The Maha Garden Design
First we look at all the needs of a general garden:
*Protection (Wind, high heat, bugs, animals, fungus, frost, etc.)
*6 hours of sun minimum (and plans for bringing light into areas. IE: suntraps, reflectors, bright structures, artificial lighting when appropriate, etc)
*Humus Rich, loamy, well drained “active” living soil (If you have complete access and creation to producing quality Soil, you have a high chance of success)
*Consistent water supply (water quality, aeration and mineral and life content are considered)
*Steady nutrient bank (Worm/compost teas / Dynamic accumulators / nitrogen fixers)
*Weed control – (Ground covers, education on edible weeds, natural weed mats/Bio Intensive)
*Plants (annual and perennial veggies, roots, shoots, fruits for the garden)
The intention for this Great (Maha) Garden is to combine strategies in design that allow for all of the needs to be met with little or no human input once installed. Materials should be recycled or sustainably harvested. And for an average suburban/urban family, it provides a fail-safe kitchen garden that only needs planting and harvesting year round! We recommend sourcing local materials that are inexpensive or free and could provide a consistent supply for further development of other gardens.
Currently we are designing with the following materials for the South Florida Maha Gardens:
-One reused 330 gallon tote with metal frame (prefer wood or earthen tub. or Air pot)
-Two 55 gallon drums (preferably wooden barrels)
-Bamboo for piping, catchment tray or drip irrigation lines
-Coco peat, worm castings, compost and other amendments.
These are the basic materials that I would use for an easy design of the Maha Garden. Further materials are needed for the added suggestions for higher efficiency. The design and set up of the Maha Garden are as follows:
Cut the Tote in half. The tote is usually 4 feet high. When you flip the cut off top of the tote upside down next to the bottom tote, you have two instant garden beds that are two feet deep with 12 square feet of planting space each. (totes are 3ftW by 4ftL)
Now you have two large container beds. This resolves many problems with planting in the ground; such as nutrient leaching, weeds, fungus, soil compaction, unfriendly microbes and pests. With this, we create a well-balanced environment for your plants to grow in. Starting with optimum soil quality, beneficial micro-organisms and nutrient compounds provides for a very successful growing season. The bottom half has a drain which we put some material to filter the soil nutrients and release water. Hydro cubes (rock wool) can be placed here with cloth or a mesh screening. The top half has no hole so we cut a place for draining and place filtering material around it as well.
This self-contained system also has the capability to keep moisture constantly within the roots layer. This will allow for the ability to maximize water usage while reducing water requirements (up to 90%). The idea is to calculate the amount of water required for the bed based on how much rain water one receives per year and have excess water needs stored into the rain-catchment tanks. The tote will not have bottom drainage; rather, it will have leveled drainage with a catchment to re-circulate the water back into the rain catchment system.
What comes to mind for many is; “what about root rot?” Well, imagine planting some plants next to the edge of a pond. When those roots begin to grow, they will take advantage of the constant moisture of the ponds edge while maintaining a distance from full saturation of the pond. This means plants do not grow into sitting water and rot themselves. Root rot occurs when water suddenly pools at the root level of a plant for long periods of time.
By keeping a 1 to 2 inch bottom level of water in the tote, plants will be encouraged to grow deep roots to find a consistent source of water, making the plants vivacious and healthy. Using soil and materials that wick up moisture (like coco peat) will allow plants to maintain good moisture levels. Consistent moisture levels are key to healthy crops and good yields. Most urban gardeners with their busy schedules miss out on this step and become unsuccessful. This method reduces hand watering needs greatly after plants have been established. Extra water drains out one side at the one to two-inch level mark. A linear whole is cut and there is a catchment underneath to put excess water back into the rain-catchment. Transpiration also draws liquids up and out through evaporation so you will need to be observe how long the water actually stays based on dry and hot periods of the year, type of plants being grown and microclimate factors.
Next is the soil that we mix into the bed. 20-30% (100-150lbs) of the soil is worm castings. By far, the greatest material one can add to their soil. Then we mix high quality compost with cocopeat making up 40-50% of the soil’s wicking and nutrient capacity (5 bales of cocopeat and 4 1.5cuf bags of compost). The remaining 20% is optional and can be a bottom layer of paramagnetic rock (for higher efficiency beds only) and the overall soil is mixed together with leca stones, green sand, ancient forest humus and effective microorganisms. The worm castings, compost, greensand, Leca stones (clay balls), ancient forest humus and cocopeat are carefully mixed evenly without compaction into the maha garden container. There is a layer of cocopeat which covers about 3 – 4 inches acts as a mulch at the top so seeds are encouraged to grow deep, search for nutrients and be vivacious (about 2 cocopeat bales total).
This mix will fill ½ tote. This mix was carefully chosen for a number of factors. We wanted a medium that was alive, nutrient dense, aerated with high mineral content, holds moisture yet drains well with particle sizes that give of magnetic exchanges between plants and microorganisms. The cocopeat was chosen for its moisture wicking capacity and quality as a good base for the soil. Worm castings was chosen for its high nutrient profile. Compost for the same reason. The ancient forest humus and EM was chosen for its huge bio-diverse microorganism profile and populations. The green sand, leca stones are not necessary yet also provide lots of benefits for soil microorganisms and plant life. With Soil like this, plants will definitely thrive!
Total for one (12 square foot half tote) super high quality, nutrient dense garden bed is $590 installed.
In a higher efficiency bed, the containers soil would be covered with a reflective Aluminet shade cloth . This sheet maintains soil moisture and protects the soil from the elements while providing maximized sun exposure and insect/ fungal reduction. Plants can now be planted bio intensively to maximize production. This reduce rain splashing and compacting the soil. Plants stay free of dirt and no need to plant companions for nematodes giving more room for food crops. Other recyclable and natural ground cover materials work too (ie: mulch, straw, cardboard) [add $40 for Aluminet shade cloth] In addition, (as mentioned above)to have a soil that never compacts, we choose Higromite and Leca stones to put throughout the soil for paramagnetic energy, aeration, moisture retention and a bottom layer to soil does not sit in the water and become anaerobic. [add $80]
A Higher efficiency Maha Garden could also have moisture sensors connected to an aerated (flow form) channel that automatically irrigates sub surface soil for proper moisture requirements; bringing in maximum oxygen and ‘life’ water to the soil! Once sufficient moisture levels are reached, excess water from the spill-way can be automatically pumped back into the catchment system. (add $500 for this feature)
With amazing soil, ample sun exposure and aerated ion rich water supply; plant nutrient uptake can now be maximized for healthy and productive fruits and veggies! Provided that healthy soil bacteria has been inoculated throughout the Maha garden beds, the need to maintain a sufficient nutrient bank will be necessary for continuous productivity year after year. We successfully accomplish this by making the garden bed also a worm bed. By placing worms in the garden bed they will keep the soil aerated and rich while maintaining good microbial activity. And since the beds are consistently moist the worms will be happy. Leave an area in the garden bed to turn your compost into the soil and composting becomes a breeze (essential for the urban gardener). Compost and cocopeat are the perfect medium for the worms! (add $20 for 3/4 pound of worms)
A Higher efficiency Maha Garden would have a separate Worm box attached to the garden bed. The aerated channel would irrigate the worms which in turn provides worm tea directly to the garden beds. This way there is always a consistent nutrient bank, worm castings can be harvested and fresh food scraps harmful to the garden bed can be used. If the family is using an insinkerator (a device under their kitchen sink that liquefies the food) they can quite easily feed the worms with easy to assimilate material for fast composting. This makes life very easy for the urban dweller. Worm box can be divided up so only completed worm castings are irrigated to feed plants. (insinkerator: $189, Worm box w/ 1lbs of worms: $150)
Additional techniques that make the Maha Garden the prime garden bed for the suburban/urban dweller:
Aluminent Shade cloth can be used to make a mini shade house above the maha garden. At the right height it protects the plants from hard rains and the high heat summer sun while allowing in direct winter sunlight. (add $80)
Custom greenhouses can be mounted on top of the Maha Garden for extended growing periods and maximize protection in colder climates. (add $150)
Trellises can be easily mounted to the metal frame of the totes for climbing plants or to provide a netting to keep animals (cats, rats, dogs) out and to extend the gardens growing space vertically. (add $40)
Additional planter boxes can be mounted to the side for beneficial plant species and more growing space. (EarthBox kit: add $60)
The totes can be painted or framed/draped with other materials for a more custom and stylish look. (wood look, metal look, bamboo, cloth, etc)
Hedges acting as windbreaks can be planted around the totes for protection
Mount wheels on your Maha garden and it can be moved to various locations for various benefits like cooler or warmer areas, to maximize solar gain during periods of the day or season; to put it in the driveway and move it when needed. (add $120 for each bed)
Rain tank can be converted into a compost tea maker providing for highly productive, healthy plants! (water vortex maker or air pumps can be added for $180)
Maha Gardens as a Business
Maha Gardens for professional gardeners can be a dream come true! With this system, the professional gardener can offer their customers planting and harvesting without having to do so much. One incentive that I thought was a great idea is the surplus can go to local farmers markets for sale and the gardener can split the revenue with the customer. The customer gets their food grown, harvested and has a chance to earn his money back by selling the surplus! WOW!
I hope this article got your wheels turning and you could possibly provide some feedback to continue to enhance and improve the Maha Garden design to let all people in the cities be amazing gardeners with ease!
What to plant / How many and why
Bio intensive, Biodynamic, companion planting, square foot garden design is key to this Maha garden being the ultimate in production. Planting in succession with plants that work together with one another will allow for a bountiful harvest while keeping plants healthy, tasty and beautiful! Below are some suggestions for planting the Maha Garden. (for a list of companion plants to go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants. )
The Cabbage Patch – mint, nasturtiums as a border, oregano, radish, rosemary, thyme, yarrow, dill, cilantro, clover, chives, chamomile, celery or any sprout mix will go well with the Cabbage Patch. I would plant 5 to 8 Cabbages (in per square foot) and fill in the rest with the other plants listed here.
The Three Sisters Guild (cucubris, legume and corn) – A nasturtium bordering the outside, oregano, marigolds, purslane, radish, tansy, lemon balm, Dill, Amaranth, Lambs quarters, chamomile, asparagus are all in between. You can plant Sunflower if the corn does not do well and the Cucubris family of plants (squash, cucumbers, melons) can be trellised to maximize space. The Bean grow up the established corn or sunflower or can be trellised as well.
The Strawberry Patch – For those of you who love Strawberries plant a bunch and surround them with onions, radish, spinach, thyme, beans, borage, lettuce, chards and caraway.
Grow Tomatoes Grow! – Enhance tomatoes growing, protection and taste with parsley, peppers, basil, onions, okra, rosemary, celery, chives, lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtiums, bee balm, broccoli and borage.
We can plant out all that you wish and have your garden growing great! I hope you found this article informative and inspiring!
Thank you for your interest in an ecological design for a permanent future of food and vitality.6928