Annual Garden Update

WARNING: Photo-heavy post!

A few weeks ago, in my edible landscaping post, I promised to share an update about my little garden as well.  The garden and edible landscaping (and the foraging!) are all part of my efforts to become more food-self-sufficient and less dependent on the cheap oil that fuels the modern American diet.

It’s hard to post garden updates because everything changes so quickly, even from day to day. For instance, the space of time to notice that squash vine borers have killed your yellow squash already; or that a previous night’s thunderstorms broke the zucchini’s stem because the wind caught the leaves like sails and slammed them to the ground. The pictures in this post are from several weeks ago… it’s has been too brutally hot to go outside and take new ones!

My overarching theme for this year was “aggressive intercropping”, meaning I nested lots of different types of plants together. The thought was to maximize growing space, and make it harder for bad insects to find the precious veggie crops by mixing them all up together. If you think about a field or a forest – somewhere nature is left to its own devices – it’s never acre upon acre (or square foot upon square foot) of one single plant. Monocropping is a hallmark of our “modern” and “advanced” industrial agricultural approach, and is why so many applications of herbicides and pesticides and chemical fertilizer are necessary to grow crops. When you fight against how things naturally want to go, it takes more energy and effort.

For example, in some boxes I planted quick growing root crops (like radishes and baby beets) in between slow-growing leafy crops (broccoli and cabbage). In other boxes, quick growing leafy crops (like baby kale, spinach or broccoli rabe) in between slow-growing root crops (full sized beets and turnips).

I’m also experimenting with planting different varieties of the same crop, so if one type dies off in the heat or one gets devoured by insects, hopefully another strain survives and we still have a harvest. For instance, I planted three different types of peas: a low, bushy shelling pea; a vining, climbing shelling pea; and a sugar snap pea. It was a very cool spring, which was great for the peas, and now the sudden sweltering summer heat is spelling their doom.

Each garden box is a four by four square, in the classic “square foot garden” model. If you are contemplating a square foot garden, here is my number one piece of advice: LEAVE SPACE BETWEEN THE BEDS! We have this cute little garden, but we can’t get a wheelbarrow in between the rows, and plants regularly spill into the aisles making it impossible to pass without damaging leaves and stems.

Now, on with the tour!

This box shows a variety of roots and leafy greens, with a back drop of peas.

Mixed cool season crops and peas
Mixed cool season crops and peas

You can visually see what I mean about “aggressive intercropping” here because there are so many different vegetables crammed into one box. I had mixed feelings about planting everything so close because some authors suggest plants grow larger, healthier and need less water when they have adequate room for their roots to grow. Other authors say it’s better to plant densely because all the foliage keeps the sun off the soil and so the plants need less water. I don’t have a ton of room in my garden, so I followed the densely-planted route!

In this box, we have delicata winter squash trellised over bush beans.

Delicata squash and bush beans
Delicata squash and bush beans

There’s also red onions planted between the squash, which I hoped would help mask the smell of the squash from insects like squash bugs, stink bugs and maybe squash vine borers. I received extra red onion sets from my mom in the spring, and planted them literally everywhere I could in the garden! I probably should have taken a new photo of this bed because the delicata vines have completely engulfed their trellis by this time.

This bed is one of my double-stacked beds, meaning lots of room for root crops! It also has wire mesh across the bottom of it. As we are replacing the beds, we’re adding this mesh to keep the local vole population from digging its way into the beds and eating the vegetables.

Yukon gold potatoes
Yukon gold potatoes

One of my few mono-cultures, this one is completely planted with potatoes. Currently, the stems and leaves look much sadder and more scraggly than they did in this photo. It will be time to end them soon and harvest the potatoes.

Here we have one of my tomato beds.

Tomatoes, asparagus bean and marigolds
Tomatoes, asparagus bean and marigolds

There are four different varieties: a Giant Belgian Pink, a Big Beef and two different Romas. (Although now that they are setting fruit, one looks like its accidentally a cherry tomato rather than a Roma.) At the base of each stake I planted asparagus beans, aka yard long beans, which again helps maximize the garden space because they will climb the stake and not compete with the tomatoes (much). There are also marigolds, which I always plant with tomatoes to help cover up their smell and keep tomato hornworms from finding them. I don’t know if it “really” works, or if that’s one of those gardening old wives’ tails. There have been fewer and fewer worms each year, which may correspond with the overall decline in insect populations.

In this bed, we have another example of aggressive intercropping.

Peas and cool season crops like cabbage and kohlrabi
Peas and cool season crops like cabbage and kohlrabi

Peas, cabbage, kohlrabi, baby broccoli, chard and carrots are all featured in this small space! I am also using a row cover tied to the pea trellis to provide some shade to the cool-season crops. I don’t know if it is “really” working or making a difference, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting anything (aside from looking silly when viewing the garden from the house)!

This box is almost identical to the last one, except slightly different cool season crops, and it was started a few weeks earlier.

Also peas and other cool season crops
Also peas and other cool season crops

So for instance, the peas were able to grow more before the heat settled in.

My four by four asparagus patch.

Asparagus patch
Asparagus patch

This is a great example of beds needing to be further apart because fronds ALWAYS get in the way, reaching into other beds and walkways and generally being a nuisance. Also asparagus seeds end up everywhere, and have to be weeded from other beds.

This was my zucchini bed before the storm snapped the stem of the closer one in this photo.

Zucchini
Zucchini

Since I had to remove one, the second has cheerfully filled in the rest of the bed. They are (were) spaced so far apart because they take up so much room, which resulted in giant scratchy leaves blocking the pathways.

I apparently failed to photograph the bed of cherry tomatoes, but it looks almost identical to the other tomato bed. Again, four different varieties – red, yellow, orange and “black” (actually a dark brown) – with marigolds and asparagus beans planted around them.

Here we have baby butternut squash growing on a trellis over more bush beans.

Butternut squash trellised over bush beans
Butternut squash trellised over bush beans

Yes, we will be sick of beans if every plant produces, between the scarlet runners on our deck, the asparagus beans on the tomato stakes, and the two different half-beds of bush beans!

This bed has my two yellow squash plants – this photo is from before the squash vine borers killed the one in the foreground. The red onions in the bed clearly didn’t make a difference in this case!

Yellow squash
Yellow squash

Zucchini and yellow squash both do better if they have another plant in the same species (Cucurbita pepo) for cross-pollination because each plant is mostly self-infertile. (You’ll get a few fruit with one plant, but a lot more with two.) I am hoping that the one remaining yellow squash and one remaining zucchini can keep each other company until they each succumb to the inevitable larvae-consumed fate of my summer squash.

My raspberry patch: another monoculture because raspberries are dangerous. I don’t want to encounter their thorns scattered all throughout my garden!

Raspberries
Raspberries

Most of my plants are the “heritage” variety which can be grown in a way that produces two crops, one in the spring on old canes and a second in the fall on the new canes. However, my raspberries were so diseased last year from the extremely wet weather encouraging fungal, bacterial and viral infections, I cut all the canes to the ground for a fresh start with the new year. Unfortunately, the Japanese beetles are also really enjoying my healthier raspberries!

This box is another double-decker and here I have planted slow-growing root crops.

Leeks, salsify and parsnips
Leeks, salsify and parsnips

There are a handful of crops – leeks, parsnips and salsify – that you plant in the spring and don’t harvest till fall. These aren’t as aggressively intercropped as other beds; here you see primarily salsify.

Sooooooo you can’t really tell but this is my perennial onion and garlic bed.

Buckwheat smothering perennial onions and garlic
Buckwheat smothering perennial onions and garlic

Last year, I had planted buckwheat as a green mulch and intended to actually harvest some of the seeds to try eating. Only I didn’t harvest in a timely enough fashion, and all those seeds just stayed in the bed. Most of what you see here is actually buckwheat. Luckily buckwheat greens are edible and the flowers attract pollinators. Since this photo was taken, I removed most of the buckwheat for fear it would choke out the “real” crops! What I found was almost as bad. Because I hadn’t paid close attention to the garlic, a lot of the plants had died. The tops normally die this time of year, leading up to the bulb harvest. But there were a lot of squishy, gross bulbs when I dug them up, meaning they won’t keep well either for later cooking, or planting a new crop in the fall.

This was supposed to be my perpetual lettuce bed (that’s another post), but ended up as my “I started too many seedlings and don’t have room to plant them all where they were supposed to go” bed.

Lettuce and leftover cool season greens
Lettuce and leftover cool season greens

Mostly greens: kale, chard, lettuce and kohlrabi. Oh and red onions. Lots of red onions. The plastic fence over it works to deter deer. At least in theory. When they are hungry enough, they find a way!

Here we have my blackberries… getting overwhelmed by cilantro going to seed.

Blackberries and cilantro
Blackberries and cilantro

Again, hoping the smell of the cilantro helps hide the blackberries from stink bugs and Japanese beetles. There are also three Brussels sprouts in there, but I don’t expect much from them because the cabbage worms LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them and they take so long to grow. Meaning they will continue to get attacked for longer than quicker growing plants like cabbage and kale. Sigh.

Last year cucumbers thrived planted in my compost pile, so I am trying that again this year.

Cucumbers (top) and volunteer squash (front)
Cucumbers (top) and volunteer squash (front)

So far it has been less successful, but it has been a dryer than average year – as opposed to last year which was much wetter than average. The plants in the foreground are random volunteer squash…. that may just take over the whole pile…

Last but not least, I have two trellising squash. Well, maybe trellising.

Trellising squash
Trellising squash

On the left are two ridged luffa plants. I got the seeds from Digging Food, who has featured luffa on her blog in the past. So far, its only baby luffas were eaten by some nocturnal critter. On the right is a plant started from seeds of the Monster Squash I featured on this blog back in March. It hasn’t been thriving like I hoped, so we’ll see if it hangs on. Also, since the Monster Squash itself was a hybrid, there’s no way to be sure exactly what this one’s fruit will be like… assuming it ever actually produces fruit!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s