Mixed vegetable gardening -- a 'cottager' perspective

Bangladeshi Allotment
Today I planted out 45 seedlings. Greens, root crops and Leeks. 

When you go to plant you gotta think about where you will plant the plants, right?

Since I'm upping  the number of plants in my garden beds and seriously chasing a harvest increase, I got anxious that maybe my habits were a handicap. 

Other gardens of my acquaintance are formatted by blocks and rows of sameness vegetation. These may not be true 'monoculture' but my take on 'polyculture' kind of makes me a mix-em-up radical. You could say that my garden beds are  heterogeneous mixes of plants seemingly thrown together.

And it's true -- if I see a vacancy -- like a parking space -- I'll plant/park a seedling or seed there. 

I'm not stupid -- I don't plant the same thing there year in year out -- but a regular and set regime of rotating crops isn't in my CV. I may change the plant grown in one spot, but that's about the extent of my sequencing.

A bad habit? 

So far so good. 

This habit of mine began a few decades back when my parents moved to Rosebud Victoria in cooee of Heronswood and Diggers Seeds and thereon both my parents and I have been cottage garden aficionados as Diggers were cottager obsessed. I'd get all my seeds there and a lot of my inspiration.

Later the Permaculture bug kicked in -- and while Permaculture isn't a monocultural system, it's polycultural design is ruled by the 'food forest' concept and reliant on perennials.

Over the years I've found food foresting has hairs on it and it's been a task to wean myself from some Permaculture precepts I'd adopted. 

I'm not really  great perennial sort of guy. My stomach is ruled by annuals.

But there I was looking at the soil at my feet, seedlings in hand...and I had sudden doubts. Maybe squeezing in this and that where I can fit it in isn't the best gardening option?

I was thinking that maybe I should redesign the whole shebang...

After investing in some research I feel much better because I won an affirmation :
In a conventional vegetable garden, each type is planted in rows or patches. Usually similar species are grouped together, such as brassicas, beans and peas and so on. Plants of the same or similar species compete for the same nutrients, and are an attractive habitat for pests of that plant. Usually, the patches are rotated every year to prevent the build-up of pests and diseases and so as not to deplete the soil of nutrients.
By contrast, in mixed cropping a large number of different vegetables are grown together in the same space. A well-chosen combination can result in less competition for nutrients, and other beneficial relationships between the different plants mean that plants are healthier.
Indeed a little brochure from UK Permaculture on Mixed Veg Gardening is a gem and is worth downloading. It's free.
Mixed vegetable gardening is an example of a  polyculture . The word means
growing lots of different types of plants together. The growing mix in a polyculture can include vegetables, herbs, flowers and even fruit. People have used this approach all over the world for hundreds of years, often with great success. Examples include the English Cottage Garden, Caribbean kitchen gardens or the allotments of Bangladeshi communities in London.
Of course gardening in a medley is a headache. Finding plants isn't always easy. It's more time consuming to garden. The only logic is your own eccentricities...and maybe a bit of companion planting. You have to think about finished growth height and competitors in the neighbourhood after the same nutrients and moisture. You have to think about the underneath business too -- what the veg roots will get up to and where. 

A bit of a mess really if your were a formalist.

In my mix --hidden among all that veg and green -- are my terracotta pot irrigators, so the more jungle there is, the harder it is to find, reach and refill these pots.

Nonetheless, you're relating big time almost to every plant.You're monitoring growth and habit in close proximity to the dirt. 

But if you want to lazy garden...forget it. Compared to the 'food forest' concept and  block or row  planting, mixed vegetable gardening demands at lot of attention....but there are some great advantages:
  • Better use of space - a lot of food is produced and many types of vegetables can be grown in the same space over a longer time.
  • Fewer pests and diseases - the different colours, shapes, textures and scents of the leaves confuse pests, and diseases can't spread as easily from one plant to the next.
  • Less weeding - there is no space and no light on the ground, so weeds can't germinate.
  • Less need for watering - greater soil coverage means less evaporation.

So despite the frustrations it's an effective way to deploy dirt.

In my mix  the trees I grow are pawpaws and sweetleaf (Katuk) as they are both short lived and so easily governed. I also have many frangipanis strategically planted as a source for controlled Summer shade (and Winter light since they're deciduous here)...but for the rest, I guess I'm still learning, especially as my soil has only recently become a workable loam.

But for now, let;s just say that my moment of doubt is over and I remain a (sub-tropical) cottager at heart..


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