closed-loop sustainable soil fertility by limiting the quantity of minerals and biomass being exported from your soil).
Over years of teaching people to use GB, one of the questions I get asked over and over is: “How do I make money from my mini-farm?” No matter what farming method you use, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? It’s one thing (a big thing!) to be able to farm successfully, it’s another to be able to successfully market your products to generate income. While there are many books and courses out there that address this topic exhaustively, it can be hard for a beginner to know where to start–a little like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.
If you are thinking about starting a farm business, my recommendation is to begin with Whole Farm Management: From Start-Up to Sustainability from the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University. A comprehensive guide based on the OSU extension program curriculum and real-farm examples Whole Farm Management “… provides a complete program from starting, growing and maintaining a farm business. Drawing on the experience and insights of 12 contributing authors and 16 farmers from across North America, it offers a holistic approach to farm management, addressing the interconnected element of the farm system and emphasizing sustainable, organic methods.” The Center “is an alternative agriculture program at Oregon State University that focuses on small-scale organic and sustain able agriculture through its Extension Small Farms Program.”
Filled with color photos, tables, charts and lists, the contents are divided into categories so you can easily choose the parts that are most useful for the type of farming you are pursuing:
Andrew Mefferd, farmer, author and editor of Growing for Market, calls Whole Farm Management: “An indispensable resource, just as valuable for the beginning farmer learning how to produce a crop at profit as for the journeyperson who is already in business, looking to avoid burnout.”
While no book is going to cover everything, this isn’t just a “big picture” overview. I think it does a good job of “drilling down” into some of the more detailed topics small farmers are interested in. A small sample of the topics covered include:
I think the most unusual thing about this book is that, unlike so many publications (especially those from mainstream ag schools) covering agricultural business operations, Whole Farm Management really focuses on the small-scale farmers aiming for sustainability and building community food security, something our world needs more of. It’s nice to see the support for these important farmers from a “mainstream” school. For all of you budding commercial farmers out there, I hope this excellent book helps you grow a sustainable and profitable business model for your farms (and the planet)!
P.S. if you are interested in learning about GROW BIOINTENSIVE sustainable mini- and micro-farming, check out Ecology Action’s publications including: How to Grow More Vegetables, and Fruits, Nuts and Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land With Less Water Than You Can Imagine, and The Backyard Homestead Mini-Farm & Garden Log Book. You can find all of our print and electronic publications online at: http://www.growbiointensive.org/publications_main.html and http://www.growbiointensive.org/ePubs/index.html.
Progress is a funny thing. Every real advancement in agriculture or medicine that we enjoy today is rooted in the deep knowledge that kept our ancestors alive. But over time, as we “improve” we tend to lose touch with the traditional knowledge and practices that provide the basis for our modern conveniences. For some, there is almost a sense of privileged ignorance in not “having to” know how things came to be, deeming such knowledge “old-fashioned” and unimportant. But I think there’s real value – and enjoyment and empowerment – in getting back to our roots, and understanding how our world really works, and how we can work with it to survive, and to thrive!
My interest in traditional farming methods and knowledge of the land has naturally led into an interest in and a desire to learn to recognize and use the medicinal plants growing in my environment, as our ancestors did. There are many books on the subject, but one that stands out for me is The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies — The healing Power of Plant Medicine. While not an exhaustive guide, it’s an excellent introduction to “…181 healing plants, lichens, and mushrooms of North America (2-4 pictures/plant for easy identification).”
Author Dr. Nicole Apelian is an herbalist, survival skills instructor, anthropologist, and research biologist with degrees from McGill, University of Oregon, and Prescott College. She has a deep knowledge of plants and experiences making her own herbal remedies. She spent years living in nature with the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, one of the last indigenous peoples who still live as hunter-gatherers and “…survived solo in the remote wilderness for 57 days…with little more than her hunting knife and the field foods and medicines she found there.” Co-author Claude Davis is a “Wild West history expert…. His focus is to save the survival skills of our grandparents.”
Apelian and Davis do an excellent job of providing a guide to the world of wild medicinal plants of North America, how to identify them, and how to use them to create 550 natural remedies (traditional compounds as well as newer ones from Dr. Apelian’s practice) to treat a variety of ailments from cuts and bruises to multiple sclerosis (which Apelian was diagnosed with in 2000 and overcame: “Through changes in her lifestyle, recognizing profound mind-body linkages, and making and using her own remedies, Nicole went from bedridden to being fully alive and from surviving to thriving. She believes that there are many more people suffering who need to find their own remedy.”)
Topics, approaching 200 include:
In my opinion The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies is Must Read. It is comprehensive, detailed, and well-done. I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not want to put it down — though it did take some time to complete and absorb it all! If you are interested in learning to use the helpful plants in your own backyard to create better health and become more in tune with your body and your environment, then give this a read. You’ll enjoy it from the very beginning!
I wanted to keep you in the loop about Ecology Action’s upcoming workshop, and hope you will share this message with friends, family, and like-minded gardeners who could benefit from learning the GB method:
We are excited to announce our annual Fall 3-Day GB Workshop will be held online via Zoom, over three Saturdays: November 6, 13, and 20, 2021.
Our 3-Day Workshops have usually been held over a single weekend and required travel and more of a time commitment from participants. This year, everyone with an internet connection can participate from the comfort of their own homes and gardens, while still enjoying the same informative curriculum as in workshops past, over a relaxed 3-Saturday time frame. The workshop format is largely unchanged from previous years of in-person teaching. In place of live demonstrations on topics like double-digging and bed preparation, we will show demonstration videos detailing these methods, with a question-and-answer session after we watch together as a group. Many of us use Zoom to connect with friends, family, and work; for those new to the program, Zoom is about as simple to use as YouTube.
GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming (GB) is the original regenerative, sustainable, organic agriculture, rooted in heritage farm-craft and proven with science. John Jeavons and Ecology Action developed GB over almost 50 years of field research and teaching, based on centuries-old agricultural principles that enable you to feed yourself by feeding your soil with healthy, nutrient-rich compost grown right in your garden. John wrote the best-selling book on the subject: How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible with Less Water on Less Land Than You Can Imagine! Jeavons leads the workshops, assisted by Matt Drewno, the manager of Ecology Action’s Biointensive research and demonstration site Victory Gardens for Peace on the Mendocino Coast. Both are Certified Master-Level GROW BIOINTENSIVE Teachers. If you’re interested in learning proven ways to grow a great soil and abundant harvests in less space with less water, energy, and fertilizer – not new fads but time-tested approaches – we would love to see you this spring.
Over 3 Saturdays in November, you’ll learn how to use up to 66% less water, save up to 94% in energy, and grow soil up to 60 times faster than nature – all while increasing your garden yields – plus much more. This is an introductory course where we discuss a range of topics, from seed-starting and compost- building to harvesting crops and saving seeds. The program provides a strong introduction to Ecology Action and the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of sustainable and regenerative gardening and farming. Many workshop participants enjoy the program so much they move on to our 9-Saturdays Courses or even take an Internship with us after completing the 3-Saturdays Workshop.
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn simple yet powerful techniques that will keep you growing food for a lifetime, right where you are! Cost is $285 per person and includes a workshop manual. Other required publications need to be purchased if you do not already own them. Register at growbiointensive.org/workshop.html and start a new chapter in your sustainable life today. Registration closes October 20, 2021. We hope to see your smiling faces in November! ♥
Have I mentioned that I think small farms are the best farms? Well, I’m not alone, and I have the perfect book to prove it. According to Josh Volk, author of Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less (compactfarms.com) “The point is that it doesn’t take a large space to be productive or to make a decent, sustainable living.” This is a beautiful and practical book that focuses on small-scale commercial farms effectively using less than 5 acres of production space. From Slow Hand Farm (the author’s own small space in Oregon); to a tropical oasis growing coffee and bananas in Hawaii; to a green sanctuary growing food on rooftops in New York City; to a less-than-an-acre mini-farm—Volk repeatedly makes his point that small-scale agriculture can be simple as well as successful.
From the publisher’s website (Storey Publishing): “Small is beautiful, and these 15 real farm plans show that small-scale farmers can have big-time success. Compact Farms is an illustrated guide for anyone dreaming of starting, expanding, or perfecting a profitable farming enterprise on five acres or less. The farm plans explain how to harness an area’s water supply, orientation, and geography in order to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing effort. Profiles of well-known farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier show that farming on a small scale in any region, in both urban and rural settings, can provide enough income to turn the endeavor from hobby to career. These real-life plans and down-and-dirty advice will equip you with everything you need to actually realize your farm dreams.”
Beginning with a brief impassioned plea on the joys and benefits of farming small scale, the crux of the book comes in Part Two: fifteen profiles of small-scale working market farms. Volk includes beautiful full-color birds-eye layouts for every farm, as well as information about each farm’s unique approach to labor, water, fertility, tools, infrastructure, crop care, harvesting, and the all-important question of what happens to the harvest. Dozens of beautiful photographs help to illustrate the farm profiles, and those who enjoy getting out the watercolors and pencils to design their gardens, or looking at landscape architecture books, will absolutely adore the farm layout illustrations.
But it’s not all just pretty pictures. Volk clearly lays out the “nuts and bolts” of how to achieve small farm sustainability yourself – from carefully planning what you want to achieve, to considerations such as water, infrastructure, livestock, and harvest planning. Perhaps the most important consideration gets its own chapter: “Making It Work Financially” gets into the nitty gritty details of numbers, budgets, and bottom lines. Volk’s point throughout is that if planned properly, these small farms not only work, but work better than their larger counterparts, for the farmer, the consumer, and the planet. His passion for these small, productive pieces of land is evident on every page of this beautiful book.
If you are interested in small-scale farming and are considering making a go of it as a market farmer, Compact Farms is an absolute gold mine of information and a helping hand to get you on your way. And even if you’re not going commercial, it’s an enjoyable and edifying read for anyone interested in small-scale farming. I highly recommend it!
With winter setting in and visions of lush spring gardens already dancing in our heads, here is something to intrigue and inspire you or your favorite gardener: a book/DVD combination on how to grow 100+ perennial vegetables. From asparagus, rhubarb, and ramps to taro, goji berries and perennial cucumbers, Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles by Eric Toensmeier won the American Horticultural Society Book Award and is a gorgeous book will set your mouth watering and have you paging through seed catalogs for some permanent additions to your garden. The accompanying DVD (sold separately) is a “culmination of workshops recorded in Mexico, Florida and Massachusetts.” It’s an enjoyable way to be introduced to over 100 beautiful, practical perennial species, and is the perfect companion to Eric’s book. Both are available from publisher Chelsea Green as well as other booksellers.
(A note on sustainability: many people are interested in perennial varieties, because they can provide a perpetual, low-maintenance source of food. If you know me, you know I have reservations about this idea… so, while recommending this book wholeheartedly as an enjoyable read and a useful guide, I must insert a caveat: to maintain sustainability, be careful how you use perennials in your garden–they can be heavy feeders, and you don’t want to overburden your soil with constant extraction. However, used correctly and judiciously, perennials are an interesting, exotic part of the spectrum of species that can be used in sustainable gardening, and can add interest and new flavors to your table. You may want to use a few of them in your complete diet smallest scale GROW BIOINTENSIVE backyard mini farm!)
Booklist notes, “Toensmeier’s groundbreaking guide is destined to become the bible for this new class of edible growing.”
American Horticultural Society Book Award says, ‘promotes fresh thinking as to what a vegetable garden can be.’
Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden observes, “Eric … has comprehensively filled a huge gap in the sustainable landscape.”
Ellen Ecker Ogden, co-founder of The Cook’s Garden Seed Catalog, and author of From the Cook’s Garden, points out, “Toensmeier’s knowledge of edible plants is impressive and inspiring.”
From the back cover: “imagine growing vegetables that require just about the same amount of care as perennial flowers and shrubs—no annual tilling and planting. They thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the season. … [including even] ground cherry, ramps, air potato, … the antioxidant-rich wolfberry…Toensmeier explains how to raise, tend, harvest and cook with plants the yield great crops and culinary satisfaction. Including dozens of color photographs and illustrations, and filled with valuable growing tips, recipes, and resources.” Easy to understand tables are a real plus!
37 Species Profiles
Perennial Vegetables for Each Climate Type
Recommended Reading, Helpful Organizations and Websites
Sources of Plants and Seeds
Sources of Gardening Supplies and Materials
It reads well and is a joy to learn from. Now is the time to begin! Happy gardening, everyone!
For years, scientists and practitioners of sustainable agriculture have been aware that our food chain is vulnerable. Soil depletion, resource scarcity, population growth, and the many and varied impacts of global climate disruption can and do impact our ability to grow and source food.
If we needed more evidence, 2020 has shown us how our fragile our food chain really is: from shortages of key items in stores, to essential farm workers risking their lives harvesting in a pandemic, to crops lost due to lack of labor, to an inland hurricane or “derecho” that destroyed millions of acres of crops across the Midwest and felled hundreds of thousands of trees in an afternoon, to unemployment making it difficult or impossible for millions to buy food, it’s certainly a wake-up call that is being heard. From Peru to Kenya, from Canada to California, Ecology Action and our international partners are seeing an upsurge in the number of people wanting to learn to grow their own food, sustainably and affordably. And given that there is as little as 22.5 years of farmable soil remaining in the world, the miniaturization of farming and more truly sustainable practices are key to everyone being able to grow food right where they are.
While I’m a little biased towards How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible With Less Water On Less Land Than You Can Imagine as a guide to sustainable soil-building and mini-farming, I’m always happy to read about other people’s successes and ideas, and 2020 in particular has led me to search out the hopeful and inspiring stories to help light the way. Sometimes the thought of starting to grow your own food can be daunting and intimidating. So, if you are looking for a delicious and positive story that will inspire you to get out in the garden and start small, then Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer is the book for you.
The back cover notes, “What began as a simple dream in an historic Normandy village has turned into one of the world’s most radical innovative experiments in small-scale farming…In this lovely, hopeful book, an unlikely couple creates an astonishingly productive edible landscape in Normandy, weaving together the insights, materials and techniques of dozens of acknowledged predecessors [while] restoring the biosphere.”
• Biointensive Microagriculture
• Eliot Coleman
• The Parisian Market Gardeners of the Nineteenth
• The Forest Garden
• Working by Hand
• To Be Small
• Microagriculture, Society, Planet
• The Earth is an Adventure
Miraculous Abundance is proof that we and our gardens can be a joyful part of the solution that grows a better tomorrow – for everyone. So, plant a garden and enjoy the adventure! Enjoy actualizing your dream! ●
🌻🌞Happy Summer to the Northern Hemisphere!🌞🌻 A new gardening season is here, and we want it to be an excellent one! The COVID-19 lockdown experience is a difficult for us all, but one of the silver linings that I can see is that so many people, finding themselves confined to their homes or communities, have turned to gardening to keep themselves occupied.
But as enjoyable and centering as growing plants can be, whether in a pot on a windowsill or a field full of garden beds, it is a process that has its own challenges. If conditions are not optimal, plants can fall prey to a variety of maladies; figuring out what to do about it can be frustrating, especially to new gardeners (Hint: If you know me, you know that I’m going to say that a good way to insure a healthy, productive garden is to create a good, fertile soil. How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries and Other Crops With Less Water Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine will show you how to grow the best, healthy soil. 😊)
Historically, newer farmers would ask more experienced farmers for advice when things went wrong, but in most places, “old farmers” are scarcer than essentials on the grocery shelves these days, so what do you do if your plants are looking peaky? I have just the thing: What’s Wrong with My Plant? (And How Do I Fix it?) A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth can make all the difference in the world (and your garden)—without resorting to unpronounceable chemicals: most problems can be solved organically! The key is to ACT, the minute you observe a challenge. I have found, if you use common sense and learn to “think like a plant”, you may find the problem disappears quickly! Once, years ago, we had a problem with the dreaded “black spot” on cherry tomatoes at our Common Ground Mini-Farm in the Stanford Industrial Park in Palo Alto, California. The books at the time said the only solution was to remove and destroy all the plants. You can imagine our distress. Instead, since the books also said it was caused by excessive humidity, we just stopped watering for four days to see what would happen. The black spot, which had been pervasive, disappeared.
For us, back in the “wild west” of the organic movement, we were making it up as we went along. Luckily, you don’t have to do that: What’s Wrong with My Plant? is an excellent guide to common sense plant care! “Extensive color illustrations and photographs guide you to a diagnosis and a safe organic solution. Part 1 presents easily understood, illustrated charts—organized by the plant part on which the symptoms appear that enable you to accurately diagnose what is ailing your plant. Part 2 tells you how to fix the problem; whatever the cause—growing conditions, pests, or disease—you’ll find a safe, organic solution. Part 3 is a photo gallery of all common problems…Curing a plant just doesn’t get any easier.”
In short, this is useful and interesting publication that can make troubleshooting in the garden… fun? Well, maybe. At the very least, you’ll learn enough to one day be an “old farmer” with advice to spare for the next batch of sprouts. You will become expert. The authors certainly are! Enjoy!
It’s winter here in the northern hemisphere, and farmers and gardeners everywhere are dreaming and planning about what to plant in the spring and summer!
While all gardens have their challenges, those who grow food and flowers in warm and/or arid climates need a special skill set to get their gardens to thrive and produce. Some plants thrive in the warm weather, but most vegetables and fruits begin to experience problems with germination when temperatures are higher (or lower) than the optimal range. Cool season plants like lettuce and broccoli germinate best at 55-70 F (13-21 C), while warm season plants like squash and marigolds germinate best at 70-85 F (21-13 C.). Fruit production and seed set are also effected; for example, tomatoes experience problems when temperatures get higher than 96 degrees F (36 C). I know when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, we had better luck growing vegetables and soft fruit in the (relatively) milder spring and autumn seasons. The summer could range often from 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit! And with climate change increasing temperatures across the globe, more farmers and gardeners will need to learn how to cope with hotter growing seasons.
Don’t you wish there was a book that would tell you how to handle the heat? Funny you should ask! Barbara Pleasant’s book, Warm-Climate Gardening: Tips, Techniques, Plans, Projects for Humid or Dry Conditions is my go-to how-to for the challenges of hot-weather gardening. The book covers vegetables, flowers, fruits, herbs, ornamentals, grasses, and ground cover. From the back cover:
Do you garden where winter is an active growing season? Are your springs violent and short? Are your summers so hot that few plants (and few Gardeners) enjoy them? …you’ll find a solid source of information for your unique gardening needs, not a translation of cold-climate techniques. You’ll learn:
Don’t let the heat keep you out of the garden. Read this book and you may just find it’s possible to enjoy becoming proficient in Warm-Climate Gardening!
William Hamilton Gibson was an American illustrator, author and naturalist (1850-1896), well-known for his work in Harper’s Monthly. He also wrote several books including Pastoral Days: Or, Memories of New England and Highways and Byways. Eye Spy, — Afield with Nature Among Flowers and Animate Things, first published in 1897, is delightful a compilation of illustrations, short stories, and essays, providing an astounding exploration of the natural world for children and us all! The age of this publication only increases its usefulness. Its topics include:
With its numerous detailed and evocative drawings and photos and a graceful and inviting writing style, Eye Spy is a fun and enjoyable book for the children (or young-at-heart naturalists) in your life to enjoy as a thoughtful window into the mysteries and beauty of the observed natural world.
You may be able to find the original in print format through the Interlibrary Loan Service at your local library. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform recently made a new, affordable print version available by scanning the original, noting “We believe this work is culturally important, and … have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.”
You can also find the original in electronic format for free online at https://archive.org/details/eyespyafieldwith00gibs.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything we buy or grow to eat now was once a wild species. Our ancestors have done the bulk of the work identifying and domesticating the foods we now take for granted in our gardens and stores. But the world still holds a vast abundance of wild foods that you can enjoy if you know how to find them. Whether your backyard is a small plot of grass and weeds, or Winnie-the-Pooh’s 100-Acre Wood, foraging for flavorful, nutritious and delicious wild foods is a delightful way to reconnect with and experience the bounty of our beautiful planet in the same way our ancestors did.
Of course, you don’t want to just pick any old plant up off the ground and take a bite! When foraging, it’s important to follow some common-sense precautions to make sure what your eating is safe, and that you’re not harming the ecosystem as you harvest. Wild Edible blog provides an excellent list of basic guidelines for foragers, including finding a mentor, learning about habitat, being familiar with poisonous species, identifying companion plants, recognizing seasonal changes in plants, learning what parts are edible, keeping a foraging journal, harvesting safely and sustainably, avoiding toxic areas, leaving rare plants alone, and cultivating wild edibles in your garden. Of course, one of the main pieces of advice is: GET A GOOD BOOK!
With this in mind, I recommend one of the most exciting books on foraging and cooking in my experience; Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux. I’d describe it for you, but the back cover says it best.
“Forage for wild food and discover delicious edible plants growing everywhere—including your backyard—and how best to prepare them to highlight their unique flavors, with this seasonally organized field guide and cookbook.
While others have identified in the past which wild plants are edible, Tama Matsuoka Wong, the forager for Daniel, the flagship restaurant of renowned chef Daniel Boulud, and Eddy Leroux, its chef de cuisine, go two steps further, setting the bar much higher. First, they have carefully selected only the wild plants that are worth seeking out for their fabulous flavors. Second, after much taste-testing, they have figured out the best way to prepare each ingredient—a key in getting to know these exciting new foods. In Foraged Flavor, they reveal their seventy-one favorite plants, which are easy to identify and can be harvested sustainably across the country (including at farmers’ markets for those without access to nearby fields and forests). Tama helps readers uncover bright lemony oxalis growing in patches of their lawn or creeping jenny, with its unmistakable leaves and delicate green-pea flavor. Eddy then gives simple recipes to showcase the foraged finds, including Cardamine Cress with Fennel and Orange Vinaigrette; Braised Beef, Dandelion Leaves, and Clear Noodles; and Purslane Eggplant Caponata.
With twenty-five botanical illustrations, fifty color photographs of the plants, and tons of field- and kitchen-tested know-how, Foraged Flavor will be an indispensable guide for cooking enthusiasts.”
The text is a delight to read, the identifying details beyond comparison—all being ordered by the time of the year! Descriptions on how to forage sustainably, how to harvest the plant optimally, and how to develop a Wild Kitchen Garden are unexpected and very desirable inclusions.
A very few of the succulent, mouth-watering detailed recipes include:
and many, many more.
You can begin to understand why Tama was given the Steward of the Year Award in 2007 by the New Jersey Forest Service!
Read this book and give foraging a try. Bon Appetit!