Still with me?
Well, you won’t be disappointed.
In the previous article we covered:
I hope it has clarified some important things for you.
If you haven't read the previous articles yet, you can catch up here:
In today’s article we’re going to cover:
Let’s get started.
Our preferred method of growing vegetables
As you probably know by now, our preferred method of growing vegetables is ‘No Dig’ (also known as ‘no-till’).
Let’s start today’s article with a video:
What is no dig?
One thing I like a lot about No Dig is the simplicity of it and the speed-of-implementation.
It’s due to this system that we were able to go from a weedy plot of land to selling out our first crops within 3 months.
Unlike with traditional methods where you’ll till up all the soil and then have to battle and struggle with millions (literally) of weed seeds on an ongoing basis, with the no dig method you simply create your growing beds and you’re off to the races.
Though, this is easier said than done.
In fact, when we created our growing beds for the first time we were quite concerned.
Although we had experience working for several farms before, we’d never quite worked on a no dig market garden.
And when we made the calculations of how much compost it required to create all the growing beds on our farm, we were quite shocked.
We wanted to create 105 growing beds, each 10 meters long by 80 centimeters wide by 15 centimeters high.
That came down to 130 cubic meters! (That’s 170 cubic yards)
Which translated to about €3000 including delivery.
That is no small investment!
Now, this is without saying that you could potentially obtain this organic matter locally from farmers around for free or at a much cheaper price, but nevertheless.
And that was just the compost.
We still had to invest in tools, equipment, infrastructure etc. So you can imagine how surprised we were (and concerned to say the least).
Definitely since we were unsure about the method and not knowing whether this would work for us.
So rather than listening to the experts, we came up with an idea to decrease the amount to half of what was required and opted for an initial tillage of the plot.
Our reasoning behind this was that if we turn under the existing vegetation, create the raised beds, and then put half of the required compost, we could get away with it.
So I rented a walk behind tractor, started the near impossible work of plowing the land – which was highly compacted and super dry – and did my best to remove the weeds and plow it under.
Needless to say, that was quite intense!
After several times walking back and forth with the walk behind tractor and lots of elbow grease, I’d been able to remove the weeds.
Once that was done, it was time for me to create the growing beds.
Since I was only going to use half of the recommended compost, I decided to first create the growing beds with the existing topsoil before adding a layer of compost on top of them.
After that was finished I added a layer of about 5 centimeters of compost on the beds and the end result was satisfying.
Beautiful, weed-free growing beds.
Or so I thought…
When I started to irrigate the beds to water the direct seeded crops and the transplanted crops, millions, literally millions of weed seeds started to germinate all over the place.
Maybe I should’ve just followed the recommendations?
As you can imagine, putting all that hard work into removing the weeds, plowing the land and creating the growing beds, it was quite frustrating to see so many weed seeds germinating between my newly planted crops.
To rectify the problem, we decided to buy the other half of the compost to arrive at the recommended depth, and had to stay really on top of the weeding if we didn’t want the plot to turn back to an overgrown patch of weeds.
The weeding… If not managed properly it requires so much work and energy inputs that really makes the job a whole lot less fun (and profitable)!
Fortunately, after a rigorous weed management system and the additional compost on the beds, we’d been able to take control of our growing systems and barely have to bother with weeding anymore (besides the occasional weed popping up in places).
Now, whenever we create new growing beds, we follow a simple process that minimizes our work input and optimizes the efficiency and speed of implementation.
Sure, hauling in compost and walking back and forth a wheelbarrow at a time takes some work input.
But from experience, I can tell you that it’s nothing compared to messing around with a walk behind tractor plowing the area, only to be left with weeds growing in between your crops.
The process we use now is extremely simple:
Don’t worry. I’ll show you a more detailed approach later on in this article.
This system allowed us to convert a plot of land in no time, and allowed us to start growing crops in a matter of days!
Yet, when you’re starting out, the initial cost of compost might scare you.
I know it did for us.
And that’s also a question I often get asked:
“But how can it be profitable if you have to buy in so much compost?”
And the answer to that is quite simple.
In your first year you need at least a compressed layer of about 10/15 centimeters (4/6 inches) to create your growing beds you
If we take our bed dimensions as an example (10M x 0.8M X 0.15M) that comes down to 1.2 cubic meter.
That costs us roughly 28 Euros (including delivery).
Now you might think that that’s a lot of money for one growing bed.
But imagine that we do at least three rotations per bed per season.
With a minimum of 100 euros per rotation, that means that from one bed we can make at least 300 euros per season.
The 28 Euros don’t actually seem that much anymore.
And what if you use season extension?
You can do 4 or even 5 rotations!
And what if you can make more than 100 Euros (or dollars) per bed? That adds up quite quickly!
And yes, in general, unless you only grow high demanding crops (which are often the lower profit crops), you don’t have to add any more compost to the beds in between those rotations.
In fact, after the initial creation of your growing beds, we only apply a couple of wheelbarrows of compost a year in late autumn or early winter.
This comes down to about 5 centimeters per year per bed. Simply to keep the beds mulched and to feed the soil food web.
The only thing different with the more traditional methods is that we use a little bit more of compost to create the initial growing beds, but after that use roughly the same compost quantities traditional farms use. The only difference is, we don’t till it under!
So yes, it does require a lot of compost to start, and yes it does look expensive initially, but when you start to run the numbers, it is profitable and enjoyable.
And that’s not taking into account the hours of weeding that you simply don’t have to do with this method.
This equals to more free time, more profits, and an overall more satisfying farming lifestyle!
Also, you don’t have to start directly with over 100 growing beds like we did (remember what we covered in the first article: transition).
You can start with 20 or 50 and get the ball rolling from there.
Whatever amount you start with, the no dig method can save you lots of time, energy, effort and money in the long run.
And then we haven’t even covered the tools yet.
The only tools you need on a no dig market garden
As you now know, with market gardening you’ve got two choices.
You either till or you don’t.
And depending on the practices you’ll use on your farm, you can fall into the trap of needing ‘that next big thing’.
The latest gadgets.
You see, when you start out it’s easy to get lured into the shiny object syndrome.
But if we look at it from a birds-eye perspective, a lot of the things you need come down to the growing methods you use on your farm.
In fact, with the appropriate method of growing vegetables you’ll see that you don’t need that many tools to run your farm.
And that’s what I want to share with you now.
I want to share with you the basic essential tools you’ll need for running a profitable no dig market garden.
You know, when you run a commercial farm you want to create an efficient and optimized organization.
But as farmers we’re creating too many problems for ourselves.
And one of the biggest problems we create is through tilling the soil.
I’ve shared with you that tillage causes lower water holding capacity, decreased soil biology, potential erosion problems, compaction, we wake up plant pathogens, and a lot more…
But, unless you have a microscope and you’re able to analyze the soil, one of the more obvious problems this creates for us is weeding.
And as soon as you look into setting up a commercial farm, you can’t avoid being bombarded by the latest ‘revolutionary’ tools that you supposedly need if you want to farm profitably.
Flameweeders (actual war machines used in farming), tine weeders, finger weeders, wheel hoes, tarps, I mean, you name it…
A lot of these tools are NOT addressing the CAUSE of the problem.
The root problem is bare soil.
Eliminate bare soil and you can eliminate basically most of the ‘required’ tools you’d need if you want to farm commercially.
By just applying the compost on the beds (and not tilling it in the soil) you nearly eliminate all the weeding.
And this reflects back in the tools you’re going to use on your farm.
Take our farm as an example.
When it comes to weeding, the only tool we now use is a wire weeder. It’s a simple, cheap and basic piece of equipment that’s able to remove any weed with precision.
In the past we’ve also used an oscillating hoe or other precision weeders, but we didn’t have to use them often and they're relatively cheap tools to come by.
And these tools are all you need for the weeding in a no dig system.
No need for tarps. No need for flamethrowers ;)
But besides weeding tools there are some other tools that I personally highly recommend that you need to farm efficiently.
And one such a tool is a precision seeder.
On our farm we use the Jang seeder.
I am personally a big fan of this seeder as it has never let us down.
It doesn’t require perfect bed prep, it's sturdy and the density between individual seeds are spot on.
I’ve demonstrated how we use this tool in several of our videos on YouTube, and from the seeders we’ve tried this is the one I personally recommend the most.
That doesn’t mean that it’s ‘the perfect’ or ‘best’ tool for everyone. There are farmers that swear by the 6-row seeder, pin-point seeder and a whole bunch of other seeders. I just share with you what has worked really well for us. It’s important to do your own research before you get started and make your own decisions based on your research.
Another tool we use often on the farm is the bed roller.
This tool allows you to create a firm, somewhat compressed seedbed before planting in it.
Is it a necessity?
Well, let’s have a look…
Whenever we add compost to our beds (or create completely new beds) the beds are quite loose and ‘fluffy’.
This is, contrary to popular belief, not ideal for plants to grow in.
From what I’ve observed, plants like it when the soil is firm. Not loose. Not compacted.
It allows them to put down their roots and ‘hold on’ to the soil, giving them a good grip.
And when we add compost to the beds, we want to make sure to compress it to create the most ideal conditions for the crops.
And in all honesty, this can be done in a variety of ways.
The bed roller is one solution. And if you farm on a commercial scale, then I would strongly recommend it.
But you can get the same result by simply walking on your beds, or using the back of a shovel and tamp it down.
It’s just that it’s a lot less efficient, takes a lot more time and the result won't be as uniform.
Therefore we personally use the bed roller as it allows us to quickly compress the beds before seeding (or transplanting) into them.
Another tool we use on our farm is a broadfork.
This tool is optional, but handy (and sometimes really necessary) to aerate the subsoil of previously compacted soils.
If your land is really compact, then I highly recommend it.
Basically the broadfork, if used appropriately, is able to create air passage ways allowing oxygen and water to infiltrate into the deeper layers of the soil.
I personally see this tool as a ‘transitioning tool’.
Simply to go from compacted to aerated soils.
After a couple of seasons we don’t even need to use it anymore. Simply because it now does more harm than good.
We see overall better results with the beds that haven’t been broadforked compared to the ones that have been.
And that was already the case after only two seasons.
Now, knowing that you might only have to use the broadfork for several seasons, is it worth it to invest in one?
I personally think it is, as it will always be a handy tool to have in the tool shed.
Having said that, you can get very similar results with a simple garden fork. A tool which most people already have access to.
Sure, it will take double the amount of time, but overall, if you’re short on money it’s a good alternative to the broadfork.
The next tool on the must-have list is a rake.
Yes, a rake.
No, not the small one above... ;)
Preferably a 75cm (30 inch) wide one.
This is a great bed prep tool that you can use for leveling out compost, as well as marking out the spacing on your beds.
By simply adding some poly tubing on your rake you can create pretty straight lines to mark out exactly where you have to plant your transplants.
It’s simple, cheap and straight-forward.
The next tool on the list, which is one of the most expensive ones, is the Quick Cut Greens Harvester.
This is a must-have tool for any farmer that’s going to grow lots of salad greens.
Salad greens can be a very lucrative crop to grow (make sure to verify demand with potential customers in your area) and this tool actually will save you lots of time, energy and effort.
This is a tool that is actually able to turn hours into minutes. And you don’t see that often with tools.
So definitely recommended when doing lots of salad greens.
And as far as tools go, these are the main ones we use consistently on our farm.
This is not taking into account some of the other equipment and basic tools we use, like row covers, insect netting, nursery trays and pots, basic harvesting knifes, equipment necessary to run the post-harvest station and some other minor things…
Too often I find that it’s being made too complicated…
We don’t need to have all the gadgets, bells and whistles.
So don’t worry about it.
Only invest in the essentials and get the ball rolling from there.
Sure it’s nice to have an automated passive solar greenhouse with ventilation, drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, automatic shutters, heaters with thermostats, etc.
But do you need all these luxuries when you start out?
Best is to start by minimizing your costs for everything.
Don’t spend more money than you have and plan well.
You can literally save yourself a fortune by simply using the bare essentials (and quite frankly, you don’t need much with the no dig method!).
Once you start to gain a little bit of experience, you start to earn some revenue, and you start to know what you’re doing and understanding what you need, that’s when you can start investing money into crucial upgrades that is going to take your farm to the next level.
And with the tools covered, let me show you a little demonstration on how you can start this method. You’ll be surprised by the simplicity of it!
That’s not too difficult.
In fact, you don’t need any experience to pull this off!
You simply create your growing beds and you can start planting immediately.
And I hope that this little demonstration will give you the confidence to start experimenting with this method.
In fact, I hope that these articles have clarified a couple of things for you.
First is the fact that you don’t have to gamble your livelihood on your choice of wanting to start a farm.
You can start you farm on the side and slowly transition into it. Highly recommended!
You also know the most commonly made mistakes that can ruin your farm dreams.
Simply by avoiding these mistakes you’ll make your journey into farming much faster and easier.
We covered the different methods you can use in your market garden, the drawbacks of the traditional systems, the implications these have on your start-up costs (higher) and profitability (lower) and the 5 myths of farming.
As last, in this article we covered our preferred method of growing vegetables, the only tools you need with this method and a small demonstration of how to create your growing beds.
Now we could leave it at that.
But that wouldn’t be too much fun now would it?
Because there’s still one more important lesson missing.
And that’s to put everything we’ve covered so far, into a step-by-step system to create an economically viable and ecologically sound farming business.
If you want to learn how you can put everything we’ve covered in these articles into a winning step-by-step plan, then I invite you to join our online workshop: "How to Make a Living Off The Land in 7 Simple Steps".