What is Biointensive Gardening?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Biointensive gardening is an approach to gardening where people aim to get high yields from small areas while also using practices designed to enrich and improve the soil to keep the garden sustainable. This technique integrates concepts from a number of different schools of thought about gardening, ranging from practices used in ancient cultures to modern techniques like French intensive gardening. One advantage to biointensive gardening is that it can be practiced in spaces of any size, allowing people with even limited gardening space to improve yields.

Biointensive gardening focuses on enriching and improving the garden soil.
Biointensive gardening focuses on enriching and improving the garden soil.

Several different components are involved in biointensive gardening and people are encouraged to use the system as a whole, rather than picking and choosing elements to use, as it is designed to work as a complete system. Raised beds filled with soil prepared with double digging to aerate and enrich it are used and the soil is further enriched with compost and compost tea. Plants are grown close together to increase yields and companion planting is also heavily utilized. This includes crop rotation, where crops are planted sequentially in an order designed to enrich the soil, like planting nitrogen-fixers after nitrogen-depleting plants, and simultaneous companion planting. Plants like marigolds may be companion planted with vegetables to keep insects away, for instance.

Biointensive gardening may rake thatch for compost, later returning it to the garden.
Biointensive gardening may rake thatch for compost, later returning it to the garden.

In biointensive gardening, a closed system is created. Waste products for the garden are reintroduced in the form of compost and the garden sustains itself, rather than requiring supplementary fertilizer and other products. Rotating and companion planting wisely keeps the soil healthy to limit soil exhaustion caused by intensive farming practices, while techniques like double digging are used to keep the soil in good condition so it can continue to produce high yields.

Water usage is typically reduced with biointensive gardening and people may use techniques to improve water efficiency, including using plants suitable for the climate, recycling gray water, and taking other steps to limit waste of water. Techniques like using shade plants to conserve water by keeping the soil cool, watering in early morning or evening to limit water loss through evaporation, and so forth can all contribute to increased water efficiency.

The highly intensive nature of this approach requires a lot of manual labor on the part of the gardener. Mechanized farming equipment is ill-suited to things like tightly packed raised beds. Thus, biointensive gardening tends to be recommended for home gardens and small farms, where it is logistically possible to use manual labor to maintain and manage the garden. The increased yields result in higher efficiency and more potential profit for small farmers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - That is an idea solution in an ideal world, although not everyone is going to be able to have that kind of relationship with their neighbors. Personally, I think there's no real excuse to not grow a biointensive vegetable garden yourself. It can be as small as a couple of feet square and you will still get astonishing amounts of food from it if you use the soil correctly.

In fact I believe there is a movement called "square foot gardening" which relies on these kinds of methods for growing vegetables in small spaces. Everyone can spare an hour of time if they cut back TV and Facebook. And I think that being able to grow your own vegetables is worth it.


@croydon - I agree that it's definitely worth giving biointensive gardening a go if you have the time for it. If you don't, do as much as you do have time for. Putting a bunch of strawberries into some planters only takes a few hours at the most and you'll be rewarded for it for months.

I also think that if you can set up a system with your neighbors that's the idea way of living. Maybe you don't have the time or energy to garden biointensively and don't have the space to do it any other way. But one of your neighbors might have a backyard vegetable garden that's producing more than they need. You could trade babysitting or perhaps they need help with something else that you can provide.

Meeting your neighbors and growing bonds is always a good idea. If you get some vegetables out of it, even better. And if you're the neighbor with the vegetables to give, then you should be out there advertising the fact.


You'd be amazed at how much food can be grown in a small space. I've heard of entire families being fed on an acre, with leftovers to spare, and I've also heard of people living in urban areas, even in apartments, who have managed to grow all their own vegetables.

And vegetables are going to become more and more expensive, particularly since they are so dependent on shipping rates and fertilizer costs and on weather.

I think it makes sense to grow as much of your own stuff as possible in more than one way. You control your own supply, you control how it's grown and your kids get the experience of planting vegetable gardens and making their own food. It's the best way of doing things, no matter how you cut it.

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