The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to Grow More Vegetables

How to grow more vegetablesHow to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons was an interesting read, but I suspect it won't be as helpful to many backyard growers as other gardening guides might be, mostly because How to Grow More Vegetables is one of those books that tells the "one true way" to garden.  Rather than explaining the science behind his gardening choices so you can pick bits and pieces to apply to your own environment, the author assumes you will want to completely mimic his GROW BIOINTENSIVE method in your garden.

(Yes, the term GROW BIOINTENSIVE is in all caps throughout the book.  Yes, this did drive me a little nutty.  No, I won't be repeating the term in all caps throughout this post and those that follow.)

John Jeavons' method is one he and his group, Ecology Action, have been polishing on their California farm since 1971, when they heard about Alan Chadwick's biointensive gardening tehcnique and decided to give it a try.  Chadwick had, in turn, compiled his own methodology from two sources: the French-intensive methods that have inspired others like Eliot Coleman, and Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic system from the 1920s.

I'll write more about the Grow Biointensive method (which is the term Jeavons coined for his own offshoot) in later posts in this lunchtime series, but for now, it's worth understanding the purpose behind his methodology.  Unlike the average backyard gardener who is primarily interested in cutting costs and/or feeding her family the most delicious and nutritious food available, Jeavons' plan is to save the world.  His goal is to reduce the land area, water, and petroleum required to grow food so that we can fit many more people on the earth without starvation.  As a result, you'll see a lot of focus on calories per square foot and much less emphasis on taste and nutrition.

Grow biointensive gardenMy final major peeve with this book stems from the fact that biodynamic practitioners and I have a different worldview.  Jeavons doesn't write about gnomes, but he does anthropomorphicize his plants (" like to have human companionship..."), and he includes information that is dicey at best (such as his assertion that hummingbirds will hang around to pollinate crops --- I can't think of any major vegetables pollinated by hummingbirds).  You'll find a chapter on planting by the moon along with lots of unsupported companion-planting data, and the scientific-minded reader will soon start to doubt the more relevant parts of Jeavons' method due to their proximity to less scientific assertions.

All of that said, the book is worth a read with a critical eye if you're a serious gardener and feel able to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I'll include a little of both in later posts this week.

For a simpler start on your homesteading adventure, try out my Weekend Homesteader series.

This post is part of our How to Grow More Vegetables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna,

Its a nice book. I found a pdf of an earlier version this very good book which saved me from copying parts of it.

Also, check out Jacob MIttleider's stuff. He was being paid by governments to grow stuff where no one else could in various places around the world with GREAT success!

His 'Plant doctor' series and his other stuff is available as pdfs (which I converted from an old format for the current copyright owner).

A good soil test and plenty of Molybdenum seems to be his secret. I notice Jerry Bernetti also recommends at least 3 ppm of Mo.

warm regards,


Comment by john Mon Feb 4 12:30:01 2013
I came across this book when I first began gardening. While it provided much useful information that set me on my path of garden discovery, I found myself instantly turned off by Jeavons' wild misuse of statistics, most of which pertained to crop yields. Also, the Grow Biointensive seed starting system just seems way too...intensive! Anyways, I'm interested to read your take on this book. Your previous book review inspired me to read Solomon's "The Intelligent Gardener". Jeavons, in comparison to Solomon, comes off as a hippie gardener (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I prefer a strong dose of science with my garden mysticism :-)
Comment by Mike G. Mon Feb 4 16:00:17 2013

You seemed to have picked up the same books last month as I did! First Grow Nutrient-Rich Vegetables, and now this one. I'm about half-way through the Solomon and his obsession with re-mineralization, but I haven't been able to bring myself to read this one. It may go back to Amazon. I discovered the author's habit of capitalizing GROW BIOINTENSIVE throughout the book and had to put it down. He's as bad as that Square Foot Gardening!(TM) guy. What's so difficult about giving some solid advice about gardening without branding yourself? Besides, IMO, thinking the moon has anything to do with gardening is lunacy (pun intended). sigh

The world of gardening has some interesting personalities, doesn't it?

Comment by Bess Mon Feb 4 16:09:32 2013

I picked up a copy from the library after the post where you mentioned a number of the books you were reading. I skimmed it (couldn't read in depth; didn't have the attention for that.) I found the reference to other publications and pamphlets distracting and counterproductive. What I found most interesting was the experience that left them to believe that a truly sustainable system would dedicate 60% of land to carbon production (where grain could be a byproduct, but not necessarily), and then the subsequent allocations to calorie crops and nutrients/cash.

One of the take aways for me was that as a market gardener either the majority of land would be for compost, OR you just have to understand that buying in fertility would be required for intensive cultivation (and soil health.) For a backyard gardener with plentiful space, it might be possible to grow sufficient organic matter.

I actually might try their seed starting system (at least for some of the items.) I would still sow directly where it makes more sense, but thought that the flats might be an interesting alternative from the random tin cans and plastic cell flats. My intensity of backyard gardening would never thoughtfully require starting seeds in a flat that would have a deep taproot; might as well start in the garden what is best started in the garden.

I didn't even skim anything related to moon phases or companion planting. Just wasn't my cup of tea.

Comment by Charity Mon Feb 4 18:12:35 2013
Synchronicity mandated that I say something. I just returned from a soil food web class with Elaine Ingham and saw that one of your complaints about Jeavons is that he doesn't explain the science. Well, I've been reading your blog for about 18 months now, and during this Ingham class, I was thinking of you, feeling you'd like this information. I was only able to attend two days of a 5-day class (I'm a teacher in the default world), but what I learned was mind-blowingly cool, and I regret not somehow making another three days off happen. Look her up. I was told her books are not that reader-friendly (I haven't looked), but as a lecturer, she's very engaging, and the science is good--in fact, that's what it's about.
Comment by Kathleen Tue Feb 5 23:46:47 2013
Duh. I just thought of why the soil food web class made me think of your efforts: you recently did a section on soil tests, different nutrients in the soil and the idea that you might have to add some. Elaine Ingham says there are enough nutrients in one grain of sand to support all a plant's mineral needs for its entire life...but it's the soil biology that makes those nutrients available. I was thinking of what you're doing with compost and mulch etc., but then also recalling that you added gypsum to an area (?). According to Ingham, soil tests will show what minerals are in the soil, but not what's available to plants. In order to determine that, one must analyze the plant material from a given site. Anyway, fascinating. You've probably already thought of this. I can say I had thought of it, but I didn't have enough information to even begin piecing it together.
Comment by Kathleen Wed Feb 6 00:00:29 2013
Anna, before you throw out the idea of planting by the signs of the moon give it a try. This practice has been in been in place for thousands of years and it is a proven fact that does have merit. I use it in my gardening program and can tell you which plants were started under the proper moon signs and which were not.
Comment by Jim Davis Sun Jan 19 16:08:23 2014

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