The Drought, Skyrocketing Food Prices and Growing Your Own
How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine
By John Jeavons
Ten Speed Press
Book Review – Part II
(See Part I for the theory of biointensive farming)
Most of How to Grow More Vegetables is actually a detailed instruction manual for a family of one to four vegans to grow the right kind of crops to supply most, if not all, their food requirements.
A punishing heat wave in the Midwest on top of the worst drought since 1956 is predicted to result in skyrocketing autumn prices for soybeans, corn and meat. One positive outcome of the increasing cost of food is the renewed interest in home gardens. Not only is growing your own far more economical, but most of us have become so accustomed to eating processed food grown thousands of miles away that we have forgotten what real food tastes like.
Catering to Novice, Intermediate and Advanced Gardeners
How to Grow More Vegetables starts with the assumption the reader is a beginning gardener and covers basic topics such as soil preparation (by double digging), composting techniques, maximizing soil nutrients (by adding compost and growing crops that increase carbon and nitrogen content), water management, seed propagation, non-chemical pest control and companion planting (growing plants together that enhance each others’ growth or discourage pests). Nearly half the book consists of tables with basic information about the spacing, care and calorie and protein content of specific crops and master charts showing where, when and how much of each variety to plant.
All the master charts emphasize maximum carbon and calorie production in the space available. They are based on the principle that 60% of a biointensive garden must be devoted to carbon-and-calorie crops – in other words crops that produce large amounts of carbon (via leaf and stalk residue) in addition to substantial calories. The former is essential to maintaining the health of the soil and the latter that of the gardener (most people require 1,500-2,000 calories daily to maintain body weight). Examples include corn and wheat, planted along with legumes (peas, lentils or dried beans) to replace soil nitrogen. An additional 30% of garden space should be devoted to high calorie root crops, such as potatoes. No more than 10% should be devoted to low calorie vegetables and fruits that provide missing vitamins and minerals.
Jeavons also makes the assumption that all gardeners advance quickly with practice. Thus he starts people with a 100 square foot (ten feet by ten feet) one person mini-garden. Every year he has them double the size and expand the number of crops. By year four, he has them planting 380 square feet (nineteen feet by nineteen feet). He starts more experienced gardeners off with a 1,302 square foot (36 feet by 36 feet) four person family garden.
Urban and Small Space Gardening
The techniques described in How to Grow More Vegetables are useful whether people are gardening on their own land or starting a community or guerrilla garden. For apartment dwellers interested in small space and vertical gardening, I highly recommend the excellent film by permaculture guru Geoff Lawton called Urban Permaculture.