This year I was lucky enough to be part of “The Edible Garden Series: From Design to Harvest” through Common Ground in Palo Alto taught by Drew Harwell. And there are a lot of things that I’ll be doing differently now that I have completed this class.
First, and perhaps most revealing, I’ll be growing–am already growing–a lot more food in the same garden space that I started with. Not only do I understand inter-cropping and plant rotations better, but plant spacing makes a lot more sense to me and I’ll be using a lot less of it in between my plants, especially my winter crops, than I have in the past. Column H of the Master Charts in “How to Grow More Vegetables” is finally useful to me! Yay!
And I’ll be starting those plants in flats. I used to start seeds in old yogurt containers, left-over six-packs from the garden center, old plastic cups…pretty much anything that was handy and could be recycled into something that held dirt. But seed flats hold a *lot* more soil than a six-pack, and hold it deeper than a six-pack. It stays moist and at a more even temperature and your seedlings grow up much healthier. I have no idea why this never occurred to me before, but as soon as Drew talked about it in the first week of our class, it all made sense and my seedlings are certainly thankful for it. Now I just need one of those little scoop tools to help with transplanting.
Those new flats will be filled with 50% “bed soil” and 50% compost that I am now making right here at home with confidence and success. I’ve tried a lot of different composting methods over the years. Some of them ended up smelly, some of them ended up taking forever to break down and one of them had an entire family of kangaroo rats who leaped out of it right at us when we opened the container to turn it!
No more. One of the things that’s different around here is the compost piles are now open. No expensive bins or crazy spinning systems or awkward compost turning tools required. We are building 4′ x 4′ piles with alternating layers of ‘green’ material, ‘brown’ material and bed soil. And we are turning them once, after they have gotten up to or beyond 135 degrees. The first pile has already cooked up to this point and been turned. The second one is piled right over where I hope to dig a new bed in the spring to help prepare and improve the soil while it decomposes over the rainy season.
This is also my first season of cover cropping. I have ‘Medic Mix’ from Territorial Seed Company in three of the raised beds, cereal rye in one, the Common Ground ‘Cover Crop Mix’ in another and a healthy stand of fava beans already going. These are the first crops I have grown specifically “for the soil” and I am feeling good about the process. Cover cropping is another thing from this class that now really makes sense to me. Some of these crops will be chopped under as a green manure before the spring planting happens, and some of them will end up in a compost pile. Either way, I like the idea that there are crops for us to eat and crops to feed the soil that ultimately feeds us.
My garden is now more forward looking in other ways too. Not only do I understand where the prevailing winds come from and where the afternoon sun hits the garden. I have learned a lot about planning the garden as it moves through time. For instance, there are more perennial edibles now in place or in progress. We have started our first Pigeon Peas, experimented with Chayote squash, put in an asparagus patch for plants started at home from seed, added several kinds of berries and learned how to be better to the fruit trees. And this is only a fraction of what Drew covers in the series!
Keep an eye out for the Spring Edible Gardening Series. The class is a great investment of your time and easily pays for itself with the increased yields you’ll rapidly see in your garden.