The garden is approximately 2.5 ha; Viskyar began actively working the land almost 16 years ago; 3 people maintain the garden; it mainly produces and sells seedlings for a variety of crops (mostly vegetables), but part of the harvest – tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables; watermelons and other fruit – is sold.
All natural living organisms need to ‘eat and drink’. This is my basic understanding of how plants grow. I try to create a balanced environment in the garden by allowing a variety of species to develop and by letting weeds grow so that they provide the necessary nutrients for the soil and for nearby crops. Other external inputs, such as synthetic pesticides, interfere with ecosystem balance: as soon as you eliminate one pest, another one develops, and so on.
The agro-ecological practice
- Viskyar prefers not to till the land – he finds it very damaging to the soil and subsequently to the plants. So he hasn’t done this for more than 14 years. He prefers using techniques that are less demanding of the soil. Here are three examples of intercropping that allow crops to grow without the need for external inputs such as synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
- ‘Three sisters’ technology for planting corn, zucchini (or other types of squash) and beans. It is possible to plant ‘two sisters’- only beans and corn. The beans give the soil nitrogen and support the maize and squash. This type of planting is called intercropping. Each species helps the other to fight off pests, preserve water (by shading the soil) and fertilise the soil. This is a traditional native American growing method, but also applicable to growing corn in climates such as Eastern Europe.
- Another example of intercropping is to combine different types of cabbage and beetroot. This is a very useful combination to prevent infestations of psyllids or aphids. If you plant Chinese cabbage, which is more attractive to the pests, it keeps the rest of the cabbage and the beetroot protected.
- Potatoes and cabbage – alternating rows with cabbage and potatoes; the cabbage protects the potatoes from Colorado beetle, while the potatoes protect the cabbage from Fall webworm, which does not like the potato plant smell.
Technical information on this agro-ecological practice
The corn is planted first, followed by the beans and the zucchini. The stem of the corn needs to grow approx. 10 cm before planting the other crops. The corn plays the role of supporting crop for the beans. The beans provide nitrogen for the corn and the zucchini’s purpose is to protect the others from weeds and keep the ground moist. The mix of plants makes pests less likely to infest.
The crops can be planted in a staggered arrangement or in alternating rows (corn-beans-zucchini and so on). At first, it may be necessary to dig round the crops before they grow sufficiently large and before the zucchini cover the soil. After harvest, the crops (the beans particularly) can be left in the ground to serve as green fertilizer.
Economical information on this practice
- This technique helps improve soil fertility because of the nitrogen-fixing qualities of the beans; the combination also adds to biodiversity in the garden and on the plate;
- There are some disadvantages to this technique – it’s difficult to reach the full yield potential of all three crops. It is also advisable to use a bean variety that does not wrap too tightly around the corn. Example of yields for 50 sq. m of land depending on the year and weather conditions: corn – approx. 20 kg, beans – 8 kg.
- Costs depend on the type of seeds selected for sowing.
In the farmer’s opinion, most problems in the field related to pest infestations and yields can be solved by maintaining an equilibrium between the different elements of the ecosystem. The farmer’s role is to experiment in growing different crops and observe how they interact with each other. And then improve and replicate the results from these observations the following year. It is important to keep learning and improving so as to produce both nutritional and ecological food for everyone.