The very first step is to sit with the land for a moment. See which animals share that space. See what weeds (or rather, medicinal herbs) are there. What are the challenges? What are the benefits? Then measure the space. Draw out (doesn’t have to be architecturally perfect) a grid so that you have a solid design for your garden. You’ll know exactly what will fit and will be able to arrange the plot so that you can grow absolutely everything you want and still fit in a reading chair.
I have 1 garden plot that is 20×20. I have one that is 10×20. I decided to make the smaller one the spring and fall garden. It will also hold medicinal plants. Each of my gardens will have the traditional Cherokee rule; the north and east side will be the three sisters, corn, squash, and beans. Sunflowers will line that. The Cherokee didn’t need books to figure these things out, they were passed down and I will keep that going. The corn provided a stalk for the beans to grow on, the squash leaves keep the weeds down and helps divert marauding characters of the night who love corn. The sunflowers provide food for beneficial insects and birds that will help pollinate the plants. The tall plants also provide a little respite from wind and sun to help the plants below them.
I opted not to rototill. The beneficial organisms and earth worms are screaming their little heads off as the ground is tilled, plus you expose all those lovely invasive weed seeds to sunlight. I will simply comb the areas with a rake, dig holes for each seed, and cover each seed/plant in its hole with organic garden soil. This provides enough nutrition for now for the young seeds without creating too much havoc. The ground will be covered with straw to keep in moisture and protect the plain soil. Paths will be created with straw as well. A thick pad of moist straw and cardboard makes any weed or grass that makes it through very easy to yank out.
Once you have your list of what you want to plant, and where you will plant them, go seed shopping at a local nursery (more on that Monday).
In the 10×20 I will plant 3 different kind of potatoes, garlic, onions, kale, chard, spinach, 4 different lettuces, arugula, English peas, snap peas, snow peas, wild flowers, California poppy, dill, lobelia, Bidens ticks, calendula, cucumbers, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beets, corn, melon, sunflowers, and beans.
In the 20×20 I will plant beans, sunflowers, okra, Asian greens, bok choi, soybeans, butternut squash, roses, lemon balm, mint, thyme, valerian, chamomile, motherwort, borage, comfrey, broccoli, 12 pepper plants, 4 eggplants, 20 tomato plants, basil, oregano, chives, green beans, collard greens, zucchini, corn, and 3 different kinds of pumpkins (I am still Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all) plus include a reading chair for me and Maryjane, a trellis to grow the Morning Glory seeds I saved, and have a bird bath.
How on earth will all this fit in 600 square feet? By interplanting and sticking to a map. Root vegetables need to have something growing above them. Potatoes and spinach, carrots, beets, and lettuces, et cetera. No monocropping! Tomatoes need space between them, so collard greens and herbs will fill the spaces.
I went to the gardens to see if I could plant the potatoes yet but a sheet of snow still hid the plots beneath. But, one thing I have found is whether I plant spring crops in the beginning of April or at the end, they still grow at the same rate. It doesn’t matter whether you get a head start and plant potatoes and greens the first week of April or if you don’t get to it until the end of April. The germination rate seems to slow the earlier you plant in this climate, thanks in part to 80 degrees, snow, freeze, flood, hail, heat, wind, cold… the soil can’t keep up with Mother Nature’s moodiness this time of year! Plant when you can. Next week, we will plant potatoes, onions, garlic, and a whole slew of spring seeds! See you in the garden!