The Keys, Part II
Last issue, I started a series on “the keys” of eating from a garden consistently throughout the year. For those of us, with a less than stellar memory, the four keys were:
- Always sow small batches of direct sown seeds bi-weekly, tri-weekly or monthly to insure a continuous harvest.
- Or, plant two different varieties that mature at different times on the same day.
- With many plants, as they approach maturity, plant other plants between them that won’t interfere until they are bigger, by which time the original plants will be gone.
- The same day you remove a plant from your garden, put another one in its place.
We covered keys one and two in the last column, so today, we’ll move on to the third and fourth keys.
In the middle of February, a part of my garden was in broccoli. On most of those plants, I had already harvested the central head and was now seeing numerous side heads that would soon be edible once they got a little larger (one of the main reasons broccoli is a great home crop – once you eat the main head, the harvest continues over several weeks with the side shoots). I less than six weeks these plants will not be nearly as useful, so I had to think what would be next. It was a little too early to put out tomatoes and most of the summer crops, but purple bush beans (Royal Purple Pod and others) will sprout in cool wet soil and produce beans in the soon-to-be warmer months, making them a very good choice. I simply planted bean seeds between the broccoli plants – it didn’t matter that the beans were too close to the broccoli; the beans began to grow, but were of little consequence to the broccoli, which would be gone in less than a month.
Six weeks later, mid to late March, the beans are producing but in another month will be gone; time to think again about that spot – and I have been thinking. Already, I have pepper seeds growing in the a greenhouse and they will be ready to put out in a few weeks. These pepper plants (Jalapeno) will be set into the garden in almost the same spots as the broccoli plants were. The beans will still be there, but will soon come out without impacting the production of the pepper plants. I try to do this with all my garden beds throughout the year. It’s an ideal, not always possible to achieve.
I do consider what plants I’m mingling. I try to avoid any beans with tomatoes – beans add nitrogen to the soil and tomato plants with a lot of nitrogen make bigger plants until they’ve used up the nitrogen before they begin to make tomato fruit. If you continue to have days and nights over 80º, then there is no problem, but in most parts of the world, the plant runs out of hot weather before the tomatoes get ripe which makes for very cranky gardeners.
I try to avoid growing the same family of plants in succession in the same place. In the bed we discussed above, once the peppers were out, the next crop in that spot would not be another member of the tomato family. Tomatoes are related to potatoes, eggplants and peppers. The only cool weather crop are potatoes, so I wouldn’t grow them in that bed.
Over the coming winter, I will probably use that same bed for carrots and beets, planted on many different days so I can harvest fresh carrots and beets all through the cool season. At this time next year, I’ll be considering this same area for tomatoes. I don’t have a formal system in place. I just know what I have coming up and have done this often enough to think six weeks ahead the same way a soloist needs to prepare to exit the solo a few measures out before actually ending. Like all good musicians, gardeners need to remain conscious of what’s coming next all the time. And, also like musicians, practice makes one better over time.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org