Call it French Intensive Gardening, biodynamic agriculture, the Marais system, or square foot gardening, this French system of gardening aims at giving the highest possible yields in the least possible space.
Before you read further, you must keep one thing in mind: this is not for hobbyists. You need to put in some real hard work and be serious about your work. It requires thorough planning and a great deal of additional research.
Basically, this kind of gardening requires raised beds that are about 6 feet wide and 12 feet long with 3 foot paths between the beds. Low mound in shape, these beds are light and fluffy with maximum humus content to the depth of two feet to encourage root growth. Raised beds have a number of advantages ranging from providing for you to work from all sides without having to step over to reducing soil compaction which allows the roots to be oxygenated. Before creating the bed, one should double dig the frame of their garden using a Rototiller, to provide a cushion of soil.
Then comes the compost part, you’ve got to create this in a separate bed using chopped yard debris, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps. Work your soil with such organic stuff to increase productivity.
Now comes setting up your raised bed – which is not at all fun, let me warn you. Traditionally, you’ve got to dig out a row on the long axis of the bed with a shovel, use a gardener’s fork to break the clods, add humus. This is repeated backwards to let the soil mix completely. Heavy clay clods could be improved by adding saw dust or sand, but do not, whatsoever, add beach sand or river sand. Stick to Mason’s sand which has sharp edges that are actually helpful. But this also uses up nitrogen, so you need to add a cup of ammonium nitrate per ten feet of row.
Once established, managing these beds are easier comparatively. Proper sunlight and 1 inch of irrigation water per week.
Capillary action is one of the least understood factors in this kind of gardening. Most of us are aware that compressed earth has better capillary action as compared to undisturbed soil and so it is not advisable to walk on the garden soil in ‘normal’ gardens as it may cause the growth of weeds. But again, compression to a certain level is required to allow root growth and water absorption and so in ‘normal’ gardens, two inch wide weighted wheel on an axis is rolled easily. In French intensive gardening, the compression around the seed can be done using a water glass or a likewise 2 inch round ball.
Methods of French Intensive Gardening
Catch cropping: Instead of leaving previously harvested spot idle, fast crops like lettuce or radish can be grown.
Inter – cropping: A fast maturing crop can be planted between slow maturing crops. For example, onions can be planted along cabbages.
Succession planting: Plant a row of a quick maturing plant within a period of few weeks. Like plant a row of lettuce, then leave some space around that can be used later and plant another row. The next week use the space you had left earlier. This way you’ll have a constant of vegetables throughout the season.
Relay planting: Here, a completely different crop is planted where a plant is about to mature.
Wide row planting: It is of a similar nature to inter cropping. Here, planting in groups or rows of about 1 – 4 feet wide are done. Though this reduces path sizes, it facilitates for economic use of fertilizers and water.
The next thing you should do is, study about companion planting. Some plants go along with the others better. For example, legumes like beans have nitrogen fixation bacteria which provide for nitrogen and thus can be planted along potatoes and pumpkins.
Planning is a necessary step in this kind of gardening. You need to do your part of research and schedule what you are going to do.
Undoubtedly, French intensive gardening is a physically exhausting process but your hard work will reflect in the radiant harvest you’ll yield in the end!