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Asparagus and Beans – A Winning Combo

July 23rd, 2012

In the past couple years I’ve been reading a lot about permaculture. As a result, I’m always searching for more effective ways to implement it’s ideas into the garden. This spring I was reading a non-permaculture article reading recommended a higher nitrogen fertilizer once harvests stopped and the foliage was allowed to grow.

Instead of adding a high nitrogen fertilizer, I was going to underplant the asparagus with clover. This would both provide nitrogen and protect the soil. Before I got it planted, I ran out of space in the edible garden for my green beans. Off went the lightbulb in my head and I planted them by the asparagus. The asparagus greened up nicely once the beans took root. When the beans are done producing they’ll be pulled and laid around the asparagus to provide an overwintering mulch to protect the soil. If I have comfrey to harvest at that time it’s leaves will be added as well.

I love discovering ways to maximize the small space by layering edibles. An added bonus is saving money by not having to buy a fertilizer. Any time I can keep the circle of the garden closed I’m one happy gardener. Like what goes on my plate, I like knowing exactly where every input in the garden comes from!

If you’re not familiar with permaculture, I’d highly recommend reading about it. Check your local library to see if they have a copy of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. I had our library’s copy so much that I finally just purchased one. Mr Chiots is reading our copy of this book and is loving it (not bad for a guy that’s not really interested in gardening). He’s already talking of implementing the apple guild next spring in Maine. Perhaps I’ll have him write a blog post about it this winter as he’s planning!

Have you ever heard of permaculture? If so, are you implementing any of it’s principles in your garden?

The Benefits of Mustard in the Garden

July 9th, 2012

“The advantage of sowing mustard are that it disinfects and regenerates the soil, it stimulates the life of the soil and curbs nematodes, especially potato root eelworm, which is why it is so useful to sow the seed. It gives the feared nematodes very little chance in the garden. Its effect on all plant life, including the crucifers, is not negative but positive.”

Gertrud Franck (Companion Planting: Successful Gardening the Organic Way)

‘Idagold’ mustard is what is used here at Chiot’s Run. A large bag was purchased from Johnny’s Seeds last spring and now it’s sown whenever I have bare soil that won’t be planted for a month.

Mustard is said to help suppress weed growth and providing a living mulch. That’s one reason I use it, I have had pretty good luck using it this spring/summer so far. I like to let mine grow to about six inches tall then I pull it and use as a mulch around the larger main crops like zucchini and potatoes.

I also overseed the areas where I plant potatoes. The book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, extols the benefits of mustard for mitigating lots of potato problems including blight. I let the mustard grow to about 6 inches then it’s pulled, laid around the potato plants and covered with straw.
Idagold Mustard
Another benefit of mustard is that it’s easy to pull and doesn’t really self-sow much or become invasive (at least not the yellow variety I grow). Mustard will also winter kill in areas with cold winters, making it a perfect fall cover crop for a nicely prepared and mulched spring planting area.

I’d highly recommend looking into a few cover crops for your small garden. Not only will you increase the health of the soil, you’ll save money by growing your own mulches. You can find a cover crop that will suit just about any need you have, from weed suppression and soil building to disease mitigation. I’d highly recommend starting with mustard, it’s a great initiation in to the cover crop world.

Do you use companion planting methods in your garden?

For more reading on cover crops in the garden, I’d highly recommend these books:

A Great Read

July 5th, 2012

I read a lot of books, there’s always a stack on my coffee table of books I’m reading, those to be read, and some that I’ll probably never get around to reading. Most of the books I read are about gardening and permaculture. Some a great, some are OK, and some never get finished. One of my most recent finds is quickly becoming one of my favorite gardening books. It’s an old book, I came across the title while reading The Art of French Vegetable Gardening. The method of companion planting and crop rotation they said she used sounded fascinating.

Companion Planting: Successful Gardening the Organic Way by Gertrud Franck is phenomenal. If you’re into companion planting, organic gardening, permaculture, herbs and gardening in general I think you will LOVE this book. I cannot even begin to explain her methods, they are detailed yet simple. This book will definitely be read over and over again!

Do you have any books you read over and over again? What are they?

The Balance of Nature: Companion Planting

May 1st, 2009

One way to keep you garden healthy and reduce insect problems is to use companion planting. There are plants that grow well together, plants that repel insects, plants that repel other plants, and plants that improve the soil. Probably the most well-known companion planting is the Three Sisters Garden. The best way to learn about all of these is to read a few books on it, my favorite is: Carrots Love Tomatoes.
Marigolds are one of those beneficial plants it seems everyone knows about. Marigolds also deter nematodes that attack potatoes & strawberries. They do this by producing a chemical in the roots, this chemical kills the nematodes when it goes into the soil. It is produced slowly so the marigolds must be grown all season long. Marigolds also help tomatoes produce better, they help deter the Mexican bean beetle, and they help deter weeds such as bindweed, ground elder, and ground ivy. The older heirloom varieties are considered the best.
Some plants attract beneficial insects to your gardens and some deter bad insects. For example: carrots suffer from the carrot fly and onions suffer from the onion fly. However, if you plant carrots and onions together the smell of each plant makes it so that neither insect attempts to lay their eggs on the other plant.
Another way that beneficial plants work in the garden is by improving the soil. It is well known that legumes add nitrogen to the soil, that’s why they can be used as a cover crop in your garden beds. Many of these plants accumulate minerals from the soil and these minerals are put back into the soil when you compost the plants. I keep 6 comfrey plants in my garden for this purpose. The leaves are cut several times each summer and used in the compost bins.
A few more examples of companion planting:
Plant garlic with roses to protect them from aphids & other pests.
Nasturtiums keep broccoli free of aphids.
Bush beans do well when planted with celery.
Pole beans do not do well with beets.
Carrots help peas grow better.
Castor beans and foxglove repel deer.
Geraniums repel cabbage worms.
One thing to remember about this and all organic methods is that they are not instant like chemical methods often are. They are however better for your garden in the long run. I’ve had great luck with marigolds in my garden beds and by growing basil and other herbs among my vegetables.

So what kinds of companion planting work for you?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.