What to Grow and When
Spring-Cleaning is impossible when you’re hands are in the dirt. That has been me (or at least my excuse) for a solid week now. Only a week? (You ask.) Yes, because on the weekend of March 9th I meant to work the soil (after doing a morning seminar at a nursery about backyard pest control) but found a solid, frozen crust, two inches thick. That kind of freeze is unheard-of here, but what makes the climate change so much more obvious is that we followed a record cold month of February, with record breaking highs by mid-march. We have enjoyed over a week of over 20 degree Celsius days (not less than 4 at night) and total sunshine. The recently silent tree frogs are now croaking day and night to make up for lost time; the sound of birds and lawn mowers are now the soundtrack to the swelling buds and sprouting seeds. Needless to say, much of my time has been outside, and I have the sun burn to prove it.
With all the garden beds complete, the filling of beds is the next priority. Although much of our time has been preparing side gardens for our cut flowers and some other perennials. My focus remains on the veggie garden, and while I have scratched out plans here and there, I still find myself thinking about what to grow and when.
The current allocation is as follows:
A:) Blueberries with spring bulbs.
B:) Raspberries with alyssum boarder and bread poppies.
C:) Strawberries with spring bulbs. (Will include marigolds and allium flowers)
D:) Alyssum border with chick peas. (Will be asparagus, kale and ??)
1:) Chard, Spinach, beats (Will include Amaranth in summer and back to spinach)
2:) Rye (Will be zucchini, acorn and butternut squash and cucumbers)
3:) Potatoes (Will include indeterminate tomatoes, basil and some peppers.)
5:) Barley with alyssum border (Will be Roma tomatoes, basil, tomatillos and peppers)
7:) Mustard (Will include radish and turnips)
8:) Onions, Leak, Garlic (will include parsnips, parsley, carrot, cilantro)
11:) Snap peas, arugula, alyssum (will include other legumes)
12:) alyssum, lettuces (Sunflowers in the summer)
1:) Snap dragons and wildflower mix
2:) bells of Ireland, zinnias, baby’s breath, bachelor buttons
The six empty beds are driving me crazy. Not only do I need them to round-off the garden variety, but also to justify the money spent by using it to reduce our grocery bills. Furthermore, I have flats of freshly seeded plants and a huge number of 4” plants that don’t, as of yet, have a home.
The plants I want or have started without a current destination are as follows:
– Pumpkins (Need a lot of space)
– Watermelons (Need space too.)
– Brassicaea (one bed at least but probably 2) – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
– Legums (need one more bed) – black beans and red kidney beans.
– Corn, Dent, Sweet and Ornamental (need lots of space, but also need to be far apart.)
– Fall grains and broad beans will follow summer crops.
– marigolds will go in almost every garden, just like I have done with alyssum.
So, what to grow and when? You’ll see that I am trying to maintain my concept of keeping plants in a family together. For example, the chard, beets, spinach and amaranth are all the same family. Keeping them together and rotating beds allows for maximum soil recovery. While this is not essential for most plants, some, like legumes, must not be planted in the same bed in subsequent years. Equally important is the presence of pests. Some significantly damaging pests have different life stages over different years. Adults and eggs can be laid on favored plants one year, so that the larva or maggots can feed on roots the following year. Rotation can severely debilitate the cycling of these pests.
Speaking of pests, you’ll notice alyssum and marigolds, and allium are not edible, but in my veggie gardens. This too is for pest control. Marigolds attract thrips. I will plant them with the strawberries that tend to get thrips. Why attract them? You ask. First, thrips come in waves, blown into the garden by wind. It is unlikely I am drawing them from neighboring yards. But even if I am, they will go first to the marigold before the strawberries. It is there I will be scouting and waiting for their arrival. As soon as I see them I can apply amblyseius cucumeris, a very inexpensive thrips-eating predatory mite. During thrips season I can also put slow-release packets on the marigolds every 4-5 weeks. Then I’m attracting thrips to their doom!
The planting of alyssum is different. That plant is highly attractive because of its nectar. It attracts all insects that require nectar. Most important is the attraction of beneficial insects. Take the hover fly for example: many species require only pollen and nectar as adults, but use that energy to find aphids and lay eggs near them. The larva or maggot eats all sorts of pests (but primarily aphids) before pupating and emerging as an adult. Likewise, most wasps are parasitoids. They will inject their egg into the pest, but they need nectar to eat.
Similar to alyssum is the allium. I chose this for two reasons. One, It is a deep bulb so it pairs will with shallow rooted strawberries, and it’s minimal foliage means it won’t be highly competitive for light. But again, the flower attracts insects. It is in the onion family, so the flower is likely very different from alyssum and may attract different insects. Furthermore, since I have a bed full of plants from the onion family that will not be flowering, there is a chance some wasp or other predators need the nectar from the same flower on which they are looking for pests. There is a chance the onion thrips has a natural predator that is attracted to the onion flower. So, I intend to find out, and in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt. Flowers are truly essential in backyard pest control.
For a similar reason to planting allium, I am combining the onion family with the parsley family. The leeks, onion and garlic all have shallow bulbs, and the parsley family all have long tap roots. I suspect that they will pair well because of roots at different levels and foliage at different patterns. For example, a bad pairing would be strawberries and rhubarb. Both are shallow and grow in a spreading manner, and the rhubarb would shade the primary foliage of the strawberry.
I also need to maximize the beds for each season. You’ll notice I am growing barley and rye (I wished I had started it earlier last fall as it never sprouted). These are winter and late spring crops, so they are planted in beds that will be used exclusively in the summer for hot weather crops. The rye garden becomes a squash garden and the barley garden becomes tomatoes. Similarly, my amaranth family bed has spinach, which is great all winter and spring but will bolt in the summer. So late in the spring, spinach will be replaced with amaranth, and then make way for spinach again next fall.
So “what to plant and when” for me is about what I need and want to grow, what will it grow with and what should it grow with to improve garden diversity. Also, I plan each bed to take advantage of a winter crop and a summer crop. So I need to plan for beneficial rotations and winter crops that don’t interfere with early spring crops.
While this is on-going and I sometimes change my mind, this essay is less about what you should do, and more about what it is I am doing. Therefore, should any of you readers have any suggestions, please let me know.