Friday, May 29, 2009

Garden Sprawl Friday

The swallows are back. Sheesh, they love to chatter.

The potato plants are putting out their buds. Time to keep them watered.


I would like to make a good analogy for the use of planting herbs around one's garden, like: "Herbs are to your garden what something is to something"; but I can't think of any, so there it is.

Herbs are not essential to your garden per say; you could grow crops without them. But I can only make that statement because the relationships of diverse flora do not operate under terms of "essential" or "useful" or "beneficial". The aim should not be what you can do without, but how much you can include. How much flora can you get in around your gardening space and landscape (without turning it into a haphazard jungle of course; modesty and sparing does fix into this), while at the same time considering use of space, light, companion planting, aesthetics and so forth. This brings me to the point I wanted to make about really successful gardening: you need to have so much going on that whatever failures may occur, they will not spell Total Failure.

A garden ought to be made to develop a rhythm of its own; a flurry of interchanging and limitless propositions that relieves the gardener of the utilitarian approach. With all of the gardener's new trials and experiments, there ought to be a concomitant drive towards permanence for those trials and experiments to take place in, as one builds up the space one has. The prominent term for this is permaculture, which seeks to create an environment that is basically its own mini eco/climate system, rather than merely a bed that one plants with one kind of crop one year, another kind another year, and nothing much else going on besides.

It seeks to include everything. It wants birds and butterflies and flies and bees. It wants moisture retention and shade in the right places and rocks and shrubs and trees. It wants every nook and cranny incorporated in the whole. The gist is that the more seemingly unrelated flora you grow around each other, the more you have a protected home for your crops; and things need a home to thrive. Even the big monoculture fields need to utilize trees along the edges of fields to protect from winds eroding the soil and damaging crops.

There are many things that go into making this; and all of it is, to my mind, mere common sense, carried through to its mad, joyful conclusion of simply doing it, according to one's dreaming, thinking, and sane encounter with what is at one's disposal. I would rather call permaculture Sprawl, but for the sake of this post I will call it permaculture.

This is nothing new. People in the old days had at least some kind of grasp of it, having profuse borders of crowded herbs and flowers; a corner occupied with a tree; rocks placed so as to create a heat sink, or alternatively a cool place for storage.

When seeking permaculture, herbs are a good place to start. One question is how vigorous and invasive are the herbs you want to plant and how much and what kind of space do you have. Adjust accordingly. Be shrewd. You can fit herbs in the tightest corners. Thyme thrives in bad soil; it hates rich soil; perfect for rocky ground and in between rocks. Worried about certain herbs, like mints, naturalizing a little too much and taking over? Devise a "half in the ground/half potted" system around borders using brick or rock, forming a bowl in the ground and planting in there. This can allow for easy pull-up for root pruning and replanting; it's both permanent and controllable.

Some herbs I'm growing, mostly from seed, some from store bought plants:

Mountain mint.
Korean mint.
Cat mint.
Greek oregano.
Winter savory.
Bee balm.
Lemon balm.

The fact is, having herbs around your garden is indispensable. There are some, like yarrow, that merely being beside other crops helps them to grow better and taste better. Some confuse pests that detect your crops through smell. Some repel pests. Most do all these things together, as well as attracting beneficial insects. Many can be ruthlessly harvested for mulch and "green manure", and they'll spring right back again. Often the most common ones, stuff you see growing in roadside ditches, like yarrow, are the best all round ones.

And call me crazy, but I noticed when I placed all those mints in and around the cabbages, it was like the cabbages just got real perky. You can just tell that the cabbage loves having the mint around.


Jim Janknegt said...

Since I'm in Texas and your in Canada our gardening calendar is pretty different. I spent almost three hours this afternoon after mass harvesting potatoes-both red and white. I got about 2/3s through and so far have 75 pounds. We'll do another planting in July to carry us into the fall.

Paul Stilwell said...

That's great to hear about the harvest. It's always hard for me to wrap my head around the different gardening calendars. I think my potatoes are actually somewhat early in flowering to boot.

June 21st is the longest day here (I think around 16 hours of daylight), and I'm hoping the onions I planted from seed develop a whole lot more green tops before that time, which is when the long daylight will trigger the onions to start putting their growth into the bulbs - and of course the bulb size is dependent on how much green tops there are. So it's a little nerve-racking. I think I may have started them a wee bit late. My first time growing onions. But there is always the August planting to grow through winter.

I take it you plant 'short day' onions, as opposed to 'long day' ones?

Also, I'm curious, how long of row(s) did you plant the potatoes?

Jim Janknegt said...

We tried something different with the potatoes this year. Instead of rows we planted them in beds 5 feet wide and about 30 feet long in a diagonal pattern about 9" apart. I read about this in a book: How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine.

I have since read contradictory ideas about this method and if I use it again I will space the plants a bit more. We had one and a half beds so a total of about 90 feet 5 feet wide. I am going to order the next batch of potatoes from Roningers which I have heard good things about and will get a late maturing variety.

WE also already harvested onions. It gets hot too fast her to grow them in the spring. We plant them in the winter and the grow the leaves and then bulb up before it gets too hot. We had a gopher that got a bunch of our onions but we still got quite a few.

Paul Stilwell said...

That sounds like one interesting book. I am definitely going to try and get a hold of it.

We've had a late spring, and right now it feels like we've jumped straight into summer.

The beet seeds have sprouted in little more than five days.

Here, it's the winter rain (freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze) that wages war with the overwintering onions, or so I'm told - instead of gophers. :)

One has to use a fair bit of mulch and make sure they're not started too early in summer.