I have just finished a week volunteering with Elena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Our main focus was in the vegetable gardens. Elena follows Emilia Hazelip’s methods adapted to a temperate climate from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques. A term referred to as Synergistic Gardening which is a fancy way of saying self fertilising garden. The main focus is building soil fertility. Here are the main principles;
- Permanent raised beds with the ability to reach the whole bed without stepping on it. Keyholes are best use of space but if you have room strips are easy to work with
- No bare soil – permanent soil cover using organic mulch like straw or sheep’s wool. I believe a living mulch could work really well too. Adding even more life to the beds.
- No monoculture – massive diversity in plants for all the obvious reasons; Resilience, beneficial insects etc. There is no particular planting patterns it seems.
- No chemicals! (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
- No tilling – yes that means no digging (apart from the original prep)!
- No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
- No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
- No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)
It actually seems like a lot of rules but it’s pretty simple once the beds are set up – keep it covered, mix things up when sowing and interfere with the garden as little as possible. If you want to remove the odd weed then cut it at the base letting the roots stay.
Helping Elena made me realise that keeping annuals can actually be very easy. I helped her do her yearly irrigation system check, her yearly weed (by chopping at the base of the stem), yes once a year, and the rest of the time we were scattering seeds. She likes to observe what does well in what situation rather then referring to a companion planting book.
There are a few logical sowing methods that I observed like salad plants taking up most of the edges for ease of regular picking and some larger rooted plants in the higher positions with more soil below.
Whilst walking around the gardens I thought to myself that one packet of seeds is roughly equivalent in cost to one vegetable, like a fennel or a pumpkin or something similar. So compared with the effort that we put into annual gardening we may as well just scatter seeds and hope for the best. If two come good then we have saved ourselves the cost of one vegetable and for the very very least effort spent. Even less if we are saving our own seed!
Thank you for having me for a week and good luck with the continuing success of your experiments at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza