June 20, 2011

Companion Group Gardening: Early Summer Notes

4 beds in my companion group garden

Companions in this bed: marigolds,
petunias, cow peas & potatoes
This year we decided to experiment a bit with our approach to gardening.
  1. We decided to make permanent, terraced beds
  2. We decided on companion planting groups, mixing vegetables, herbs, and flowers
If you're interested in my whys and whats for this approach, you'll find those in these posts:

Going has been slow, I admit that. Besides having to create the beds, the weather has had its challenges; it's either too wet or too dry. In general though, I have to say that I'm quite pleased with the new gardening system. When everything grows as expected, the beds are beautiful.

2 Fingerling salad potato beds.
Front bed includes purple petunias & cowpeas
Back bed also contains cabbages & marigolds

Front bed: broom corn, cucumbers, marigolds
Behind that: the potato beds shown above

Some beds haven't done as well because of poor to non-existent germination.

Okra bed with lots of no-shows including egg plant & habaneros

With the okra, for example, I planted eggplant, habanero peppers, and cosmos. A few cosmos have begun to grow, and maybe an eggplant, but the rest have been no-grows. Perhaps this is due to the quality of seed, or it may be due to the long, 2 and 3 week dry spells we had in May. Looking back, I know I should have watered more frequently, but everyday the forecast was for rain tomorrow. Tomorrow never came! While waiting, I fretted over my dilemma, do I wait or water? I hate to water only to have it rain the next day. I hate the feeling that I've wasted water and I hate seeing our water bill skyrocket. On the other hand, waiting certainly wasn't the right choice.

Sweet potatoes planted with dill. Summer savory was a no-show

One thing that helps keep the soil moist is mulch. Last year I was slow in mulching and once canning season started, the weeds took over every unmulched spot in the garden. I promised myself that wouldn't happen this year. However, I'm finding that with the companion group approach, I'm still not getting everything mulched in a timely manner.  Since not all companions in each group sprout and grow at the same rate, I'm having to wait until the littlest plants are tall enough to be mulched.

As you can see, I still have quite a bit of mulching to do...

Hutterite Soup Beans & Red Pontiac Potatoes.
After I hilled the potatoes, I planted mirabilis (4 o'clocks)

With this soup bean and potato bed, I'm waiting for the 4 o'clocks to grow. On the plus side, mulching seems easier to do with the permanent beds. Weeding too, seems easier than when planting in rows.

Most things I've tried to plant for a densely covered bed...

Black Oil Sunflowers & Green Nutmeg Melons

Theoretically this should help shade some of the weeds out, which it appears to be doing. In my Roma tomato bed however,

Roma tomatoes, calendula, Swiss chard, & marigolds.
The broad leafed parsley was a no-grow

... I didn't allow enough room for plant spread. The tomatoes are crowding things out. This will be something I'll have to adjust next year.

I'm still planting. The other day in fact, I planted three beds of calico popcorn, starting with the bed containing the hills of Sugar Baby watermelons.

Watermelons and just planted popcorn

The other two beds I'll fill in with Christmas lima beans and luffa sponge gourds, once the popcorn is about 4 inches tall. I planted the popcorn late so it wouldn't cross-pollinate with our field corn. And speaking of field corn, would you like to see how it's doing?

Truckers Favorite field corn

Great in some spots.

Could have wished for better germination

Not so great in others. We're not sure why; I'm guessing soil pH. Something else to work on for next year. The concern here is for good pollination, which in turn fills out the ears with lots of kernels. This is the first year we've tried field corn, so in some ways we view it as a learning patch. I planted Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans and Small Sugar pumpkins in this patch as well. Some of the pole beans are coming up, but not the pumpkins. I want lots of pumpkins this year, so I'm replanting those.

So far, I'm quite satisfied with our new garden plan, even with the few things I need to figure out in the future. It's too early to tell yet whether it will help keep insects down, or increase yields. At the very least, the aesthetics alone make it worth it. All the rest I'll let you know about later.


Doyu Shonin said...

Lots of no shows everywhere this year. I'd say you are doing GOOD.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

We set out for companion planting this year too but the weather just didn't help so we have had alot of 'no shows' as well. But I am not giving up!

Dani said...

Leigh - "I hate to water only to have it rain the next day." I have been told by a friend in Wisconsin, that apparently, farmers irrigate their lands even when rain is forecast - that's because damp earth will absorb water better than totally dry ground - and it prevents soil run-off. So I always water when I think my veggies need it - if that's good enough for the farmers then it's good enough for me LOL

Sharon said...

The weather seems to be challenging everywhere this spring. We have had so much rain I worry that all my potatoes will be mush.

Don't give up on the ones that haven't germinated yet. I planted some lavender seeds back in March. A handful germinated right away, but others only started popping up a few weeks ago, and the last few stragglers are just starting to come up now!

P.S That's an impressive corn patch you have there.

BrokenRoadFarm said...

Wow! Wish I had gardens like yours!! The weather has certainly been a challenge this year, but I think you are doing a phenomenal job in spite of it!

Leigh said...

Risa, thanks for that. Encouraging!

APG, okay, another with no shows. Thanks for telling me that! I agree with not giving up, it's just puzzling to have so many things not even bother to grow. :)

Dani, yes, what your friend says is true! And actually, around here, we see folks running their sprinklers when it's pouring rain out! We're working on a rain catchment system, so hopefully that will up and running soon, and able to supplement during those dry spells!

Sharon, we all seem to be struggling with our gardens in different ways. Good news about your lavender, I'm hoping that will be my case as well! Actually, I'm wondering if the corn germinated faster in some areas than in others because of the moisture content in the soil. Something to think about.

BRF, I'm just thankful for what is growing! It's taken a couple of years, but I think we've finally hit on a gardening system that works for us.

Mr. H. said...

Your garden looks amazing and I really like the way you interplanted. Since we also have quite a bit of an issue with corn germinating properly, last year I grew a flat of replacement corn to be transplanted into the bare spots...worked like a charm. Anyway, your gardening system is very ingenious and seems to be working out very well for you. It must be quite something to see it all come together after all the hard work you put into it.

Sherri B. said...

I do like your terraced beds, there is a romantic feel to them. I am wondering if crows or other birds came and got some of your corn. I have seen this happen in larger fields and some birds will get them as they sprout...just a thought.

Leigh said...

Mr. H, what a great idea! I will definitely try a flat of corn for transplanting next year.

Sherri, well, it could have been crows or birds. Another thing to add to the list!

Tami said...

I've just been "twitching" for a garden post from you, Leigh.

I always love to see what is thriving (or not) in your garden and compare it to my own. Everything looks like it's doing pretty well considering the rain issue. I watered today even though the radar "looks" like we're supposed to get rain. Ha! Like you, I've gotten burned too many times waiting for the rain that just doesn't want to fall.

Nina said...

weird weather here for our germination as well. Not only that but wee beasties, birds and bunnies have been eating my seedlings. I've replanted zucchini 3 times, pumpkins and squash twice and cukes, 3 times! Parsley is notoriously slow to germinate, so may still come up. What is growing looks great though!

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

What variety of watermelon did you plant this year?

Mama Pea said...

Oh, Leigh, I think your companion planted beds are BEAUTIFUL! The ones where you got good germination are a work of art.

I even had poor germination in my salad greens bed this year. I had to replant nearly all my lettuce which is very unusual. Let's face it, this is one weird year!

You can be very proud of the way your terraced beds are looking this first year. I have no doubt you will make adjustments and do even better next season. Thanks for the great pictures.

Leigh said...

Tami, I'm always curious about your garden too, LOL. This is a great way to share our gardens. The rain (or lack of it) has been crazy. It seems that we have deep soil moisture, but it dries out out top, which I think is part of my germination problem. It's always something!

Nina, you too? Sounds like everyone is having to replant! About parsley, I later read it should be soaked overnight. I didn't do that. Maybe that's part of the problem(?)

BM&T, Sugar Baby! We love them, small and sweet. We can eat one in a day, without having tons leftover. I also discovered that dehydrated watermelon is really tasty.

Mama Pea, this is so strange. Here we are, gardeners from all over the place, and all having germination problems. Well, I don't feel so badly now. And yes, I'm very pleased with my terraced companion beds. The beauty alone is enough to do it every year. :)

trump said...

My neighbor just planted his garden with help from his wife, so maybe i need to get moving and plant something myself. There is nothing like growing something on your own, i remember that feeling and id like to get it back..........Also please drop by my blog to a brand new post today from old order Mennonite Jean. And look for Jeans first ever recipe (whoopie pies) on Amish Stories this Wednesday. Richard

Susan said...

Leigh, it's so wonderful that you did all that research and all this work. I have tried to do a little companion planting, so we'll see how it goes. My germination was spotty as well. I wonder if it has to do with getting seeds through the mail - if they scan packages, it may affect the seeds?

Leigh said...

Richard, I agree, it's so rewarding to grow even just a few things for oneself, so go for it!

Susan, excellent question. I've been thinking about this as well, and wondering what the problem could be. I've wondered if it was due to the supplier of the seed, but it's happened with seed from places I trust. It's definitely something to think about, isn't it?

bspinner said...

Your gsrdens are beautiful!!! They look like they will be very productive.

* Crystal * said...

Beautiful garden, even with the no-shows!

I'm missing the okra, squash & tomatoes we had this time last year!

No garden for us this year, we're in one of the worst droughts Texas has seen in many, many decades....we haven't had any rain other than some splatters on the sidewalk ALL YEAR (topsoil hasn't been wet through not once here!). Add that with the 108° we've been hitting & a garden was a lost cause.

So.....hopefully next year I can have a garden & until then I shall live vicariously through yours :-)

Can't wait to see updated pictures as it progresses.

Leigh said...

Barb, thank you! I'm certainly hoping everything will be productive. I've already got a good picking of cucumbers, so pickle making is on my to-do list for today!

Crystal, thanks! Yes, drought and heat are extremely discouraging in the gardening department, aren't they? Our area drought was fortunately broken a few years ago, but we seem to have a personal drought in our part of the county. So much of the rain passes us by! Makes gardening a huge challange.