Unfortunately, most home gardeners only have a limited amount of space to work their magic. While you may dream of digging up your entire lawn to make room for the perfect garden, there are usually a number of things that prevent you from doing so: maybe your kids need a place to play, or a city ordinance has required you to have grass in your front yard. Maybe you're just worried your spouse would kill you for tearing up the lawn. Whatever your reasons may be, there's no need to feel discouraged. Luckily for you, there’s a form of gardening that's all about getting the most crops out of small areas while using a minimal amount of resources. It’s called biointensive gardening.
Principles of Biointensive Gardening
There are several factors that set biointensive gardening apart from more conventional cultivation methods. Mainly, biointensive techniques require raised beds to be dug out twice (for increased aeration and improved drainage) and frequent composting (to improve the nutrients in the ground).
Planting itself is also a little different when you're using biointensive methods. People traditionally plant their crops in rows, but when you're working with a small piece of land, you'll need to put all your plants in close proximity of one another to ensure that no space is left unused. Typically, biointensive gardeners arrange their crops in a triangular or hexagonal pattern. You might even consider doing some companion planting. By pairing different plants, such as a deep-rooted variety with a shallow-rooted one, you'll be saving more space and utilizing your soil more effectively.
Lastly, you're going to be using open-pollinated seeds, as they'll promote genetic diversity among your crops and make it easier for you to get more seed without having to visit the local nursery later on. Instead, you'll be able to harvest the seeds from your own plants on a yearly basis. You'll want to avoid using hybrids, as their seeds don’t always breed true and tend to favor one parent over another. It’s also important to use seeds that will be able to thrive in your area's climate.
Tips on Double Digging Your Raised Beds
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Double digging might sound like a complex process, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. When working in raised beds, you'll want to clear a few small rows out for trenches, each of which can be divided into sections or "squares." In the first section, you'll want to remove any soil until you've dug about 12 inches down. Break up, but don't remove, the next 12 inches of soil. Moving to the next section of trench, you'll follow a similar procedure. Like last time, you'll start by digging out the top twelve inches of soil. Instead of just putting this soil to the side, you're going to use it to refill the first square you worked on. Next, you'll loosen up the subsequent 12 inches of dirt in the second square, exactly like you did the first time. Repeat this process until you’ve reached the end of the trench and each top square of soil has gone into the previous top square's space. In the end, you'll take the soil you removed from the first section and drop it into the last one.
Double-digging doesn’t have to be done every season unless you’re dealing with soil that’s compact and has barely been worked before. Soil that’s already well-worked will only need to be treated this way once in a long while. Next season, you’ll only have to loosen up the top two to four inches.
Get Creative, Save Some Space
When it comes to biointensive gardening, you have to use planting space as efficiently as possible. If standard instructions say to position plants four inches apart in a two-foot row, you can plant your seeds four inches apart but all around each other. That way you'll be saving space while ensuring that your crops' leaves won’t touch when they reach adulthood.
You'll find it useful to think up rather than across. Vertical gardening can be a boon when you’re looking to save some precious planting room. Vining plants are great candidates for vertical growth along fences, stakes, and tomato cages. You can even use other plants to support your vining varieties. For instance, you can use your corn stalks to grow bean plants along. Even heavier crops like melons, squash, and gourds can do well in vertical settings as long you use fabric slings to give them some extra support on the vine. Remember that every inch of soil you save can be utilized by yet another crop!
Biointensive gardening isn't taking off for no reason. Conserving land, water, and fertilizer while yielding a plentiful harvest is a noble goal that just about any gardener can get behind.