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8 Gardening Basics
You Need to Know to Get Started

From Ecology Action

Garden ToolsWe all learn as we grow, but in the thick of things, it’s important not to get bogged down in the details — remember the old adage Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)? Well, how about a new version to take with us as we learn new techniques and plunge into our gardens this spring: Keep It Simple & Sustainable!

In the garden – and elsewhere in life! - as long as you understand the basics, and your heart and intent are in the right place, you are off to a good start. Don’t worry about not knowing all the details right away. Remember to have fun . . .  life flourishes in the presence of joy!

To help you on your journey, here are 8 essentials you need to know to grow sustainable, organic food (click on a topic to read more about it):

1. Deep Soil Preparation

If we feed and nurture the soil through deep soil preparation, it will feed us. Soil fertility and organic matter are the fundamental keys to a regenerative, life-producing ecosystem. Double-digging is one way to develop deep soil structure, which makes air, water and nutrients more available to plant roots and soil microbes. The GROW BIOINTENSIVE® method, when mastered, is actually easy and enjoyable and is less disruptive to soil microorganisms than mechanized tilling. Eventually only surface cultivation is needed.


2. Composting

is essential, especially when you are aiming for higher yields. Chemical inputs deplete soil over time, and most are petroleum products. Proper composting creates a holistic nutrient return system to minimize inputs that need to be brought in from somewhere else, which depletes another area.

3. Close Plant Spacing

Close plant spacing protects the microbes in the soil from sun damage and helps to create a living sponge for more efficient utilization of water. It also enables you to get higher yields. Starting seedlings in flats and pricking them out also makes it possible to use less water and to have the transplanted starts fill the bed area more quickly so that bare soil isn’t exposed for as long. Using seedlings started in flats means you will also be starting with stronger plants.

4. Companion Planting

Paying attention when you decide which plants to place together in your garden can make a big difference in how your garden grows! Research shows that many plants grow better when they are near certain other plants. Some plants are useful in repelling pests, while others attract beneficial insect life. Also, many wild plants have a healthy effect on the soil; their deep roots loosen the subsoil and bring up previously unavailable trace minerals and nutrients.

5. Carbon-Efficient Crops

Soil fertility is facilitated by planting approximately 60% of the growing area in dual-purpose seed and grain crops. These key crops produce a large amount of good organic material for compost, as well as food. Corn, wheat, amaranth, millet and oats are some of the best to use. Growing compost materials on your own mini-farm will be increasingly more important, since large amounts of organic matter and nutrients are currently being “mined” from other areas, and will become scarcer, and more expensive to buy over time as they are depleted. Estimates are that we now have as little as 35 to 51 years of arable topsoil remaining, so re-growing fertile soil right where we are is a high priority – and using composting and the right gardening techniques, you can do it right where you are.

6. Calorie-Efficient Crops

The efficient production of sufficient calories in a small area is facilitated by planting special root crops in 30% of the growing area of your garden. These crops include potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, garlic and parsnips.

7. Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds

With GROW BIOINTENSIVE® techniques, Green Revolution-type yields can be obtained with normal open-pollinated seeds that have been selected over generations for their characteristics. Open-pollinated seeds produce true to type, whereas plant characteristics from hybrid seeds are more variable. Some open-pollinated seeds may be referred to as “heirloom” varieties. The use of open-pollinated seeds also helps ensure genetic diversity, which is essential to vitality and resiliency of ecosystems.

8. Whole Gardening System

The GROW BIOINTENSIVE food-raising method is a whole system, and the components of this method must all be used together for the optimum effect. If you do not use all of the components together, the soil can be rapidly depleted because of the method’s high yields.

Other Resources

Check out our free Farmer's Handbook and How-To videos that explore the 8 Essential Steps of Biointensive on our Self-Teaching Page!


The movement for sustainable, healthy, local food production is an idea whose time has come. We are all experiencing a rapid shift in focus as people catch the spark of what is possible and we all embrace empowered, joyful self-sufficiency and deeply rooted community. It’s exciting to be a part of a movement that brings about historic and monumental change from right where we are!

As a non-profit organization with a 46-year track record, Ecology Action has been preparing for these pivotal times and can bring to the table a wealth of tried and true solutions aimed at resolving the challenges of:

    • Food Production
    • Water Conservation
    • Energy Efficiency
    • Stabilization of local communities

Partnership is a commitment to a relationship based on an alignment of purpose, and now, more than ever, we are asking you to commit to being a part of these solutions.  With each contribution, the momentum builds to keep our work of training and supporting a worldwide network of sustainable mini-farmers moving forward. Having a reliable financial base—from building relationships with contributors over time—allows us to focus our attention on training and education for empowerment.

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