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Green With Envy: A Book Review of "The Bio-Integrated Farm, A Revolutionary Permaculture Based


Confession. I am a novice yardfarmer. So, bear in mind that this book review is coming from a somewhat prejudiced, aspiring permaculturist.

Last year I decided to dig up part of the backyard because I was tired of just writing about the environment. I wanted to “get back” to nature. Literally. You know, get my hands dirty. Shovel in hand, I turned over about 800 square feet of rocky. lawn. Courtesy the internet and sources like “Mother Earth News” and Youtube, I began to educate myself. First, I learned how leaves and grass clippings, along with food waste, made great, free fertilizer. My friends and I were pleasantly surprised by how much organic produce can be grown by a novice in such a small amount of space, in one's own backyard no less!

New York Green Advocate's backyard aka Future Yardfarm in High Falls, NY. Photo by Josephs S

Walker, Jr.

Having quickly developed an unforeseen gardening obsession, I found myself eager to learn more. When publisher Chelsea Green sent me news about the Bio-Integrated Farm, well, I knew it was a must read. I never knew how tasty fresh Arugula was, (much less how to even spell it), that Okra plants resembled something prehistoric right out of Jurassic Park, how macho, yet slow-to-grow, Brussel Sprouts were or that Dill could easily be mistaken for a weed. With fantastical dreams of starting a "real" farm, or at least expand my yardfarm into something a bit bigger with more variety and a longer growing season, then, surely, “The Bio-Integrated Farm” would help, right?

The first part of the yardfarm in High Falls, NY. Photo by Joseph S Walker, Jr.

When I took my newly-arrived book out of the packaging envelope and started skimming through the almost 400 pages, I immediately thought, WTF? Simultaneously, I was at once both envious and intimidated. This was a book about "real" farming and I'm just a dill weed dilettante, a porch-sitting permaculturist, a lazy locavore who wants organic food, but doesn't want to pay the typically high Food Co-Op prices for it. The Jardniceks were the real thing, FARMERS in ALL CAPS.

A 30-foot-long compost pile (above) is interlaced with tubing. The decaying compost heats water that is flowing through the tubing . Image Credit: Clemson University

The book's intro, “Putting Nature to Work”, includes a definition of permaculture. The first chapter, “The Chinampas, An Ancient Example of Bio Integration", describes innovative farming techniques developed by Pre-Aztec indigenous people in Mexico. This was a highly productive system of agriculture where everything necessary for successful plant growth, water, nutrients and soil were found and intertwined on site.

Stephen Jadrnicek inside a greenouse with interior pond at Clemson University farm. Image Credit: Clemson University

After more details about the two-thousand-year-old Aztec planting innovations, the book jumps to the present. “The Bio-Integrated Farm” is chock full of wonderful pictures and diagrams. It provides step by step how-tos on creating ponds and basins that capture water and integrating them with greenhouses and the entirety of the farm. There's more, much more, including how to compost, harvest heat from the compost pile, raise chickens, and use insect larvae to break down compost into rich organic nutrients.

An especially favorite part of the book for me concerned how to build a greenhouse with an interior pond that collects solar energy during the day and at night releases heat to warm the greenhouse. Fish and prawns were raised in the pond which was filtered by plants grown hydroponically.

Stephen Jadrnicek (on right) with students at Clemson University. Image Credit: Clemson University

After devouring the book once, I raced back to the intro and began to read it again. One of the introductory sentences resonated: "By making the right choices when we interact with nature, we create sustenance in our landscapes with little effort of work on our part." Granted, the book has lots of juicy details on how to make a farm work in harmony with nature. But, admittedly, it still certainly seemed like a helluva lot of work to me.

One of the authors, Shawn Jadrnicek, manages the farm at Clemson University which is part of a sustainable agriculture program . Young, eager students surely help to ease the Farmer Jadrnicek's burden. Maybe this solo yard farmer had bitten off more than he could chew, much less digest.

Upon the second read of the book, I realized, if you broke down each part of the farm into separate tasks, just like “The Bio-Integrated Farm” does with its chapters, it is not so overwhelming. And, most things of import take real work, so what's the point in feeble whining?

First Carrot Harvest, High Falls, NY. Photo by Joseph S Walker, Jr.

With guidance from experts like the Jadrniceks, my dreams of a greenhouse with integrated water systems is obtainable. Recently, I read about Russ Finch, a retired postal worker in Nebraska, who grows citrus fruit during winter in a zero energy greenhouse he designed and built himself. Surely, there is a greenhouse in my future.

I've learned already, if you plant in succession and with a plan, you can have crops coming up all year round. Indeed, in my second year of yard farming, I have my first crop of garlic coming up in May. Hundreds of garlic plants growing over three feet tall are emanating from garlic cloves bought at the organic co-op in the nearby village and planted last Fall before the first frost. Who knew garlic plants got so tall? And, I love doing the math. Ten dollars of garlic bulbs will easily result in a garlic harvest that would cost hundreds of dollars at the same food co-op.

Harvest in High Falls, NY. Photo by Josephs S Walker, Jr.

Alas, despite the garlic victory, I can't pat myself too much on the back. Getting annoyed or jealous seems to be somewhat of a source of inspiration for me, especially when it comes to growing my own. My friend Sherry thinks I'm green with garden envy and she is right. To keep my green envy going, I plan to read some of the books by Chelsea Green author Eliot Coleman who farms all year round on the frigid coast of Maine. Eliot wrote “The New Organic Grower”, “Four-Season Harvest”, and “The Winter Harvest Handbook”.

Hopefully, Coleman will ruffle my feathers as much as those perky Jadrniceks did. I'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2016 Paul E McGinniss

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