The zucchini has breathed it’s last and the tomato production has reduced to such a small number that it’s time to clear the beds and think about Autumn planting. I’ve always struggled to know what to plant when and for the greatest production. I’ve played with a lot of different approaches but don’t feel like I’m there yet. I’ve also read a lot of books and websites with their recommendations including one read over the weekend that prefaced it’s own list by pointing out that conditions can change significantly depending on small variations such as what side of a hill you are on, what buildings surround you and the amount of sun you get; so ignore lists! So what to do? Well this year I’m going to throw myself fully into guild planting.
The concept with guild planting is that you mix up and intersperse what you plant in order to promote better production and revitalise the soil. It mimics what you would find in nature where the concept of acres of a single crop would not last long and mostly result in some very happy bugs ! It works on a whole heap of different levels. Some plants protect others from pests (the tomato-basil relationships being the one most are familiar with), some offer growing structure (such as corn planted with a climbing bean that uses the corn as a trellis) and some like fennel, celery and dill will attract predatory bugs such as ladybugs and predatory wasps (not the European type) if let go to seed. The other concept is that you increase your available growing space by stacking the plants. An example of this is the the above corn-bean group with a ground hugging zucchini tossed in. This means you’ll have the tall corn, with the bean in the mid level and the zucchini at the bottom. You can also do the same with layering of the roots so that plants are mining to different depths for their nutrients (like lettuce and carrot).
If you’re like me then just this explanation makes your head swim with the multitude of different variations and approaches that one could come up with. I think this is why I seem to have done something slightly different each year. So what am I doing this year? Well I’ve got sort of four beds that are what I consider to be my intensive beds. I’m planting three different guilds in them.
Guild 1: Alternating rows of carrots and onions (with carrots being gradually planted to spread production) and a central area of garlic. At the edges of this bed is beetroot and radish
Guild 2: Silverbeet, celery, parsley and brocolli with alternating lettuce, cabbage and beetroot. A row of broad bean on a loose trellis. I’m also going to throw in some coriander, calendula and nasturtiums partly for their strong smells but mostly because Nikki gets upset if there’s not at least some flower potential !
Guild 3: The chaos guild! Carrots, beetroot, radish, lettuce, endive and dill in the front (facing north). Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and spinach in the middle. A row of peas and beans on a trellis towards the back with a smattering of lettuce, beetroot and radish at the very back (though really close to the path) to soak up what space is left.
I’m still tossing up whether or not to repeat one of these guilds or go for a green manure on the fourth bed (I’m leaning towards the latter) to replenish nutrients. At the back I’ve got a load of what they called ‘clucker tucker’ which is going to supplement the chook food and provide lots of greens for them. After that’s gone it’s potato city for that space in between the trees.
So that’s my plan, now that I’ve written it down I can’t help but wonder whether I did so for the benefit of the reader or to get it straight in my own head! Anyway I hope it helps and if you’ve got any corrections or comments then I’m always up for them.
I think the green crop of peas or broad beans does wonders for the soil Paul – it gives back to the soil in a special way. And you can’t go past garlic – that will be my main crop up here in Canberra that I will put in. It is such a lovely ritual pulling out the summer crop and putting in the winter – I love it on our warm autumn days xxx
Yeh garlic is a bit of a favorite here as well, for all the reasons that you’ve said but also because fresh ‘real’ garlic is one of those eye opening experiences like the first time you had fresh home grown berries. I will go for the green crop and have just read a way to prepare soil for a big tomato harvest next season so that would seem a very good use of our fourth bed.
Thanks for the comment and look forward to seeing you soon.
Hey Paul, I am living in Northcote and planning the first plant in the back garden of my rental property. My landlord has been good enough to allow me to play ! I have a space of about 15m squared in total to work with . The soil is a clayey sand and I think it needs addition of some nutrients. I was wondering if you have improved your soil/imported soil etc and if so where you might have sourced it. i am looking for the cheapest viable option.
Hiya Shane, welcome to Northcote. Yeh you will probably need to improve your soil there’s not many situations where you don’t, especially if you want to grow things organically since the health of your soil is the health of your vegies. I’m far from an expert on this but we’ve approached this fairly gradually by using chook manure (from our girls), cow manure, compost and regular mulching over about 5 years. We use hay for the paths between our beds and throw whatever green stuff comes out of the garden on to the paths. After a while we scrape back the clean stuff and then take the decomposed stuff from underneath and spread that on the beds putting the slightly spent stuff back and covering if with a fresh layer.
There are a couple of bulk distributors in the area (Evetts, Haddens and Bulleen Arts and Gardens) who will deliver. CERES nursery is a font of good ideas and also sells a range of mulches, composts etc though I don’t think they will deliver and are probably more expensive for large volumes (but definitely worth a chat).
A couple of other random thoughts that pop in to my head that also might be worth thinking about:
– consider doing a green manure crop first (you can buy these super cheaply as seeds). This will give you loads of nitrogen rich compost but also build the soil live and beneficial bacteria.
– it may be worth getting your soil tested (I think VEG: the Very Edible Garden are doing an offer on this at the moment) to find out what you actually need to do so you don’t add unnecessary ‘stuff’!
– think about ‘no-dig’ gardens. This might be a quicker way to get in to growing. This is basically a way to build up from what you’ve currently got by layering hay, mulch, compost and paper and then growing in this as the soil improves from above. Most of the components are pretty cheap or even free and it will save you from lots of digging. There are lots of resources online about ‘no-dig’ gardens and I think one currently on the ‘transition yarra’ facebook site linking to Peter Cundall showing him growing a massive yield of potatoes directly onto a lawn.
Hope this helps, last suggestion is to check out ‘Permablitz’ (www.permablitz.net). This is a bunch who do permaculture ‘blitzes’ on backyards. Generally the way it works is you go to somebody elses ‘blitz’ then host your own but I think they are on the lookout for gardens so you might be in luck (they’re very approachable either way!). They will help you prepare a ‘permaculture’ design giving opportunity for people who’ve just done their ‘PDC’. Best thing about this is that it’s a learning opportunity for you and also others in your area, it builds community resilience and lets face it you get a lot more done and have a lot more fun with a crew of like minded people to help.
Hope this helps, let me know how you get on.