In the 1980s, Ron Whitehurst of ACRES U.S.A. wrote: “Central Florida is being mined down sea level for phosphate clay; and spiraling natural gas prices are making synthetic nitrogen fertilizer exorbitantly priced. Even using all the solid and liquid wastes from the cities, there isn’t enough nutrient value to keep America growing. The answer is to use particular legumes and fast-growing plants as green manure to be turned into the soil to enrich it. This is growing fertilizer and soil conditioners in place; right where they are needed in the field.”
30 years later, Ron’s concerns are still valid, and more urgent than ever: we are seeing peak phosphorus, farm bankruptcies, agricultural pollution from chemical fertilizers and sewage sludge, farm resource shortages, and most dangerous to our food security, a massive decline in the fertility of our soils. And the solution is still the same: we need to regenerate and maintain our soils by growing our fertilizers and soil conditioners right in the field, in a closed-loop system.
Edwin McLeod’s Feed the Soil is a practical volume on nitrogen fixing “green manure” crops to provide an alternative to the increasing costs and environmental damage of chemical fertilizers and is beyond a treasure trove for sustainable farmers and gardeners. In 1982, my good friend and amazing seedsman Lorenz A. Schaller (The Kusa Seed Research Foundation) wrote the following review of the book in East West Journal – I can’t improve on it, so I’m including it whole:
“Feed the Soil is a unique instruction text and resource guide for the practical work needed to lay a foundation for a new order of agriculture on earth. One central premise agreed to by all factions of the organic-growing movement is the necessity to ‘feed the soil’. In turn the soil feeds the plants. This single fact is the most basic and essential key for understanding and practicing natural fertility plant culture. How this approach functions and the benefits it bestows are given in an outstandingly clear and readable manner by Edwin McLeod.
Feed the Soil can be used as a resource to understand how natural agriculture works and as a guide to putting this understanding into practice. It serves with equal reward anyone interested in increasing their understanding of soil fertility, gardening, or the farming arts.”
Chapters and other key topics include:
Though this publication in great part emphasizes the use of “green manure” Ecology Action and its biologically-intensive GROW BIOINTENSIVE method utilizes a combination of composting and inter-planting with legumes instead. The reason being that when green manuring plants that have high levels of readily available nitrogen are turned into the soil, the nitrogen seeks out carbon in the soil and breaks it down to C02— reducing the soil’s precious organic matter levels and releasing that carbon into the atmosphere. But the topics in Feed the Soil are still just as useful – the varieties described can be used with the interplanting and composting method instead of green-manuring.
Excitingly, Feed the Soil describes key little-known soil-building legumes and other crops, as well as enhanced descriptions of well-known ones.
Diverse Bromegrass Varieties
The important Pidgeon Pea
The deep-rooting Jack Bean which is important in drier regions
The Sword Bean
Small Blue Lupine
Several Bur Clovers
Several Sweet Clovers
Sanfoin – one of Alan Chadwick’s favorites
The Moth Bean/Mat Bean, which “covers the ground so completely that there is practically no water evaporation from the soil”
The Adzuki Bean
Austrian Winter Pea
Woolly Pod Vetch, which has the potential of fixing up to 3 times the nitrogen compared with other Legumes
Fertile soil is priceless. Growing it is easy – if you do it right. Feed the Soil (plus the GB method) will help you find the right varieties to put nitrogen and organic matter back into your garden. Give it a try!
More recent podcast interviews with John:
Online: John Jeavons is featured on TUC Radio
John Jeavons was featured as a part of a TUC Radio mini series on Soil,
a response to the devastating forest fires in California in 2018, in this episode called Soul of Soil.
Online: John Jeavons is featured on the Gardenerd Podcast
John Jeavons was featured in an interview on biologically intensive gardening and farming.
“While planning my trip to the Heirloom Expo I contacted some of the world’s top garden experts for interviews, and when John Jeavons of GROW BIOINTENSIVE responded to my email inquiry with a date and time to meet, I jumped out of my chair. What luck!” – Christy, Author at Gardenerd
Join me for a full day of Biointensive fun at Evergreen College in Olympia WA on February 10, 2019!
Each year around this time, following months of freezing cold and heavy rain, Northern California experiences a “false spring” – the sun shines, the temperature is balmy and pleasant, and the grey and wintry landscape is suddenly covered in a bright green veil as the hardy early risers begin to sprout and come awake. It’s not really spring – we’ve got months of cold weather to come – but this is the preview, and the whole world seems bursting at the seams with life. Riotous, juicy, joyful. What could be better?
Well… if you look at the “gardening” aisle of a random box store with the row upon row of poisons and growth inhibitors, you may get the impression that “better” means doing things that limit this juicy exuberance without delay and regardless of the consequences. The industry built around the production and sale of pesticides and herbicides emphasizes an aggressive approach that seeks to “help” nature by killing off the “undesirables” and appeals to an all too popular “person against the world” mythology. This isn’t my imagination – There is a commercial that uses an old-west gunfight theme to sell weed killer! It won’t surprise you that this paradigm doesn’t appeal to me. Having worked for decades to develop farming methods that work in harmony with nature and its life forces – with excellent and productive results! – I believe that we can all benefit from cultivating (literally) a more sensitive and integrative perspective of our place (and our food- and soil-growing place) within the whole and balanced natural system.
Gardening for Health and Nutrition—An introduction to the Method of Biodynamic Gardening by John & Helen Philbrick is one of my favorite books in terms of building this sensitivity and perspective! It introduces gardeners to a fact that is often strangely overlooked in modern farming: that gardening is about living things and the life force that runs through us all. In the book, John Philbrick “… talks about how each morning he was in the habit of visiting his garden at sunrise, meditating and communing, until, gradually, he realized that the important things at work were ‘the forces of life’—‘that life is the key to existence on this planet!’”
The Philbricks realized that most gardeners were concerned not with life and growing things, but with death, and getting rid of things—bugs, weeds, fungi—and that this focus was obscuring the fact that nature is a whole fabric, and that all the threads that make it are interconnected and vital to its (and our) functioning:
“…everything that is alive is dependent upon everything else that’s alive…which are constantly changing…To be healthy, this network of living things must be kept in balance. The gardener must become aware of the network of processes making up the garden and must become familiar with the particularities of the soil, the seasons, and the plants and animals there. Then on this foundation, working with nature, one can make one’s garden a living organism.”
While all the practices and techniques shared in this wonderful publication (it is a garden planning guide for beginners using the biodynamic method) are not the GROW BIOINTENSIVE ones we use, the feeling communicated is enlivening, and I think any farmer or gardener will benefit from reading it. The book is a treasure!
This month (December 2018) a commentary piece, Put More Carbon in Soils to Meet Paris Climate Pledges, was published in the journal Nature. It was written by scientists specializing in climate change and agriculture who serve on the science and technical committee of the organization 4 per 1000 (4p1000.org) – an organization dedicated to demonstrating that agriculture, and in particular, agricultural soils, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. In the article, they outline how using carbon sequestration to build soil organic matter can mitigate climate change and boost soil fertility. The scientists suggest that the KJWA (a UNFCCC initiative directing the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to jointly consider how to tackle agriculture issues in the context of climate change) formally commit to increasing global soil organic carbon stocks through coordination and activities related to eight steps.
The eight steps they suggest are:
5. Test strategies – Determine what works in local conditions by using models and a network of field sites.
6. Involve communities – Employ citizen science to collect data and create an open online platform for sharing.
7. Coordinate policies – Integrate soil carbon with national climate commitments to the Paris Agreement and other policies on soil and climate.
8. Provide support – Ensure technical assistance, incentives to farmers, monitoring systems, and carbon taxes to promote widespread implementation.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, the situation of “Peak Farmable Soil” is one I have been aware of and vocal about for a long time. And while I can’t say I’m glad that what I’ve been worried about for so long is true, I’m relieved that finally, the world’s soil and agricultural scientists and policy makers seem to be awakening to the grave threat – and the huge opportunity! – the cumulative effects of soil depletion and climate change represent to agriculture and food security.
The quantity of carbon stored in our global soils is over 2 times the amount stored in all the trees and other biomass on the planet. This is good. It means that we can store huge amounts of carbon in our agricultural soils if we know how to work with nature to do so. Currently, however, that’s not the case: conventional farming and development has already degraded over a third of the world’s soils, limiting agricultural production and, rather than storing carbon, adding almost 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—an amount equivalent to burning 216 billion hectares of U.S. forest.
This is a lot to process. But keep reading, there’s hope!
In a nutshell:
There is an urgent need to incorporate more CO2 into our soils in the form of fertile soil organic matter (SOM) to pull carbon out of the air and help stop climate change.
So how do we do it? I was hoping you’d ask. Ecology Action’s Closed-Loop Sustainable GROW BIOINTENSIVE food- and soil-growing system offers practical methods for gardeners and farmers around the globe to be part of the solution! GB has been proven to grow soil organic matter (SOM) over 60 times faster than in nature. We have already shown that for each pound of food eaten, GB can grow up to 20 pounds of farmable soil. A recent preliminary study shows that, for properly maintained GB growing beds, it may be possible to sequester up to 5 metric tons (5.5 US tons) of carbon from the atmosphere, per hectare (2.5 acres) per year.
Extrapolating from this study, if the world’s agricultural soils (~80% of which are farms of 1-2 hectares) were cultivated using GB to accumulate carbon at this rate, in ~31 years, it could be possible to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to 350ppm, a significant, and life-saving reduction compared to the damaging 408 ppm of CO2 causing global warming and climate change today. (read more about GB and Climate Change here.)
It’s not a complete solution, and we need to do more work to see if the levels of carbon sequestration can me maintained at the level suggested by the study, but it’s a very good start, based on low-tech methods and universal scientific principles that we can all use right now! In combination with other climate change mitigation, it might just do the trick.
Not sure it’s really possible to build soil fertility faster than nature? Look at the chart below on GB Soil Fertility I use in my teaching: in only 8.5 years, we took the soil at the Common Ground Garden at The Jeavons Center from essentially unproductive to flourishing SOM levels that would have taken over 500 years to achieve naturally. You can see the lower levels of pale, depleted soil that would barely grow scrub merge upwards into the dark, carbon-rich soil that grows an abundance of crops each year. This is carbon sequestration in action. This is what the world needs more of, NOW.
Want to be a part of the solution? Put in a GROW BIOINTENSIVE bed. Then, put in another. Keep going. Maintain the beds properly with rich GB compost that you make on-site from the residues of your carefully chosen diet crops – get that carbon in the soil! And enjoy the veggies, fruits, grains, fertile soil, and climate change mitigation you harvest. Who knew fighting global warming could be delicious?
Need help getting started? Take a workshop: my next 1-Day event is in February in Olympia, WA. Ecology Action’s spring 3-Day workshop is in March. Use Ecology Action’s self-teaching tools to get started. Read How to Grow More Vegetables. It’s easy to begin. And once you do, you won’t want to stop. Love it? Start showing others how to do it. That’s how we save the world.
Remember, The Plants are Rooting for Us to Succeed! ♥
PROFESSIONAL ORGANIC BIOINTENSIVE FARMERS NEEDED
Do you want to give up your commute, grow organic food, live and work in a rural community in harmony with nature, and help solve our climate, hunger, and sustainability issues with a group of like-minded people? Well, Ecology Action may be the place for you to put down roots!
We’re looking for stable people eager to make a long-term commitment (at least 5 years) to work as year-round Biointensive Farmers starting in 2019 at two separate biointensive research and demonstration mini-farms in Mendocino County, CA: our headquarters at The Jeavons Center (TJC) site near the town of Willits, and our Victory Gardens for Peace (VGfP) site near the town of Mendocino.
Benefits include salary, housing, food or garden space, education and meaningful connection:
The Job: Ecology Action is a non-profit organization focused on sustainable agriculture research and education. As a farmer, you will work closely with Ecology Action staff, mini-farm managers, apprentices, interns, and members of the public participating in farm tours and workshops. Farmer tasks and responsibilities include garden planning, bed preparation, planting, composting, weeding, watering, harvesting, data collection and record keeping. Additional tasks include teaching and outreach (you will receive training in biologically-intensive farming and teaching methods to prepare you for these activities).
Please note: our research and demonstration sites focus on the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method; no other farming methods may be practiced on site by staff farmers. No animal husbandry, hunting, or fishing occurs at these sites. TJC is vegetarian (no meat or fish products on site) and VGfP is 100% vegan (only plant-based food products allowed on site).
Interested? Get the full details and more pictures here: growbiointensive.org/Opportunities.html
A thanksgiving tradition at dinner tables across the country is to ask each person “What are you thankful for?” It’s an interesting question, because it is so vitally linked with the other fundamental questions we all ask ourselves in one way or another:
How we find answers to these questions varies, but sometimes, you come across a process that seems fill your sails and blow away the cobwebs, and you want to share it with everyone you know. That’s how I feel about Claudia Wenning’s Handbook Quantum Level Transformation —Tools, Techniques and Meditations for Awareness and Vital Balance: A Transformational Journey of Discovery!
In my experience, it really does provide a quantum level jump in your transformational development – providing a path to answer those questions in a satisfying way. It’s something I am thankful for in my life, and so I wanted to share it with you all.
The book cover says “Claudia integrates various modalities, visualizations, energy modulations and meditations, nutritional consulting, herbs and supplements in naturopathic consultations to assist you to live a life in Vital Balance in body, mind and emotions…to live this precious life in health and joy.” …which seems like a lot, but actually, it’s a series of steps in a process that, taken together, can provide a “quantum leap” in one’s spirit and self. The experiential result sometimes seems miraculous.
Use the “Vital Balance Wheel” to develop a practical action plan for your own quantum-level transformation that you can easily grow with! You will be excitingly surprised by the “Crystal Intention Techniques”. Your optimal growth also has to do with learning how to feel fully.
The process is ongoing and exciting. I have experienced the results from several consultations with Claudia, and remember wondering later, “How did the change happen?”… sometimes it was a few days later, yet the new perception just appeared and made everything more wonderful —even when working in challenging situations.
Surprisingly, we are each very powerful in accomplishing what we wish to proactively create. It all depends on what your intention is! This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “If you want to predict the future, create it!”
As you seek the answers to becoming your best self you in this world, I encourage you to experiment with Quantum Level Transformation; if your experience is anything like mine, you will begin to welcome new possibilities!
Wishing you an enjoyable journey and much to be thankful for.
As harvest season draws to a close, it’s time to preserve the bounty. And what better way to do it than with the time-honored method of fermentation? With the earliest known examples of fermented foods appearing in the Fertile Crescent over 8,000 years ago, it seems that wherever you go around the globe, every culture has its own…um…culturing tradition. Beer, wine, sourdough bread, cheese, chocolate, sauerkraut, coffee and yogurt are just a few of the well-known examples, but the truth is, almost any food can be preserved by the process known as lacto-fermentation or “pickling”. Lucky for us, extending the harvest this way is delicious, so our ancestors perfected the process, not knowing that they were teaming up with important beneficial microbes to increase the nutrition, digestibility, and vitamin levels of the foods they preserved, as well as giving anyone who ate them a stronger immune system.
Over time, as heavily processed, chemically preserved foods became popular, traditional fermentation practices faded to the background. Pickles were made with vinegar and canned foods replaced cultured ones. And in the process, we lost an important ally in our pursuit of health and happiness: the billions of beneficial bacteria that fermented foods had provided humans for thousands of years. Did you know that 2 ounces of lacto-fermented sauerkraut has more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules? It’s true!
Thankfully, people are starting to understand the value and flavor of fermented foods again, and the shelves of health-food (and some mainstream) markets are brimming with formerly exotic items like kimchi, tempeh, kefir, kombucha and kvass.
(FYI: The best kombucha I have ever tasted —ever — is made by IT’S ALIVE KOMBUCHA in Bayside, CA between Eureka and Arcata. We’re in luck — it’s available in flavors like Pear Apple, Cactus Berry, Electric Lemon and more. Try some. You’ll love it.)
It’s nice to be able to buy these foods, but why stop there?
Fermentation is easy (and inexpensive!) to do at home, and Mary Karlin’s book Mastering Fermentation—Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods is by far one of my favorite how-to manuals to recommend to beginners and fermentation buffs alike. Beginners don’t be scared! As you master fermentation with this book, you’ll experience a good spectrum of delicious and doable recipes! Mary goes broad and deep in the mysterious, magical practical topic. Kiri Fisher, the Owner of The Cheese School of San Francisco notes about this book, its author and fermentation, “Ordinary foods—vegetables, milk, juice, tomatoes, tea—are transformed by it into the most extraordinary pickles, cheeses, vinegars, ketchups and kombuchas….Mary Karlin is the sorceress and this is her book of culinary spells.” I couldn’t say it better.
Look at the topics covered and tell me you don’t want to try at least one recipe. Or five.
Equipment, Ingredients, and Troubleshooting
Fermented Fruits and Vegetables
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and Aromatics
Fermented Grains, Breads, and Flatbreads
Fermented Beverages and Meats and Fish
Cooking with Fermented Foods! Sample from such recipes as:
Fruit and Vegetable Juices, Sauces, Pastes and Stocks
Bran Fermented Vegetables
Maple Port Vinegar
Coconut Milk Yogurt
Plum Raisin Mustard
Apple Caraway Sauerkraut
Sprouted Chickpea Hummus
Fermented White Tofu
Smoky Chipotle in Adobo
Tapenade of Herbs, Citrus, and Olives
Savory Walnut Thyme Butter
Saffron Yogurt Cheese
Wild and Creamy Muenster
Blue-Eyed Jack Cheese
Sprouted Corn Tortillas
Rosemary-Lemon Dutch Oven Bread
Seeded Sprouted-Grain Crackers
Asian Fish Sauce
Pickled Sardines with Fennel
Water Kefir Coconut-Ginger Soda
Sparkling Fruity Kombucha
Black Pepper Pilsner
Toasted Kale and Spinach Salad
Warm Potato and Caramelized Endive Salad
Grilled Yogurt Naan – Stuffed with Herb-Nut Butter
Potato-Herb Gnocchi with Creamy Whey Reduction Sauce
Tea-Smoked Trout with Walnuts and Crème Fraiche Lentils
Sourdough Walnut-Parsley Sauce
Chocolate Sourdough Cupcakes with Coconut-Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting
Yogurt-Cardamom Ice Cream with Goat Crème Fraiche Caramel Sauce
Yumm…! This book will enable you to ferment lots of recipe ideas of your own!
With winter approaching, people in rural areas of the developed world are thinking about heating and cooking. And firewood. And stoves. Around the globe, in the developing world, it isn’t a seasonal thought – it’s a daily thought. “More than half of the world’s population cook their food and heat their homes by burning coal and biomass, including wood, dung and crop residues, over open fires or in rudimentary stoves.” (World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002)
Whether you use a woodstove for winter heat or you cook over a fire for every meal, the efficiency of your stove and the emissions it puts out are important, for your own health, and to the health of the planet. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (somewhat belatedly?) branded smoke inhalation of indoor smoke from cooking/heating as a “major health hazard.” International organizations came together as a result of the summit, forming the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA, www.pciaonline.org/ )to address the challenge.
As a result of that effort, Aprovecho Research Center – a non-profit 501(c)3 organization devoted to improving cookstove efficiency and emissions (www.aprovecho.org and www.aprovecho.net ) – tested 18 different cook stoves in use around the world and published Test Results of Cook Stove Performance in 2011 in partnership with the US-EPA and the PCIA. The categories tested include wood-burning stoves with and without chimneys, wood-burning stoves with electric fans, charcoal-burning stoves, liquid-fuel stoves, and a solar cooker. The stoves are rated on seven performance categories: time to boil water, amount of fuel and energy it takes to cook, carbon monoxide emissions, particulate matter emissions, safety, cost, and monthly fuel use.
In the first section of the book, each stove is given two pages, with a photo, a drawing with dimensions, written description of the stove’s origin, performance features and manufacturer contact information. The second section compares stoves by performance category. The third section asks questions about the performance features and answers them with graphs and charts. The book also includes appendices with a glossary and greater detail on testing methods and testing data.
It is evident that a great deal of time and care were taken in designing and carrying out these tests. However, the authors point out that this is a work in progress, a starting place to be improved on over time as these stoves (and others) are used in the home and/or tested in the lab.
This research is an invaluable practical resource for those seeking to improve their sustainability and lower the health risks involved in burning fuel for heat or cooking. On average, each person in the developing world where wood stoves are used burns 1,000 pounds of dry wood annually. To sustainably harvest this amount of firewood, a 40,000 square foot forest is required for each person – something that is simply not available for most people. If the most effective stove can be chosen for each application, less wood may be needed, increasing sustainability, and decreasing the health and environmental impacts of burning wood.
But more can be done! When this stove information is combined with heritage coppicing/pollarding woodland management techniques, the results for sustainability are truly wonderful. Coppiced and pollarded trees are managed so that they regrow after cutting, taking less time to grow more wood than if you planted new trees (the difference between the two is that coppiced trees are cut at ground level, while pollarded trees are cut further up the trunk).
For more information on sustainable coppicing, including a comparison of suitable tree species with yield and uses listed, see Ecology Action’s article Coppicing, available for download from: www.growbiointensive.org/ePubs under the “eInformation Sheets/Articles” tab.
Here’s the punchline:
If tree species are selected that will coppice successfully on a 16-year cycle, and if you use only the wood from significant branches for fuel and compost the bark and smaller branches, then 95% of the trace minerals from the fuel harvested can be captured and returned to the soil in the form of cured compost.
Combine coppicing with the use of a modified lorena stove (permanent cookstoves made of sand and clay) or an effective rocket stove (build of brick/cement www.rocketstoves.com/) and the 1000 lbs. of wood needed annually can be grown using biologically intensive methods in as little as 625 square feet. It’s a gigantic reduction of the 40,000 square feet it takes to grow the fuel for a regular stove. Imagine all that forest staying wild!
This makes sustainable soil fertility AND sustainable forestry AND heat generation possible!
You can download the Test Results of Cook Stove Performance for free at http://www.pciaonline.org/resources/test-results-cook-stove-performance
If you want to learn more about what goes into building efficient cookstoves, Aprovecho has published a new book, Clean-Burning Biomass Cookstoves which you can download for free at http://aprovecho.org/
Coppicing is also used in the creation of hedges, which I posted about earlier this year https://johnjeavons.org/2018/06/19/hedgerows/ For a brief and entertaining visual intro to coppicing, watch this video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkRuMqVuJDE).
Happy growing, cooking and heating!
With summer drawing to a close, it’s time to start thinking about your winter garden, and that means cover crops! Here are some things to consider when planting your cover crops this year:
Normally, a gardener or farmer planning a crop rotation (over time) would start in the late autumn/winter/early spring season by planting a nitrogen-fixing legume, such as a cold-hardy fava (perhaps using the Banner* variety, which can fix up to 0.22 pounds of nitrogen and can withstand temperatures down to 10˚F) or the even hardier Woolly Pod Vetch*, which fixes up to 0.63 pounds of nitrogen/100 sq. ft. and can withstand temperatures to 0˚F., or the truly cold-loving Hairy Vetch*, which can withstand temperatures down to -25˚F. Then, in the following late spring/summer/early autumn, the farmer would plant a summer grain crop to take advantage of the nitrogen stored in the soil by the legumes the previous season.
A challenge with this rotation scheme is that the amount of nitrogen fixed is estimated based on harvesting the legumes before they produce a significant amount of seed. Once the crop flowers and begins to set its seed, the nitrogen fixed in the soil is picked up by the plant to be used for seed production, and this means that the nitrogen is used up by the time one approaches the next winter season.
An alternative to this sequential rotation of legumes and grains in place is to interplant the legumes with grain. In the late autumn/ winter/early spring season, interplant with winter/spring grains (such as Wheat, Hull-less Barley, Hull-less Oats, Cereal Rye, and Triticale); in the late spring/summer/early autumn season, interplant with summer grains (such as Flour/Tortilla Corn, Sorghum, Pearl Millet, 45-Day Japanese Millet, Grain Amaranth and Quinoa).
For example, to use this inter-planting approach in the late autumn/winter/early spring season, you can prepare, fertilize and apply compost to the growing area and soak 5.5 ounces of vetch seed/100 sq. ft. in room temperature water overnight to encourage better germination. The next day, drain the vetch seeds and mix them with a small amount of dry soil; this will allow the seed to be broadcast more easily. Scatter the vetch seeds evenly over the bed, and using a bow rake, very gently chop the seed shallowly into the soil. Then, using a transplanting board, transplant the winter/spring grain onto 5″ offset centers. When the vetch reaches 50% flower (it looks like full flower)—and before it begins to make a significant amount of seed—carefully remove it from the growing area, cutting the plants at ground level and leaving the roots, with their nitrogen-rich nodules, in place. Then, let the grain continue growing to maturity.
To use the inter-planting method for summer crops, prepare, fertilize and apply compost to the growing area and soak, prepare, broadcast and incorporate 5.5 ounces of vetch seed into 100 sq. ft. of growing bed, as described above in winter crop method. Then, using a transplanting board, plant summer grains such as flour/tortilla corn, amaranth or quinoa on 12″ offset centers in late spring/summer/early autumn. Then, (exactly as described previously in the winter crop method) when the vetch reaches 50% flower, but has not produced seeds, cut the plants at ground level, leaving the nitrogen-producing roots, and allow the grain to continue growing to maturity. For other summer grains such as sorghum, pearl millet and 45-day Japanese millet, which must all be transplanted on 7″ offset centers, follow the same method, but instead of planting the grain on 12” centers, plant the grain seedlings on 7” centers and proceed as above.
The reason for using vetch in the inter-planting examples above is that vetch produces are smaller plants than fava beans and makes more efficient use of the space when sharing a bed with grains. While favas could be used in an inter-planting design, because they are large plants and require wider spacing, when interplanted, they would fix much less nitrogen (1/7th the amount as compared to the amount they fix when planted by themselves) as compared with smaller legumes.
Note: For the best plant health and yield results, there needs to be about 0.5 lbs. of nitrogen in your soil/100 sq.ft. As you can see from the above inter-planted examples, approximately 0.25 pounds, and sometimes more, can come from the inter-planted legumes. Up to 0.25 pounds of additional nitrogen may be added by applying 2 cubic feet of cured GROW BIOINTENSIVE compost (including ~50% soil) per 100 sq ft. of growing bed.
If you’re interested in learning more about cover crops, nitrogen fixation and crop rotations, the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) has an excellent free publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably which you can download from https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition
A little bit of effort with cover crops now can mean better yields and richer soil in the spring!