Choose a suitable garden area, based on access, soil, ideal size, light conditions, heat conditions, wind protection and water availability.
After choosing a site, you may like to list and plan on paper the initial ideas;
-plants that will be grown,
-amount of rows (500 mm apart), rows will be explained further on,
-water source positions etc.
-Inspect the soil of the chosen garden spot.
-Make note of what plants are living in the soil.
Examples; Nettles live in nutritious soil often high in nitrogen with deep roots. Clover lives in soil without nitrogen. Grass grows on a more balanced soil with shallower roots.
Check soil structure. If hard/clay/stony, then turn it over, with what is required and appropriate (fork, rotovator, plough etc). For clay add sand etc. For sandy soil add organic matter (leaves, grass cuttings, compost etc). If soil is soft, fine and crumbly then check for big stones and remove roots of existing, invasive perennial plants. Soil nutrient content can often be figured out by the plants that are living in the soil. Roots of any annuals (marigold etc) can remain in the soil for soil nutrition. This is only initial, after you set out the plot, the growing of many and varied crops and constant addition of live-cover will balance out the structure of the soil and it will turn into a beautiful and workable soil.
For the first few years, the soil may need turning over fully, each winter or whenever is suitable, to keep on top of it – each site will be different. After a few years of cultivation, the soil will be able to be managed, a pattern will likely occur. For instance; When a row is harvested and it is not going to be sowed again with crops until the next season, then the soil is slightly prodded, and loosely worked. Then it is sown with an appropriate cover-plant like mustard, or it is covered over with live-cycle cover (leaves, grass, shredded twigs, wildflowers etc).
It is often necessary to take some time for planning. After a year or two the plan will form easier. Trust that God will finish the process and that He will allow good fruits to be bourne. It will probably take a lot of erasing and a few times to get the final plan. Include fences/hedges/walls, paths, gates, water points and anything else which may be necessary in the plan. Usually fences are ideal, but a low wall maybe necessary or if the scenario allows, plant a hedge (small, slow growing hedges are best but other types can be kept low/small by cutting & trimming, coppicing or hedge-laying).
Use the sections’ on “Plants That Make Happy Combinations and Neighbours” and “Incompatibilities”, to help make the plan.
Begin to sow lots of herb seeds (focus most on bitter herbs like sage, rosemary & hyssop, with lavender having priority) and/or acquire herb plants for the border of the garden. Starting the herbal seedlings early will allow some to be able to be planted around the border of the garden, as soon as it is fenced off, to create a protecting, herbal border. The border can also contain other annuals and perennials too, including a rose here and there.
Fence the site off, mark out paths, mark out vegetable rows and gates.
Plant herbs round the border – it does not matter if the whole border is not filled or even empty – over time it can be added to with more herbs until filled.
Here is a herbal border around a small vegetable garden;
Avoid sowing and / or planting if the ground is wet. This will preserve the soil from compaction, until suitable live covering pathways are formed.
The herbal border has a tremendous impact on the health of the garden, inside its boundaries, and out.
The border can be planted in any way with any mixture of herbs, however, be careful with herbs like wormwood, as it repels earthworms in the soil but it has a place and use (planted near current bushes it helps prevent ‘rust’).
Bees and butterflies, as well as many other beneficial garden friends will thrive from the border.
After several years certain herbs will want replacing /swapping around, while others can be lifted, split up and replanted. Splitting often provides some new baby plants to be planted elsewhere, while one of the splittings can be planted back where it came from.
Examples of herbs for border;
Lavender, Sage, Rosemary, Hyssop, Lovage, Angelica, Cummin, Coriander, Rue, Thyme, Salad Burnet, Mugwort, Lungwort, Catmint (be careful of attracting cats, use a lemon variety to dissuade them), Lemon Balm, Chives, Costmary, Sorrel, Tarragon, Valerian, Wormwood, Rhubarb.
Growing In Rows
(for an example of growing in blocks / beds, see here)
A suitable method for growing the crops is in rows. Arranged as:
Long season crops,
Medium season crops,
short season crops,
Choose a label for each type, for example,
Long season = A or 1 or Blue
Medium season = B or 2 or Red
Short season = C or 3 or Green
However, the order is:
Long season – short season – medium season – short season – long – short – medium – long – short – medium
Long season crops are plants which demand the most from the soil. They are often in the soil for the longest period of time, and hugely benefit from a pre-crop or floating-cover. Plants like tomatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins / squashes, qana and brassicas like cabbages and brussel sprouts benefit from a pre-crop of something that builds nitrogen in the soil, like field beans.
Examples of Long season crops;
In between two long season rows, is a medium-season row right in the middle, which, in turn are flanked by a short season row on either side (long – short – medium – short – long). These medium rows can be for plants which grow either in the first half or in the second half of the growing year. Examples are;
Examples of short season crops (usually 1 meter apart):
These ‘short season’ rows are set with short-lived plants, often with small, low growth. Or they are set with crops to be taken early as ‘babes’ (eg parsnips/carrots harvested as minis / babies) They grow for a short time only and then make way for other, similar plants. They like the light shade of neighbouring plants. We often consume these the most and there is a concession (repeating) of crops, often 3 per year. They usually have the lowest demand on the soil, hence their being more rows of short season crops – 1 every meter.
These rows provide the household with a variety of regular, nutritious food. After early varieties of 1 species, there can follow a late version of another species (For example spring carrots may be followed by a type of late lettuce or other salad crop). These rows will produce 2 and often 3 crops, 1 after the other. If a long season row is planted with something big/wide & spreading like maincrop potatoes, the short season rows to either side will likely be overtaken towards the middle of the year. In these cases, take account of this during planning.
Some crops can go in different rows, eg cauliflower can go in long season but if they are going to be harvested small, then a medium season row would be suitable. The crux of the matter is the demand on the soil.
There are many beneficial and well-balanced effects in companion and mixed planting which is visible to the naked eye, but not in that part alone; further advantages arise from the encouragement given to the micro-organisms in the soil, problems to do with the rotation of crops are also irrelevant (see here for details on rotation/blocks), and also from scents, odours, exudations and vapours, often un-perceptible to us below and above ground..
The success or otherwise of a companion-planted garden depends on the row system. The labels must not be re-arranged during the year and there must always be double/succession (one after the other) sowings or plantings in the same rows. In a garden of this type, order is the 1st pre-requisite for success.
Choosing What To Grow And What Not To Grow
Choosing what will be grown should be based on what will be eaten (do not be distracted in trying to grow lots of different things for the sake of it), do not take too much on – if someone is offering free plants only take them if you need them, have the space and are willing and able to care for them. If time & space allows, have an area set aside for experimenting with new techniques/combinations and for plants that you are not familiar with. Incorporate plants into your rows when comfortable and confident in growing them (If it is your first time growing anything, then do not be scared to make mistakes, however utilizing tried and tested combinations will allow you to arrive at a sound and stable garden). Initially begin by thinking of what is eaten the most.
Avoid these combination, if possible:
Beans and Onions,
Cabbages and Onions,
Red cabbages and Tomatoes,
Parsley and Cabbage lettuce,
Beetroots and Tomatoes,
Potatoes and Onions.
Try to avoid spinach as a preliminary crop before beetroot , mangolds (shard/chard) or orach (fat hen)
Try your own combinations out, as long as they are not the above it will probably work well (see below for tried and tested combinations). Plants grow with other plants in ‘communities’. The soil type, local climate, light and water availability are what chooses the plants that can grow in an area. Plants can protect each other, vibrating and helping each other through residues and smells (above and below ground) which we cannot always perceive with our senses. Example use onions to protect carrots by growing next to each other, as carrot fly does not like onion.
Examples Of Plants That Make Happy Combinations and Neighbours
Kannah-Besem/All Beans and Peas
Kannah Besem/Most types of Grasses
Celery/All types of Greens, Especially when mixed in rows
These plants not only grow well together, but also follow after, example: beetroot and lettuce grow well mixed in a row, and also one follows on from the other if grown individually, example – lettuce row is harvested around June, and then immediately sown with beetroot.
Take advantage of such a light method of soil management. These easy methods are not only cost free, but are non-polluting (see here for making liquid feeds from plants). What goes on at root level, undetected by us, is important in the reciprocal effect of each plant on it’s “neighbour”. Combined with things like liquid feeds & sprays, this type of planting makes growing much easier.
Spreading and Big Plants
Plants like potatoes, qana, cucumbers, for example, often affect the row on either side of them if they spread / grow big. The row on each side will likely become un-sowable, however, in the shade of big plants some plants still grow very well until completely covered.
Although short season rows can have 2 or 3 sowings a year, when something like cucumber is reaching them, then the row will be harvested, but not re-sown like usual to allow the plant to spread – bear this in mind when planning. It may be possible to have 1 or 2 crops from 1 of these rows but then the row will be overtaken by the bigger plants.
No Need for Crop Rotation if Row Planting; Instead Swap the Rows with Paths Each New Growing Season
There is so much variety of different plants that many minerals and elements will be present – all crops grow well; due to generous row space, variety of plants, soil cover, organic feeds and re-sowing of rows.
Where the live-covering paths were the previous year, becomes the crop rows the following year (live cover is covering for bare soil to protect it – see here):
In this basic example, the blue dots represent the actual rows of plants / crops. The purple dots are in between the rows, which are pathways and the place where the soil covering (live-cover) goes. Around the edge is the herbal border, which consists mainly of bitter herbs, however non-bitter herbs are fine, like lemon balm. As for the individual rows and what happens with them and the crops contained within, an in depth description will be shown in “Beginning A Garden”.
Live covering example:
Year 3 – Move rows along
After the second year, the next season (number three), the rows will return to the original order from year one. However, the actual row type will shift, to further ensure maximum variety of soil nutrition. In the third year, the layout will progress so that the rows and paths are set-out the same way as the 1st year, with the addition of the row content being moved along 1 row. It can be in any direction. In this example the 1st row 1 / A (long season crop) becomes a 3 / C (short season crop). This repetition can continue while God allows us to reap and sow.
After harvesting a row, re-sow immediately, with another vegetable crop if suitable, or a cover plant like mustard – the soil should not be turned over (unless a new site like discussed previously). This will bury the active soil under a layer of inactive soil and disturb the relationship and balance between the soil life. Instead, prod with a fork. A good tilth is produced even with such easy work, because the soil is in such a good, healthy condition, being maintained by plant’s roots, cover and lots of soil life.
Beginning to Plan on Paper
The process is begun by what is eaten because this dictates what will be grown. The plants / crops that you will be growing fit into one of the three categories, this further develops the plan. The number of rows is directly related to the size of the growing area. Mark the rows on paper / computer and fill in the crop rows with the crops you will grow by combining the the row they belong in – short / medium / long, with what other crops they grow well with. Remember the incompatible ones and try to avoid them, if you plan and figure and still have to grow any crops next to each other, that are advised not to, do not worry, give them extra attention and they should be fine. For a couple of years it may take a bit of effort, especially for newer plots with less covering at hand. As time goes on, planning will get easier and covering will become in abundance as the herb border grows etc.
Here are some example plans (sometimes they get marked etc because as the year progresses, you will be writing down what dates things were sown and your hands will have soil on them. For this reason save a master copy at home / on the computer);
Further detail on putting hands to soil, building fences, planting the herbal border, arranging the crops in following seasons and beginning the garden will be covered in the next articles like, “Beginning a Garden” etc.
2nd Corinthians 9:6) But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.