• What is
  • Why
    is it
  • How it
    works to
    build soil
  • Grow soil &
    food in the
    smallest space
  • The
  • Getting
    with GB
  • GB
  • Using


A Thriving GROW BIOINTENSIVE GardenWe have dedicated our research to rediscoveringthe scientific principles that underlie millennia-old traditional farming systems. These have guided us to the eight essential aspects that are the foundation of GROW BIOINTENSIVE:

  • Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive Planting
  • Companion Planting
  • Carbon Farming
  • Calorie Farming
  • The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  • A Whole-System Farming Method

Most life in nature occurs at the interface of soil, water, air and sun. GROW BIOINTENSIVE soil preparation practices create growing beds with more surface area to maximize the effect of nature’s life processes. Double-dug beds, with soil loosened to a depth of 24 inches, aerate the soil, facilitate root growth, and improve water retention. The health and vigor of the soil are maintained through the use of compost. Close plant spacing is used to protect soil microorganisms, reduce water loss, and maximize yields. Companion planting facilitates the optimal use of nutrients, light and water, encourages beneficial insects and creates a vibrant mini-ecosystem within the garden. A focus on the production of calories for the farmer and carbon for the soil ensures that both the farmer and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. The use of open-pollinated seeds helps to preserve genetic diversity and enables gardeners to develop their own acclimatized cultivars. All of the components of this system must be used together for optimum effect and to avoid depleting the soil.

GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using:

  • 67% to 88% less water
  • 50% to 100% less fertilizer
  • 99% less energy than commercial agriculture, while using a fraction of the

These techniques can also:

  • Produce 2 to 6 times more food
  • Build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, if properly used
  • Reduce by half or more the amount of land needed

Image © 1995 Jim Bones


Mother and Child Growing Food Using the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Method

Globally, the health of farming is being threatened by severe challenges:

  • Because of population growth, pollution of water sources, and greater use of water for industry, by 2050 each person on the Earth will have only 25% of the water that was available in 1950. Current agricultural practices use 80% of the Earth’s available water.

  • There may be as little as 40 years of farmable soil remaining globally. For every pound of food eaten, 6 to 24 pounds of soil are lost due to water and wind erosion, as the result of agricultural practices,

  • 95% of the seed varieties ever grown in agriculture are now virtually extinct. Much of this is due to the growing of relatively few crops, and the frequent use of hybrid seeds for the crops that are grown. Seeds that are no longer used soon lose their viability and are rarely available.

  • Global warming may cut agricultural production in half within as little as 20 years. In February, 2004, the Observer in the United Kingdom reported that climate change is a greater threat to the world than terrorism.

  • With supplies of petroleum and natural gas running out, conventional agriculture—heavily dependent on these resources—will become more expensive, raising food prices accordingly. As natural gas to make inexpensive nitrogen fertilizer is depleted, it may take significantly more land to grow the same amount of food, when conventional agricultural practices are used.

  • The number of farmers globally keeps decreasing. In the US, only 2/5 of 1% of the population now farm. Many people would like to farm but are unable to afford the land and equipment current wisdom says is necessary for a farm to be economically viable. Other farmers have been forced off their land due to heavy competition from globalization and subsidized food. As farmers go out of business, their skills—often passed down through millennia—are also lost to the world. Once thriving communities that served rural populations deteriorate and die as farmers leave.


GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming can provide a solution to many of these challenges. The method:

    • Requires 67% to 88% less water than conventional agriculture.
    • Properly used, is capable of building up soil while growing food.
    • Grows a wide variety of crops, using only open-pollinated seeds.
    • Requires no petroleum or natural gas products. It is based on human energy and will still be productive when oil runs out.
    • Can produce high yields on small pieces of land with limited resource use, making it accessible to almost everyone who would like to grow food.

Small-scale farming is as old as agriculture itself. One study of 15 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, found that per-acre output on small farms can be as much as four to five times higher than on large ones. Russia, over the years, has often produced 30% to 50% of its food on household plots representing as little as 3% to 5% of all Russian farmland. The productivity of small-scale farms is also being widely recognized by agricultural economists who call it the “inverse relationship between farm size and productivity.”



All of life on Earth depends on six-inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains! The soil is a living organism that must be fed and nurtured to keep it feeding us. Down through the millennia farmers have known this and have renewed the soil with organic matter and other nutrients.

However, this basic understanding has been lost by the current conventional agriculture. Soil has been viewed as simply another commodity, an inert medium for growing, and has been inundated with chemicals to provide high yields and kill insects and plant diseases. In the process, once-fertile soils have become severely depleted of organic matter, nutrients, and micro-organisms—the army of invisible, beneficial workers in the soil. Depleted soils are in danger of being blown away by wind or washed away by rain.

Thirty percent of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the last 40 years due to severe erosion.

  • As little as 40 years of farmable soil remain globally.
  • For each pound of food eaten in the United States, approximately 6 pounds of soil are lost to wind and water erosion, resulting from agricultural practices.
  • Twelve pounds of farmable soil are similarly lost in developing countries, with 18 pounds of farmable soil lost in China for every pound of food eaten.
  • Approximately 213,000 people are added to the planet daily, requiring about 34,000 more farmable acres each day to feed them—acreage which does not exist.
  • Due to all of these factors, by 2014 only about 64% of the world’s population is likely to have an adequate diet.

On June 15, 2004, the United Nations observed that the world’s land is turning to desert at an alarming speed—at twice the rate that was occurring in 1970. As of 2017, we estimate the agricultural soil loss as follows:

Conventional farming methods lose topsoil at a rate of 6 to 18 pounds of soil lost per pound of food eaten. In contrast, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of farming has the capacity to produce up to 20 pounds of soil per pound of food eaten!

Ecology Action started its research in 1972 in its first research garden on Syntex Corporation land at the Stanford University Industrial Park. ‘A’ and ‘B’ horizons soil had been removed and the garden was created on ‘C’ horizon subsoil. In 1980 it was necessary to give up this site because Syntex needed the land. Before the garden was moved Doug Maher, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the soil in one of the growing beds. He listed the results in his Soil Science Master’s thesis, finding that the humified carbon level in the upper 1 to 1.5 inches of the soil had been built up in only eight years to a level that would have taken nature alone 500 years to accomplish. The thesis extrapolated that GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques, properly used, have the potential to build soil up to 60 times faster than it can be developed in nature.

In the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system, soil fertility is maintained by allotting 60% of what is grown to compost crops. A focus on the production, through these crops, of calories for the gardener and carbon for the soil can ensure that both the gardener and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. Because this biologically-intensive method requires much less area to produce the same yield of crops as conventional agriculture, if it were used globally at least one-half of the world’s acreage could be left in the wild for the preservation of the all important plant and animal diversity.

“The soil is a living organism. Like all other living organisms, she breathes, feeds, grows, develops, and moves. Nature gave her external and internal spiritual beauty. This must be understood by first seeing,
then feeling, understanding, and above all, falling in love with her.”
Irina Kim, Biointensive practitioner and teacher in Uzbekistan

The 60-30-10 crop ratio used in the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Method

To download this image as a PDF click here


(General Aids for Planning Your Diet)

• 60-65% of the area — "Carbon-and-Calorie Crops" — High-Carbon-producing and
    significant-calorie-producing (weight-efficient
[see below]) crops

Grains: Wheat, Cereal Rye, Oats, Barley, Triticale, Corn, Sorghum, Amaranth, Quinoa, etc.
Fava Beans (grown to maturity for dry bean and dry biomass production)
Sunflowers (sunflower seeds very high in fat; maximum to avoid copper toxicity = 0.62 lb / day)

• 30% of the area — "High-Calorie Root Crops" — Area- and weight-efficient crops for     calories

Crops for this category need to be both area- and weight-efficient. As defined for this worksheet, a crop is considered to be "area-efficient" if the annual area needed for total calories is 16 beds (1600 sq     ft) or less, assuming GROW BIOINTENSIVE intermediate yields; it is considered to be "weight-
" if the daily weight of food to be eaten for total calories is 9 pounds or less.1

    Potatoes (12.2/6.7) Maximum to avoid potassium toxicity = 2.5 lb /day

    Jerusalem Artichoke (12.3 / 7.0)**

    Garlic (10.8 / 3.6)**

    Leeks (6.6 / 8.7)

    Parsnips (10.8 / 7.1)

    Sweet Potatoes (11.2 / 5.0)

    Salsify (11.8 / 6.5)

    AREA in 100-sq-ft beds / WEIGHT in lb: e.g., it takes 12.2 beds of potatoes to produce the 2,400 calories per day needed by an average person—who would have to eat 6.7 lb of potatoes per day.
    ** Jerusalem artichoke and some varieties of hard-neck garlic may produce significant amounts of dry biomass.

The crops below are weight-efficient, but require more area to grow and produce relatively little biomass. Therefore, they should be included in the 10% "Vegetable Crops" category.

Peanuts (34.1 / 0.9) Very high in fat

Soybeans (58.0 / 3.8)

Beans (except Fava Beans) (56.8 / 4.7) Burdock (17.8 / 7.3) (assuming Carrot yield)

Cassava (20.1 / 3.3) May produce modest amount of carbon

The following crops can be area-efficient if yields are high enough, but the daily weight of food exceeds the guidelines, so they should be included in the 10% "Vegetable Crops" category.

Onions, Regular (12.7 / 14.0)  |  Turnips + Tops (8.8 / 19.4)
(assuming 2 crops are possible OR yield is two times intermediate)

Rutabaga (13.4 / 14.7)

NOTE: For diet diversity, you may choose crops that are less weight-efficient (e.g. regular onions, 14.0 lb per day); in which case, you need to have a significant amount of food from crops that are more weight-efficient (e.g. filberts (0.8 lb per day) and/or increase your design area.

Carrots (30.0 / 12.3)    Beets / Mangels (roots only) (40.8 / 12.3)    Radishes (48.1 / 26.4)

• 5-10% of the area — "Vegetable Crops"

            Low-calorie-producing, low-carbon-producing miscellaneous vegetables
                       for vitamins and minerals

1 In the book One Circle by Duhon, an "area-efficient" crop can provide total calories with 700 sq ft or less (550 sq ft for a woman, 850 sq ft for a man), and a "weight-efficient" crop can provide total calories in 6 pounds or less for a man or 5.5 pounds or less for a woman.

60/30/10 Clar. Revised 2/15/06, based on updated nutrition information in the 7th ed. of How to Grow More Vegetables.
© 2006, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1997  Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits CA 95490-9730.

To download this clarifications sheet as a PDF click here



Broccoli grown using conventional, organic, and GROW BIOINTENSIVE methods. The GROW BIOINTENSIVE Broccoli is larger and more vigorous
Chemical Agriculture
Organic Agriculture

What is the most effective way to grow healthy crops in poor soil while improving the fertility of the soil?

The following comparative yields were obtained from chemical, organic and GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture-type tests run in our compacted "C-horizon" material at Ecology Action's first site in the Stanford University Industrial Park in Palo Alto, California. This material, which is broken down rock, normally takes about 500 years to become soil. The topsoil and subsoil from this site, the "A- and B- Horizons", had been previously removed during a construction process. Several crops were grown in side-by-side trials with each test acting as a "control" for the other tests. The broccoli test described below is a typical example. The plants in the above photograph are representative samples of the broccoli plants grown with each of these techniques. In addition, the relative differences in the results are representative of those which occurred with each of the crops tested in this way.

Chemical Agricultural Practices
The stunted broccoli plant on the left was grown using chemical agricultural practices: loosening the soil about 7 inches deep and adding chemical fertilizer as indicated in its directions plus 2 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in rows with the conventional distance between rows and between plants within the rows. The broccoli heads were about 1/4 the size of an adult person's little fingernail.

Organic Agricultural Practices
The broccoli shown in the middle was grown using organic farming practices: loosening the soil about 11 inches deep and adding an appropriate amount of organic fertilizers plus 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in rows with the conventional distance between rows and between plants within the rows. The broccoli heads were about 4 inches in diameter and weighed about 4 ounces each.

GROW BIOINTENSIVE Agricultural Practices
The broccoli shown on the right was grown using GROW BIOINTENSIVE agricultural practices: loosening the soil about 24 inches deep and adding the same appropriate amount of organic fertilizers plus 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet. The crops were planted in raised-growing beds 6 feet wide by 19 feet long with standard GROW BIOINTENSIVE offset spacing (and no widely spaced rows), so the plants' leaves touched at maturity. The broccoli heads were about 10 inches in diameter and weighed about 10 ounces each, or 2.5 times greater than in the organic farming test and 120 times greater than in the chemical agriculture test. In addition, the overall yield for the GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture test was 7.5 times higher per unit of area than the organic farming test, because 3 times more plants could be planted per unit of area with the close "living mulch" crop spacings used in raised-bed growing-areas.

After this initial test in 1973-1974, it was discovered that more than 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter without soil per 100 square feet is not normally sustainable. However, 8 cubic feet of composted organic matter, including 50% soil, should produce similar, though different, parallel results


Growing your own food can be rewarding on many levels, and can bring benefits both to you and the planet. It is empowering to know that you are able to provide for yourself in such a basic way. The taste of fully-ripe food fresh from the garden may be an eye-opening experience. Fresh air and exercise are added benefits. And each food item that comes from your backyard rather than the supermarket means less of the oil use, resource use, air pollution and soil pollution that are required for commercial growing, processing and transporting of foods.

We realize that the thought of learning how to grow all your own food can seem overwhelming. Don’t overdo! We recommend starting slowly and simply, with one 100- square-foot bed. Reading How to Grow More Vegetables or The Sustainable Vegetable Garden will show you how to double-dig the soil and become aware of the other processes that make up the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system. A smaller area to work in can lead to successful growing and self confidence in the process. You will gradually learn about your own soil, microclimate and mini-ecosystem and the plants that thrive best there.

You will be surprised to see, when using GROW BIOINTENSIVE, the amount of food that can be grown in such a small space. Dig in and enjoy!

Click a link below to go to the section you want to read:

Sustainability Standards |Compost Application Guidelines | Soil Protocol

Standards for GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-Farming

GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-Farming is a remarkable method for increasing yields, decreasing resource use, and building soil fertility at very low cost. When used properly, it has the potential to change our world for the better. However, when putting this method into practice, it is important to be aware that GROW BIOINTENSIVE is a whole system, and that the components of the system must all be used together to be sustainable.

If you are using GROW BIOINTENSIVE, be aware that if you do not use all of the components of the system together, the method’s high yields can rapidly deplete the soil, and can potentially cause as much damage to your land as conventional farming practices.

If you use all of the components of the system together, the method can build up the soil rapidly while producing higher yields and conserving resources.

We are eager for people to put GROW BIOINTENSIVE into practice, but we want to make certain that each farmer is aware that their garden or mini-farm is only as sustainable the techniques used by the farmer. For this reason, we have created the following “check-list” to help you keep track of your progress away from soil-depletion and ecosystem destruction, and towards true, abundant sustainability.

To be considered as a true GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farm, the garden, mini-farm, or farm of an individual, project, program, or organization must be using a specific group of practices in a specific way. These practices are grouped in three levels of increasing involvement:

  1. Basic GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Farmer
  2. Transitional GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Farmer
  3. Full GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farmer

To see what level of sustainability your farm or garden has achieved,
please download and read the following checklist, and check off the practices which apply to your garden, mini-farm or farm at this time.

Checklist for GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming (~43MB PDF)

Compost Application Guidelines for GROW BIOINTENSIVE®
Sustainable Mini-Farming

The goal of a GROW BIOINTENSIVE sustainable mini-farm is to produce essentially all of
the soil's fertility sustainably and to eventually need no outside inputs. This is possible once the soil nutrients are balanced through competent soil analysis followed by the application of the appropriate quantities of organic fertilizers. Sustainability can be achieved by accomplishing two goals: a) growing "compost crops" to generate sufficient cured compost; and b) returning all of the soil nutrients contained in the crops to the soil through sufficient compost and the proper, safe and legal recycling of human waste. If these two goals are accomplished, both humus and nutrient levels of the soil can be replenished in a way that is sustainable. That is, the fertility of the soil can be maintained virtually indefinitely, since these practices do not rely on nonrenewable resources directly (as in the use of chemical fertilizers which are produced from petroleum) or indirectly. Examples of practices that use nonrenewable resources are: a) the use of organic fertilizers which come from other soils, and b) the bringing in of organic matter from other soils—therefore, depleting those soils.

To determine the proper levels of compost application, please download and read the following guidelines.

GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-Farming: Sustainable Application of Composted Vegetable Matter, Composted Cow Manure, and Organic Fertilizers (126 KB PDF)

GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Soil Testing Station Soil Management Policy

To establish consistent principles and procedures that all GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Soil Testing Stations (STS; EMS in Spanish) must follow to improve their soils in a sustainable manner, and to establish guidelines for information taught at STS teaching events, the following protocol was developed. If you are a trainer working with the public at an STS/EMS, please download and read the following are general guidelines to assist STSs in providing accurate, critical information to students at their teaching events.

English: GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Soil Testing Station Soil Management Policy

Spanish: GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Política de Administración de las Estaciones de Monitoreo de Suelo



For the purposes of the educational materials and presentations on the Curriculum Resources and Self-Teaching Tools pages, as well as other learning and teaching resources available on this website, it is useful to have alternative terms to use when discussing biologically intensive practices that may differ from the officially certified GROW BIOINTENSIVE processes developed by Ecology Action.

Before using GROW BIOINTENSIVE presentations or other material please download and read Ecology Action's Description of Terminology, which explains the proper use of the terms "biointensive", "Biointensive" and "GROW BIOINTENSIVE®".

Thank you!