Potager Update Fall 2004


You will notice a difference in the way the Potager planting has been designed.  That is explained here.

I have been reading about ecological gardening this year, and have found that the principles can be applied to annual vegetable beds as well.  These are outlined on the Steps to an Ecological Garden page, but I will repeat them here:

Plant the different families together, rather than in large, separate blocks, which become a beacon for pests.  Interplant herbs and flowers that will attract beneficial insects, like Dill and Fennel, and anything with tiny flowers.  Calendulas, Cosmos, Fenugreek, and Nasturtiums are supposed to be good.  Marigolds are not as great as previously thought - only one species repels nematodes and then only when planted in a mass with nothing else for an entire season.  Their strong scent may repel other pests, but they may also repel beneficials.  Arrange plants so taller plants can shade more delicate things like lettuce from the strong sun.  Remember that the north side of anything is shadiest, so place sun-lovers to the south and west of taller plants, and shade-lovers to the north of them.

With these ideas in mind, and not wishing to buy any new seed, at least not to begin with, I got out my seeds and took inventory.  The vegetables we wanted to plant this year were listed and set aside in one stack.  Then I looked for flowers that would attract beneficial insects and repel pests, and would not take up much space and shade out the vegetables.  Each group was further sorted by height, tall, medium, short, and very short.  The tall vegetables and flowers would be planted in the center of each bed, the medium around them, the short around the edges, and the very short (radishes and sweet alyssum) 2" from the edge of each bed.  In addition to the pole beans on each teepee pole, there should be beans in each bed to fix nitrogen, and members of each of the other families should be in each bed as well.  All flower types would be scattered evenly in all the beds in the repective height range area.  I had four types of bush beans, so I would put one type in each bed.  There were two types of summer squash, so each type went into two separate beds.  I had several types of brassicas - different types went in each bed.  There were four types of root vegetables and four onion family members - one type of each category went into each bed.  Thought was also given to the colors of the vegetables - if the pole bean on a teepee was green, the tall greens in that bed would be the more colorful ones.  If the pole bean were purple, the greens did not have to be colorful.  One of the squashes and two types of bush bean were yellow, and one was purple.  I tried for as colorful a mix as possible in each bed.

This may sound complicated, but it ws not, and in fact, once the seeds were chosen, arranging them took only about half an hour.  And it was fun!

Go to Cool Season Planting 2004-2005 to see what the final plan was.

The beds were first weeded (the weeds were pulled and laid on top of the old soil), then improved by dumping a good potting soil, cow manure, and pre-soaked coir (which I had bought in bricks - this is coconut husk fiber and holds moisture very well.  It is better than peat because it is environmentally friendly, and will re-wet easily after drying out - peat will not.) into each bed and mixing them well, then evening out the level.  After that, everything was watered really well with a soft, long sprinkle.  I had to be sure the peat in the potting soil was thoroughly moist, or it would have robbed the seeds of water and possibly killed them.  This still leaves a surface that is too rough for all but large seeds, so a top layer of Jiffy seed-starting mix was carefully spread out over the top and the whole tamped flat using a plastic water pitcher with straight sides (usually used to water patio plants), leaving a smooth bed for delicate seeds.  This mix is also peat-based, but the layer was thin and applied over wet soil, so it was instantly moistened when it got tamped down.

As for the actual sowing, I found it easiest to plant each vegetable separately, starting from the middle of the bed and working out, and doing one bed at a time, following my planting guide, which was printed up and placed in a sheet protector.  Once the vegetables were installed, not on top of each other, and at their proper seed depth, I planted each type of flower separately.  Some had larger seeds that needed to be buried 1/4" deep, but most needed to be barely covered - these I simply scattered on top of the ground.  When all seeds were in, I sprinkled a very thin layer of Jiffy mix on top of the entire bed and tamped it down again, this time with a foam pad I use for my knees.  That way, all seeds would make good contact with the moist ground.  It had rained the night before, so the ground was perfectly ready.  If not, I would have watered the beds carefully before starting - preferably the night before.

How did this new method work?  I'll let you know.  Much of the seed was older than I would like, so I sowed more than usual of it.  I will start a few flowers of the same types alrready direct-seeded in the beds in pots on the patio.  Any obvious gaps that appear after a couple of weeks will be filled in with these.

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