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The Jeavons Center Mini-Farm Report
by John Jeavons, Executive Director, Ecology Action

Pollinators enjoying rosemary blossoms on a winter's dayI’ve been doing this for a while now, so people often ask me for gardening advice. And while I can occasionally address a question directly with a generally applicable tip, the real answers can only come from getting acquainted with the land where you are, and learning to work harmoniously with your part of the Earth, your garden. As my mentor Alan Chadwick said: "It is not the gardener that makes the garden. It is the garden that makes the gardener."

But I also understand that everyone must start somewhere, and “get to know your land” may not be immediately helpful when confronting an aphid invasion, so my second answer (maybe it should be my first? Only?) is: educate yourself. The beauty of growing food and working with the soil is that every year, every season, every day in the garden is a reinvention and re-creation of the knowledge—the rich human heritage—handed from one gardener to the next, across time and space, stretching across the globe and back to the first person who planted and tended a seed to harvest...and then taught someone else to do it. If you’re wondering about it, someone else probably has, too. And so, in answer to the questions I receive, I say: read, Read, READ!

Over our first 52 years, in answer to our own and others' questions, Ecology Action has published over fifty books, booklets, and how-to videos, and a huge array of related articles, all available to the public in print and/or electronic format. For a really good introduction to growing food and soil using GROW BIOINTENSIVE® (GB) Sustainable Mini-Farming, I recommend the following selections:

Q: Where do I start?
My first book, How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) is 350 pages long and provides a comprehensive introduction to GB. It is a good book, if I do say so myself, and I recommend it … but it’s long, and detailed. If you want a wonderful, shorter, approach for novice farmers, try The Farmer's Mini-Handbook. We've translated this popular “30-page HTGMV” into nine languages so far (French, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Korean, and Miskitu). With key illustrations, few numbers (yay!), and in the “enhanced” version, eight beautiful full-color teaching posters, The Farmer’s Handbook offers a wonderful approach, as beginners grow into an expanded process. And it’s free!

Q: How can I possibly grow grain without a hundred acres and a combine?
A: For everyone who wants to know how GB can make basic grain raising and harvesting possible on a small scale appropriate for a home garden, I recommend Self- Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #33: Grow Your Own Grains. It really does work. And growing grains with GB, you grow calories and compost crops simultaneously! Right now, the TJC mini-farm soil is beautiful and enhanced through the growth of barley, cereal rye, and wheat crops, from which we expect a good harvest of delicious grain and compostable biomass later this year.

Q: How can I grow crops in a drought?
A: The past four years were difficult ones at TJC, with wildfires and a severe drought impacting our ability to grow crops. For a time, we had to reduce our annual growing space to seventeen 100ft² beds (plus perennials). But even when rainfall dropped to 20 inches from our usual average of 45+ inches annually, we continued to grow our crops with high productivity. This is because GB uses only 1/5 to 1/8 the water required to grow the same crops using conventional methods. As climate change makes seasonal rain uncertain, it’s important for every gardener to become skilled in water conservation to protect the harvest, and our ecosystems. Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #35: Growing More Food with Less Water is a good place to start this journey.

Q: How much energy does GB really save?
It is easy to prove GB provides higher yields and lowers water and fertilizer use: we can weigh produce, measure water use, and keep track of fertilizers. It is not so easy to evaluate the total energy input in farming systems, which includes the calories (energy) of labor, calories embedded in the tools we use, and calories used getting food to our plates—processing and preserving. In Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #37: Energy Use in Biointensive Food Production, two crops (onions and flour corn) serve to illustrate how as little as 6% the energy is used across the board with GB compared with conventional farming.

Q: I read The Farmer’s Handbook, what should I read next?
A: Once you’ve mastered the basics and have a reasonably improved soil and skillset, you can use GB and smart crop choices to plan and grow a nutritionally complete, balanced vegan diet for one person on 2,000ft² (or less). That’s 1/50 the area currently used to grow an average US diet. You can start with just one growing bed and work your way up! Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #38: A Path to Peace and Sustainability: Growing Soil, Food and Seed in As Little As 1,000 Sq. Ft. combines beautiful writing and design with excellent details on this topic, and is a good “vision document” that provides a deeper dive into both the philosophy and the method of GB for the beginner...and beyond.

Q: What do you do at TJC when…?
A: Every garden site differs, and what works in one place may not work in another. But for those curious about our methods, Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #41: Reflections on Crop Cultivation Practices is the inside scoop for our location in the mountains east of Willits, CA. This booklet contains crop information and cultivation approaches, developed over half a century at TJC, updated as we continue to learn from our work.

Q: I’m learning GB, there’s a lot going on in the world, and I need inspiration!
A: We hear you! Ecology Action is a small organization, with a big responsibility to spread GB to as many people as possible. The accelerating challenges we face— individually and globally—means more people than ever (billions around the globe) will need the skill to grow fertile soil, abundant nutritious food, and an income—and be functioning and beneficial parts of their community. To address this need, I developed the (just-released!) Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #44: Ultra: Accelerated Learning and Teaching Approach as part of an initiative to train as many people as possible to become GB practitioners in as little as a 6-week to 6-month period. The goal of the Ultra initiative is for each trainee to have the equivalent of a 3-year Ecology Action Apprentice’s perspective and grasp of GB, although they will not yet have all the technical information on using the method. The booklet is intended (with some clarification by a mentor when necessary) to provide a foundation for people training to use GB as they learn to work with nature, to create solutions to the challenges facing us, and to thrive as individuals and as a part of the whole. It is not intended to provide training in the day-to-day techniques, which can be learned from resources offered by Ecology Action our global partners. Instead, it is intended to provide a feel for the experiential and conceptual understanding of the philosophical and even what might be called a spiritual (or deep subconscious) connection with the seasons, cycles, and choices that a seasoned gardener develops a feel for over time, and which beginning practitioners of the GB method sometimes struggle to understand.

Q: What can we do about…everything?
A: Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #45: The Negative Tolerance Buildup Effect and a Positive Transformation (just-released!) shows how GB can transform five key challenges in the world into positive opportunities:

  • Grow fertile farmable soil instead of depleting it.
  • Conserve water while increasing yields.
  • Use less energy in all forms. • Require far fewer imported nutrients while growing more nutritious food.
  • Grow healthy, abundant food for a healthy, balanced population.

This reading list is not a comprehensive one, but it’s a good place to start. And as you explore and learn and grow your garden and your skills: stay curious, use your “Aikido Eyes,” collect your data regularly, and work from a place of Joy. And as always, remember: "You must give to nature more than you take. Obey it, and the earth will provide you in glorious abundance." - Alan Chadwick


Grow Hope

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Grow Biointensive!

Garden tours 2024
May 4 Victory Gardens for Peace
June 8 The Jeavons Center
Oct 12 Victory Gardens for Peace
$25 per person information and registration click here

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