The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin
This report was originally published here and was translated by Marcus Busby.
Ferme biologique du Bec Hellouin
27800 LE BEC HELLOUIN
Produce a lot in a small space, providing a diet invegetables for 1,000 people by the culture of land whose area does not nourish 50 if the ordinary methods were applied to it, and if anart did not come in aid of nature, that is the every day problem of vegetable gardening near Paris, and the problem has its solution every day.
“La culture maraîchère pratique des environs de Paris” I. Ponce – 1869
The Paris market garden of the nineteenth century measured on average 4000-8000 m2. A master gardener gave this advice: “Always choose the smallest plot of land as possible, but grow it exceptionally well.” Another market gardener of the time described their profession as “the goldsmiths of the ground.”
“The winter Harvest Handbook” Eliot Coleman – 2009
The intensive cultivation of vegetables, as practiced in professional gardens where water and compost are readily available, differs from the usual vegetable crops in the sense that they should be an ongoing process throughout the year, often with many different vegetables planted together on the same piece of land.
“Ma pratique de la culture maraîchère ordinaire et forcée” J. Cure 1904
Here is a presentation of the method of the Ferme du Bec Hellouin, developed at the farm of the same name in Normandy. It is taught in the training taking place at the School of permaculture Bec Hellouin.
A – Genesis
We created the Ferme du Bec Hellouin in 2006 with the desire to explore as natural-a-way as possible to grow the Earth. We started in animal traction and continuing to work with the draft horse on some plots.
The discovery of permaculture in 2008 found deep resonance with our aspirations. During the first two years applying the principles of permaculture farming, we noted a clear increase in yields, but also difficulties related to the fact that, until now, these applications were developed mainly in the sphere of private and communitygardens. They remain largely adapted to meet the needs of professionals in organic farming. Several study trips abroad (Japan, England, Cuba, USA) confirmed this impression. Making a fruitful marriage between permaculture and organic farming approaches then became our priority.
The concepts of permaculture can be applied to agriculture in various ways, depending on the objectives and sensitivity. We quickly realised that a virtuous model of an environmental and social point of view must, in order to spread, be able to demonstrate its economic viability. However, market gardening, arboriculture, the cultivation of berries and aromatic herbs at the Ferme du Bec Hellouin is characterized notably by an almost entirely manual work on small surfaces. How to be competitive in a world where labor is expensive and fossil fuels undervalued? Agricultural practices placing the human hand at the center of the process, create jobs, well-adapted to the post-oil era looming, but can they be an economically viable alternative today?
Can a truly ecological model be economically viable?
The answer must be true to the spirit of permaculture: a solution to the problem.
Cultivating by hand allows for tasks where mechanization is less appropriate: takingdetailed care of the soil, planting denser cultures of associated plants … we must push this logic far enough so that manual labour is not a disadvantage, but becomes an asset. Create, for each square meter cultivated, a value sufficient to decently remunerate the market gardener.
We discover the work of Eliot Coleman, one of the pioneers of organic farming in the US, a master in market gardening. Coleman has invented a particular manual precision multi-row seeder to achieve very high yields. His farm of 6000 m2 cultivated in Maine employs 7 people in summer and 4 in winter! We are also studying another American experience, bio-intensive micro-agriculture popularized by John Jeavons. In the books of Coleman and Jeavons, we meet for the first time an evocation of the rich Parisian market gardening tradition in the nineteenth century. Parisian gardeners, usingintensive methods passed on from the Anglo-Saxon world, fed the Capital with quality vegetables as intramural products, summer and winter, making eight crop rotations per year!
A new concept of organic gardening
Increasingly supported by a permanent and motivated agronomists team, we realized then that it should be possible to create an innovative approach to gardening, a synthesis of several influences: the concepts of agroecology and permaculture, the work of Coleman, John Jeavons, the heritage of former Parisian market gardeners, the gardened agriculture of Japan and Korea, and of course the modern organic farming. This new path is called the method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin.
By naming this method after the name of the farm, our intention is just to point out that this is the approach we have achieved in the context of ours, depending on our personalities. In a permaculture approach, each place, and the people who inhabit it, is unique and deserves a unique approach. There is no general recipe, valid for everyone everywhere. So there is no desire for hegemony in our approach and we invite you to adapt if it speaks to you and your same context.
Having stumbled upon a number of difficulties, we looked for a coherent and comprehensive approach that is effective on different levels: economically viable and ecological, for the micro-farm’s, and the market gardeners’ quality of life… After 10 years experience of trial and error, this document reflects our successive conscious decisions.
The question of the size of surface area to be cultivated stands out as one of the essential keys to the success of this method. What is the surface area, a paysan(ne) (person of the land /Earth) can effectively cultivate by hand, especially growing in permanent beds, to beone of the most productive systems available? To gain a competitive advantage by working manually, it is necessary that the soil is cared for very intensely. The hypothesis, nourished by the experience of the Ferme du Bec Hellouin, those of Coleman and Jeavons and the legacy of Parisian gardeners, is that thecultivated surface should be around 500 to 1000 m2 maximum. This is very little compared tomechanized organic market gardening, in which the cultivated areas are in the range of 1-4 hectares per worker. By practicing 3 to 9 rotations each year, and thanks to the planting associations, intercropping, and denser crop cultures, the value created reaches several tens of euros more,per square metre, making such a model competitive, especially as the costs of investment and operation are reduced (reduced land area, no mechanization …).
This tiny acreage allows the development of permacultural microfarmsin urban and peri-urban areas, where access to land is the major obstacle. The Permacultural microfarms can be a new gateway into agriculture, which is currently, very inaccessible.
Since 2010, many French and foreign agronomists came to visit the Fermedu Bec Hellouin. Noting particularly intensive production levels and aggradation of the natural environment (soil creation, enhancement of biodiversity and landscapes, carbon sequestration …), some agronomists have thought the experience deserved to be scientifically validated and modeled. François Léger, Director of the research unit SADAPT, of INRA and AgroParisTech, and we ourselves have jointly formulated a research project entitled ” Permacultural organic market gardening and economic performance” (see website www.fermedubec.com). The study, started in late 2011, and will last until spring 2015. AgroParisTech students realize their knowledge or their doctoral theses within this framework. This research program is funded by the Fondation de France, Lemarchand Foundation for balance between people and the Earth, the Léa Nature Foundation, the Fondation Pierre Rabhi, Terra Symbiosis Foundation, Lunt Foundation, Picard Foundation, Ivory Foundation, the SADAPT unit and Farm Bec Hellouin.
In the first year, the results demonstrated the economic viability of this approach. The results are moving rapidly from year to year (see interim reports on the site, final report to be published in 2015).
B – The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin
Here is a summary presentation of the approach developed on our farm. It seeks above all to answer this question: how to feed the world while healing the planet?
This approach is a contribution to the invention of organic farming of tomorrow, in a world where fossil fuels inevitably become increasingly scarce and expensive. Everyone is free to be inspired by this method if it meets their aspirations, adapting its objectives and its context.
This method is being developed and will certainly evolve in terms of our future research. The following items are simply an evocation of the broad lines of its present form.
1 – Ethics:
The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin is based on the ethical foundations of permaculture:
– Caring for the Earth.
– Caring for humanity.
– Sharing resources and crops equitably.
It seeks to explore a way of inhabiting the Earth that is both gentle for nature and for humanity. The needs of human beings and their well-being are taken into consideration, as are those of plants, animals and the planet. It befits the long-term, and the will to be fully adapted to the post-carbon era.
The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin, working in the meaning of life, and not against it.
It is not a rigid rule, especially since it is only in the early stages of its development. Every paysan (person of the land) every gardener, rich in aspirations, preferences and skills, is free to adapt this approach to their selection and their soil and climate, social and economic.
2 – The Paysan – The Farmer of the Earth:
The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin was born from a long observation of the relationship between humankind and nature in various civilizations, especially the first peoples. Before being a set of technical choices, it is a positioning. The farmer sees themself as part of nature and connected to all that is. He does not want to control nature, but assist the living forces at work in the biosphere for many billions of years. He knows he does not grow the plants: the whole program of life of a plant is contained in the seed. Through their work, the farmer simply endeavours to promote its development.
The farmer aims to make the best use of natural elements: sun, rain water, atmospheric nitrogen and carbon, mineral elements from the rock … They seek to build on the functions fulfilled naturally and freely by ecosystems (ecosystem services): useful auxiliaries, supplying organic matter, providing mineral nutrients for trees … rather than artificializing nature and then having to compensate through inputs or work. They willtherefore, aimto create an oasis of sustainable and fruitful life, which locally produces quality food and more: beauty, a reconnection to nature, social links. The Paysanne participates in the healing of the planet, and contributes to the equilibrium in the world.
3 – The MicroFarm:
It is designed as a diverse and autonomous agro-ecosystem, according to the concepts of agroecology and permaculture. It ideally includes diverse backgrounds who share an integrated manner.
The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin is particularly suited to vegetable farms of very small size, paysanne and family agriculture.
The intensification of market gardening frees up agricultural land for other uses: meadow-orchard, small livestock, forest garden, fruit hedges, berries/red fruits, ponds … With an equal surface area (of the order of ‘1-2 hectares), compared with a mechanized approach, the diversified market gardening farm may offer a greater variety of products, greater autonomy in organic matter, increased biodiversity and probably a more enjoyable living environment.
In recent years, we have sought to develop a “micro agrosilvopastoral system” where, in the same space, trees, cultivated plants (vegetables, cereals …) and animals (poultry, sheep, pigs, horses …) coexist.By connecting links between perennial and annual plants and animals, the agro-ecosystem gains stability.
The most elegant way to feed humanity seems to be,by finding and imitating the spontaneous ecosystem of each place –the one that prevailed before human intervention. Spontaneous and naturally present species, but non-edible to humans, can be replaced by vegetation that is both similar and edible.
4 – The relationship to time:
A natural farming approach does not fitinthe same time signature asan agricultural productivist (industrial agriculturalist approach). It is not a short-term logic, but medium and long-term. It does not seek to maximize profit within a year, but to create an agro-ecosystem that becomes more fertile, diverse, resilient and productive over the course of years. Consequently, the farmer does not necessarily aim to correct an imbalance (pest …), but to avoid generating a new imbalance by rebound effect, and often prefers to let the balance build naturally (such as by the appearance of the pest’s predator…).
One must, however, ensure the economic balance in the short term for the farm, in order to navigate the always-difficult early years, and plan for the installation of elements that are not immediately “profitable” but favour the long term: planting fruit trees, hedges, digging ponds …, depending on the self-financing opportunities. Vegetable crops, which may generate income from the first year, thus benefit from being implemented as a priority.
5 – Diversification:
It is tempting to diversify production and farm activities. Diversified activities provide greater economic security and often more satisfactions. But we must ensure finding the optimal range (we can not do everything, nor do all very well …), and not to go too fast. Each new workshop generates constraints (physical, regulatory, time management …), investment and requires skill. The dispersion is a source of fatigue and stress. Better to move progressively towards diversification and introduce a new activity only when the previous one is well controlled.
On a farm with a very small area, it is particularly interesting to transform its production, creating added value. The fruits of a meadow-orchard, processed, may have their value multiplied by a factor of 10 or more.
Direct selling is obviously preferred whenever possible (co-op, farm shops, markets …).
A microfarm, due to the low level of investment it requires, is conducive to multi-activity. A cultivated market garden area of approximately 400 m2 provides work a few days a week and leaves availability to practice another profession.
6 – Trees:
Planting a large number of fruit trees (including some nut trees) is of major value. Trees save the planet! They store carbon, create a microclimate and fulfill numerous ecological functions while providing tasty and excellent crops for health. They require relatively little care, inputs and energy once planted. They are a balancing factor for humans and for the whole of the biosphere.
Ideally, the microfarm will have a large number of fruitingwoody plants (fruiting hedges, forest garden, market garden-orchards, meadow-orchard …). At Bec Hellouin, all of our gardens are now conducted using agroforestry (market-garden-orchards).
Whenever possible, the paysan implements tiered or stacked systems (on and under the ground), for example by combining fruit trees, berries or other tall plants and vegetables. Such systems are more complex to install and require good management of light and water, but offer great benefits in terms of biodiversity, productivity and enjoyment.
7 – Biodiversity:
Biodiversity – wild or cultivated – will be important in the microfarm, which over the years become a haven for many forms of life. A ‘wild’ space can be reserved, however small it may be. Biodiversity performs various ecological functions, making the system more resilient to climate hazards and participates in the preservation of the global natural heritage.
Biodiversity is also a source of balance and joy for humans – how to describe the happiness brought by the kingfishers visits in the ponds, the appearance of crayfish, hedgehogs, snakes and toads, beetles, broods of moor hens or mallard ?
Not to mention the added value that the harvest of wild plants can represent!
A permaculture microfarm produces much more than food for humans: it contributes to the health of the natural environment.
8 – microclimates:
The design of the farm attaches great importance to the creation of microclimates beneficial to crops. Vegetables benefit from warmth (which can be increased by the presence of a lake south side of the garden, which will return indirect sunlight to crops), they like to be sheltered from the wind (for example by a forest garden planted on the side of prevailing winds). Partial shade in summer can also be beneficial (agroforestry).
The method of cultivation on mounds (raised beds and /or hügelculture)also helps create a beneficial microclimate – cool and humid, for the first 5 cm above and below the soil surface, creates the ideal conditions for plant growth.
Cultivated mounds warm faster towards the end of winter and allow crops to start a few weeks in advance.
9 – The cultivated area:
For diversified market gardening in permanent raised /mounded beds, the cultivated area is very small (of the order of 500-1000 m2 per worker, to suit the dimensions of capacity), but cared for very intensely. Open field type vegetables,such as potatoes, squash and courgette require more space, and can be grown using more classical methods (animal traction …).
Densifyingthe cultivation of vegetable crops on a small surface area presents advantages such as, size: the farm can be created on a limited area (in an urban context, for example) or, for the same surface, space is freed for other uses (see paragraph 3: the microfarm).
We insist again on this point because most of us do not suspect the productivity potential of microagriculture and there is a real risk to cultivate too great a space that cannot be cared for properly and will lead to exhaustion or even to fail. The approach described in this text only works if the cultivated area is very small, but very neat! At Bec Hellouin, the cultivated area per worker is decreasing every year, while productivity increases together with satisfaction. It is important to adapt the work toolsto these practices, and not the opposite!
10 – The intensity of care:
One of the main features of this method is the central place given to the human hand rather than machine. Many studies have shown a direct link between the intensity of care and the level of productivity. A farmer or experienced paysanne, on a living, fertile soil, can produce large amounts of real vegetables, with relatively less investment and operating costs than conventional operations (larger, mechanized). The study conducted at Bec Hellouin demonstrates that by working by hand in this approach, we produce as many vegetables per hour worked as our mechanized colleagues.
The link between manual labor and small size is truly emerging as the main key to the success of this approach. This combination offers interesting possibilities: that of creating a soil with a very high level of fertility, to cultivate a large number of species, which is an asset in some markets, permitting the practice of crop associations /companion planting/multicropping …
Once more, the paysan appropriating the method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin, must resist the tendency to cultivate an excessive surface area, which will notbe cultivated intensively enough by hand. By straddling two logics, or two approaches todiversified market gardening, the risk is real to accumulate the drawbacks of each approach.A mechanized market gardener may test the method of the Farm Bec Hellouin on a few beds, in order to witness results and form an opinion, and adopt it if they are satisfied.
11 – The energies:
The energies are invisible … but the types and amounts of energy used in each human creation are good indicators of their impact on the environment.
In progressing in the practice of our profession, we came to perceive the farm as a place where many energies act and transform matter, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Becoming aware of these invisible flows helps to increase productivity and sustainability. A good permaculture design saves energy at all levels. Shortening wheelbarrow journeys, for example, by placing the washing and packaging stationin the gardens, decreases fatigue and saves human energy.
We seek to progressively edge awayfrom usingpolluting and non-renewable fossil fuels, towards using the sun, which is nearly the exclusive source of energy for the farm. Thanks to photosynthesis performed by plants, the fruits and vegetables can be regarded as concentrated solar energy, stored and transportable … Organic matter is likewise, solar energy stored in the soil. The work of humans and draft animal, the creation of biomass, the use of natural aids are various forms of the use of solar energy.
The use of fossil fuels is not completely excluded and depends on the positioning of each. During the initial phase of the farm creation, it may be judicious to request the assistanceof a contractor or a neighboring agriculturalist to create ponds and embankments, dig the planting holes of trees, transport significant amounts of manure … Then, the equipment used is manual. A small tiller may, however, facilitate the creation of mounds by loosening the soil before manual shoveling, and a mini motor-tiller working only 5 cm of soil can be useful for crumbing compost or root remnants of the previous crop.
12 –The Tools:
To be effective by working entirely by hand, it is important to have suitable and effective tools! At Bec Hellouin we seek to develop effective tools and now have a range of simple and complementary tools to work quickly with minimum fatigue. They will be described in a practical handbook which is scheduled for publication in 2015 by Actes Sud.
13 –The Soils:
The fertility of the farm is obviously based on soil quality. The soil must be the object of all attention. Maintaining a good level of soil health determines all the activities on the farm. The soilshould gradually become as alive and natural as possible, suitably fed /fertilisedfor adjustment /adaption, worked with respect, the mechanical work being exceptional or banned. The culture of permanent mounds meets these objectives.
The care of the earth can be divided into two phases:
• The first phase is dedicated to soil creation. It is rarely immediately at optimum quality. For several years, the farmer will seek to increase the content of organic matter, correct the pH if necessary, improve the structure, fill any gaps in nutrients, boost life … Perhaps one the of the most essential ways is theapplication of well-rotted manure or compost whencreating the mounds, this gives a real leap forward. This process of soil creation is rendered possible by the cultivated space being restricted, and the well defined mounded or raised beds. The Parisian gardeners and vegetable growers of the nineteenth century made important contributions of rotted (straw +) manure, dedicated firstly to hot layers (nitrogen rich soil insulation) and also used to fertilize crops. They describe in their treaties the way they managed over the years to create an exceptional ground for their vegetable crops.
• Secondly, where the analysis and observations confirm that the soil is fertile, balanced and alive, we enter a maintenance phase – although fertility, well managed, should improve naturally from year to year . Fertilization is approached differently depending on the bed type.
• The farmer will pay particular attention to soil life: worms, effective microorganisms (EM), mycorrhizae … At Bec Hellouin we make different preparations of the bokashi or compost-teatype, to boost microbial life in the soil and to improve the resistance of the plant cultures.
Green manures are an effective way to improve the soil. However, their implementation, and especially their destruction and incorporation, are more difficult to perform on mounds of permanent crops than on areas cultivated with mechanization. Moreover, the small cultivated area and the high number of rotations leaves little room for green manure. We got round this difficulty by performing fertility transfers, drawing on different sources of biomass available locally (hedge and tree trimmings, reeds, grass clippings, leaves, ferns, development of biomass plants like comfrey and nettles, pond dredges /slime …). We favor their use as mulch rather than in the compost heap.
14 – Compost:
Composting is particularly neat. Significant amounts of compost are required when the number of rotations reaches 8 or 9 cultures per year, which is the case in our greenhouses. We had to therefore, ensure sufficient availability of materials to be composted, ideally produced on the farm.
Composting can be achieved in various ways. As mentioned in paragraph 13, we prefer composting in-situ (mulching) than the composting heap. Composting in place seems to us more interesting because it generates less loss of nutrients and performs several functions.
The smaller cultivated surfacearea, as we have seen, can help free up space to eventually link small breeds (meadow-orchards and fruiting hedges for a pasture of sheep, a draft animal, a (farm) yard…), a way to optimise the autonomy of the farm in compostable organic materials.
15 – The moundcultures
The culture of permanent mounds presentsvery numerous advantages that we can not detail in these lines. At Bec Hellouin, market gardening is practiced on three types of cultivated mounds:
o Rounded mounds, require only a little work once implemented. They are generally mulched and mulched by composting in place, and provided they are diversified and balanced, may constitute sufficient fertilization (to be finely adapted according to the requirements of crops). These rounded mounds are most often used for transplating seedlings started under cover.
o Raised beds, 80 cm wide, usually little or no mulching, which are most often used for planting in place, done with precision multi-row seeders (12 rows of vegetables per bed, possibly 24 in the case of combined crops, in particular carrots and radish). These beds require more interventions :passing over by forkdecompacting the surface, between each culture and application of compost.
o Rounded tarpaulin mounds using woven fabric (made from plastic, but whose use is justified by a long life span, ten to twenty years). These mounds require virtually no maintenance once installed and offer crops while freeing time for the gardener. They are well adapted to the culture of large perennials such as rhubarb, artichoke and berries. At Bec Hellouin, these mounds are situated between the fruit trees.
16 – Mulches:
Everyyear more, we see the effectiveness of mulches, a practice that seemsreally necessary. It is however not necessarily desirable to mulch in all seasons (in spring, the land warms faster without mulch and slugs are less present without this shelter). But from June ideally, all the mounds should be mulched until the following spring. A bare winter mound loses its fertility due to leaching of nutrients and sees itself invaded by weeds, requiring a lot of effort for re-cultivation in spring. A well-mulched mound in winter is almost ready to receive the plants, very early in the season if necessary.
The mulch fulfills several functions (fertilization, soil protection, reduction of weeds, improve water retention in the soil). Adiverse range of materials used,adds humus and a variety of nutrients.
Mulching the crops requires time (time offset by the gain in terms of weeding, watering …). Ideally, the garden should not be larger than the area that can be really well mulched. If we can not look after all the mounds, especially in the summer,it may be that the cultivated area is too substantial!
At Bec Hellouin, we also straw mulchthe aisles to limit weeding.The aisles fulfill several functions: room for access but also composting. We have noted a rapid creation of humus in the aisles that can periodically recharge mounds crops. Composting in the aisles of high-carbon materials (straw, RCW- ramial chipped wood…) and their incorporation a few months later into the mounds helps avoid the nitrogen starvation phenomenon.
Around the gardens, we multiply the sources of organic matter (comfrey …), so as to have materials for mulching,as locally as possible.
17 –Planting Associations:
Planting associations (2 to 4 vegetables grown simultaneously) is practiced whenever possible. These combinations are made possible by the work being done by hand.
Crop associations are exciting to explore, despite their complexity. The good economic results achieved at Bec Hellouin are based in part on this practice, common among gardeners before the rise of mechanization. Every year we find new combinations.
Care must be taken not to overmix the plants on the same mound, 4 seems to be the maximum, because too much complexity increases the harvest time and can make the system unmanageable in a professional perspective. The polyculture may berealised more easily at the garden scale, from bed to bed, without intercropping on the same mound.
It is advisable to keep a written record of the succession of crops for good management of rotations. This accounting can be performed easily on a wooden board (chestnut) planted in the mound, to keep memory of the previous crops.
One of the interests of crop association, is that with almost equal effort (soil preparation, fertilization, weed control, irrigation …), it benefits from yielding several crops instead of one.
18 – Densification of cultures:
The cultivation of permanent mounds allows densification of plant cultures. The spaces between the rows of plants grown, in a mechanized approach to agriculture, are dictated partly by the physiological needs of plants, but also by the need to move between the rows (foot-passage, wheel wells) and weeding (toolwidth…). By working by hand on the permanent mounds, we can densify cultures, sometimes considerably. We are thus removing small “deserts” of bare earth between rows – open doorsto leaching and weeds, and augment the harvests. The system wins efficiency and sustainability.
Just likethe crop associations, densification introduces additional complexity and requires experience and careful observation. What works one year may fail in the following due to unfavorable weather. But we consider that the densification of plant cultures is one of the major assets of micro-agriculture; a path which is really worth exploring.
19 – Rotations:
A good crop rotation is fundamental to the health of plants and soil. In our approach, however, we are deviating from the strict management that generally prevails in organic gardening. It seems to us that the notablyhigher number of crops that we realize each year (3 to 9 cultures, compared to an average of about 1.2 in classical organic market gardening), allows the consideration that the rotations are done on a one-year cycle, instead of 5, for example. We have no certainty on this point, which, like many others, has not been validated by scientific studies. But the good overall health of our gardens encourages us to continue on this path. The same plants frequently return therefore on our beds.
20 – Watering:
The high content of organic matterin the soil, mulching, and dense plant cultures retains water and limits evaporation. The watering needs therefore, are greatly reduced compared to a conventional approach.
For the provision of water on a permaculture farm,soft solutions are preferred such as the creation of ponds and rainwater harvesting (roofs of greenhouses, buildings …), rather than a drill and a pump. Every garden should ideally include one or more pools. On a slope, it is desirable to dig ponds as high as possible in order to then be able to make the water flow by gravity.
21 – Weeds:
Non-tillage, mulching and intensity of care significantly reduces weeding. When the soil is not turned between cultures it avoids raising-up buried seeds. When rotations are successive, the soil is frequently weeded and this task becomes lighter gradually as the stock of weed seeds runs out.
Proper weed management is worth taking seriously because overgrown mounds lose-out heavily in cropproductivity. Weeds can be pulled and left as mulch on mounds when in the juvenile stage (a source of nitrogen), but above all be careful not to let them go to seed.
22 –Covered Areas:
It can vary depending on the climate and the objectives of each farm. If the farm has to produce all year round, the covered surface area may be about 30-40% of the cultivated area. It should be noted that if the covered area appears relatively substantial compared to the cultivated area, it is in fact rather low compared to normal habits, per worker, in organic market gardening.
Double protection against the cold in winter is usually performed in order to extend the growing season.
At Bec Hellouin, the cultivated area under shelter (around 450 m2) is low compared to the number of workers. But the developed surface (cultivated area multiplied by the number of rotations) is relatively significant: 450 m2 X 5rotations on average = 2250 m2. The high number of rotations allows better profits, so thecostly investment and thecovered surface area requiredare diminuished.
23 – Seeds:
Ideally, at least a portion of the seed is produced on the farm. It makes sense, and the production itself seeds numerous interests. However, this task requires skills and time, mainly during the summer season during which growers are already overworked. Sometimes there is a gap between what we would like to achieve and the reality of everyday life … It seems desirable to be pragmatic and not to weaken the farm by setting unattainable goals. But one can, over time, garner greater coherence in progressing on all fronts. Seed production can be carried out starting with the easiest seeds (beans, tomatoes, squash …).
24 – Quality of life:
“The pleasure is also a harvest,” wrote Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture. Farm Bec Hellouin is the extension of a garden and not the reduction of a mechanized farm. At all times the gardens have been happy places!
The farms of to morrow probably fulfill several functions, in addition to their feeding function. They will be places of learning, environmental education
and health, to reconnect humans with nature, including their deepest nature, while creating social links and meaning. Every farm, every garden can help to reconcile mankind and biosphere.
In conclusion, the objective of the method of the Ferme du Bec Hellouin is to integrate many beneficial practices from various forms of agriculture that are deemed among the most productive, to create microfarms running as much as possible as natural ecosystems and producing an abundance of quality food. This method fits against the current major trends in the dominant modern agriculture, which advocates ever larger farms and more mechanization. The method of Ferme du Bec Hellouin is well suited to a small paysan and family farming, for quality products in the spirit of Slow Food, and farm processing and short marketing circuits. It is particularly well suited to urban micro-farming.
We are takers of feedback and advice ! We wish you beautiful achievements.
Charles and Perrine HERVE-GRUYER
The history of the farm of Bec Hellouin, the development of the method described in this document, the work that inspired it (North American and Japanese micro-agriculture, jardiniers- Parisian market gardeners of the XIX …) and the fundamental concepts that underlie it are presented in detail in our book “Permaculture – Healing the Earth, Feeding Mankind, ” Actes Sud, 2014.
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