Annual Vegetables

Though we've separated into sub-headings, you'll notice there's overlap between them all, and with the over growing systems we use on the farm. That overlap - the interaction between elements - is intended to create effects greater than the sum of the individual parts. That's the case within each element - the garden, the orchard, the animals - and between them. Systems within systems. Everything works together. The waste from one system is the input for another, just like in nature.

Or so we hope.

Our garden is about 75% full sun, and 25% gets afternoon shade. It's on a slight east-facing slope (like the rest of the farm). The beds are oriented roughly north-south, to maximize sun exposure on the plants. It's set up in 30" beds so we can reach the middle from both sides, and step over or straddle the beds easily to work around them. 30" is also the standard width of a lot of tools of market gardeners, some of which we may add to the shed (like a broadfork). We've got 30-40 cm pathways between the beds. Part of the garden is "rabbit-proof" - with hardware cloth dug 30 cm down, and 15 cm outwards, and a 90 cm fence above that. Fencing doubles as a trellis.

We don't till, use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, use synthetic fertilizer, or transgenic life forms (GMO).

Back to Eden

We use the "Back to Eden" style of deep mulch gardening championed by Paul Gatuschi. New garden beds are established by sheet mulching - putting a layer of cardboard over the existing vegetation, adding a thin layer of compost or manure, then covering with 20 cm + of wood chips. We then pull the chips aside, or just plant through them into the ground below. 

 

This method gives us several advantages:
 

  • Organic matter:

    • Hardwood chips and twigs are the source of the world's deepest and richest soils

    • The wood chips compost in place - like leaves on a forest floor - providing a continuous flow of fertility

    • The soil life does the rest - earthworms, fungi, beetles, and bacteria - pulling organic matter down into the root zone

    • Carbon is sequestered in the soil

  • Water:

    • Decomposing wood chips act like a sponge, holding moisture in place in our fast-draining soil​

    • Keeping the soil covered, we minimize water loss by evaporation

  • Soil life:

    • Wood chips create the environment for a healthy fungal network​, which can transport nutrients from one place to another as needed

    • Delicate soil microbes are protected from the sun

    • Earthworm paradise

  • Weeds

    • Deep mulch smothers most weeds, and those that do pop up aren't well rooted​

  • Warmth

    • Deep mulch ​keeps the root zone warmer longer in the fall

Some of the disadvantages:
 

  • Time

    • Back to Eden systems take at least three years to stabilize​, meaning reduced yields and increased pest pressure at the start

    • It takes longer to plant seeds and transplants through the deep mulch

  • Pest habitat

    • Many garden pests also thrive in the moist, sheltered environment, and will overwinter in the mulch​

  • Fungal-dominated soil

    • Most annual plants grow best in bacterial-dominated soil, rather than fungal dominated.​

The main upkeep that's needed is in the fall, when we let our laying hens into the garden to feast on bugs, and the leftover plant material, till up the mulch layer which aerates and helps speed the composting, and fertilize with their manure. Once they're done, we add a layer of fresh mulch, and leave it until spring.

For more info on establishing a Back to Eden garden, check out this article.

Fertility

In the early days, one of the biggest pressures is generating enough fertility to nurture the early growth of all of these new things we're adding to the farm. The lynchpin of fertility is the humble cow - which drops nearly 30 kg of prime fertilizer out its back end every day. We don't have any cows though (but we'd love to have a herd grazing & overwintering here - drop us a line to talk about that). So how do we add fertility to our garden?

  • Compost

    • Our main fertility injection is composting our food scraps, garden waste, spring and fall lawn clippings, bedding from brooding baby chicks, wood ash, and cuttings from nutrient-accumulating plants like comfrey, dandelion, and stinging nettle.​

    • Compost is added to planting trenches for seeds, or on top of the root ball of transplants in the spring

    • We collect fruit and vegetable scraps from friends and neighbours

    • We make leaf mulch by piling chopped fallen leaves in the fall

    • We turn the compost every month or so to mix and aerate it - we hope to build a 3-bay compost station in 2021

    • We don't pull up plant roots, but rather cut plants off at soil level, and let the roots compost in place - which builds soil structure, and creates pathways for water to penetrate deeper and be retained in the root zone

    • Deep wood chip mulch composting in place

  • Compost tea

    • Aerobic liquid fertilizer from finished compost​, kelp seaweed, and crushed eggshells, brewed together with a bubbler for 36 hours, then diluted and applied to growing plants

    • Anaerobic liquid fertilizer from comfrey, dandelion, and stinging nettle leaves, steeped for 4-6 weeks, then diluted and applied to growing plants

  • Plants

    • Planting legumes (beans, peas) which have a relationship with a special kind of bacteria that take nitrogen out of the air​ and make it available to the roots of plants

    • Chopping and dropping mineral-accumulating plants like comfrey

  • Animals

    • Rotating our laying flock through the gardens every fall​

    • Creating an environment for beneficial soil life - earthworms, ants, beetles, fungi, and bacteria to thrive

Diversity

We use miniature/short term versions of plant guilds in our annual gardens as well. We aim to grow more plants in less physical space by using all four dimensions - east/west, north/south, up/down, and time. By growing in these "polycultures" (rather than a monoculture of only one species or variety) we increase biodiversity, confuse and limit pests, and maximize the benefits of each plant.

  • Guilds

    • We group plants together to combine the benefits of each

    • Tall plants like tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, kale, or corn sharing space with shorter leafy plants like beets, lettuce, or radishes

    • Using herbs and edible flowers to confuse and repel pests

    • Plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects

  • Perennials

    • Once we've experimented with perennial and self-seeding vegetables in test plots, we'll have a number of beds growing perennial vegetables

    • Our annual vegetable gardens are surrounded by gardens of tall perennials which:

      • Attract and sustain pollinators all season

      • Provide a habitat for beneficial predator insects (ones that eat what eats what we eat)

      • Confuse/repel pests

  • Succession planting

    • Fast growing plants in spring and fall, filling in the gaps around the summer-long vegetables​

    • Planting cover crops - winter rye, clovers - to add organic matter, improve soil structure, and increase fertility

  • Crop rotation

    • Though some have said it's not strictly necessary in a Back to Eden garden, we plan on rotating our crops on a 3 or 4 year rotation.​

      • This means not planting the same family of plants in the same place in successive years​

      • We grow a LOT of nightshade - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes - which makes it more likely that it'll end up being a 3-year rotation

Water

We're lucky (or, more accurately, thanks to the people who built the house) to be on a gravity-fed artesian well, meaning our water is highly mineralized, and is completely free to run. That said, the time spent watering is something we'd like to minimize, so we're working to manage water in the garden for the long run.

  • Our garden beds are terraces built "on contour" - meaning that they're all the same height on the slope

  • The pathways between the garden beds are dug out as "swales", which capture water and sink it in to the ground, rather than letting it run downhill

    • The swales are filled with wood chips, which hold water, and compost in place​

  • Deep mulch conserves water

  • We will eventually add drip irrigation, to water the roots rather than the leaves