Monday, April 2, 2012

What's the Plan, Stan?

I love the feel of graphite on graph paper.  The experience of writing or drawing is as much a tactile, muscular experience as it is an imaginative one.  Anyway, the plan this year:

1.  Build raised beds and experiment with square foot and vertical gardening.  The idea is to reduce the spacing between plants, so there aren't any rows.  Most gardens have rows because they're built from larger agricultural models that use machinery to plant and cultivate large areas of land.  Naturally, you need wide rows to fit those big tires down the line.  In a small space (the home garden) there's no reason to incorporate rows unless you plan on driving up and down the rows on your big wheels or something.  So, you build a bed that is no wider than 5 feet across (figuring your arm can reach about 2 1/2 feet into the bed) and as long as you want.  Instead of planting in a line, you space each seed equidistant from each other (per the seed packet instructions.)  So, say lettuce should be spaced 6" apart in a regular garden row with 1 1/2 to 2 feet between each row.  Using the square foot model, you can plant 6" apart on all sides, doing away with all that empty space and hopefully saving you some backache from hoeing weeds.  Also, if you space the plants closer together, they should give you a good canopy and shade out most of the troublesome weeds.  A few other benefits:  You can continue to modify and build your soil only composting in your bed rather than wasting all that good stuff spreading it out in the row where you aren't growing anything.  AND you cut down on compaction because you aren't (or you shouldn't be) walking on your garden bed.

And it looks purdy, too.

2.  Experiment with companion planting.  Some vegetables grow well together.  For example, tomatoes love nitrogen and peas leave a lot of it in the ground, so you can put in some cattle panel (which is what I plan to do) and plant your peas along the row with your tomatoes.  By the time your peas stop producing (early to mid-summer) the tomatoes will be ready to take over.  Carrots do nicely with tomatoes, too.

3.  Vertical gardening.  This is pretty self-explanatory.  Instead of letting your vining vegetable spread around the ground, you build a vertical structure and let them climb.  Just be sure you aren't shading out any of the plants that require lots of sun--instead, plant lettuce or spinach on the shady side.  It won't bolt as quickly.

4.  Start building on my perennial herb bed.  If you've ever worked with dill or mint or...well, lots of the herbs out there, you have probably noticed that they spread all over tarnation.  This is pretty neat, actually.  I mean, that's how it's supposed to work.  I like the idea of maintaining a perennial bed and watching it grow and change each year.

5.  Plant more flowers along with the veggies.  It's all about attraction, kids.  I need pollinators, and pollinators enjoy pretty.  Sidenote:  I recently went to the local green house to track down something I could spray on my apple tree to deal with the cedar rust that's been destroying my crop the last two years.  Everything I saw said "Kills bees."  I don't usually like to cuss in my blog, but what the hell?  How do you think apples are made anyway?  You kill the bee, you kill the pollen messenger.  I finally found something organic that is only harmful to fish.  Luckily I don't have any fish in my orchard.

6.  Succession planting:  I used to put all my seeds into the ground at the same time (another throwback to the larger model that relies on a single, mechanical harvest), so I'd usually end up with about 30 pounds of lettuce all at once.  I'm going to save that practice for down the line when I'm farming more land and working out the CSA I dream of having one day...  For now, since I don't own a tractor, an entire acre, or enough family members to eat more than 3 pounds of lettuce a week, I'm working on staggering my planting and thinking in terms of cool and warm season crops.  The dance is rather complicated, though, and I have a feeling I'll be working out the choreography for many, many years (God willing).

Here's the plan:

And this is the prettiest flower in the garden:


  1. I am so excited for you. Someday, when I have a house with a decent-sized yard (half of which will become a garden), and you're Dr. Smith and the Dean of the English department, I'm going to be calling you and writing you real letters so I can have some professional help with figuring out my own garden. In the meantime...may I help with yours? :)

    1. Well, I'm not sure about the Dr. or the Dean part (just between us, I'm not that ambitious or smart-ha!), but I would LOVE to have your help in the garden!