Market Gardener: The Book

Reading the Market Gardener

A couple seasons ago, some real great farmers, Dan and Emily from Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm in Quebec were visiting and we were talking about ideas for conference speakers for the ACORN conference. Dan mentioned a farmer friend, Jean-Martin who was writing a book sharing secrets from the success on the farm he runs with his partner Maude-Helene (called Les Jardins de la Grelinette), whom I had never heard of. ACORN brought Jean-Martin in to speak at the 2012 conference and he definitely wowed the crowd (you can find notes from his presentations here).

And he wowed me too. I strongly believe that new farmers, young farmers, struggling farmers, unfulfilled farmers, etc. need to see examples of farms and farmers that are successful (however they have defined that success) and profitable. We need to see that our chosen career can fulfill the dreams and goals and (at least) many of our ideals.

So, it was great to see a small farm (both in terms of physical acreage and in terms of labour force) provide a very respectable livelihood for a family while retaining its core values of environmental and personal stewardship (I’m not sure that “personal stewardship” is a commonly used phrase but I think it makes sense).

Jean-Martin’s book, Le Jardinier Maraicher, came out last year. And folks were thrilled. Well, at least folks who can read French. And while I don’t want any of my French immersion teachers over the years to be offended, I did not learn that the word “grelinette” was French for “broadfork” during my school years, nor the French words for many other farming tools or activities. I was tempted to buy the book anyway and muddle through it with a dictionary but then I heard that FarmStart was trying to raise funds to have the book translated.

Well, the funds were raised and the book was translated. And it’s just come out (translated to The Market Gardener). I couldn’t wait to get my hands on in and, when I did, I couldn’t put it down. I read it within a couple days.

It’s not a hard book to read. Reading it, I felt inspired with actions I can actually do this coming season to improve our farm. One of those actions will be to try solarising some of our beds before planting with black silage plastic or tarps. This will prevent weeds from growing and allow earthworms and other soil organisms to come right up and digest the plant matter while minimizing tillage.

The Market Gardener goes through and nicely describes small-scale appropriate management techniques and tools for all the different jobs a market gardener gets up to over the year (like choosing a site and preparing it, soil fertility management, harvest and storage, and crop planning).

The goals Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene came into farming with are goals that Bryan and I share as well as many of the young farmers we know. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve really resonated with this book. I know it will become a well-used book in our home and one that we will frequently recommend.

To read the first chapter of the book as well as the foreword and advance praise, here’s the link: First Chapter of The Market Gardener

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7 Responses to Market Gardener: The Book

  1. diana doll says:

    Thank you for commenting on Fortier’s book; I’m excited to get a copy & enjoy some inspirational & informative winter reading.

  2. Jocelyn says:

    I’m so excited to read this book! And I was excited to see you comment on solarizing beds in this review. We did that last year and it worked SO well. It was such an easy (read lazy) way to get the soil prepped for planting and the results were fantastic.

  3. EtienneG says:

    Hello Broadfork,

    Glad you like the book. Jean-Martin and La Grelinette are becoming somewhat of a sensation here in Québec, and their book is available in many local libraries. I believe they have already sold something like 10,000 copies, which is completely unheard of for a book on farming. I think this demonstrate the deep interest people have for reconnecting with the land, and the enthusiasm about alternative farming. It’s very positive.

    Regarding solarisation, you’ve got the nomenclature backward. Using an opaque tarp to smother weeds is actually called “occultation”. Solarisation is when you use a *clear* plastic to warm the soil to very high temperature.

    On the topic, I was attending a conference from Joseph Templier, another very inspiring grower (this one from France), who was discussing the combined use of solarisation and occultation as soil preparation techniques. Basically, following an early crop (lettuce, radish, whatever), they prepare the bed as if they where going to seed, water thoroughly, and then cover with clear plastic mulch to solarise for 4 to 6 weeks in mid-season, during the warmest weeks of July and August. The soil apparently get very hot, close to 80C, which stimulate weed germination to a depth of three inches. Once they have a solid bed of weed under the plastic, they cover the bed with an opaque tarp, leaving the clear mulch in place. The bed is occulted for a few months, which smothers the weeds that previously germinated under the clear plastic. The next spring, they remove the opaque mulch, leaving the clear mulch in place for a few days to warm the soil. They then remove the clear mulch, and plant an early crop on the bed. According to Templier, the bed remains completely weed-free for up to two months afterward.

    I have never tried this technique myself, but it sounds plausible. It does use a lot of plastic, though. But the idea of getting a completely weed-free early crops is very enticing, to say the least! :)

    Have fun,

    Etienne in Gaspésie

    • Cynthia Hurley says:

      Do you know if the solarization/occultation process you described will work on perennial weeds and grasses such as quack grass?

      • broadforkfarm says:

        Hi Cynthia,

        Although we have yet to try it, if you left the black tarp/plastic on the area for long enough (a year or more depending on root reserves?) you might find that this method can eradicate some perennial grasses such as quack grass. You would need to make sure that the tarp is heavy enough so that the quack grass wouldn’t pierce through and keep on growing. Quack grass is definitely a nasty one. We try and control quack grass on our farm mainly through cover cropping and cultivation.
        Cheers,
        Bryan

  4. Nadia says:

    I have a question about the tarp used for solarization/occultation. In the french version of Jean-Martin’s book, he mentions that he drills holes in the roll of plastic before putting it on the ground to keep the water from pooling. I just got a roll and just wanted to be sure before i go ahead as the tarp is expensive.
    Is the extra water to the ground a good thing for that process? Or would it be better to leave it so it stays dry?
    I’m tempted to go ahead as I believe the extra moisture would help germinate a lot more weed seeds before killing them. I would like some opinions on this.

    • broadforkfarm says:

      Hi Nadia,
      Depending on where I was putting the tarp down, either on flat ground or a slight slope would potentially change my decision as to put holes in it or not (a slope would be less likely to accumulate pools of water and be a breeding ground for mosquitoes). Another thing to consider is soil biology. If soil gets too dry, a lot of the beneficial soil organism die of, meaning not as much activity to break down and digest the sod or vegetation that you are trying to get rid of. If you put the tarp down before the soil dries out, it will likely retain a fair bit of moisture for quite some time.

      There are some fabrics that let air and moisture through, but block out enough sun to inhibit growth underneath. There are some perennial weeds like quack grass (aka couch or twitch) that might be able to send their spear like shoots right through it and keep on going. This doesn’t really give you a straight answer at to put holes in the tarp or not, but hopefully gives you a few things to consider when making the decision.

      Cheers,
      Bryan

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