Bio-Intensive Gardening- July


My garden beds change constantly, so half of them look empty right now, or they have very small plants. I’ve recently read that bio-intensive is the traditional way the French and Italians would garden in their small farms, as well. There’s always a bed getting harvested, composted, then dug and replanted in the next crop. A constant rotation of crops, giving a lot of choice in the selection of food. Eating primarily out of a garden and eating what is in season is fun but cooking has to get creative. Fresh herbs and constant rotation of plantings help this out. Try to plant many things even if it’s a herb like thyme edging a bed or chives.

Lately we’ve been harvesting garlic and purple onions, red and russet potatoes. Favas will be finishing up and coming out next. I hope I’ve grown enough garlic this year to keep us through the year. I was so hungry for garlic by the time it was ready because we ran out about December. Also it’s hard to judge the quantity to grow of potatoes although easier here because they can be grown year round. Many other types of beans are going into these empty beds. Also more onions; I’m planning two 35×5 beds since I love onions and I’m a firm believer in starting any cooking project with an onion. Zucchini, crookneck, pumpkins, delicata, and acorn squash all are in and planted now. I’ve always thought that squash cross pollinated and that you had to spread them out very far away from each other. But I’ve recently realized that this only affects saving the seed. It will not come true to variety. But since I’m not saving squash seed… I planted a lot !

I’ve just been harvesting the last of the artichokes, then they get cut back, all the large stalks cut to the ground, then mulched with a thick compost layer, then they grow and produce again later this year.
This is one artichoke that I cut back a few weeks ago-trying so hard to produce more fruit.

These are my baby fruit trees that I grafted last January. Thirty three out of thirty six “took”. Mostly apples and a few prunes, one plum. I also have 42 olive trees I purchased last fall as rooted cuttings. They are also fun to watch grow. It’s so satisfying to see the abundance of nature in rooting or starting your own plants, not to mention a cheap way to get more plants and trees.

Otherwise summer on the coast of Northern California is not that different from what you can grow here most of the year. Cold season crops. I have a small couple of rows of tomatoes, the squash, cucumbers and beans are the exception that will make it during our summers. Otherwise we are still growing lettuce, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, onions, potatoes, favas, peas.

Most of my garden beds have flowers growing on the sides of them. Most are volunteers. I sell some of these weekly to our local florist.

Why do I farm?

Last night eating a particularly wonderful fish chowder, fish caught by my daughter’s boyfriend, potatoes gently dug from under the plants, fresh purple onions, green garlic, parsnips (some of many currently), chopped parsley and fresh thyme. Then accompanied by one of our brick oven baked naturally leavened breads ( we baked 80 loaves yesterday), and followed by a slightly tart rhubarb pie ( none of those sissy strawberries). I think how rich my life is .

Then my husband pushed around some burn piles ( yes, it’s still raining and wet in California in June !) with his backhoe for our neighbors, and came home with some fresh salmon ! Yeah !

The abundance is arguably coupled with a lot of hard work, but I feel so proud when I look at those peas climbing up the trellis and the rows of growing veggies. But yes, my love of good food also motivates me. Thanks to all the good cooks I know who have inspired me.

As the garden here slightly matures and the very small plants I’ve put in as permanent or perennial shrubs and trees mature and fill out, it feels easier like some momentum has been gained. My roses, started from cuttings are beginning to cascade on the fence. The artichokes started from seed are producing quantities. The asparagus started from seed was harvested for the first time this year ( three years before the first harvest) . The rhubarb is getting to be a big plot, helped out by lot’s of compost and did you know rhubarb love LOT”S of water ? Some of the fruit trees have quite a few fruits on them and are starting to look like trees !

Sharing this with others, getting invited to come see my 90 yr. old neighbor’s boyfriends garden who sends us over glorious cauliflower, while we drop off bread.
Feeling a sense of community and tradition. As my great and wise girlfriend who grew up on a dairy farm told me , “school was never the most important thing”. It was the family, the farm, being a part of that, having an identity in what a farm really means to a community. Farming is a passive revolution. Bringing back rural America and collaboration instead of isolation as our material world has fostered. Interdependency , compassion, neighborliness, sharing, all these things are why I farm.

Thinning fruit trees

When I took a fruit tree pruning workshop last fall, the organic commercial growers there described their maintenance regime. One thing they emphasized, was thinning fruit about 6-8 weeks after bloom when the fruit is very small . Thinning down to one per cluster.

This produces larger fruit that they believe are much more marketable. Also that it creates less stress to the tree than a huge bumper crop. Thereby making it more likely the tree will produce every year instead of a huge crop one year, then skipping a year the next.
For all of you with fruit trees May/ June is the time to thin here. It might already have passed this opportune time for you.

Whew, I’ve got most of my garden in


As the garden matures and perennials divide and spread, it becomes harder to just rototill through a bed. I find myself forking more and more of the beds this year. I think only three out of twenty, forty foot rows were rototilled by my husband this year. The rest had compost moved by wheelbarrow, spread thickly, then forked in each long row.
Planting is the anti-climatic easy ending to lot’s of work. The first few years of our garden here, the soil was so bad, since we started with forest soil, that we had very few weeds. Now as the soil improves, the weeds , really grass( since we have animals, have to remember it’s fodder), have been giving me and my hands a run for my money( any?) . So first was lot’s of weeding, then compost, then forking, then planting, irrigation, and fertilizer.

There are beds of onions, tomatoes, garlic, leeks, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, peas, fava beans, one of some small olive trees( 26), one of newly grafted fruit trees(34), rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, boysenberries, strawberries, another of garlic(didn’t have enough last year), red potatoes, russet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, lettuce, basil, zucchini, spaghetti squash, banana squash, french beans, lemon cucumbers, mescalin mix. Then there’s a few just full of flowers bachelor buttons, sweet william, roses, nigella(love in a mist).

Down by the house I plant more cutting flowers caliopsis, cosmos, sunflowers, foxgloves, alstromeria, bearded iris, and more flowering shrubs that we will be able to cut for the flower industry some day.


I need to try to keep everything healthy and sequentially plant more, lettuce, beans, cauliflower maybe another row of potatoes and one more type of squash( crookneck) and sunflowers. Since were on the coast it doesn’t get hot enough for summer plants, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are a struggle. Then I need to keeping up with weeding and harvesting then processing.
I look around and when I see everything blooming and growing well, I know more needs to go in, to keep the bloom going, the harvest going.

Farming a New Way


I don’t believe in the row method of planting a crop. Maybe because I’m just not that linear, but I’m convinced at least here in California, that it’s more efficient to grow the biointensive method.Planting areas of plants fairly close together, planted in compost rich soil. Plus inserting in areas of perennials, artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and other berries. Flowers also insert themselves in my vegetable beds, I can’t control them, plus they’ve ended up being a fairly marketable product.

Areas reseed with multiple plants that I spread out and allow to grow where they and I deem fit. There are areas of “greens”, a potato bed, an artichoke area, under which potato’s keep coming back and sweet william bloom . A asparagus bed teeming with foxgloves and poppies. Tomatoes with crookneck squash on the end of that bed. Garlic with clary sage on the edges. Chard with nigella, roses and thyme plants. A long row of french beans.

In my other garden area I’ve tried to follow the row method. I have thirteen fairly well organized forty foot rows . Although the flowers are starting to find their way into the beds. Black eyed susans bloom all over the garden. Herbs are starting to edge some of the rows.I can just see the spots for roses on the ends of the beds.

I guess I’m hopelessly chaotic . But I can help to create this for others.

Country Girl

My husband accused me of being a city girl the other day, which I found very disconcerting. When I told my kids this they commented; ” but you never even wear clean clothes to town, you always have dirty knees and your muddy boots on, how could you possibly be considered a city girl ? ” I wondered too what he’d meant. I’ve lived in the country for twenty six years now, longer than I ever lived in the city ( suburbia). Gardening and working hard; in tractors, backhoes, trucks and mostly on a shovel. I always built gardens where ever I’d lived in that time, also cleared land, built houses, ran my own companies. Was I really a city girl ?

My husband is very hard to pin down, never a straight answer from him or his family ( is this a country trait? ). So I had to follow after him trying to question him about what he meant. It took me a few days of questions to get down to it; I didn’t have faith that everything would be provided for. That bartering, working hard, taking care of others, being a good neighbor, would stand me in good stead for the things we couldn’t provide ourselves. That city people always had to worry about how to “afford ” things, country people figured out how to ” make it work, or make do with what you got”.

I think it might be true, I don’t let myself just farm because I’m too worried we won’t get by financially. I always have to run around gardening for others to satiate my anxiety (although I also love it too) . Maybe I still don’t understand what it means to live on very little. But it seems so hard as well , what about insurances? Car tires and repairs? Gas? Shoes ? As we pair our life down to the bare necessities to be able to farm year round, what do we really have to make to live ?

I think also, what about the infrastructure we still need to put in place here ? How can we afford to do that ? But the reality is that whenever we are getting another aspect of a project clarified, my husband runs out and ” finds” most of the items we would have bought, for free or for some exchange. We have been splitting redwood buckskins for fence posts, straightening bent T posts thrown away in the vineyard for our fences. Collecting left over fencing from where ever we find it. Maybe our fencing the next five acres won’t cost the fortune I thought ! Now if I wasn’t working so much outside, I might have the time to put that fencing up.

What have we done so far this year?

One of the things I’ve learned along the way, was to look back periodically at what we’ve accomplished . This helps when facing overwhelming tasks, a list of chores and new projects that never quits. Developing bare land is like that, just never ending. So many things you take for granted when land has been developed.

My husband and I are trying to go slower this year, having gotten really burned out the last five years building this place. But as I walked up to put the chickens to bed and feed the horses, the full moon, huge, was just coming up over the trees. I always think of full moons as endings of cycles, so I thought about what we had done so far this year. At first I thought not much, but then things started to occur to me.

1. We moved twenty two, large, three year old fruit trees to start a new, larger orchard. Added six other fruit trees purchased from the rare fruit growers exchange. Learned to graft ( hopefully!) and have thirty six newly grafted trees planted in one of my vegetable beds. This is a very cheap way to get new trees and unusual trees not commercially available.

2. Have gotten some great support and positive feedback from friends and new people coming by and baking bread with us.Even helping building websites, thanks Dave! and some new beautiful photos, thanks Freda ! Also found I could trade bread for gelato! and for goat meat. Eggs are good for credit towards all kinds of trades. The abundance of farm life is hard to put into words. Always working with something ” homemade”.

3. Have six forty foot beds ready for spring vegetable planting. Plus we have 15 other beds already planted with potatoes( two 40′ beds), kale, onions( two 40′ beds), Artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus( starting to harvest this year, I started from seed ) , strawberries( 60′), swiss chard, parsnips, mixed beets, large double bed of mixed greens(spinach, mizuna, older chard,lettuce,parsley,radiccio) . I have five more beds to get ready and a lot of compost to move. Wait let’s not get into the what needs to be done list.

4. Cleaned up huge storage mess corner and sorted out supplies. Made lot’s of burn piles for sticks and stumps and some dead trees we took out. Managed to have fun and cook out at a few of them.

5. Re-did a 50′ perennial border near house for flower sales. Planted bearded iris, peruvian scilla, bachelor buttons, columbine. Either from saved seed or from friends divisions.

6. Planted 60′ hillside with more floral industry shrubs and herbs. All from cuttings , divisions or from friends.

Now that isn’t really that much, but I also lost my job and have been working hard to reestablish myself as a local landscape gardener, after thirteen years at the same location. I was hoping to farm full time but not enough of our infrastructure is in yet and this costs!

Step by step, enjoy what we’ve done along the way!.