Notes to broadcasters
Content: At Walk Softly Farm, Nancy and Harvey Harman grow four times as many vegetables per hectare as most growers. They add plenty of compost and manure to their raised vegetable beds. They keep every space in the garden planted at all times and they grow climbing crops up fences and stakes to save space.
Notes, Climate and soil at Walk Softly Farm:
Elevation: 135 metres above sea level
Rainfall: 1200 mm per year (full season rainfall)
Maximum temperature: 40oC
Minimum temperature: 0oF
Frost free growing season: April 15-October 15 (180 days)
Soil type: Heavy clay and clay loam
Topsoil depth: 15-25 centimetres
Subsoil depth: 1 metre
Natural vegetation: deciduous forest
Today we are going to visit an unusually efficient farm. Harvey and Nancy Harman grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers at Walk Softly Farm. On less than one hectare they produce enough vegetables for themselves and to sell to 25 other families. They grow at least four times as many vegetables as most other farmers grow on the same amount of land.
Harvey and Nancy’s farm is in North Carolina in the United States. But the inspiration for the farm came from working with farmers in Africa for five years. There the Harmans saw what their neighbours were doing with just a few resources. Their African friends were their teachers.
The Harmans have two and a half hectares of land and they use simple hand tools to do the work. They collect rainwater for irrigation from the roofs of the house and sheds and in several small ponds around the farm. And they have an interesting way of marketing their produce through a system called Community Supported Agriculture.
It is spring and the Harmans already have half a hectare of vegetables planted. One of their goals is to make the most of each piece of land. For example, the Harmans grow vegetables in raised beds so that they can plant close together. They make the raised beds by digging and loosening the soil deep down. They mix the soil with compost. The beds rise above the level of the ground because the Harmans have loosened the soil and added so much organic matter. In the loose soil of raised beds, air circulates well, there is less chance of waterlogging, and roots take up nutrients more easily. So plants can be spaced close together. The raised beds go across the slope of the garden, on the contour, so rainwater doesn’t wash down the slope, but instead, stays in the soil.
The Harmans keep every space in the garden planted at all times. When one vegetable is harvested they plant another. Sometimes the second vegetable is planted while the first is still in the garden. This way the first vegetable shades and protects the new plant. Then, when the first vegetable is harvested, the second vegetable is already well established to take its place. For example, the Harmans plant peas in cool weather. When the peas are maturing, they plant tomato seedlings among the peas. As the peas die down, the tomatoes grow to take their place. By keeping each part of the garden full of vegetables and by planting a new crop as the old crop is maturing, the Harmans grow between three and eight vegetable crops on the same piece of land each year. The number of crops depends of the kind of vegetable grown. Some crops take longer than others to mature.
Another way that the Harmans grow many crops on a small piece of land is by growing crops up instead of out. All the crops that can climb are made to grow up fences, wire cages, or stakes. Climbing crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, and peas. Crops that grow up rather than out are easier to pick, take less space, and the fruit usually ripens better without much spoilage. Also they provide shade for plants near them. This shade is welcomed by neighbouring plants, especially during the hot summers. It also allows cooler weather crops, like salad greens, to grow into the summer, and means less watering because the soil and plants stay cooler. Pumpkins and squash grow on the edge of the garden. That way they have room to spread beyond the garden beds without taking up garden space.
The Harmans add as much compost and other organic matter to the soil as possible when digging the raised garden beds. Harvey adds at least one wheelbarrow load of compost to each half meter of garden bed. Or he adds two wheelbarrow loads of uncomposted organic matter mixed with manure. Many sources of organic matter will do — old hay, manure, weeds, and sawdust that has aged for several years. In Africa, the Harmans used old thatch removed from huts when new thatch was put on. Normally this material would have been burned. All this organic matter gives the soil a wonderful texture, adds nutrients for plants, and helps the soil to hold water.
The Harmans run their farm as a Community Supported Agriculture co-operative. Members of the co-operative pay a portion of the food production costs before the growing season begins. This way the Harmans have money at the beginning of the season to help them get started and to cover costs. As each crop is ready, members come to pick up their share of vegetables and fruits. The members receive fresh produce and the Harmans know that they have a market for everything they grow.
Harvey and Nancy Harman worked as Community Development Workers in South Africa for several years. They now farm in Bear Creek, North Carolina, U.S.A.
For more information about Community Supported Agriculture: Community Supported Agriculture of North America 2001 L Street N.W. Suite 801A Washington, D.C. 20036, U.S.A. Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association P.O. Box 550, Kimberton Pennsylvania 19442, U.S.A.