Gearing Up For Spring

It is March 14th – a full month before the last official frost date and I am chomping at the bit to get started. So much so that I ordered six cubic yards of dirt to be delivered on Tuesday. Folks, that is a lot of dirt. I’ll post a picture of it when it arrives.

Last weekend was unseasonably warm. It rose to the mid-50’s and I was so excited that I planted one of my 4×8 raised beds full of: dill, corn, red cabbage, sage & thyme seeds. I still need to put in the potatoes. I’m waiting on a shipment of potatoes, but I think I will put in the last two pounds of red potatoes I got from the store and didn’t use before they began to sprout. I’ll cut them into pieces and plant them and use the rest of the potato spots in other parts of the yard.

This year I am determined to fully embrace companion planting. For those of you who haven’t heard of the term, Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

Companion planting is the planting of different crops in proximity (in gardening and agriculture), on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary to increasing crop productivity.

Companion planting is used by farmers and gardeners in both industrialized and developing countries for many reasons. Many of the modern principles of companion planting were present many centuries ago in the cottage garden.

For farmers using an integrated pest management system, increased yield and/or reduction of pesticides is the goal[citation needed].

In the developing world, tropical crops are used instead of temperate ones and provide NGOs and other organizations a tool for alleviating poverty[citation needed].

For gardeners, the combinations of plants also make for a more varied, attractive vegetable garden. Companion planting can also be used to mitigate the decline of biodiversity.

Companion planting is considered to be a form of polyculture

As you can see there are several reasons to use companion planting.

I hate using pesticides, but the squash bugs keep annihilating my summer squash and it’s really ticking me off. All I want is to be able to harvest a lovely yellow crookneck squash and a yellow onion from the yard, chop them up and saute them with some butter and salt and pepper and a dash of cajun seasoning. I can’t tell you how amazingly yummy the dish is. So this year I’m planting tansy along the perimeter of the planters and in between the squash plants. According to Louise Riotte (she wrote “Carrots Love Tomatoes” and “Roses Love Garlic”) tansy will repel the nasty little plant-killing bugs.

I have long rotated my peas and beans (notorious for their nitrogen-fixing abilities) throughout the raised beds in order to enrich the soil in all planters.

I love the look of the different mixes of plants. A line of marigolds at the base of huge, happy tomatoes looks beautiful and it deters bugs and deer (not that deer are a concern at this point for me–I have a nice, high fence).

That is why each raised bed will have more than one plant in it. Now, it might not necessarily have as many as Planter #19 (yes, I’m geeky enough to number them) contents listed above, but all of the raised beds will have at least two different plants within its walls.

The one lone exception to my no-pesticide rule will be my peach tree and Granny Smith apple tree. The leaf curl on the peach tree meant zero fruit last year – not one measly little peach to eat, which made me very sad. And my apple tree, which is now at least five years old, produced dozens of tiny, worm-filled apples last year. This year they are getting full-spectrum fungicide and insecticide! But I have hope that I can manage to wean them away from pesticides. I’ll just have to do more research on companion planting with trees.

My raised beds multiplied exponentially last fall when we QUINTUPLED the space. I now have 30 raised beds – 10 of them are 4’x8′, 14 are 2’x8′ and 6 are 2’x4′. And then there are the multiple 1/2 whiskey barrels that hold flowers and herbs and the expanded flower gardens which often get a ‘crop’ plant or two for interesting diversity.

So yes, that means I have almost finished planting one bed and have 29 to go!

It isn’t as bad as it sounds, really, it isn’t.

I’m also thinking of planting the ‘three sisters’ this year. Native American cultivation techniques employed the ‘three sisters’ approach by planting corn, beans, and squash together. The beans grew up the ‘pole’ created by the corn and the squash plants kept the ground moist with the large leaf cover as well as detracted most pests with its prickly vine hairs. This three plant combination is companion planting at its best. I might even add the 4th sister – the bee spiderflower. That plant attracts bees (big surprise there) and aids in pollinating the beans.

More plans and ideas are rolling through my head. More transplanting of strawberries and less grass in the front. But for now I’ll sign off and say that I am really, REALLY looking forward to spring!

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