Sustainable Intensification

IMG-20130304-00252On Monday I had a go at my own version of this concept. The wider idea of sustainable intensification is a kind of green-washed conventional growing and farming; picking more and more bits and pieces from organic methods and practices, without the philosophy – and therefore adaptability. It’s debatable whether the intention/philosophy matters, as long as the end result is the same of course (introduction to Kant, anyone?); but it’s difficult to prove that the end result will be the same when it’s a long-term problem.

Rocket gone, soil rotovated, and 10 minutes later coriander drilled
Rocket gone, soil rotovated, and 10 minutes later coriander drilled

So I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who wants to grow sustainably: I think organic is shorthand for being really sustainable, since if you don’t look after the source, ie soil, it can’t be sustainable. If you accept all these premises – soil degradation and loss of soil organic matter, pesticide questions over health, questionable ethics and benefits of GM (dependence on seed companies, increased pesticide use), over-reliance on fossil fuels for fertiliser production, benefits of biodiversity… – it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that organic farming is the answer. I want to be sustainable, but I also need to scratch a living and therefore grow and sell as many crops as the soil/environment can cope with. The trick is to find this balance of course.

So all the above waffle culminated in just this earlier in the week: I pulled out a row of rocket from the new tunnel, rotovated, and drilled two rows of Filtro coriander; and pulled out the salad on the left of Marmalade tunnel, rotovated, and drilled early carrots and a line of beetroot. The protected cropping areas in the tunnels are very valuable spaces, so I need to make sure they’re worked intensively. This also means taking special care of them so the soil doesn’t get exhausted: adding lots of compost in between; re-introducing rain water and homemade comfrey feeds; and adding a green manure such as Persian Clover when possible.

I’m also re-reading Charles Dowding’s Organic Gardening The No-Dig Way; and seriously considering converting the tunnels to no-dig. The walkways (not always in the same place at the moment) get pretty compacted when damp, and rotovating shows how clumpy the soil can get. Now that I’ve worked the tunnels for a couple of years, and had Mypex down for some crops in rototation, the weeds are better (for now), considering it was permanent pasture; so it might be something I can do sooner rather than later. A thought for the end of the year anyway…

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