21st Century Gardening
What pulled me out this time, as usual, was Mia and her gentle reminders, as well as our current fiscal reality. Now is not the time to take on additional tasks or expenses, and I still have 1/8 acre of under utilized garden space (read: lawn) in the backyard. Also important in this recovery was the sermon this week on gratitude. I find that counting your blessings has an immense grounding effect on me. I have so much, and wanting more is, well, greedy.
Coleman's system for market gardening is brilliant. With his plan-which took him 20 years to design- you can farm 2-3 acres of very intense vegetable production per worker and support 20-40 people with their annual vegetables. That doesn't sound like much land, but put it in perspective. Eliot builds his fields into beds 5' x 100'. That means all 5 of my 7 beds would equal one of his. Then he leaves a 10' path for his equipment, and starts another bed, so each acre is 2 beds wide. Here is the kicker-they are 40 beds deep-so he gets 80 beds per acre: Coleman farms almost 300x the space than I do. That's a lot of hoeing! Think of the thousands of transplants alone, or spreading 100,000 lbs of manure by hand. Every year. And that is just for one acre! Coleman has lots of gee whiz ways to improve your efficiency, but it is still immense.
But my concern with his system (and yes I realize that I am critiquing a master) is that he is still operating in what I am beginning to think is a dated, and potentially unsustainable system. He tills the land up to 6 times per year thereby destroying much of the soil life. In his book Coleman spends a very brief time on no till gardening which he began using in one of his greenhouses. He concedes that after 2 years his plants under the no till were outperforming his other beds, but he did not know how to accomplish it on the scale he was currently working under. That is my new mission.
To that end I am sourcing books on no till, or mulch intensive gardening. I am currently convinced that this is the future of gardening and perhaps agriculture. Read old time farming books and they are unanimous that the best time to plant corn (which needs high nutrient soil) is into a field that has been left to hay for 2 seasons. As Permaculture texts expound-no one has to fertilize a prairie and it will produce as much biomass as a forest. Classics such as Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution, and Ruth Stout's No Work Garden also stress that nature knows best. My own results this year when I redid my wood chip paths only to discover a 1" layer of humus underneath, after just 18 months, are also playing heavily into this. What could be accomplished if I actually intended to compost in place instead of just dumping a chunky carbon source on the ground? There are hundreds of permaculture gardeners out there running these experiments, and I plan on joining their ranks and adding to the literature on the topic here and on One straw.
2007 will see a significant rise in the amount of space I am dedicating to perennial food crops such as small fruit and orchards, deep mulched and under-sown with perennial legumes. In my 7 annual vegetable beds I will be applying the results of this winter's research to limit my tilling to only what is necessary to get the seeds and transplants into the earth.