Flying back to Colorado from Kansas City I passed over multitudes of squares, rectangles and otherwise straight angled pieces of land stretching across western Kansas and into Colorado. So much of that land is placed into grids through agriculture. But I couldn’t help but think about how the land was originally spanned out, laid out and created. Not in right angles and straight lines, surely; but in ever-shifting, inter-woven boundaries. Straight lines are mere walls to natural surroundings, especially in agriculture. When we plant in straight rows with so much space between plantings, we’re mimicking not mother nature and earthy wisdom, but control and temperance. But control and temperance only lead to dead spaces for noxious weeds, earth-compaction and necessary tillage. Just for the sake of beauty it seems, we mirror our gardens and our earth into boxes we would ultimately like to see around us for comfort’s (control/temperance) sake.
In his book, How To Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons incorporates planting in such close spacings that the fully matured plants are allowed to touch; this provides a mini-climate if you will, and makes a living mulch out of the very plants themselves. It also controls weed growth and preserves moisture in the soil while creating less work and more efficiency. It also releases some of the mindset of wanted plants vs. unwanted plants in lessening the need to hoe a spaced area between plants and recognizing that all plants carry benefit in one form or another. Mother nature works in synergy through all her systems, they just might not be recognizable to the naked gardening eye. (But at the same time, if anyone knows any benefits to be had from such plants as morning glories, daughter or bindweed, feel free to let me know!)
Through utilizing heaving mounds of garden beds rounding down to small paths in between, one can make the most of square footage in the garden and plant along a rainbow pattern instead of individual plantings running in straight lines down the bed.
Thinning can be performed as required for health of tops and roots, and the soil in the bed will be less likely to be trampled which keeps it in tip-top aeration and tillage shape. (Note: If you do need to stand in the middle of the bed for some reason, you can place a board over the bed and stand on it – this will spread out your weight more evenly over the area so that less impact is made on a single spot.)
Granted some people might be gardening in communities where the appearance of the place makes all the difference in creating a welcoming environment – by all means, keep up the shape of your grounds and don’t make people have to scavenge through a forest of grasses to dig a carrot or bend and strain the neck reaching to the center of the bed just to gather a bunch of tat soi. But neither should we expect nature to look like city blocks. Sometimes a rogue tomato decides to grow in the middle of a bed of spinach, it’s up to you how you want to deal with it.
Fun Fact:If you really want to let the inner hippie in you come out to play for a while, try petting that tomato plant. Called the “Thigmo Response,” when the stem is swayed back and forth (as in the wind or a vivacious watering,) the plant produces a hormone that toughens it up and builds stamina by encouraging a shorter yet stockier stem. This helps the tomato to hold more of its own weight and leads to an overall more vigorous and productive plant.
Today we took a small field-trip off the farm to head about an hour Northwest to Salida, CO, to visit friends of Beki’s. This couple helped to start her CSA from the ground up – they organized a following in the Salida area of people who wanted a CSA program to eat from and support, contacted Beki just as she was moving back to her homeplace and starting the farming operation a few years ago and now she has anywhere from 20-34 patrons per season to sell her produce to. (She also has CSA pickups in Canon, CO Springs and Westcliffe at the markets.)
For starters, after getting a tour of their land (4 acres next to the Arkansas River) and seeing their in-ground, walk-in root cellar I now know that I will never be satisfied in life without one.
Having an outdoor stone fire place and chimney wouldn’t hurt lifetime satisfaction either. But seriously, their property was gorgeous. Having moved in only a year ago, they already have mounded garden beds, raised beds
lined with straw bales, 3 high tunnels with living mulches in place to aerate and prepare the soil for in-ground planting, a working compost pile, a chicken coop/barn and fenced in pasture sidling up to the river behind the house, which holds – in the living room – a mini-green house of sorts with a stainless steel shelving unit and fluorescent lighting. They’re also on their way to a perennial flower and herb garden as well as a hefty orchard of a side yard. Not only did I get a ridiculous amount of new knowledge and photos, but I’m also coming away from the experience with a new recipe for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Biscotti (via email in the next day or so……..Delish!)