Garden Planning 101: Strange Bedfellows1
The frost is on the pumpkin in my part of the world. We had a killing frost a few days earlier than normal – if anything related to the weather in this place can be called normal. But it points out one of the things you need to keeping mind when planning your vegetable garden, namely the length of your growing season.
In North America it is easy to find this information. Every seed catalogue, nursery catalogue and most gardening guides have maps of the continent which show our climate zones or hardiness zones. These zones are numbered 1 through 11. The higher the number, the warmer the climate and the longer the growing season. I live in Zone 6. This tells me that my minimum temperature in the winter should range between 0° to 10° F (-23° to -18° C) and that the average dates for the last frost in the spring is April 18 and for the first frost in the fall is October 25. This means that I have an average of 190 frost-free growing days. But, there are many cool-weather vegetables that can be planted in early March. So with careful planning, I have a growing season of approximately 235 days.
Seed catalogues and the markers in nursery plants that you buy at garden centres will tell you how many days it takes a certain variety to reach maturity. Once you have chosen which vegetables you want to raise, you need to make a list of these maturity dates. This will help you lay out your garden.
This week we are going to begin talking about companion planting, relay planting and intercropping. Since gardening terms vary in different locations, let's start with a definition of terms.
- Multiple Cropping: Growing two or more crops per year in the same field or garden bed.
- Sequential Planting: Growing two or more crops a year in sequence in the same field or garden bed. This is what I mean when I say relay planting. It is also commonly called succession planting. This lets you use your garden space for the entire season.
- Polyculture: Growing two or more crops simultaneously in the same field or garden plot. The Hillbilly term for this is intercropping. Most home gardens practice intercropping.
- Companion Planting: Selecting specific combinations of plants to grow together in order to achieve a benefit such as soil improvement or insect control. This means you should plant certain varieties together.
- Allelopathy: The ability of plants to produce substances that slow or stop the growth of other plants as a protective mechanism. This means that you should not plant certain varieties together.
If you're going to go to the trouble of planting a vegetable garden, you'll want to harvest as many vegetables as you can. The best way to achieve a continuous harvest of fresh, delicious vegetables is to practice relay planting. You will start with a cool-weather crop, follow that with a warm-weather crop and, depending on the harvest date for the second crop, follow that with another cool weather crop.
When you follow an early crop by a warm–weather crop that stays in the garden until frost or nearly until frost, then you will be planting a two-way rely. If you use the bed for three successive crops, you will be planting a three-way relay. And if you live in a frost free area, you can plant four-way relays. So you see how important it is to know the maturity dates of your crops.
One of my favourite relays is to follow English Peas with Hubbard Squash. I plant peas around the middle of March. Then I plant my squash seeds among the pea plants in early May, when the ground has warmed up. Once the peas are harvested, I cut the plants at the ground, rather than pulling them up. This way, the squash seedlings are not disturbed. And since peas are legumes, their roots fix nitrogen into the soil as they decay. So, you always want to leave you pea and bean roots in the soil to naturally decompose.
Another relay that I have used many times is to plant an early salad bed of Lettuce, Spinach, Radishes and Scallions in early March. Then, in late April, I harvest the young vegetables for my dinner and set out my Tomato plants in the area vacated. By the time the tomato plants are large enough to shade the bed, the salad vegetables will have been harvested. If I choose determinate tomatoes which produce all of their fruit at once and then stop blooming, I am able to follow the tomatoes with a late crop of salad veggies again. If I choose indeterminate tomatoes which produce fruit until frost, I still try to put in a few radishes along the borders of the bed.
Ok, here's what you do to plan your relays. First make a list of those early crops that you want to raise. Cool-weather vegetables grow best in the spring and fall. They include Lettuces, Spinach, English Peas, Sugar-Snap Peas, Snow Peas, Broccoli, Cabbage, Chinese Cabbage, Bok Choi, Cauliflower, Beets, Turnips, Potatoes and Scallions. Next to each variety, make a note of the days to maturity. Add a week or two to this figure and you will know how long this crop will occupy your space.
Next, make a list of those warm-weather crops that require warm soil to germinate and hot days and warm nights to set fruit or to mature. These vegetables include Tomatoes, Squashes, Pole Beans, Bush Beans, Carrots, Cucumbers, Peppers, Pumpkins, Leeks, Chard, Peanuts, Corn, Eggplants, Okra and Sweet Potatoes. Add to this Onions and Potatoes, which can be planted in the spring or early summer either one. Again, make a note of the days to maturity for each variety.
An example of successful three-way relays are: Peas – Broccoli – Zucchini; Spinach – Cucumbers – Lettuce; Lettuce – Bush Beans – Cauliflower; Broccoli – Bush Beans – Spinach. See how easy this is?
Or to take advantage of vertical space, plant climbing varieties. Begin with Snow Peas or Sugar Snaps, follow that with Pole Beans, and when the beans get scraggly, plant more climbing peas. One year I had
success planting English Peas in a circle in March. Then in early May, I planted corn in the centre of the circle. In June I harvested the peas and planted pole beans around the base of the corn. By the time the beans were climbing the corn stalks it was time to pick the corn, which I did and left the beans, which continued to bloom and set fruit until frost to climb to their hearts content. Around the rim of the circle, I planted Swiss Chard which grew happily there and provided a harvest of greens until nearly Christmas.
What I have just described is a combination of relay planting and companion planting. Companion planting is more anecdotal than scientific. There are certain plants that grow well together and have
been planted together for centuries. Classic examples of good companions are Beans and Corn, Mustard and Turnips, Tomatoes and Basil, Peas and Carrots and Petunias and Potatoes.
Conversely, we are warned against planting anything near a Black Walnut tree, not to plant Cabbage near Grape Vines, and not to plant Onions and Garlic with Peas. And we've all heard that Marigolds will repel bean beetles and nematodes and that Geraniums will repel Japanese beetles, corn earworms and cabbage moths.
We'll go into this in more detail next time. I will provide a list of the most common vegetables and herbs and which combinations are supposed to be beneficial. And we'll try to find out if there is actually any scientific evidenced that these combinations work.
This week's recipe is for those of you who have Thanksgiving turkey left in the fridge and are running out of ideas.
Hypatia's Turkey Pitas
- 2 cups - 250g, 10oz - of cooked turkey, sliced into thin strips
- 1 medium onion, sliced into thin strips
- 1 large green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
- 4 ounce - 100g - can of sliced mushrooms, drained
- 1 cup of salsa – hot or mild – your choice
- Olive oil
- Pita Pockets, cut in half
Sauté the onions and peppers in the olive oil until tender. Add the mushrooms and the sliced turkey and heat through. Stir in the salsa. Serve in warm pita pockets. This is also good if you eliminate the
salsa and add a little garlic and salt and pepper to taste.