Friday, January 16, 2015

Vegetable Garden: 2015

Plans for the 2015 garden are proceeding. 

More focus

One model for rapid-but-incremental development is to have periods of expansion followed by periods of contraction.  The periods of expansion are periods of experimentation.  The periods of contraction are times of focus; focus on the varieties that work, focus on the plots that perform well, focus on more precise execution of planting and harvesting.

I expect to buy far less garden seed this year than any year in recent memory.  And I expect to plant a far greater percentage of that seed.  More doing and less dreaming.

I will grow two varieties of potatoes this year instead of the four I grew last year.  I will not grow zucchini.  When I want zucchini we will leave the doors of the minivan unlocked when we go to church.  The plan is to grow one variety of broccoli, two types of cabbage, three tomatoes and so on.  I don’t try to grow carrots anymore as I cannot stay ahead of the weeds.  I will not buy melon seeds this year.  They grow well for me but I do not stay on top of harvesting them unless they are right in front of my eyes.

Crop rotation

One of the challenges of growing a garden is to rotate crops to avoid disease and insect populations building up.  This may be partially an old-wives’ tale.  Individual trees seem quite capable of staying in the same place for extended periods of time and still thriving.  At least, I have never seen a tree move very far of its own volition.

Rotating crops may be prudent but it can be hard to pull off in practice.  Conceptually, one must avoid planting cabbage (for instance) in the same plot for three years before planting it there again.  The plants to avoid are cabbage and her sisters: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Chinese cabbage, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, most oriental greens, mustard, pac choi, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and a few I probably missed.  Even if one moves the plots with religious devotion the bugs have little difficulty finding their favorite meal in the new digs even if it is a couple of hundred feet away.

Families of vegetables

The big groups are the cabbage family (aka, cole crops or brassicas), the nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant et al), legumes (beans of all types, peas, clovers, lentils, etc.), maize (sweet corn, popcorn and field corn) and the vining vegetables (pumpkins, squash of all types, cucumbers, melons, etc.).  These families of vegetables share common diseases and insect pests within the family.


One could go bat-dip crazy and simply grow all one family in any given year.  One year might be the year of the beans.  The next the year could be the cabbage and so on in a vegetarian version of the Chinese calendar.  Even that can fail.  Clover, nightshade and brassica species are endemic in-the-wild.  And then there is the issue of controlling your neighbor.  They might grow vegetables willy-nilly.  I do not advise bombing his garden with herbicide even if you see him as Typhoid Mary.  It is not very neighborly.

My current plan is to grow the vining vegetables next to the road.  It is a plot that is approximately 110 feet long by 25 feet across (33m x 8m).  That plot has gotten narrower because I have been planting Illini Hardy Blackberrys along the road to feed the natives and to act as poor-man’s barbed wire.  There are also some climbing roses sprinkled into the blackberries, some Dortmund, Laguna and R. canina.  Most of the vining vegetable area will be dedicated to winter squash, C. maxima (Golden Hubbard), C. pepo (Winter Luxury) and C. moschata (Dickinson). 

Sometime in July I will broadcast a brassica wildlife foodplot seed mix into the patch.  The seeds will germinate in the shade of the squash/pumpkin leaves.  The little turnip and kale plants will sulk until powdery mildew starts killing off the squash leaves and more sun hits the little seedlings.

The most efficient way to add organic material to soil is to grow it in place.  It is way easier to sprinkle two pounds of seed than to spread 12 bales of hay.  It is pretty easy to tell if you are adding organic matter (i.e., sequestering carbon in liberal-speak), a patch of ground is adding organic matter if it is green.

The fact that the turnip and kale plants are "cabbage" complicates crop rotation.  Everything comes at a price.

The nightshade species will be in the plot a bit north of the house.  That plot is about 100 feet long by 60 feet wide (30m x 17m).  The picture in my head is to plant mostly potatoes (2/3 Missaukee, 1/3 Spartan Splash) with one row of tomatoes and a half row of peppers.

The “big” garden is southwest of the house.  It is 90 feet long by 75 feet wide (27m x 22m).  This was in potatoes last year.  The east end somehow morphed into a tree nursery after a bunch of acorns were planted there. 

This year the big garden will be “everything not vining or nightshade”.   The green beans (Provider for the first planting, Jade or Derby for subsequent plantings) will be planted in increments of 20’ double-rows planted every two weeks.  A double row attempts to increase plant density while retaining a rototiller-friendly between-row distance by having two, closely spaced rows and then the normal rototiller-friendly distance.  The ground between the two closely spaced rows quickly becomes shaded and the weeds are puny and easy to pull.  The bean seeds will start going into the ground June 1.

The green beans will be followed by turnips and kale.  Green beans are sprinters.  They cannot go the distance.  So the canny gardener develops a relay-race strategy.  The bean plants will be pulled after two weeks of intensive picking (and as the next planting comes on-line) and cold, short-day loving plants will be planted in their place.  If I am really “good” I will seed the turnips and kale into the strip between the double rows of beans several weeks before I cut the bean plants down.

One of the things that tears at a gardener’s heart is the management of his main season cabbage, Brussel sprouts, beets and rutabagas patch.  These plants/seeds want to go into the ground on July 4th weekend.  They are biologically wired to be the industrious ants of the plant kingdom, storing up carbohydrates and protein in the shortening days of late summer and autumn so they can get the jump on those slackers, the annuals.  What does one do with the plot of ground that will not receive their main crop until half way through summer?  Letting weeds grow is not a good option and there are very few crops (how many green onions can a person eat?) that will be done by then.

Extrafloral nectaries on a fava bean plant.  Nectar being harvested by ants.

The very earliest lettuces can absorb some of the ground.  Micro-greens are for sissies.  I refuse to grow anything so small that it is harvested with scissors the size of my wife’s tweezers.  So far, my best solution is to put in a “green manure” crop of red clover or fava beans.   An additional benefit of fava beans is that they "extrafloral nectaries", that is, nectar glands that are not in the flower.  Those nectar glands can feed predatory wasps and keep them on the job hunting and killing garden pests. Peas are also an option, but most modern pea varieties are tiny plants so you have to plant many pounds of peas to ensure a good canopy of leaves to suppress weeds.  If you are Biblically oriented, the legumes will be my John the Baptist crop.  They must diminish so the one(s) who come after can increase.


A couple of other changes will be to plant pole beans next to every bit of garden fencing.  I let the Captain graze his cattle on my pasture to keep it from turning to brush.  The cattle will probably eat all of the bean vines, but it is worth a try.  I also need to figure out how to add a booster pump into my line out to the big garden.  It is far enough from the house that I lose too much head to run two impulse sprinklers at a time.  I also need to refine my grass lanes to facilitate moving about the garden.

1 comment:

  1. Hey ERJ,

    If you put a dark tarp down and anchor it very well, it will kill the weeds. Do this after rototilling, and give it about six weeks to "cook off" the weeds and their seeds. It keeps new weed seeds out, and moisture in. Use twice as many anchors as you think you will need, like a brick every two feet- you don't want the tarp moving in strong winds.