Monday, May 2, 2011

Vegetable Planting in 3-D - Creating a Zombie Proof Garden

We want to maximize the use of all our space here at the Funny Farm. We live in a 3 dimensional space that has height, width and depth. Ma Nature takes advantage of that with plants that crawl on the ground, some that grow 1' tall, some that grow 4' tall, some that grow every size in between, some that are thick and dense, some that are light and airy, some that grab hold of other plants and climb up them as far as they can go.

We take our cue from her and emulate that in our beds. We plant our tomatoes 6' apart in a staggered pattern and tie them to a single stake. We train 2 vines up the stake as far as i can reach. When they reach the top of the stake i cut them off and they proceed to drape down another 3 or 4' by the end of the season. There are 3 reasons why i use this method. The first is that it allows for plenty of air circulation around the plants that should decrease the incidence of disease. The second is that the plants are ripening fewer fruits so the fruits will be bigger. The 3rd is that i can plant the spaces between them with other plants of various sizes and growth habits to take advantage of the volume of space. Time plays a factor in this scheme too. I wait at least 2 weeks after planting the tomatoes to plant more stuff so the tomatoes have time to become established so they do not get overwhelmed by other faster growing plants.

The next thing i plant are zucchini transplants. I plant a few in each bed scattering them around the garden. Today i filled the remaining spaces with basil, dill, marigolds, holy basil, zinnias. All of them serve a purpose for us.
Basil goes in our marinara we can and pesto.... and salads and soups and sandwiches ... and...
Dill is an essential ingredient in our pickle-making. We use it fresh and save the seeds for later use allowing some to fall to the ground to produce another crop in the fall.
Marigolds have been attributed with all kinds of super-powers most of which are unfounded. Whenever we have grown them we have never had a problem with zombies so maybe that one is true ;) We grow them because we think they are pretty and Robin likes the smell. We grow the tall ones not the dinky little ones you find at garden centers and hardware stores.
Holy Basil is a revered plant by Hindus. Many Hindus grow it by the front door and eat 17 leaves each day. It has many purported medicinal properties, some of which have been confirmed by scientific research. Of particular importance now is its ability to protect us from radiation poisoning. I grew it last year and made of habit of munching on the the leaves each morning as i took my daily observational walk through the garden. It has an interesting flavor that i found appealing over time.
Zinnias grow 4' - 6' tall in our garden so the fill the middle space between the lower things and the tomato vines. We love them. They bring butterflies. They are bright and cheerful. Robin makes bouquets out of them that we sell at the market. Our garden would not be complete with out zinnias. We like the Benary hybrids best.
Other Potential Benefits of This Planting Method
Plants send out electro-chemical signals to attract pollinators to them. Plant-eating insects can follow those signals too. By planting a lot of different plants the signals co-mingle which we hope confuses the plant eators and excites the pollinators, many of whom are are predators of the plant-eating insect pests. It is kind of like creating a village with lots of restaurants to choose from and plenty for the kids to do. Hopefully the adults will like it enough that they will choose to make it their home for the summer.

Does it work? I cannot say for sure. I am not doing scientifically rigorous experiments with control plots. Example... last year we planted zucchini throughout the garden rather than is a row as we had in the past. We had very little problems with squash vine borers compared with the previous year. However we started a new fertility program that strengthened the plants and we grew different varieties than the year before. Either or both of those could have been the reason why we did not have a borer problem or all 3 factors working in syncronicity.

I do know that we attract lots of different pollinators and other beneficial insects. Each year i find more different beneficial insects in the garden than the previous year. I can also conclude that we get more productivity per square foot than we did when we planted in rows.

There are lots of list on the internet about companion planting. Very few have any scientific basis to back them up. I have seen several recommendations that i know from my own experience to be wrong. The key is to open your hearts and minds to the natural world so you can truly see what is before your eyes and learn the lessons that you can apply to your gardens. Every garden is unique. Every season is different. Think critically and creatively. Try new things. Break the rules.

And watch out for Zombies :)

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