Class Day 5: Site Design Considerations For Your Mini-Farm

Matt Drewno dropped some gems on the 2 month interns today from his garden design experience over the years and currently in Mendocino. The central theme that came through was that you really need to get to know YOUR site.  Climate, water, soil, etc. can all be generalized from local reports but there is absolutely no substitute for really intimating the specifics of how your site system behaves.

Matt lead us off with some key concepts to keep in mind with site design:
  • Start small and with the most important things.
  • Nature is a template that is already there so take care to understand it.
  • Focus not just on your different areas but the interaction between them as well
  • Understand the land use history and patterns is invaluable.
  • Know your hardiness zones but realize they may change in different parts of the site and that the hardiness zones themselves are changing.
  • Try to observe with an open mind – don’t force your predispositions/objectives on what’s happening on your site.
Then Matt went into resource analysis and began by simply defining a resource as “something we could use.”  Further, that a “wasted resource is waste and that pollution is wasted waste.”  He then gave us this comprehensive checklist of items to understand and consider in your design:
  1. Topography – slope, elevation, aspect orientation
  2. Soil tests – texture, structure, minerals, nutrients, geology
  3. Water –  larger rhythms, management (swales, etc.), quality, dependability, infrastructure needed, potential pollution sources
  4. Temperature – highs and lows, know your own micro-climate
  5. Wind – how it affects the weather, seed and pollen movement, micro-climates
  6. Sun – path, shade pattern, how to store and harness
  7. Sector & Zone analysis – from permaculture design
  8. Legal Issues – zoning, building permits, water laws, planting regulations

Save Almost $3000 Per Year: Vegetable Oil Instead of Diesel for Your Vehicle

So Big Matt here is saving a nice chunk of coin here (over $200/month) by using straight vegetable oil collected from restaurants.

Here’s how …

* ~$1.60 in propane per 15 gallons of fule (and an hour of his time to burn off excess water from the oil.)
* ~$11 per month in filter replacements. (He buys 2 $16 filters every few months)

So if Matt is using about 60 gallons of fuel per month – $240 total at $4/gallon diesel- he’s saving ~$228.40 per month or $2,740.80 per year.

***Note that Matt made an initial investment of ~$1000 – to convert his diesel truck to run on veggie oil.




Class Day 4 with Mr. Jeavons: Seed Saving and Insect Control

To start class John threw out this list of books as worthy reads:

  • — “Dirt”
  • –The Starch Solution
  • –Eat to Live
  • –How To Build Your Own Greenhouse
  • –Herbal Remedies
  • –101 Foods That Could Save Your Life
  • –Pure Vegan
Also you should check out the Bibliography

Seed Saving

John’s short list of “wonderful” seed resources:

  • -The Vegetable Garden 1885
  • -Cornucopia II
  • -The Garden Seed Inventory

We spent a lot of time with Booklet #13 and the logistics of seed production but here’s a few other highlights/helpful tips I took down:

  • John LOVES a cantaloupe called the “Navajo banana cantaloupe” as he calls it exquisite.
  • Every 5 yrs for the last 25 yrs, 10% of total varieties go extinct …
  • The 3 places where agriculture is most vulnerable are 1) seeds 2) tools and 3) fertilizer
  • As little as 0.002 sq. ft. can grow all cabbage you need to plant a 100 sq. ft. bed
  • John recommends everyone save seed in the next year and that you start with the easy ones like Tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, wheat
  • Big Question: Are you going to coddle the plant your saving for seed or let it tough it out … John says let it tough it out … But a combination is probably the reality ..
  • Too much nitrogen or water inhibits seed production
  • 100RULE — You want to save the seed so that the humidity is 5-10% and temp is 55 degrees, if possible . You don’t want humidity and temperature added together to exceed 100.
  • TIP: Order your seed day after Christmas -sometimes you’ll get last years prices and you’ll get your seed faster .

Pest Control

John’s favorite book here is “Rodales Complete Garden Problem Solver, instant answers to the most common questions.” He went on to offer this acronym AWOMB of the most important aspects for a healthy and effective soil – like “a womb” in which to nurture your plants – if you do not provide well for these elements, you are to have pest and disease issues:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Organic Matter
  • Minerals
  • Biointensive

He mentioned several other details but summed it up by “know the life cycles of your pests, know that most insects are beneficial, 90% of attacks are on vulnerable/sick plants, and most pests can be controlled pretty easily.

John talks about the utility of planning all 52 weeks of your garden. Each crop is a row, each column is a week and in the cell is what happens.



A graph that shows how over the years, for the exact same yields, Fertilizer needs have increased 6 fold and pesticides 33 fold.


John tells the story of how a a gopher ate 25% of his beans and another insect kept ea ting all the leaves off the plant and the plant kept growing more leaves. Rather than fight the pest, he did nothing and got 3.9X the US average yield from 75% of the bed.


How To Make Olallieberry Pie

ImageWhat better way to use two and a half pounds of olallieberries than in a pie? Ecology Action employee Mark first had the suggestion when discussing what we would do with the multiple varieties of berries harvested Wednesday morning. Since it was my day for lunch duty, I set out for the kitchen a bit earlier than usual to give myself ample time to whip up a couple olallieberry pies.

I worked with the following recipe from the internet which was essentially encrypted between manifold, large pictures of all the steps involved in baking the pies.

Since we were out of pastry flour, the crust was formed from triticale flour, which is a cross between wheat and rye:

1 cup whole wheat
½ cup white flour
2 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ cup cold butter, sliced
4-5 Tbsp. cold milk

The crust was certainly the most difficult part of the process. Apparently the recipe warns against touching the dough with anything but a metal fork, and it must be set aside to ‘rest’ about a half-hour before rolling out.

The filling was much simpler. I had a total of 11 cups of berries which I wanted to divide between two pies. The recipe called for 8 cups of berries in each pie, so the finished product was smaller and more compact that what would be expected if the recipe was followed to a tee (for one pie):

8 cups of olallieberries

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs. cornstarch (or kudzu root or arrowroot)

Dash salt

Once the berries have been ‘dressed’, give them a stir to assure that ingredients are mixed in well. Then, set pie filling aside and proceed to rollout the dough for the pie crust.

It was suggested in the recipe to turn the dough over at each roll, to assure that it doesn’t crack and piece apart. I noticed that turning it over onto a floured surface at regular intervals does help keep the dough together.

Once pie crusts have been rolled out and placed in pie pans, you can either bake the crust beforehand to get it nice and crispy, or pour in the berry batter prior to early baking. I forgot to bake the crust beforehand, but the pie came out fine.

Grow Biointensive Income – Calculations from a 500 Square Foot Mini-Farm

So Grow Biointensive is a mini-farming system that’s primary goal is to sustainably grow a complete diet.  According to the website, Grow Biointensive can produce 2-6 times the yields of conventional agriculture while using 99% less energy.

This makes me VERY curious of the financial implications of Grow Biointensive.

So, in starting to investigate the financial implications, I calculated income generated from a 5 Bed Mini-Farm Unit (500 square feet) that is documented in Grow Biointensive’s bible How To Grow More Vegetables 8th Edition on page 188.  The unit is designed for Northern California climate so I simply called up a local grocery store for current retail prices.

Below is a table showing the revenue figures for different amounts of land according to the skill level of the grower:

Sq. Ft.





$        746

$       1,497

$      4,016


$    5,974

$    11,974

$    32,131

1/2 Acre

$  32,528

$    65,198

$  174,951

The key thing to note about the above mini-farm design is that it was designed for sustainability and diet … not income.  After talking with John Jeavons, my next task in this investigation is to actually design a mini-farm that is designed for sustainability, diet, and income.

I’ll keep you posted …

Green Uprising – Exciting Tour With Another Local Farm

So … after some rather adventurous undertakings, Michael Foley gave us a tour of his several gardens a Green Uprising.

Michael has been farming with his wife, Sarah, for about 5 years.  They are inspired by Alan Chadwick and Ecology Action.  He has several WWOOF’ers on his farm and has been involved in the raw milk movement.

Here’s an article on a Cease and Desist order from a Ukiah Blog 




Photos from Class Today:Compost, Diet, Income, Philosophy, and History

Ryan Batjiaka simplifies photosynthesis and then takes us for an organic chemistry and compost deep dive.



Lucas, in his professor’s best, breaking down Grow Biointensive Diet goals.  On the lower right there we see that, given 1-5 acres of land you can grow about 430,000 calories of beef or 21,283,416 calories of potatoes.



There was a lot of discussion of “Weight efficient” (crops that have high calories per pound) versus crops that are “Area Efficient” (crops that have a lot of calories per square foot of growing space required).  Below we see in the top table we can grow 2,333 calores in 20  beds or 2,386 calories in 43.5 beds.  It all depends on the weight and area efficiency of your crops.



John breaks down the math and techniques to show how you can gross $30,ooo from one 100 square foot bed.  The answer is seed!


The 10 year path towards becoming a Grow Biointensive expert.  Year 1 “How, Year 2 “Why, Year 3 Deeper/Broader etc.



The case for Grow Biointensive, growing soil … by the numbers.  If you have any questions about the explanation below use this form: