Friday, April 21, 2017

Interconnected Lives

Neat long rows of vegetables and fruit thriving in the sunshine, that is what I remember. The more I get into gardening for myself, the more I realize I need to let go of the gardens of my youth and our back yard and think of the soil and the harvest. 

I don't need two acres or half a back yard of neat rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and so on. I need to think out of the ordered rows and plan for next year and years to come as well as this year. I need more flowers mixed in with the hopscotch of gardening. This is called polyculture, putting different plants together to make the best use of harvesting times and placement for shade or full sun.

Plant flowers with the vegetables and forget planting all of one kind of vegetable or fruit together. That is the way insects, pests, and wild animals are kept under control. I'm sure I'll get to the point where I can go out into the tomato patch and pull fat hornworms off the leaves and tomatoes, but not yet. Marigolds in with the tomatoes keep vermins and insects out of the tomatoes. I'll have hanging planters with strawberries and grape tomatoes from the pergola mixed in with a hanging pot of marigolds just in case.  

I will also plant for butterflies and bees. I'm allergic to bees, but if I don't antagonize them they will not sting me and send me running for the Epi-Pen.  Planting flowers to attract butterflies and bees serves two purposes: keeping out pests and attracting pollinators to help the garden grow. Nothing better. To get my natural insect predators there is the added bonus of beauty among the food. I can handle that.  

No need to worry about the other garden pests -- weeds. They have their beneficial side too, especially when you take note of their roots and the kind of weeds that grow. Dandelions have long roots that break up the soil and are necessary for aerating the garden and pointing to areas that need to be watered more. Dandelions seek iron and are full of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Long tap roots also mean water and necessary minerals are deep underground and being drawn up through the tap roots. Same applies for garden plants. If the roots are thick and deep, drip irritation or watering more often is the answer. Roots that are fine and hair-like also mean the soil is loose and the roots are holding the soil together, compacting it so the water won't run through as if it were sand. 

Thistles are an entirely different problem indicating the soil is too dry. Thistles can also be invasive. Paying attention to where and when thistles grow will give you clues as to what your soil, and hence your garden, need from you. In this case, more water and nitrogen will benefit your plants and eventually you. 

Such intercropping (planting flowers and vegetables together) is beneficial for the yield of the harvest and for the land itself. Some plants grow better together: 

  • Onions with leafy vegetables, followed by green beans and Chinese cabbage or spinach
  • Potatoes with leafy vegetables, followed by green beans and Chinese cabbage or spinach
  • Spring kale with radishes, followed by celery and tomatoes
  • Spring spinach, followed by lima beans and tomatoes
  • Double rows of corn alternated with single rows of peppers
  • A double row of garlic with spinach down the center
  • Strawberries with watermelon
Sunflowers attract birds that feed on cabbage worms, grasshoppers and other small insects, including flea beetles feeding the birds with sunflower seeds and providing perches for the birds to see and attack from the stems to root out their favorite food. Good for you and good for the birds. 

Plant crops together to support each other and to help trap insects and attract beneficial insects and birds. Broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes grow well together while lettuce, radicchio, and sorrel. Crowder peas, green beans and peppers are all popular crops to sandwich between rows of corn, providing shade for the smaller plants and filling the space between corn which takes longer to grow. In many hot climates, corn grown along the south side of potatoes provides shade in hot weather, which helps keep the soil cool and moist while the potatoes are making their crop. For instance, corn, pole beans, and squash support each other. The corn supports the bean vines, the squash shades out weeds, and the roots of the different plants get along nicely below ground. 

Like the human body, the plants support each other and feed us. Healthier plants also provide good green manure when dug into the ground at the end of the season and also set up healthier soil for next year, providing higher yields.  Plant salad greens in the spaces between. Rabbits and other small foragers will eat some, but we can afford to share. 

Gardening is not just about food for the table. It lets you know what you need -- more fertilizer, more water, more earthworms, etc. -- and tells you about the health of the soil. Healthier soil means healthier plants and a healthier you. It is all connected just like the mind, body, and soul are all connected in me and you. The land is just as connected as we are to the land. The health of one is crucial to the health of the other and to the world around us. We are all connected and nowhere does that connection show more effectively than in the garden and the land. 

Read books and talk to gardeners from different cultures to find out what works for them and what they have learned. Share your experiences and as for guidance. As you get closer to the land you will find you are getting closer to yourself and to other gardeners. Share the wealth and the knowledge. 

That is all. Disperse. 

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