Sunday, September 6, 2015

Structure of a compact bed

After sharing my last post on the success of my new experiment of growing very compact beds with a huge variety of plants, I was asked to share how I planned these beds out.

If you know me you will know that I often "fly by the seat of my pants" although on the outside it looks like I am a huge planner. I am not. And even if I do plan - in the practise it never works out properly.
Peas were growing up the trellis but are now over and squash seeds planted in their place
So the success of this past season's compact gardening was me having a plan, planting it up with about 70% accuracy and then getting happier and happier and more clear on what was happening as I packed in plants, companion herbs, harvesting and adding more over the last few months.

So I have planned again for summer to use the same ideas. There are a few major differences that I need to take into account, however. But these things aside I will still plant intensively and learn as I go.

1. It's going to be way hotter.
2. We more than likely will have water restrictions this summer.
3. Pests are more prolific in summer.
4. A lot of my beds still have vegetables in so this new plan will go in bit by bit.

Some background basics first:

I use Jane's Delicious Garden Planner by Grow Veg which has been great to use over the last few years. But if you don't want to use that then pen and paper and a good veggie book (or the internet) will work well enough.

It also important to know which plants to plant in which season and more or less what grows well together. You can get this info on the planner or in a veggie book.

The important thing to remember is getting good vegetables is a about good soil, water and sunshine. Plants also need growing space at the top and bottom and this system of planting allows for that.

Knowing planting to harvest times is also important, but not critical. But as I planned out the beds I made sure I planted a row of fast growing things down the sides so they would be out of the bed in time for the larger slower growing crops to spread.

So here's how I planned it all.

I have  5 beds called "Kitchen Garden" that are south facing. These beds did extremely well as they are in full sun all year around with the exception of bed No. 1 which is in full shade in winter due to a wall shadow and bed No. 5 which is in dappled shade in summer due to a tree. But by planting lettuce and other plants that bolt in bed No. 5 in summer I can still use the space, however in winter bed No. 1 is fallow.

I have 6 larger beds on the other side of the plot called "Pond Garden". These beds are lying in an East/West aspect and the long green trellises lie on this plane too. The issue with this is the back side of each trellis when covered in foliage is very shady.

Same bed - right shows shady side and left sunny side
So STEP NUMBER 1 for you is to know your sun and aspect in your garden and plan any trellis work accordingly as far as you possible can.

What I am assuming is that you have built up some good soil in your beds. You need compost, manure, green manures if your bed is new, double dug, no dig, mulched - whatever your choice, but just make sure its rich and good. Buy worms if you need to. Our pond garden's soil was dead dead dead when we started with it in 2010.  So STEP NUMBER 2 compost your soil.

STEP NUMBER 3 build yourself some trellises. I did this in 7 ½  of the 11 beds but will be adding one more in summer. We had the wooden poles lying around and I had to buy the green plastic mesh. It was rather pricey but it doesn't rust like chicken mesh so figured it would last me a good while. These trellises work for both summer and winter gardens. You can grow your winter peas, broad beans (although these must be tied to the trellis in one bunch) and your summer squash, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers up them.

This bed has beet, coriander, lettuce and peas on both sides
Now its time STEP NUMBER 4 which is to do the planning with your paper or your Grow Veg planner. Make sure you only plan to grow veg that you and your family will eat. Every year I have grown loads of broad beans but only Superman and I like them. So meal times were not happy ones when these little gems arrived on the plates. This year I only grew 2 batches of broad beans but much more peas as everyone likes peas.

Look at your climbing or tall plants first. For this summer I have 4 trellises given over to tomatoes, 1 to squashes, 2 to cucumbers and 1 ½ to beans. I will also be growing bush beans so didn't need more than this for climbing beans.

On either side of your climbing plants you will want to do one of two things depending on the way the sun falls in your garden. If you have south facing beds like I do in the Kitchen Garden you can plant exactly the same rows on either side of the trellis. If you have beds that face like mine do in the Pond Garden which is East or West then you will want to plant shade tolerant vegetables like lettuce, beets, carrots, coriander, chard, parsley and kale. They should get some sun, especially in the early stages of planting the climbers, but can handle the dappled shade that will develop later.

You also need to alternate your rows between a leaf crop and a root crop. You cannot do potatoes in this fashion, they need a dedicated bed.

Happy broad beans

Beds I planted in winter went as follows:

Center: Peas
On either side: Carrots, chard, onions, coriander (coriander is quick growing and removed by the time the onions need the space)

Centre: Broad Beans
On either side: Cauliflower and broccoli, onions, garlic.

Centre (no trellis): Broccoli
On either side: lettuce, onion, radish

Centre: Peas
On either side: Chard, carrots, spring onions, beets (removed soon before carrots need place to grow)

You get the picture?

For my summer beds I have planned the following: 

Centre: Tomatoes (either cherry or regular)
Sides in Kitchen Garden (full sun): Basil, peppers

Centre: Tomatoes
Sunny side: Basil, radish
Shady side: Lettuce

Centre (partial shade bed): Cucumbers
Sides: Lettuces, radish, chives

Centre: Chard
Sides: Beans growing over teepee trellis granting dappled shade to chard until December heat causes to bolt.

This bed has garlic, cauliflower and broccoli and broad beans

East facing beds in pond garden:

One given to sweetcorn

Centre: Tomatoes
Sides: one to Barbara butternut, other to basil, celery.

Centre of ½ trellis bed: Cucumber
Sides: Lettuce, bush beans, celery.

Centre: Climbing squash
One side: Carrots and aubergine
Other side: Red onions and aubergine

Centre: Tomatoes
One side: Marigold and lettuce
Other side: Courgette, lettuce, celery

Centre: Beans
Side: Leeks, carrots, dill
Other side: Leeks, carrots, bush cucumbers.

Another non trellis bed given to courgette and carrots on the edges.

Other plants growing around the place in pots, irregular beds and the pavement are:

Melons, asparagus, chard, artichokes, berries, kale, cabbage, medicinal herbs, strawberries, loads of herbs and celery. We also have avocado, granadilla, apples, oranges, lemons and figs growing around the place.

Writing this out makes me realise the bounty we have here. Not all things are producing yet, like the apples and avocado trees but should be soon.

And then? Once all your planning is done...get planting.

STEP NUMBER 5 is to start planting. DO NOT plant everything at once. You will end up with gluts of things, wastage or exhaustion as you try to process everything for storage. I prefer to eat fresh over pickled or preserved and I can because of our mild climate.

So this summer season I will plant beds and spaces as they come available because there is so much still growing and producing. I will simply add some worm tea, compost or worm compost to the space and mulch over once planted.

Last season the beds were empty and I planted one bed every two weeks which kept us going (and still is) with a steady inflow of vegetables and herbs. This worked well in that we could eat for e.g. baby peas raw and then by the time we got to the last bed, full grown peas in cooked meals.

I realise this is just one season in and not tested over the long haul by trial and error, so if you are willing to take a [small] gamble, drop me a note here or on Facebook to let me know what you are planning for your garden.

You can see my Grow Veg plans for the two gardens here:

Kitchen Garden

Pond Garden

Look forward to hearing from you!


The Becketts said...

Thanks so much Wendy! Inspiring as usual. Trellises seem to be the main thing here, as well as planning of course!

Selina B said...

just popped over from DTE, wow great garden there & so much planning, i have done that in the past but now i put most of my vegies out in my flower garden out the front, it works okay.
interesting garden tips too
thanx for sharing

Urban Homestead South Africa said...

Hi Becketts, thank you for stopping by! I hope this has been very helpful to you. Although I know you are huge gardening fundis already!

Urban Homestead South Africa said...

Hey Selina, nice to meet you! Thank you for taking the time to comment. Always nice to meet other DTE fans.