Archive for Garden

Gardens Continued: Marigolds, The “Power Companion”

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One of my favorite flowers, by far, is the marigold. Tangerine and lemon gems, like those shown above with the colorful signet marigolds, are by far my favorite of all time. They are cute, decorative, and are a wonderful addition to any selection of flowers. Most importantly, they are the “power companion” in any garden. Typically thought as having a more carnation like flower that the French marigold boasts, traditional marigolds are the beautiful little gems that sprinkle containers and gardens with very little work. It might seem silly, but I prefer these “rock marigolds” to all else.

Marigolds are a gardener’s best friend. While you need to make sure to plant them in direct sun, the do well in practically any soil condition, as long as things aren’t too wet. Once they start growing, the roots work their way through the soil, killing nematodes with the oils the are produced from the roots. Marigolds can be tilled in at the end of the season and the roots will continue to work their magic, poisoning the soil to nematodes, protecting your potatoes, tomatoes, and other nematode prone produce. When their blooms finally grace the garden, the flowers work their magic, repelling aphids, mosquitoes, squash beetles, greenhorn worms, and white flies.

There are also some garden munching animals that don’t find the scent of marigolds pleasing. Deer are well known for staying away from the flower, as are groundhogs. There are even some people that don’t like the scent of the flower (which I find surprising!), but it may help ward off illegal foragers. ;-)

In areas with short growing seasons, like Maine, it’s essential to start marigold seedlings at least six months before the last the soil warms up. Each year we try to start our marigold before the first of February. Let’s see if we actually make that deadline this year! With very few garden nemesis, it’s almost impossible to plant marigolds in the wrong spot, but when in doubt, research!

Gardens Continued: Companion Planting

Companion planting is a very natural concept. If you look out in the wild, you never see one form of plant by its lonesome. Daisies, black-eyed Susans, clover, and buttercups amongst others interweave into these communities of flowers. Maples, ash, willow, and pine mingle through the woods, rarely sanding aloof from one another. The plants that you do see by themselves look alone, deprived, and normally have a harder go at it than those mixed into a society of flora and fauna. Companion planting takes this idea that plants should not be segregated from one another and works towards growing plants with one another in a helpful, semi-self-sustainable type of gardening.

We’ve used companion planting – to a different degree each year – in all of our gardens. Sometimes companion planting works out well, other times, not so much. For example, it’s been a few years, but we did try a three Sister’s Garden of pumpkins, corn, and beans together. We didn’t have much luck that time, but I’m wondering if it was mostly “user error” as I didn’t look into the length of the growing season that the variety of corn I picked needed. (In Maine we have a very short growing season, so this is something to take into consideration.) I’m debating about trying the Three Sister’s Garden again this year now that I’ve had more time to reflect on what went wrong with that previous attempt.

Many people who now have gardens from our generation don’t know about the idea of companion planting simply because they grew up off from their parents and grandparents victory-style gardens that were popular starting in WWII. These gardens were functional and yet very carefully sculpted to fit the post-card time era that they were in. Companion planting went by the wayside at this time, but is now beginning to make a resurgence, specifically for those of us that have limited land space and prefer to do things without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Below is a chart that I made for a post a few years ago talking about companion planting. It’s very basic and only includes the basic gardening selections, but it gives a great starting point for those new to the practice!

What we’re planting… What they can be companions with…
Potatoes Cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi , bush bean, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, peas, petunia, and onion.
Lettuce Dill, beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, onion, radish and strawberries.* Lettuce needs to be kept away from cabbage as it will deter growth and mess with the flavor.
Peas Corn, bush beans, bole beans, carrots, celery, chicory, corn, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips.
Beans Carrots, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumbers.
Corn Amaranth, beans, cucumber, white geranium, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, peas, potato, pumpkin, soybeans, squash and sunflower.
Pumpkins Corn, melon, squash, marigolds, and oregano.
Tomatoes Asparagus, basil, bean, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, marigold, pot marigold and sow thistle.
Jalapenos
Cucumbers Corn, peas, beets, radishes, carrots, radishes, and dill.

 

Gardens Continued: “Wild Gardens” or “Wildcraft” Gardening

“Wild gardens,” of “wildcraft gardening,” is just as interesting as it sounds. Wild gardening works off the premise that all gardens can be fed and nourished on their own in a wild setup, needing minimal attention and yielding optimal production.Wild gardening is the practice of simply planting in the land around you and letting things grow, well, wild. This practice utilizes the natural weed growth as a protective barrier that provides shade and helps build the soil. It also allows insect populations to naturally help protect, pollinate, and tend the plants as well.

There are three key rules to the practice of wild gardening.

1. No cultivation. – Cultivation is still considered a more modern practice when it comes to growing crops. It is well known that over cultivation strips the land of the topsoil which in turn causes nutrient loss and is the primary reason while fertilizers need to be added back into the soil.

2. No chemicals. – No chemicals can be use. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or additives can touch either the soil or the plant. Using these can upset not only the seedlings in the wild garden, but the surrounding weeds and insects as well.

3. No weeding. – Obviously, in a wild garden which is purposely grown among the weeds, weeding out said weeds would be a bit of a shot in the foot as it breaks down the ecosystem that you’re borrowing to grow your garden.

The most important piece in planning a wild garden is in investigation work that is done before hand. The season following the start of your wild garden is a season of observation and discovery. In order to plan out a wild garden, watching the weeds that you plan on planting among is necessary.

By watching and recording the health and vigor of the different types of weeds it is possible to determine if there are any soil deficiencies that need to be addressed first. As with any garden, crops will grow best if the soil is ideal. Being able to prep the soil in the fall leading up to planting season is the easiest way to ensure the produce will being growing in the best soil conditions possible.

Tracking down when the two different sets of weeds sprout and die out is also important for planting the wild garden. Many areas exhibit two sets of weed growth, a summer growth and a winter growth. The best time for planting your spring and summer produce is just when the winter growth is done dying off and the sprouts for the summer weeds have yet to start growing. The reverse is ideal for the winter crops – summer weeds should be dying off and winter weeds sprouting when the seeds for the winter crop are planted.

While I would love to be able to give a list of what plants grow best in a wild garden, it would all be conjecture. We have yet to attempt a wild garden, though I think we might be game for one this spring. I can say that, in my readings on wild gardens, I have noticed that there seems to be a pattern. It seems that the produce more apt to grow haphazardly in the garden – such as tomatoes, squash, lettuce, bush peas – do well in wild gardens. Potatoes do so well that many folks simply leave them in the one spot for years on end, leaving enough in the ground for the next season’s garden.

If any of you have practiced wild gardening or are planning to do so, please comment with your experiences! This is a topic that I would love to learn more about from those who have actual experience with the process.

 

Gardens Continued: Raised Bed

One of the most prolific forms of gardening is the raised bed method. The raised bed method sinus tad it sounds: you are literally raising your garden bed.

Raised bed gardens start with selecting an area to fencing, or boxing in, with wood timber, cement blocks, or anything else that may be fashioned to hold soil. 

The height of the bed can vary form only a few inches above ground soil to a height tall enough to accomadate the elderly and handicapped. The minimum height is based off from whatever crops you are growing in the raised bed. The minimum height for growing lettuce allows for a very shallow box. Carrots, on the other hand, creates the need for a minimum of 12″ of raised bed depth. 

The width of the bed can vary just as much as the depth, from one row up to the entirety of a garden. The basic rule of thumb is this: make sure your raised bed isn’t so wide that you can’t teach to the middle for easy weeding. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you leave enough space between the plants and the box framing to assure that the roots aren’t short on space. 

Some people plant their crops extensively in raised beds. While that is a possibility, depending on the size of your garden, it’s an expensive possibility. For our homestead, where we try to grow as much of our food as possible, raised beds serve a specific purpose. We save our raider bed ares for herbs, shallow root crops, such as lettuce and time intensive crops such as broccoli.  Not only does it make the certain crops more easy to notice in a large garden, but it also allows for easier access. The more thourough drainage of the raised bed is also a plus, prohibiting drowning and molding during wet seasons. 

Gardening and It’s Many Forms: Square Foot Gardening

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For the month of January, I have decided to do a series of weekly blogs looking at the different components of gardening that I take into account when setting up plans for any given season. I’ll still be adding in random posts here and there, but these gardening posts will be scheduled ahead of time.

This post starts off the series by looking at the many forms of gardening. When most people say they “have a garden” most people tend to think of the standard garden of valley and hills. While that method of gardening is “tried and true,” there are many different methods to gardening that can be practiced. Four of the most common methods of gardening are square foot, raised bed, “wild,” and companion planting. Each methods comes with positive and negative aspects. Many homesteaders tend to eventually use a combination of these methods, along with others.

SQUARE FOOT METHOD
The square foot method is ideal for small gardens when a lot needs to be grown. The square foot method literally takes one square foot of dirt and places into it as much produce as possible. In order to do this, you take the width between seed placement, not rows, and use this as a guide.

For example, if carrots are to be grown two inches apart after thinning, you take this 2″ spacing and apply it to the square foot that the carrots are going to be planted in, ignoring the recommendations for rows 8″ apart. Here’s how extensive this is: if going by a traditional recommendation of carrot seeds 2″ apart with rows 8″ apart only 12 carrot seeds would be planted in a square foot, where as carrot seeds planted using the square foot method of spacing 2″ from every other seed (so 2″ seed spacing and effectively row spacing) allows for up to 36 carrots to be planted in one square foot, 3 times the amount of traditional planting recommendations. 

Remember how I said every method has it’s positive and negative attributes? Obviously, the positive here is the amount that you can grow in a small space. The negative? Well, when plants from grown so tightly together there is a higher rate of mortality due to insects and disease. The square foot method is one that needs to be done by those willing to put in the research as to which plants benefit from this. Also, plants that need more space, such as tomatoes and pumpkins, do not benefit from the square gardening method, if anything planting these so tightly to one another more often than not ends in catastrophe.

Having played with the square foot method, I feel that the plants that this method works best for are for those with broad leaves, such as beans, or plants that don’t tend to get waylaid by disease, such as carrots. Tomatoes will be attacked by blight, lettuces will choke each other out, and pea plants will become a tangled mess.