Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Companion Planting

I have heard references to "companion planting" occasionally but never paid much attention, other than to plant marigolds here and there throughout my vegetable garden because someone, at some time, said it discouraged some kind of garden pest. But this year I have done a little reading and have put together a compilation of various plants that may help (or hinder) others. I am going to try to use some of that information this year.
It seems that much of the evidence about the effectiveness of planting one vegetable with a "companion" is anecdotal. (Agriculture schools must not have big PhD programs or we would have some hard evidence.)

Some plants are referred to as "allies" of other plants and some are said to be "incompatible". In The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing (by Tanya Denckla) "allies" are plants that are said to repel insects "or enhance the growth or flavor of the target plant". "Incompatibles" may play a negative role in the other plants growth. Marigolds and Nasturtium appear as allies for a lot of vegetables and since they are edible I plan to distribute them throughout the garden. That way we get two for one - flowers to eat from plants that may help other plants in the garden.
I will take a closer look at those plants that are "incompatible" with what I am growing. If the information I have has any validity then I need to keep onions and garlic away from the pole beans - apparently they will both be happier - and the spinach and cucumbers away from the potatoes. [If anyone who happens across this post wants a copy of the chart I have compiled, let me know.]

Another concept that I heard nothing about until I looked at Vegetable Gardening for Dummies by Charlie Nardozzi is planting by the phases of the moon. Hard as it is to think how the moon would affect what you plant apparently ancient gardeners believed ("noticed" is the word in the book) that some vegetables do better when planted during the appropriate phase of the moon. If nothing else trying this gives a reason to go out into the garden at night (although it may be easier to look in the newspaper to see what phase the moon is in.) Supposedly the first seven days after the new moon (that is, no visible moon) is best for vegetables that produce their seeds on parts of the plant that are not eaten. Basil would be an example. The next seven days (half moon to full moon) plant vegetables in which the seeds are eaten, such as peas and tomatoes. The next seven days, plant root crops. And then when the moon is diminishing from half moon to nothing, don't plant. There are plenty of other tasks to do. By the way, I assume this doesn't mean you actually have to plant at night.
What about a carrot? It has seeds on the part of the plant not eaten (first seven days) but is a root crop (third seven days). Let's not get too serious about this.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's Already There

Even though the garden is covered with snow some of the things we grow are already there. I have to plan around them. Most have been there long enough that I know where they are. There are blueberries, raspberries, and asparagus all occupying significant space. Also we planted garlic in October so I have to work around that. I did sow lettuce seeds in a wooden frame that now has a glass cover. The past several years the seedlings had a good start before they needed to be covered - in fact I had transplanted them so they were properly spaced. They then just sat through the winter and when Spring came were ready to start growing and ready to begin harvesting in a few weeks. This year they didn't get a good start and were certainly not big enough to transplant. I tried to look today to see if any were growing but the snow had turned solid and I couldn't brush it off. Probably I don't have to plan around that lettuce this year. The only other thing that is in the garden are parsnips. But they will be harvested as soon as the soil can be dug. It will be interesting to see how they did this year. While we have good soil it is full of small bits of shale and my parsnips haven't grown into nice large single roots in the past. This year I started them indoors and then transplanted them carefully into cones made with newspaper and filled with sifted soil and set each one into a cone shaped hole in the soil. Unfortuntately they were right next to the flower garden and the flowers eventually grew tall enough to partially shade the parsnips. This is one of the experiments that I can't judge until Spring.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'll get it right this time!

The seed catalogs are arriving. I have already planned out where each vegetable, herb and fruit will go. And, this year, I hope I can keep to the plan. I have grown vegetables for more than 30 years always with as good intentions as I have this year. But in every one of those years a time has come when the garden just "got away". The weeds took over, or harvesting didn't keep up, or watering was inadequate and suddenly control was gone for the rest of the season. That didn't mean we got nothing from the garden, only that we could have done a lot better.

One reason was that I never had a clear plan. I have learned from Toastmasters that if you want to speak effectively you have to plan in detail what you are going to say. If I want to garden effectively I have to plan - on paper - what I am going to do. The vague plan in my mind doesn't hack it.

I have one big advantage this year and that is that I am retired. I can allocate time each day for gardening. I also have had time to plan and time to read more about gardening. I'll get it right this time.