When I wrote about this site on its home page “It’s our virtual scrapbook, repository of working ideas (I can’t lose them if I put them here!) …” I was kind of half joking, but having just spent a good hour trying to find the piece of paper on which I scribbled last year’s vegetable planting schemes, I should have paid my own words more heed.
This year’s plantings in our newly-created raised beds and Hügelbeets are the beginnings of a bigger, more diverse and species-rich scheme with a lot more forethought and long term vision than our gung-ho-to-get-going temporary military-style vegetable plot of last year. That gung-ho-to-get-going vegetable plot still had us self-sufficient in vegetables for 3 months with enough preserved produce that we’re still eating our way through it, but now I’m aiming for something more enduring and self-sustaining. Though with a memory like a sieve, I need some sort of record of what works and what doesn’t amongst the annual participants in the scheme.
As a relative novice in polyculture, one of the main frustrations I’ve found in trying to work out potential planting combinations is the amount of conflicting information out there. One source says plant A and plant B are great companions, another says they’re inimical. One says plant A likes conditions xyz, another disagrees. One says sow plant C everywhere as it’s the magic bullet of companion planting, another says keep it on its own because it’s allelopathic to many other plants (yes, it really does get that extreme … and plant C is Lovage, Levisticum officinale). Since there’s rarely enough information about other essential contributing factors in each of these situations, it’s generally not possible to work out why those conflicting results should occur. And given the way unsourced information propagates through the internet, frequency of mention is no indication of frequency of occurrence in the raw data.
Mostly I’ve kept to a combination of broad consensus and what feels right. Ultimately it’s all down to trial and error.
We have a wide range of growing conditions all the way from cool, deep, moist shade through to relentless baking sun; frost pockets for plants that like a good winter chilling, and almost frost-free areas for those that don’t. We have rich, deep, loamy, moisture-retentive, pH-neutral soil through to shallow, poor, free-draining, acidic conditions. We don’t have alkaline or saline soils anywhere, but we can cater for pretty much every other requirement within the cool to warm temperate range. In time I hope to succeed in developing microclimates for more Mediterranean and tropical species. The main limiting factor at present is water availability across the whole quinta in summer, so sorting out effective and efficient irrigation is a priority until the vegetation is sufficiently well developed to create and retain more of its own moisture.
The beds on the yurt terrace are all mulched with hay and straw, while for the house terrace I’m trying various green mulches in a continuation of last year’s experiments. Since we were starting all our beds from scratch this year with, in the case of the yurt terrace, bare soil exposed to late winter and early spring rains, protecting the soil was an immediate priority.
The hay/straw is very effective at moisture retention, and at suppressing the growth of unwanted plants – apart from the grasses it’s collected from, but weeding those out just adds to the mulch – as well as protecting the soil, but insulates so well that the soil takes much longer to warm up. It also provides a great environment for slugs. Because of its suppressive effect on growth of seeds sown beneath it, direct sowings can only be covered lightly and sparsely, in which case the mulch no longer retains moisture or stops weed growth so well. It seems more practical to raise seedlings elsewhere and then plant through the mulch once they’re a reasonable size.
The green mulches protect the soil once they’re well enough developed, but are less effective at keeping unwanted plants out and moisture in, at least to begin with.
These are the main plant combinations so far established and sown in the raised beds. There are several more emerging, but so far with only a couple of species. There’s also plenty of free space still for more.
Comfrey, peas, broad beans, clary sage, savoy cabbages
Courgettes, sweetcorn, mile-long beans, sunflowers, nasturtiums
Cucumbers, runner beans, mile-long beans, radishes, savoy cabbages, lettuces, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, winter savory, sage, nasturtiums, marigolds
Redcurrants, onions, strawberries, rainbow chard, perpetual spinach, lettuces, savoy cabbage, geraniums, marigolds
As above but with garlic instead of onions and pak choi instead of savoy cabbage plus yarrow
Onions, lettuce, rocket, marigolds, nasturtiums, Californian poppies
Celeriac, kohl rabi, Echinacea, Physalis
Blueberries, butternut squash, coriander, beetroot, broccoli, romanescu cauliflower, nasturtiums
Redcurrants, onions, cabbages, pak choi, nasturtiums, marigolds
Redcurrants, carrots, beetroot
Melons, lettuces, amaranth, radishes, nasturtiums
Asparagus, basil, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, peppers, marigolds, nasturtiums with a green mulch of clover and mixed salad leaves – lettuces, rocket, giant red mustard greens (Brassica juncea), lamb’s quarters/fat hen (Chenopodium album), lamb’s lettuce/corn salad (Valerianella locusta), endive and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
Peppers, basil, aubergines with a green mulch of clover and mixed salad leaves as above
Tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, chives, marigolds, nasturtiums with a green mulch of clover and mixed salad leaves as above
Chillis, peppers, aubergines, amaranth, red onions, giant red mustard greens, lemongrass, curry plant