Soil Restoration, French-Intensive Gardening, Vermont Maple Syrup, and More Wisdom From the Nearings

In this installment of their regular column, Helen and Scott Nearing answered readers' questions about soil restoration, french-intensive gardening, and buying Vermont maple syrup.

| September/October 1980

The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading. 

Q: We've been country-living for the past six years in arid New Mexico and have learned a lot about surviving on the bare minimum. Now, we're ready to move to a beautiful old Indiana homestead, but we're troubled since the farm's soil appears worn out (and most likely has been treated with nitrates and pesticides). We have fantasies of performing soil restoration with green manure and organic matter. Will it be possible for us to get a chemical-free crop within a couple of years? (There's enough cleared land for us to grow our own hay and grain for animals, to plant a produce field for our consumption and the sale of vegetables, and possibly even to put in a cornfield for making alcohol fuel!)  

A: Our first farm, in Vermont, was completely depleted and leached out when we bought it. The soil wouldn't even grow good radishes. We brought the earth back to fine tilth by putting in cover crops (rye, buckwheat, clover) and turning them under, by adding compost, and by cultivating repeatedly. We were able to harvest fine peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, etc. within two years.

Now we're tackling some heavy clay soil in a new garden in back of our latest stone house. Using the above techniques, we hope to again have a productive plot within two years.

Q: You said you use French-intensive gardening in "certain sections" of your vegetable patch. Can you tell me why you use the method in some plots and don't in others?  

Also, since you are vegetarians and raise no livestock, do you grow soybeans for protein? I'd like to know, too, how many acres you've found it necessary to plant for food self-sufficiency.  

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