One of our interns, Richard Grubb, has recently started a family garden project on campus. Here he writes about the reasons for the project and how it will progress.
Together with a fantastic group of volunteers I have recently started work on a new gardening project on the CRHP campus in Jamkhed. Using six raised bed gardens the projects aim is to demonstrate the potential of small plots of land to produce high yields of nutritious food.
One consequence of inheritance is that as each piece of land is divided amongst sons, the size of the inherited plot inevitably becomes smaller. Often land is seen as unworkable and is left idle for many, if not all, the months of the year. What land is used is often not used to its full potential.
Our project will research three different methods of growing vegetables and herbs on small plots; raised bed gardening (RBG), square foot gardening (SFG) and trellis gardening. Over time we will be able to combine the successful elements of each method and it is hoped we can create a model that can be replicated in CRHP model villages. Our goal is to show that even very small plots of land can produce nutritious food in a cost effective, and environmentally friendly way. In the long term we envisage a reduction in the use of nutritional supplements as families begin to produce their own nutrition.
The project has started with the construction of six raised beds on a piece of land at the centre of the CRHP campus, providing a focal point for a range of on-campus activities. Two 6×4 foot beds will be used for square foot gardening using virgin soil, one 6×4 bed for square foot gardening with native soil, one 6×3 raised bed for conventional square foot gardening, one for conventional raised bed gardening, and one for trellis gardening. We will also incorporate a compost area into the project which will ultimately provide natural fertilizer for the campus farm.
Square Foot Gardening
As far as this project goes we see the most potential in the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method, a term that was first coined by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 Rodale Press book and subsequent PBS television series. With a focus on growing in square foot plots, SFG represents a variety of organic farming methods, demonstrating a heavy reliance on compost, densely planted raised beds, and bio-intensive attention to a small, clearly defined area.
The most common size for a square foot garden is 4×4 feet, which creates 16 individual plots. By using smaller beds they are easily adapted and the gardener can reach all plots easily.
The conventional method uses raised beds between 6 inches and 3 feet off the ground. A soil mixture is then added to the bed on top of protective plastic sheeting, creating a bed of 100% virgin soil. By using a non-native soil mix problems associated with poor quality native soil are eradicated. Access to good quality non-native soil mix is not always easy however and as such we will be comparing the results of native soil and non-native soil mix.
There are several advantages to growing in this way:
- Using a small raised bed means soil is typically not walked over. Combined with the use of loose compost the need for heavy tools to loosen the soil is reduced dramatically.
- By using virgin soil the chance of weed infestation is reduced to close to zero. The denseness of the planted crops can provide living mulch and also prevent weeds from establishing.
- Water use is reduced by hand watering directly onto the roots thus reducing waste
- Using a mix of nutrient rich natural compost any requirement for synthetic fertilizer is reduced to zero.
- Growing in close space promotes natural insect repellent thus reducing any need for synthetic pesticides
Raised Bed Gardening
Although both SFG and RBG use raised beds, conventional RBG differs slightly in the way crops are sown. There is no limit as to the amount of any one individual plant grown, and those that are grown are usually sown in rows. This method gives the grower greater freedom to choose the quantities of each crop they wish to grow and, arguably, represents a more simple way of growing vegetables.
Trellis gardening can be incorporated into both SFG and RBG and provides a means of growing ‘climbers’ and ‘crawlers’ in a reduced space. Plants that would otherwise spread out on the ground such as squash or cucumbers can be grown vertically using a trellis and netting.
Last Sunday witnessed the sowing of the first seeds on the farm and I was helped by the girls from the adolescent girls programme. Statistics will be taken throughout the growing process and updates will be added to the blog accordingly.For more information about square foot gardening, check out the official website: