A week or so ago the weather turned autumnal and we had our first decent rainfall since early June. (Yes, friends and family in Scotland, read that and weep! Smug? Who, me?) A thorough watering and a few cloudy days completely revitalised the vegetable garden, emphasising again that adequate watering and shading are keys to successful growing here.
It’s been apparent for a while that those parts of the vegetable beds which benefit from the partial shade cast by the yurt porch roof or other plants have done much better than those in full sun, even for sun-loving plants like basil. It’s so diametrically opposed to what I’m used to, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop. But now it has, the plan will be to increase the number of layers in the garden by planting some trees which cast a light shade.
But the garden is doing well!
I am an instant convert to polyculture. Not only is it a successful way of growing, but once a reasonable selection of vegetables were established, the protection afforded to new seedlings by existing plantings has meant that I’ve been able to keep harvesting and replanting steadily throughout the season, filling any bare patches that open up. This has meant that the soil has tended to dry out far less. A good covering of multi-layered vegetation traps water vapour and slows evaporation.
Selective replanting also makes for far less general disturbance to the soil and allows for a ‘little and often’ approach to growing as opposed to planting an entire crop in one go and harvesting it all at the same time. This not only extends the ‘season’ for each vegetable, but involves far less work at any one time. It also has the not inconsiderable advantage of avoiding the loss of an entire crop because of the weather conditions prevailing at planting time. My April plantings of capsicum peppers struggled to thrive after May’s rains. The chlorosed and weedy plants barely produced a pepper worth its name. But the June plantings have done well and although we had to wait a bit, we’re now harvesting large juicy fruit. This approach to growing strikes me as similar to the difference between clear-felling a forest (which we’ve seen a lot of round here this year) and more sustainable management practices.
It’s also leading me towards a style of growing that emphasises continual production, using the different ripening times of different cultivars to maximise the growing season, with an eventual aim of having some produce at least available from the garden year-round.
The straw mulch has also been hugely successful, contributing substantially to slowing water loss from the soil and to suppressing weed growth. Maintenance is much simpler and there is much less inadvertent damage to growing seedlings during weeding. It was noticeable that in areas where the mulch cover was reduced to allow for eg. carrot seedlings to germinate, there were far more problems with seedlings becoming overwhelmed by other more vigorous plants.
I’ve also been saving seed from various food plants and flowers throughout the year, recycling paper bags from the local bakery.
The now-empty potato bin – after its fairly meagre but thankfully unblighted harvest – is about to see service as a seed bed for an autumn sowing of pak choi.