For our market produce, we are using the French intensive method, very well described in a book by Jean-Martin Fortier called Market Gardening.
I also apply a lot of ideas from the book called Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich, though I must admit the book a bit of a misnomer. So, that’s how we deal with the soil:
Initially, we prep the soil by pasturing the pigs on the spot of the garden to be. Then we plant buckwheat as a green manure for a year, cutting and replanting it a few times.
Then we use the walk-behind BCS tractor to prepare our raised beds, mulch the walkways with local wood chips, and top dress the beds with our animal compost. We don’t turn the soil, and aerate it with a broad fork as needed to resist compaction.
When the vegetables are done, we cut them off at ground level, allowing the roots to decompose naturally and creating water channels for irrigation. We never ever drive machinery on the beds. In fact, we never ever walk on the beds, except when the kids forget.
This allows us to respect the microorganisms living in the soil, and to keep the soil well fed. We never feed the plants with fertilizers of any sort, and never spray them. Chickens take care of bugs.
We grow anything and everything – kale, spinach, garlic, carrots, beans, squash, sugar snap peas, you name it. One of our favourite crops is melons and watermelons – we had about a quarter garden planted in them last year.
They are a bit of a tricky crop to grow in our Zone 4 garden, but they pay back marvelously with personal-sized fruit whose taste, aroma and juiciness is out of this world.
We only get to gorge on them for about 3 weeks, but it’s well worth it. We also grow a lot of ground cherries, and make delicious jam out of them.
There are some vegetables we don’t grow – two common ones are broccoli and celery. We find kale to be very much superior to broccoli in both taste and the length of the harvest season (it stands up well even under snow!), and celery we simply haven’t been able to figure out, we are too busy perfecting melons.
We also grow lots of designer onions and shallots, and we have a canning or storage programs for most of our vegetables, to keep the produce coming in the dead of the winter.
We are lucky to grow all our own herbs. We have an independent coriander bed that keeps reseeding from year to year, we have both annuals like dill, parsley and various basils, tender perennials like rosemary,
and sturdier plants like lavender, lemon thyme, chocolate mint, blood sorrel and chives.
It is always a sensual pleasure to gather a handful of fresh herbs for a main course, salad or herbal tea. We also have medicinal plants like calendula, bee balm and chamomile, and we like to use edible flowers like violas, daylilies and zucchini blossoms.
Up until last year, we have been growing our tomatoes and cukes in the garden with everything else, but this year we are installing a hoophouse.
I’ve relocated my compost pile, and put the hoophouse in its place, so the soil should be very well fed. This should give us a much longer season for tomatoes and cukes, allow us to grow peppers and start developing our greenhouse knowledge.
I am fascinated by Salatin’s idea of keeping his laying chickens in the hoophouse over winter, letting the sun warm them up during the day, and the heat from their composting bedding keeping them warm at nigh.
He keeps his worm factory in with them, supplying them with protein over the winter. And when he puts them out on pasture, he plants his tomatoes in the hoophouse, never needing to amend the soil. I wonder if this concept is applicable to our climate…
Eventually, we would like to have an indoor permaculture oasis with near zero sum energy, so deliciously described in a book Forest Garden Greenhouse by Jerome Ostentowsky.
In his Phoenix greenhouse up in the mountains of Colorado, he has a large mass of stone to absorb solar energy, a sandpit with pipes to keep the heat squirrelled away for release overnight, and an integrated sauna that he can run when extra heat is needed.
He also has a hammock he lounges in in January while munching on his passion fruit. Very exciting. In the meantime, my boys are experimenting with indoor exotics in their room – they have been trying to coax oranges, figs, mangoes and pineapples with variable success. Stay tuned.