•  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Hoophouse, holdiay lights and Mustard flower, Labyrinth Garden, 2013
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Microswales and irrigation at Caspian Garden, 2013
  •  Microswales and irrigation at Caspian Garden, 2013
  •  Microswales and irrigation at Caspian Garden, 2013
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Frosty mustards at Labyrinth Garden, 2013
  •  Drainage system test at Fred Garden, 2013
  •  Drainage system test at Fred Garden, 2013
  •  Frosty mustards at Labyrinth Garden, 2013
  •  The original project garden, Risky Farm, 2010
  •  The original project garden, Risky Farm, 2010
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012
  •  Irrigation trench system at Labyrinth Garden, 2012

Methods and Techniques

Agriculture: Latin, agr (field) cultura (growing, cultivation)
Farm: Latin Firma or Fimare (fixed payment or, to rent)

Hence, the very definition of farm refers to someone who does not own their land. Under such conditions, they can be forced to sell their produce, when otherwise they might freely share it. This has to change.

Land cultivation and profit are not incongruous, however, the current methods of maximizing profit have the opposite effect with regard to the maintenance of soil biota and ecology.
In order to keep up with constantly increasing costs, and mandatory technology upgrades, "farmers," in this sense, have to constantly race ahead at full speed, just to stay where they are.

This prevents them from seeing the many different techniques, and opportunities to employ natural technology, i.e. systems that have been evolved and perfected over millions of years.
In our system designs, we borrow from the great ideas of mother nature, and many great horticulturists and engineers, including but not limited to, Sepp Holzer; Masonobu Fukuoka; Bill Mollison; Paul Stamets; William McDonough; Janine Beniyas; Steve Solomon...

In order to maximize our efficiency and productivity, we must have the greatest possible diversity of organisms AND techniques.

The approach has to be very specifically tailored to a given location. Some aspects can be assessed in advance, but variations in terrain, soil quality, sunlight, rainfall, wind direction and such can dramatically change the requirements of the layout.

For most plots, we use raised beds that are made of formed earth, with no mechanical support structure. In sandy clay loam, as you'll find in most of Portland's back yards, you can build as high as two or three feet and the earth will hold. This is accomplished by first turning the earth to a depth of 1' to 1 1/2', and removing grass or other weeds. Once the soil is turned, trenches are dug perpendicular to the slope of the land, and that earth is placed on top of the beds. The trenches are interlaced and form both an irrigation network and pathways allowing access to the beds.

In toxic conditions, these trenches can be filled with burlap sacks that have been inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium, and they will break down or absorb most toxic compounds, giving the plants access to clean water and leaving the water expelled from the system healthy as well.

As plants establish themselves, their root structures add a good deal of stability. Generally we use clover as a cover crop along the sides of these mounds, but occasionally we're lucky enough to have something beneficial growing there already. These crops have to be somewhat flood tolerant, since the trenches are regularly full of water, especially in the winter season.

Between the trenches and the raised beds, a sort of miniature swale is formed, increasing the amount of rainwater that permeates the soil quite dramatically. Irrigation is more efficient along these trenches as well, since much less water is lost to evaporation.

As the beds are constructed, they are usually heavily amended. Large amounts of good compost, manure, and worm castings are preferred. In a pinch we use coir pith or peat moss to bolster the soil's organic content, and a blend of dry fertilizers: feather or fish bone meal, kelp or alfalfa meal, azomite, and dolomite lime for most plots in this area.

We also usually plant a few areas on a new plot with no fertilizers, or excerpting certain amendments, since the plants themselves are the best barometers for their own performance.

At no point do we use any petrochemical compounds, or any inorganic chemicals. Pesticide may be applied in the form of diatomaceous earth, baked eggshells, or nicotine tea (made from our own tobacco crop!) Most of the time, vigilance of plant needs is sufficient to negate the use of any pesticide, but when they are used, they are always biodegradable and only persist in the environment as useful nutrient.

This design is usually integrated with the downspouts of a house or nearby structure, so that runoff from the roof is immediately channeled into the irrigation trench. This prevents erosion of the many water soluble nutrients in the bed structure, and ensures that the plants receive plenty of water even from a light rain.

Coupled with rainwater catchments, this gravity fed system can also be used to apply aqueous amendments to a fairly large area, continuously throughout the year, without any need for costly equipment or advanced technology.

Polyculture crops can outproduce monoculture crops at a rate of approximately 66%. Not only are such methods more resistant to disease, they produce much healthier and better balanced plants...

The Sigma Project is a 501(c)(3) Portland nonprofit corporation founded to grow sustainable local produce for the disadvantaged community while creating independence through teaching the process...

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