Change is in the air. The shift to fall, the shift in crops all has me in a reflective mood. I’m observing and contemplating things that worked in my veggie plot this year, and what I will do differently next time around. I am thrilled with the fact that this is one of the pleasures of gardening–the chance to constantly do it all over again!
I spent much of the spring wrestling with different food production ideologies: permaculture, organic, traditional local wisdom, the Skipper and other friends and family, and now I’m reading about biointensive gardenning. These systems can all be complimentary, but for a complete novice, their contradictions can be very confusing. And at some point, you just have to stick a seed in the ground and see what happens! And so I have.
What have I learned?
1. Tomatoes need their space. It’s always hard when you’re working with seeds and seedlings to picture the true mature size of a plant. My tomatoes are HUGE! I could have easily spaced them 2-3′ apart, instead of the 1.5′ that I did. The Skipper’s bias was clear: closer is better! Pack them in! Now I have the proof to fight back :).
2. Raspberries need support. When we moved in, the raspberry patch was a jungle, but it was about 5′ tall and didn’t seem particularly fragile. There were some wires in the back of the patch, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything to contain the canes, so in the winter, we took them out. Now our 7′ tall canes have flopped over and we can’t get to them! So many berries, so little time…
3. Structure is important. I now understand why farmers grow in rows, why people don’t always mix up all their plantings and why they keep various families of plants together. True interplanting/polyculture can get complicated fast. For instance, against one fence, we’ve got hops, sweet peas, nasturtiums, pole beans, berries, and assorted weeds all growing together. Fine for the hops and the rest that don’t need tending, but the pole beans have suffered, and they are a pain for me to get to and check on regularly. The peas were a pain to harvest and were a mess without trellising, even though they were dwarf plants and the seed packets said they didn’t need it.
4. I want more pole beans! I did plant a reasonable number, but not all of them came up. I think I’ve ended up with 2 plants of each of Fortex Filet, Purple Peacock, and Scarlet Runner. They’re not in great soil. They are AMAZING! They taste better than any beans I’ve ever eaten. I want to eat them until I’m sick of them, and there won’t be enough to do that this year. Steve Solomon writes that he only plants a few bush beans, because once the pole beans start producing, the bus beans no longer gets eaten, the poles taste so much better. That’s my new plan too.
5. Keep delicate plants together. I’ve got 5 full beds of tropicals (tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers) at the moment, and assorted extra tomato plants tucked into other beds. I have one cold frame right now that fits over one of those beds. When the night temperatures started dropping fast, I had to choose (I chose a bed of peppers). We’re building some mega beds, and I’ll make sure that at least one has a frame structure that can get some protection easily, and then I’ll plant the veggies that might need it together.
6. Companion planting is a great idea, but hard and confusing to put into practice–particularly in fixed raised beds. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with our raised bed planters in much of the garden–we don’t have any soil in the major kitchen garden section. The hard edges make it tough to tuck flowers in around the edges. I have and will continue to plant the beds with multiple vegetables in chunks, and may try a polyculture bed next year (more on this another day), but I may end up doing what Carolyn Heriot suggested, and just make sure there are a lot of flowers and herbs surrounding the food beds, rather than right in them. This would be easy, because the flower garden is extensive.
Overall, our energy right now is to tidy things up, and to start working on easy maintenance, easy access designs in the garden. We’ve figured out what we want to spend our time on, and what is just not going to get attention. We’re dreaming of chickens and ducks (have I mentioned that before?!) and need to think ab0ut our space for sharing. I’m hankering for structure and infrastructure.
But one thing we have been blessed with in this slightly messy and overgrown garden is a very healthy, balanced ecosystem. No pests got out of control, and even the slugs were manageable–I suspect thanks to the snakes. We have TONS of snakes, birds, and predatory insects. The last thing I want to do is clean up and regiment so much that we lose that balance. Nature likes a little cosmetic disorder, so there has to be space for that too. Somewhere!
What has your garden taught you this year?