Fertility leaks and edible yards

January 14, 2011

Organic growers can find hidden, fertile spaces in the edible yards.

Last week, we explored the idea of expanding our 4×8-foot “Jim’s plot” this new year into a more intensive organic garden, but there are other ways to produce more with less, as well.

Even if someone doesn’t want to turn one’s backyard into 30-inch-wide rows of produce the length of it, with plants carefully placed 2.5 inches apart (as some “intensive” plans go), there are ways to look at gardening with greater efficiency.

Three concepts come to mind:

Fertility Leaks

The Hidden Garden

The Edible Yard

Fertility Leaks is a concept popularized by self-described “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, who practices some rather innovative farming practices on his cattle ranch in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

He writes that he constantly is looking for ways to better harness energy or resources that most “normal” people ignore. For example, instead of buying a new pickup truck or tractor when he gets ahead financially, he says, he uses the money to build more ponds, even if they are only 20 feet wide.

That way, in drought, he can just tap the water wherever it’s needed, instead of selling off his cattle, taking out government disaster loans, etc. Also, he keeps his pastures from being eroded that way, adding topsoil year after year. He makes “sustainability” more than a catchy buzzword. He lives it. (For more, see his book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, Polyface, $25. He also has choice words about Big Ag and government subsidies!).

Fertility Leaks are everywhere. For example, most people around where we live burn their leaves every year. We compost it. Why not? It’s free soil-building material. If you look around your place, you might find lots more efficiencies, as well.

The Hidden Garden is a concept advanced by intensive organic market garden pioneer Eliot Coleman. His entire operation, Four Season Farm in Maine, which is internationally known for its quality of greens grown throughout the year, is only six acres. (He actually has more, but it’s hilly, rocky or otherwise unsuitable for cultivation.)

He says that over the years he has taught himself to look at unlikely or rejected spaces for growing. For example:

He plants parsley on the corners of this plots because it grows prolifically and nothing else can be easily harvested in those spots. Every inch of his available space is utilized for growing.

He put his 90-foot-long greenhouses on sled runners so that by moving them after each season, he can rotate his soil with rejuvenating cover crops and still provide produce year round.

He says that some of the practices he employs derive from what’s called “The French Method” from the 19th century, when all of Paris was fed by 2-acre market gardens.

Any space that can be but is not used, he calls “The Hidden Garden,” just waiting to be discovered by someone who has the creativity or vision to see it.

Finally, there is The Edible Yard, or swapping your lawn for an edible landscape. Pioneered by Rosalind Creasy, with The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques (Sierra Club Books, 1982, and several other books since then), and boosted by other such popular books as The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin (1998), shifting yards to make them into foodscapes has become a national movement.

Why not make your yard provide more than grass clippings?

If, on one of these cold, winter nights, you find you have nothing to do, any of these books can provide plenty of ideas for the coming year!

Annette and I are at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers trade show in Natchez today (Jan. 14). Stop by. We’ll be manning the Gaining Ground: Sustainability Institute of Mississippi booth.

<a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/110084553581698391906?rel=author”>Jim PathFinder Ewing</a> is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and  blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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