3 keys to success

3 Keys to Successful Gardening – More Proof They Work

If the people of the world are to have food in the years to come, a great change will have to take place in the way farming is done.

Any of us who have been paying attention realize that big chemical companies are responsible for the currently dominant farming methods.

In spite of all the promotion saying that chemicals and poisons are necessary and that they work, if folks really want to find out the truth, there’s plenty of information out there showing they don’t work and they’re not necessary.

The good news is there’s also plenty of information showing what does work. Successfully growing our own food can be achieved by each of us with little resources, a few hand tools, and a willingness to work with nature.

We’re Never Left Without a Light

Many men over the past 100 years have been lights in the darkness to show that working with nature is the way to successful gardening. Currently, John Jeavons, is one of those lights. (He is Executive Director of the globally active non-profit Ecology Action in Willits, California.) Over a 43 year period Mr. Jeavons has (through the Ecology Action program) “rediscovered the scientific principles that underlie millennia-old traditional farming systems” that work.

The method resulting from this research is called Grow Biointensive®. (I am assuming that they came up with that name as a good “handle” with which to market the program.)

The Grow Biointensive® website states that research guided researchers to 8 essential aspects that are the foundation of the method.

I found it most interesting that the first three aspects, although worded slightly different, are the same as my 3 keys to successful gardening. These 3 keys are the beginning and the foundation upon which the success of the others depend.

My 3 Keys to Succesful Gardening

  • Soil Preparation (Grow Biointensive®’s first aspect is double-dug, raised beds. Which of course, is exactly what is taught in my book and on TMG)
  •  Adding Organic Material (Second aspect of Grow Biointensive® is composting which is the most common way, but not the only way,  to add organic matter to the soil.)
  •  Mulching – covering the soil (They term it shading the soil and accomplish it by intensive planting.)

I discovered these 3 keys while gardening. Never had any statistics on them, but the results were wonderful. That’s how I knew they worked.

The Statistics

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a video with Mr. Jeavons that gives documented data (statistics) about the results of these methods that are so amazing they’d get the attention of just about anyone who gardens.

He said that working with nature will allow you to garden with

  • much less water (67% to 88% less water),
  • 50% to 100% less fertilizer, and
  • 99% less energy than commercial agriculture.

Naturally, success will vary for each of us. You won’t always achieve the ultimate, because much will depend on your soil at the time, the climate and the crop. Nonetheless, as you continue to work with nature your yields will be 2 to 6 times more.

And, you can produce all this on half the land it usually takes. (Mr. Jeavons talked of producing one person’s diet for the year on 2500 sq. feet or as little as 800 sq.ft.)

TMG readers know it’s true and write to me with comments like these:

  • “I directly credit the MAJOR increase in productivity in my garden to you (the 3 keys) —-(it) is amazing compared to how my garden used to operate.”
  • “Last year we harvested twice as much produce in half the space.”

No Organic Matter = No Crops

Much of the world’s soil have no organic matter. Thus, they can’t hold water or minerals. Rain runs off and crops can’t get enough water or nutrients to grow.

We Can Change That

Deeply preparing the soil, adding organic matter, and covering the soil (the 3 Keys) changes all this and makes it possible to be successful.

You’ll be Surprised at How Little Water can Produce the “best yields in the world”!

Mr. Jeavons goes on to say that to have “the best yields in the world” one needs only 20 inches of rain per year and the goal of holding one-half in the soil for crops to use.

How Do We Hold the Necessary Water in Our Soil?

We can hold that water by deep soil preparation, adding organic matter, and covering the soil.

  • For example: if you double dig your beds (you need only do this one time) to 24 inches, the soil has the capacity to hold 25% (or 1/4) of the soil’s volume in water. In other words, 6 inches of water can be held in the 24 inches of prepared soil.
  • Organic Matter in the soil makes a big difference as well. Even having only 2% organic matter will reduce the water needs of plants by 75%!

For example: if the soil has 1/2% organic matter a plant may use 200 gallons of water. At 1% organic matter it would need 150 gallons of water. But at 2% organic matter the plant would need about 50 gallons, which is 75% less than the 200 gallons.

(In tropical areas, it’s harder to get higher percentages of organic matter held in the soil because of the heat. In temperate zones, 4 to 6% or more is very possible.)

Shaded soil reduces evaporation of water by 13 to 63%.

Mr. Jeavons further noted that if you have balanced nutrients in your soil, the plant will give off (transpire) 10 to 75% less water.

All considered, we can easily reduce the water needed to grow a pound of food to about 3% ( or 1/32) of what is normally required.

In Mr. Jeavons’ research gardens they generally use 1/8 the amount of water usually required to produce vegetables and about 1/3 the water per pound of grain produced. They have obtained the goal of using 3% of the water that is normally required in one of the gardens that he mentioned.

Final Thoughts

We don’t really need these statistics to be successful.  All you really need is the 3 Keys.

Nonetheless, I thought the data was pretty impressive and wanted to share it with you.

If you’d like to watch the video with Mr. Jeavons, go to this page and scroll to the bottom and under Bonus Features click on the rectangle labeled “Low Natural Rainfall…”


Your Guide to Success in Gardening  (to order)


All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.


  • Great info Theresa. I have one of Mr. Jeavons books, but, haven’t re read it for a while. I definitely have experienced the wonderful changes in my garden since learning these three clear cut principles to gardening. Thank you Theresa for making it so understandable and doable!
    On a side note – would it be ok (or harmful) to put some of my unused home canned fruit burried in the garden? I ask because of the low but present sugar in the canned goods.
    Take care,

  • Thanks for your comment Toni. Glad you are experiencing the great changes that take place when working with nature.
    Ok to bury your home canned fruit in the garden. I wouldn’t hesitate a bit.

  • He’s great, but I like how YOU boil it down so simply, Theresa. The three keys are more than enough to give success for anyone.

  • Theresa,
    Thanks for the information. I truly enjoy reading your blog. I sometimes feel trapped because I am so committed to the wood chips I distributed, almost 4 full tree truck loads. The oldest date going back to 4 years in October and the rest afterward, and some as recent as 1 year ago. The preparation you recommend was not done, and I covered the ground with about 3 times the recommended rate Paul suggested in back to Eden garden.
    Thus it is taking a bit longer for the chips to decompose. A couple bright spots in this while I am waiting for the garden to see it’s full production capability. I see all types of birds multiple times a day looking for worms and other things for food and nesting. This makes me joyous because I know they are not being harmed by what is provided. Two the worms are just down right plentiful and the peas are a good indicator my time for waiting is short they look very good. About 14 inches tall and lush green. Also the tomatoes I started from seed are very healthy and most are nearly two feet tall. Even though I cannot disturb the wood chips for that deep soil prep. I have learned volumes of info. here on your blog.
    Keep up the good work you have sustained for all these years.
    Praying for you and Bill.

  • Sandra, I too like simplicity. But still, it was fun to get the statistics after all these years. And, as you said, the 3 keys are more than enough to give success to anyone.

    As I have said numerous times on TMG Steve, if you have the time to wait for nature to prepare your soil, then mulch (in your case wood chips) is the way to go.
    Thank you for your prayers. Bill and I appreciate them very much.


  • Yes, Mark. And I’ve addressed it indirectly on the vast majority of 500 posts.

    Basically, a diversity of cover crops and organic biomass can add all the nutrients you’ll need.
    I have mixed feelings about the rock dust, but if I were going to add anything – that would be what I would add.

    You may want to read these two posts to get a feel for how I approach nutrients:


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