Intensive Gardening: Using Solar Energy to Increase Harvests

You can double your garden's yields, yet use less space by assembling solar panels to warm the crops. Includes diagrams, background, indigenous solutions, solar appliances, open beds, layout and size.


| February/March 1995



148-034-01

Not even snow could stop the harvest of tender greens!

MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

When we began homesteading, one of the hardest things we had to do was to change the habits we had developed in our consumer lifestyle. Our question changed from what do we want for dinner to what do we have for dinner. We must confess that, toward the end of our first winter, our enthusiasm waned when the answer continued to be “root crops.” We wanted to develop a gardening system that would enable us to have the food we like—fresh produce available throughout the year. Today, having enough of the kinds of food we really like to eat is a concept that has become thoroughly ingrained in our self-reliant lifestyle. We have gotten into the habit of having what we like—fresh, great-tasting, healthy food—because we now possess the necessary skills and tools to be truly self-reliant.

Intensive Gardening

When we first decided to homestead at the end of the 1960s, Lea's motivation was primarily intellectual, while mine was purely instinctive. I was raised in the country, in a family that grew the bulk of its own foodstuffs. Fate must have smiled on Lea when he bought our property, because almost every bit of it sloped southward, making it ideal for both solar living and gardening. It had been a working farm less than one hundred years before, though by the time we moved there it had long since reverted to forest.

Lea cut the large second-growth pine trees that inhabited the site where we decided to locate the garden. A neighbor pulled out the stumps with his back-hoe. By the time he finished, the ground that remained was a mixture of hardpan and rocks, with a pH of 4.5 and no humus or any other suggestion of fertility. We began to build up our soil organically by adding hundreds of pounds of rock minerals and by raking up leaves and topping them with mulch hay to keep them from blowing away.

That first spring of 1970, when it came time to plant, we laid out our garden in traditional rows, since that was all we knew how to do—all except for the potatoes. We decided to plant the potatoes in the way a local friend described. Fairly late in the spring, we cut up five pounds of supermarket potatoes and planted them on top of the soil in a six-by-10-foot area and covered them with rotted mulch hay. As the plants grew, we settled more hay around them. When we harvested in the fall, that little patch yielded 70 pounds of potatoes. We recognized that something special had happened in our potato patch. It was our first intensive bed.

The next year we shaped random, free-form beds and planted vegetables in clusters rather than in rows—a method of planting Lea had observed in France in the 1950s. Then we noticed something strange. We had planted the same amount of vegetables as in the previous year, but in only a little over half the garden space. We began looking for different things to grow, branched out into mangels (sugar beets) for our pigs, and started planning crops of soy and other dried beans and flint corn for the following year. This was our first experience with an intensive gardening system.

Indigenous Solutions

Meantime, we had started an association of homesteaders in our county. At one of our meetings someone brought in a film about organic gardening in Japan. One scene showed a farmer walking along a high, mounded bed on a board and then reaching down to pull out (with some effort) a diakon radish the size of a baseball bat. That one image in the film impressed itself indelibly on our minds.

fran melheim
8/11/2009 7:02:24 PM

Don't know if this will help you, but found this at my local library website: Poisson, Leandre, 1935- Title: Solar gardening : growing vegetables year-round the American intensive way / Leandre Posson and Gretchen Vogel Poisson. Publication Info.: White River Junction, Vt. : Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1994.


fran melheim
8/11/2009 7:02:00 PM

Don't know if this will help you, but found this at my local library website: Poisson, Leandre, 1935- Title: Solar gardening : growing vegetables year-round the American intensive way / Leandre Posson and Gretchen Vogel Poisson. Publication Info.: White River Junction, Vt. : Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1994.


cathy cline
10/21/2008 10:05:23 PM

I've spent all day looking for some kind of solar heating/frost protection I can place over a particular plant for the winter. I read about Leandre Poisson's Solar Cone on this website, but can't seem to find any place where I might purchase one of these. He describes how to build one, and offers a kit to build one yourself - but these are beyond my capabilities. Does anybody know where a pre-made cone might be purchased? Thanks for the help.






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