July 20, 2011

Companion Group Gardening: Mid-Summer Notes

Nutshell version: The garden is a mess

Detailed version with excuses & rationalizations: We've had a lot of rain this month, over 4.5 inches so far, with more predicted daily. That means the garden has been wet and muddy, a situation I like to stay out of. Consequently, the weeds are out of control! On the plus side, I got most of the garden beds mulched this year, unlike last year, so the weeds are mostly on the periphery and in the aisles. Other than that, here are my thoughts on my companion bed gardening plan to date.

click to enlarge a bit

This year I started at the top of the garden, and planted my way down. No particular reason other than I had to start somewhere. I started mulching at the top and worked my way down with that too. The first two beds contained my early planting of potatoes (fingerling salad), which are ready to be dug up, once the ground dries out a bit.

Fingerling salad potatoes, cabbages, & marigolds

For the most part, these beds have done well. The only problem has been cabbage moths, for which I've treated the cabbage plants twice.

Sprinkling the cabbage heads with fresh snipped thyme

I read that thyme is supposed to repel cabbage moths, but my thyme is all planted in my herb garden. I cut handfuls of that and sprinkled snippings over the cabbage heads, pretty much covering them completely. This actually repelled the buggers for quite a few weeks. Above is my second snipping because, as you can, see they returned to reek more havoc.

In the second potato bed are purple petunias, and cowpeas (for animal feed), in addition to the potatoes.

Cowpeas in the potato patch, ready to harvest

The cowpeas are Ozark Razorback, from Baker Creek. I bought one packet and have been very impressed with them. They produce loads of pods and are very easy to harvest; they send up stalks with 2 or 3 pods on the end of each, very easy to spot and pick. They seem to be a semi-runner type bean, so I've been wondering if I can plant them as one of the 3 sisters in next year's corn patch. They don't seem to have tendrils however, so I'm not sure they're a climbing bean. The true test will be how well the chickens and goats like them.

Broom corn, Marketmore 76 cucumbers, & yellow cosmos

In the beds I mulched early and deeply, weeds have not been much of a problem. What has become a problem .....

Vardeman sweet potatoes & morning glories

... has been morning glories. Last year I pulled them all out as seedlings. When I was researching companion gardening, I read that they attract beneficial insects, so I let them stay. Not a good idea. Don't get me wrong, I love morning glories. The problem is that they are taking over.

Morning glories sprawling all over the yet to be planted beds

I don't think I could get rid of them now if I wanted to.

One problem I'm having is a planning problem.

Black oil sunflower & Bennings green tint scallop squash bed on left
Clemson spineless Okra and cosmos (& more morning glories) on right

There isn't enough room in the aisles between the beds. We actually measured them out wider, but somehow they shrunk. ;)

Another problem (also in the above photo) was because I didn't properly secure my log terrace borders. The ground become so soft from the rain, that a few of them rolled into the aisles.

In general, my beds are overflowingly crowded.

Calico popcorn & sugar baby watermelons

This is mostly planned. I say mostly because I wondered if the same principle that applies to perennial edible forest gardening, also applies to annual vegetable gardening, i.e. that the polycultural choirs work together to keep down weeds and bugs. Based on early observations, I'm suspecting this to be somewhat true.

The other thing though, is that I just don't have the heart to thin seedlings. I know we're supposed to and I have no trouble yanking out things I don't want (weeds). Those deliberate seedlings though, I worry that something might happen to them and I may need all those plants to produce wonderful things to eat. Then too, it seems an expensive waste of money to throw away perfectly good production plants. I know that because there won't be 100% germination, the rationale is to plant thickly and then thin. I just can't bring myself to do that. I tend to space out my seeds and just plant more of them in hopes to make up for those that don't germinate. Does anybody else have this problem?

Hutterite Soup beans & Red Pontiac potatoes

One bed where my theory isn't working quite so well, is my late potato and bean bed. These two are traditional companions, and mine are Red Pontiac potatoes and Hutterite Soup beans. The bean leaves are suffering yellowing around the edges. I've been looking through books, trying to diagnose this, but am not sure what it could be. They are producing beans and I wonder if perhaps our Southern heat is a bit too much for a bean which is usually planted farther north. Ideas?

Of course no garden tour would be complete without showing off one's tomatoes.

Supposedly Roma tomatoes

I wish I could just give you this photo and say that's it. I am pleased to say that these are absolutely the prettiest tomatoes I've grown in the three summers we've been here. No cracks, no blemishes, and no blossom end rot! Blossom end rot was a terrible problem my first two summers. This is due to a calcium deficiency in the soil, and easily treated with a calcium spray. This year, none! Perhaps my dynamically accumulated mulch and plantain in the compost is working!

The sad truth about my tomatoes is this....

Roma tomato plants with blight

Blight, sigh. What's interesting about these plants however, is that they were grown from seed I saved from last year's Romas. The problem last year wasn't blight, it was anthracnose. Because of that, almost all my tomatoes were blemished. I must have thrown away more than I was able to use. (Not thrown away actually, but fed to the chickens mostly.) I know we're told not to save seed from diseased plants. What I wondered, was, could the plants develop an immunity which would be passed on to their offspring? Crazy I know, but I did it anyway and have no anthracnose in this year's tomatoes. (Or maybe it was because I composted the manure from those chickens who ate those tomatoes, hmm). So this year it's a different problem, though I do have beautiful tomatoes. The end result either way, is decreased harvest.

One thing my husband says about this garden, is that the prettiest we've ever had, and I agree. I wish all the herbs and flowers had come up, but I'm learning a lot and will make adjustments next year.

For now though, it's time to be getting my fall garden in! Hopefully I can take what I learned last winter and apply it to that. My goal is year round fresh veggies. As soon as the ground dries out enough to be workable, I'll get started on that.


Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

I feel the same way about thinning. I never do it. When your growing all your own food, every little bit counts. Especially if you have a year like I am having. What is the worst that happens, the carrots get a little crowded? They eat the same ;) Plus I feel a little bad that the poor thing grew, is alive, and I am going to kill it for no good reason. And we all seem to be getting hit with the blight bug pretty bad this year. My volunteer tomatoes seem to be the only ones that are still free of the fungus. So I am glad I didnt pull those out either.

Green Bean said...

Oh, I don't think the garden looks a mess! I think it looks beautiful.

I have the same issue with the space between beds. I was sure 3 feet would be sufficient. My enormous tomato plants are telling me a resounding no!!!

Live and learn. I'm off as well, to work on the fall garden. Hoping to do 4 seasons as well this year and to skip the winter CSA. Fingers crossed.

MaryContrary said...

Lovely tomatoes. I sympathize with the thinning problem. I hate to pull a plant I have nurtured and may produce something edible. This year, for the first time, I haven't had any blossom end rot. I incorporate our egg shells into our compost and I pay much closer attention to the watering since on source claimed that uneven watering (especially on the dry side) was also a source.

Unknown said...

Your use of companion planting is not only useful but absolutely beautiful :)

Lynn said...

Love your garden! :) I plan on trying companion planting next year. I, too, have trouble thinning out plants for the same reason. So your not alone in your thinking. :)

Leigh said...

Jane, you're describing exactly how I feel! Interesting about your volunteer tomatoes. I have a bunch sprinkled around the place that are beginning to produce. None of them shows any sign of disease either.

Green Bean, well, I didn't show you all the worst parts, LOL Gosh, if you allowed for 3 foot walkways between beds and that wasn't enough, I wonder how much we actually need! Good goal for a 4 season garden!

Mary, I didn't mention the watering part about blossom end rot, but you're right, it's another concern. We went from dry to drenched, and though I did water, it was late so I wondered if it would effect the tomatoes! Thankfully, it didn't.

Tanya, I have to agree. It's a beautiful way to garden. I hope next year, to incorporate more flowers and herbs in all my beds.

Lynn, thank you! I'm finding the companion system time consuming at first, but next year I'll be able to start rotating whole groups of plants and not have to spend so much time trying to figure it all out. Glad to hear I'm not alone when it comes to thinning plants!

Cat Eye Cottage said...

If plants are producing, let them sprawl. I would love to have your problem. Enough sunlight and enough room to worry about things taking over, hmmm? Our problems are relative, aren't they? Thanks for sharing the good with the bad. I hate always looking at perfect gardens. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong. Sorry about your tomato plants, though.

Laura said...

Sheep would probably eat the morning glories. I know they eat the wild form like it's candy, and since they eat it right down to where it emerges from the soil, they don't grow back...

Of course, that means you'd have to fence off part of the garden to keep the sheepies from getting into the rest of it, but hog panels or electromesh would work really well for that. You might try it with the goats, as well, though you'd need cattle panels and taller electromesh (she says from experience...).

I envy your garden - I didn't plant one this year, though I had intended to. Between selling the house and the piss-poor weather (2+ inches of rain over the weekend), I don't think anyone over here will be getting tomatoes or peppers...

Jody said...

This was my first more comprehensive view of your garden. It looks wonderful! It's beautiful. I love the crowding and all the companions. Our garden is very crowded too. Doesn't that just mean you have to be careful where you step 'cause there's food everywhere!

We've planted sweet potatoes this year for the first time. Are they tubers, or do you get just one root potato? We just harvested our red pontiacs. They were our best potato.

Leigh said...

Candace, it's true, every garden has it's own problems. I agree with you about perfect looking gardens, and I too appreciate it when folks share their problems as well as their successes. I learn a lot that way.

Laura, well, after reading your comment I went out and pulled a bunch of morning glory vines and took them to the goats. The does were only mildly enthusiastic and left a bunch to wilt. The bucks really chowed down!

Hopefully next year you'll be resettled in your new home, and won't be recovering from knee surgery! Good gardening then. :)

Jody, you'll get quite a few sweet potato tubers per plant. I think they're a good looking plant.

My only real problem with the overcrowding, is not being able to get the wheelbarrow between the beds!

Nina said...

I'd take a wet muddy garden right now. We've had virtually no rain for weeks and very hot (for us anyway) weather, with no relief in sight! I'm having to water parts of the garden just to keep it from shrivelling up completely. You've a beautiful garden and over the years I've discovered that you can still have bountiful harvests with a weedy garden. I try to get them but eventually I have to stop fretting and just let Ma Nature do her thing.

Interestingly this year, some volunteer tomatoes which went unnoticed until recently, are doing just as well as my early started ones.

Seeking Serenity said...

I have never seen companion gardening. I would think some things wouldnt get enough sun, but everything looks fantastic.
oh NO!you planted Morning glory?!! AHHhhhh!!!

Tami said...

Ack! Not the blight for you too!

Seriously Leigh...your garden looks great! I know what you mean about expecting some of your plants to fail and when they don't, it gets mighty crowded in there. Me too. I just CAN'T pull em. I didn't intend to have 45 tomato plants in the ground. I expected SOME to fail. It's crowded! Now I'm kinda glad they did survive as the blight got me too.

Morning Glories are trying to creep in on me also. I yanked a bunch this weekend

Renee Nefe said...

I think I might have gotten a tomato plant with blight...oops! I'll go look up how to get rid of it. :(

I'm going to have to try this companion group gardening cuz I need more veggies. :D

Leigh said...

Nina, I think in the end we all have to let Ma Nature do her thing. Sorry to hear you've had so many challenges this year. I'm interested to year how your volunteer tomatoes will do. It's so nice to have the unplanned extras.

Peaceful, those morning glories are volunteers! They seem to grow wild around here. Most things get enough sun, though my summer squash is leaning out of the bed to get more sun. The shade helps in the afternoon, when the heat positively wilts my the cucumbers, squashes, and melons. So far, so good!

Tami, it seems everyone has blight. I wondered about all your tomato plants! Actually I planted less plants this year by about a third, but have more tomatoes! Weird, huh?

Renee, diseased plants I pull and bag and put in the trash. I admit I am not pulling these plants because I figure the soil is already infested and if I did pull them, I'd have no tomatoes! Kinda sounds like a rationalization, doesn't it?

Companion planting creates a good looking garden, I will say that.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Fantastic post. Since this is the first year in 16 that I have not planted a garden I have had a few more seconds each day to read about other gardens. What a busy lady you are. LOVE your garden and the spacing. I too once planted Morning glories in the garden. That was SIX years ago. Still taking them out, STILL.

Jo said...

I have all the same afflictions that you have! Too narrow pathways, cabbage moths, tomato blight, and the inability to thin as ruthlessly as needed. We are kindred garden spirits! Your garden looks lush and lovely, though, despite the minor details. Love seeing the garden pics.

Trixi said...

We, too, are learning as we go. We have had a horrible issue with weeds this year. We had a good bit of rain and they got away from us. Our tomatoes look awful and I think it's the amount of rain in the beginning and then now the drought. It's always something but like you we love the challenge. I am loving your companion grouping. We have done a little of that but not a lot. I would love to do more.

Leigh said...

Donna, thanks! I will admit that I bought two packets of morning glory seeds, but never planted them! For some reason morning glories not only run wild here, but grow wild too. :)

Jo, there's comfort in company! I never realized so many others were reluctant to think seedlings too. I reckon I just won't worry about that anymore. :)

Mrs. Trixi, that's it, isn't it, learning as we go. Of course, the weather always keeps things challenging! The companion group gardening is a lot of work upfront, not only trying to figure out what to plant together, but when. I'm hoping to have all that down soon though, so that all I have to do every year is rotate the groups. I'm happy with the results so far though.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

I am a horrible "thinner" for the same reasons. I know you are supposed to do it...but I have a hard time making myself do it. Your poor tomatoes :o( Mine looked like that last year but this year we are not seeing it too bad (YET!) Now, can you push some of that rain around the country, lots of folks need it! I know you say you've had too much, but you also say it's been a great year. Do you think that is why? Weeds or not?

Project Girl said...

The start of your post totally made me laugh - thank you!

Your companion planting is just beautiful - what a great implementation. It inspires me...

And I need some inspiration, because here in Dallas it's hot and dry. I've pulled out most of my garden and composted all the lovely vines that were not producing. Sad, but it was becoming such a waste of water with no produce in sight. Such a disappointing harvest for me this year.

I've vowed not to have a summer garden next year due to heat -- to only have (Fall this year and) Spring and Fall gardens next year; but I'm sure by then I will have forgotten my frustration and discouragement. At least I hope. Thanks for sharing.

~mel said...

That bowl of tomatoes looks so good...yum. I agree with Green Bean on her comment ~ I don't think the garden looks a mess, I think it's beautiful too!

trump said...

Its very hard to think anything can grow with all this heat and no natural water. Richard from Amish Stories.

Susan said...

Another great post! I, too, never thin. It seems so wasteful. If I do thin anything I give the thinnings to the chickens so I don't feel as guilty. We have blight, too. It seems rampant this summer. I did a ver small rendition of your companion gardening and I will say that having the marigolds in with the beans has - knock on wood - kept them pretty darn healthy. Your garden looks amazing.

BrokenRoadFarm said...

I love your "nutshell" version LOL I heartily agreed with you until I saw the pics of your garden...wowee! Looks WAY better than ours....but we do have some Romas growing (just starting to turn orangey colored), a couple of squash and cukes, the carrot tops look great (hoping the carrots underground look as good) and my 2nd round of potatoes is going like gangbusters - I have to hill more soil every weekend. I don't evny you having to harvest with this heat! Stay cool!

Tina T-P said...

Leigh, your garden is beautiful - I cant believe you've been there for three years already?

Loved the story about your cheese making success. Good for you! T.

The Urban Rabbit said...

Don't you just hate blight? I have 10 pounds of green tomatoes in the fridge because of the stuff.

Leigh said...

APG, it's kind of a relief to know so many people don't like to thin their plants. I think we've had a great year partly because of the rain, especially compared to previous years. The problem, is that it doesn't dole itself out properly, i.e. an inch a week. We get a month's worth all at once and then go dry!

Project Girl, climate is truly a challenge, and there doesn't seem to be a one size fits all garden. I used to live in Arlington, so I know the hot and dry you're talking about. It's similar here, and so many of my garden plants really suffer during the summer. Still, there's no reason why you couldn't perfect a three season garden, fall, winter (a lot of root crops and row covered plants can be harvested in winter), and spring, and skip summer!

Mel, thanks! I admit the garden photos don't make it look too bad. In my mind, I always think I'll keep on top of the weeds all summer long. I haven't managed so far though!

Richard, the heat really evaporates water out of the ground quickly doesn't it? I'm so thankful I did as much mulching as I did. Next year we're hoping to have some rainwater and greywater irrigation going on. That would help tremendously.

Susan, sounds like we're all in the same gardening boat! I'll have to try marigolds with the beans next year. They haven't repelled cabbage moths, but come to think of it, there haven't been any bean beetles in the cowpeas, which live next door to a bed of marigolds. Hmmm.

BRF, thanks! Sounds like you're garden is going well, even though it's later than mine. I agree about the heat!

Tina thanks! We got here in May 2009, so it's been two years timewise, three summers for gardening. Time truly does seem to fly, doesn't it?

Danielle, definitely hate it! And there's no cure. Even the treatments don't seem to help much. I have been reading though, that whey has antifungal properties. and has been used somewhat successfully for mosaic. It's too late for the Romas, but I'm going to try it on my Brandywines, who don't have many symptoms yet. We'll see. At least I'll feel like I'm doing something!

Angie said...

Lovely garden! Oh, I love morning glories so thanks for the heads up, though I wonder if my cold winters would kill the seed. It is so sad to see tomato plants with blight. The last time I had a vegetable garden, blight occurred. Your volunteer tomato health is interesting, though. Great post, Leigh.

Mr. H. said...

What an impressive garden you have grown this season. I am so enjoying reading your thoughts on companion planting and all the other new things you have been trying.