Succeed in a market garden

A few years old, and due to the popularity of our company in different agricultural media, many stakeholders in the field come to visit our gardens and meet us. For these people, accustomed to conventional agricultural dogma, a small farm cannot survive in a context economy of scale. Les Jardins de la Grelinette is in their eyes a curiosity. Despite their open-mindedness, it is always difficult to make them understand that we have no major investment projects in the program and that our business orientations are aimed at staying small and continuing to work with hand tools. These meetings are cordial, but often unconvincing. A banking worker even left saying, well persuaded, that "we were not really in business and our farm was not one"!


It may not be so easy to grasp the logic of our choices if we do not know the obstacles that stand in the way of farmers installing. Use small less expensive plots to purchase and restrict investment needs necessary for start-up were for us a question of financial capacity. When we were in our early twenties, our financial resources were limited and we were determined to reduce our debt to a minimum. In the short and medium-term, and even today, our decision to start a farm with little capital input while producing large quantities of vegetables for direct selling has proven to be a profitable strategy. Our market garden is proof that it is possible to reap good profits without making big expenses.

Regardless of the size of the farm, it is important first and foremost, to choose the right method of agricultural production and measuring its implications. In a start-up context, it appears to me obvious that starting "small" has its share advantages, but there are several other good reasons to maintain production on a small surface. So here are some factors which, in my opinion, are at the heart of our farm's success.

The "bio-intensive" method

The term “bio-intensive” commonly refers to a horticultural method that seeks to maximize the yield of a cultivated area with the concern to maintain, or even improve, the quality of soils. Taking root in the experience of market gardeners nineteenth-century French and in biodynamics created by Rudolph Steiner, it was developed in Northern Cali from the 1960s. Today there is a whole literature and different schools of thought attached to it. Although more associated with vegetable or food crops, some techniques of this approach can be transposed on a commercial scale. That's what we did by developing the cropping system of our gardens.

Our cultivable space is not arranged in traditional rows, specific to cultivation. mechanized, but rather in raised beds which we call "boards". These boards are permanent and were enriched at the start of a large amount of organic matter to obtain quickly a rich and lively soil. We built our soil this way. Since then, they have been furnished without turning over to using a broadfork and continuously amended of compost. Different tools and techniques allow you to work only the surface of the soil to keep its structure as intact as possible.

This way of cultivating aims to promote loose and fertile soil allowing the roots of vegetables to extend in depth rather than in the periphery. In doing so, it becomes possible to plan very tight crop spacing without that they interfere at the root level.

The objective then becomes to establish the cultures so that the tips of their leaves are touches when the plant is three-quarters of its way growth. When ripe, the foliage then completely covers the growth zone, allowing retain more soil moisture while preventing weeds from establishing themselves, thus creating a real living “mulch”. In addition to increasing considerably productivity per square meter, this strategy has two important advantages: it considerably reduces the workload dedicated to weeding and increases the efficiency of many daily gardening tasks. I will explain these benefits in detail throughout the manual.

Our gardens have a good structure of the soil and are rich in microorganisms and nutrients. This is why we can intensify the spacing of crops. To arrive at these measures took few years of trial and error, but we have succeeded. We also searched to further push the limits of our space using the maximum number of estates; in other words, we have determined for each of our crops the time it will spend in the field and planned to sow to replace it with another as soon as a plank is harvested. By fixing this variable using a production schedule, we succeed in obtaining several successive harvests each year in the same space.

All in all, most of these ideas are not so different from what organic farming is aiming for. In both cases, the goal is to create a rich, loosened, and fertile soil, but avoiding tillage and the addition of large doses of organic matter to achieve this is less common. Here again, these are not new ideas and we do not claim to have invented them. Yes, we have merit, it is to have found the good settings that make our gardens a highly productive system in a northern climate such as that of Quebec while promoting an approach development of the soil.