walking the many rows of fresh goodness.
Finally! The garden is tilled, the rows laid out, & soaker hoses are neatly lining the rows. It's GARDEN TIME! Or at least it was the first week of June. With a growing season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, we weren't too far off our normal planting. A month later than we would have liked, but the rain came causing quite a bit of delay for us, with relatives filling in all the other spare time we had ~grin~. We have been fortunate to find heirloom and organic seeds that actually thrive in our area, so we know there will be food.
So, before more rains could change our minds, off we went to our little piece of dirt filled paradise. How wonderful the dirt felt between the toes. Listening to the chatter of the four legged kids calling out for attention. Safely learning all the 'barn rules', they are left to the quite capable hooves of the mature does.
With double row planting, companion planting, and crop rotation in mind keeping track of the garden from year to year is..........well, easier than trying to remember where everything was.
Planning the garden is key to our crop rotation, companion planting, and double row planting methods. Some are just one of many parts of a broader method of farming. So let's discuss our simplified form of polyculture.
companion planting; and double row planting.
Crop rotation has been around for a very long time. The ancient Romans used the 'Food, Feed, & Fallow' principle, changing to encompass growing multiple crops in the same fields, to our use of crop rotation on a very small scale.
Food, Feed, & Fallow was the practice of growing food crops on one portion of land, growing livestock feed on another, & leaving another field to rest and recover from the prior year's use. The belief was that the soil needed a chance to renew the nutrients lost through use. Though good in principle, the limit with this method is there are specific needs of individual plants and they can vary greatly, without adding nutrients back to the soil - the soil is still depleted.
Large/Multiple Crop Rotation is a method of growing more than one crop on an area of land. The basic principles of this was to maximize the output of land by growing crops in sequence that would replace the nutrients used by one crop with another crop. A sample is Alfalfa, alfalfa needs high levels of potassium to grow well, yet it depletes the soil quickly by its needs. Growing winter wheat can increase potassium. The advantage here is that you can get two crops in the same area. The best way to use this method is with multiple parcels of land. Using a different crops with each parcel, moving crops to a different parcel each year. The limit of this is growing season, if your season is short like ours, it becomes very difficult growing two crops in sequence in a 90 day season.
Small Scale Crop Rotation works best for a small homesteader with limited land to use. We use this method ourselves. The principle of this is - different plants need different levels of
nutrients. As one crop is grown, it depletes the soil of those nutrients. Alternating deep root crops with other crops the level of use changes from one to another (somewhat like companion planting). We are limited on the area we can grow crops, so crops are rotated within the same parcel of land year from year. We practice a three row rotation, meaning corn grown on row one in one year, is grown in row 3 in the following year. It is also
believed that by moving a crop yearly, you limit the risk of pests that favor one plant over another, as is the case with Calendula (Marigold).
Companion Planting is the practice of planting crops closely together that support one another. Remember the saying "Carrots love Tomatoes"? Basically it means planting plants that need higher levels of nitrogen next to plants that need the least amount of nitrogen - there by not depleting the nitrogen in the soil.
We used hundreds of sources, books, online, etc. to developed our 'list' of companion plants & are sharing it below:
Double Row Planting is our method of maximizing our gardens output. Planting two rows side by side of the same crop. Or in the case of corn, 5-6 rows very close together. Corn is one of the few crops that grow better close together, in a patch, not necessarily a row, but because we are limited on space we place the rows butted up to one another. We place a soaker hose in the center of the double row for better watering during our windy days of summer.
Crops that work well in double row planting: Peas, Carrots, Beets, Corn, Onions, and more. Most anything that doesn't spread out, such as the squashes & melons.
When we first started gardening out here, our soil was terrible. Was that really 14 years ago? Having gardened for 16 years already, we chose not to use chemical fertilizers or sprays of any kind. Root crops never made it the first few years - even radishes were always loaded with burrows along the skin. The root crops
failed, became hard and unusable. Crops, such as Peas, were sporadic - causing spotty rows of food.
What we believe is: Healthy soil makes healthy food, healthy food for us, healthy food for our livestock.
Life is inter-connected, all life! Anything and everything you do to your soil affects you and your livestock. If your soil is bad, the
food you grow will not provide the nutrients you and your animals need. If you use chemical fertilizers, they end up in your food and your animals. We will talk about Dr. Albrecht and his 'healthy soil - healthy food/feed' theory in a later blog, promise - you'll want to read it!
What's the old saying - 'you can't get blood from a turnip'. Start with the what soil you have and work it, improve it.
We use crop rotation and companion planting to give the soil the best chance of growing our crops without overworking the soil. By using these methods, the theory is the micro & macro nutrients are not depleted, they are used in tandem. As in, one plant uses a nutrient, another plant adds it to the soil or at least doesn't require the same amount or kind of nutrient - thus allowing the soil to continue feeding one plant as another plant feeds the soil without overworking the soil. But what can we do beyond that to continue to improve our soil? Especially without chemicals?
Improving the soil......
Compost - compost is a magic just waiting to be performed.
By not using chemicals on our crops, what we feed to our livestock is better for them, and better for us. Their organic manure is a dream garden just waiting to happen. We never use our compost during the growing season. Why? With severe cold weather lasting months, have you ever tried turning your compost pile in the middle of a Montana winter? Not likely, so that means our compost isn't completely broken down when we use it. Known as hot compost, it needs time to break down - when breaking down it takes nitrogen to do it. So adding hot compost mid-season would overwork our soil and take nutrients away from our plants and soil. Hot compost can also 'burn' your plants. We add up to a foot of compost (goat & rabbit) to our garden at the end of the season.
By spring, you can barely see the compost - all ready to work it into the soil in preparation of our latest garden. We don't ever recommend cow manure, we have found in the beginning that cows don't digest weed seed well - using cow manure can lead to more weeds in your garden then you want. How can you tell if the compost is well aged? Hay/Straw......an easy rule of thumb is if you can see the hay or straw your compost isn't aged enough to directly use on your plants. Hay or straw can increase the risk of mold or fungus issues that can also destroy your patch of green goodness.
that do better in poor soil and others that need the best. Start out with the low demand plants and work your way up.
tilling may loosen your soil, but you can kill quite a few worms. Though your topsoil may be hard, worms will keep your soil aerated. We know it's a lot of work pulling weeds, after this past month - we're experts on weeding ~sigh~, honestly. There is something honest and rewarding pulling weeds by hand or using hand tools. You get close to the earth, to the plants, closer to the land - some people do yoga, we do weeding. Easier to get closer to God on your knees, on dirt He made, with plants He has growing. Problems with wrist pain or back pain? Try some
ergonomic tools by Radius Garden. We love the Transplanter & Weeder!
Water! Water is as important as your soil. Soaker hoses are great getting water were you need it, but don't forget to water from above. Using overhead sprinklers are important to use as well, they provide water in a more natural way. Watering the whole
garden provides a better environment for worms. Life in your soil is soil with life. Use overhead sprinklers weekly, use soaker hoses when you need to watch the water usage. There are new products - Rainforest Ecological Sprinklers - that use 1/3 less water and cover large areas up to 50ft! They use a misting method to water - no pooling, gentle even on delicate plants and seedlings.
That's right, we are lazy - at least we think so. Once the initial garden is laid out with soaker hoses and string (only way I can plant straight), we trench the rows on either side of the hoses. We then plant our seeds in the trenches and cover them with dirt, patting them down as we go. Plants started indoors are added in the available space with a good watering in the hole first. That's it, we put far more work into the planning the garden than actually planting the garden.
Small seeds don't need to be planted as deep as large seeds. So you need to plant most at 1/2 inch to 1 inch. Not very deep. Do we worry about how close the seeds are? Not really. If we need to thin as they grow, we do - the goats love us thinning the rows, rabbits too.
We were asked by a few how best to plant the seeds, whether trenching or individual 'wholes' were best. Our answer is either. What works best for you. The seed will grow if the soil and temperatures are right, regardless if you planted in a trench or planted each seed individually in it's very own whole. Garden's are not just food, they should be fun as well! Don't make unnecessary work for yourself, if you make it harder, you'll probably never stick with it.
cabbages, some kohlrabi, and some kale), may need hardening off
depending on the weather when we plant them. Most are 'cool' weather crops, meaning they do well in colder weather. If
planted on cooler days - we don't need to harden them off at all.
Everything else, including corn, are direct seeded in the garden. Now, depending on rain, everything should do just fine. So, within 60 days we can usually start harvesting from our garden for eating fresh, canning, or dehydrating for the animals.
So how do we know crop rotation & companion planting
Other then years of experience at it, we saw some improvements every year. Less wormy root crops, more crops per plant, and more 'good' WORMS! Oh how wonderful the worms are! We started seeing less crop failures, higher production, and more beneficial bugs - like lady bugs. Not just that, but we got healthier and our animals got healthier!
With planning, gardening isn't so much a chore as it is a delight. Being able to feed our livestock and ourselves without ever going to the store is even better. Honestly, if it wasn't for our growing & raising all our own food, we would have gone hungry not so long ago. Other than the benefit of not starving we know what we are eating, no preservatives, no hormones, no dyes, no risk of 'Roundup' or other chemicals. Taking a short walk through our garden, deciding what looks good to us today, what's better than that?
BTW......What's for dinner?