Friday, December 5, 2014

Understanding Companion Planting

From bacteria in yogurt making to the Amazon anywhere something grows there is an ecosystem. As homesteaders our goal is to cultivate the perfect ecosystem for plants and repelling the pests that would destroy it. Companion planting is more than not planting cabbage where you planted tomatoes. It is giving your garden a healthy environment from soil acidity to 
succession planting. 

Ecosystems and Monocultures
An ecosystem is a biological community of different organisms and their physical environment. Like the human body any ecosystem needs to maintain a careful balance. Too much of anything could harm it irreparably. In traditional agriculture monocultures are developed that skew the balance and cause pest and disease to take over. The pesticides kill the good with the bad and as the diseases become more virulent they use stronger pesticides.  Studies have shown the effects of different waves of environmental damage from monocultures. This is an extreme example of how important maintaining balance is. 

What is Companion Planting? 
There are complicated charts and whole books about  what should be planted where. Each plant has its own preferences and needs which are provided by others. Taking the time to plan garden styles and placement all comedown to the details of plant placement. Taller plants can shelter shorter ones, space can be used more efficiently, pests can be repelled, and pollinators can be attracted. 

Know the Main Plant Families
The Allium family is made up of onions, leeks, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions. Brassicas include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and cauliflower. Some of the more well known Legumes are lentils, pole and green beans, and peanuts. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Each of these families are very large and include many more fruits and vegetables. The Gourd family includes cucumber, melons, squash, and your handy dandy luffa sponge. There are always exceptions, but here is the general rule.

Alliums like Brassica and Solanum, but dislike Legumes
Brassicas like Alliums, but dislike Nightshades
Nightshades like Alliums, but dislike Brassicas and Legumes
Legumes like Nightshades and Brassicas, but dislike Alliums 
Gourds like Legumes and Alliums, but dislike Nightshades

Some of these are so repellent you can’t plant them in the same ground like Brassicas and Nightshades. Others, like Legumes, are more selective for example bush beans like Brassicas less than they like Nightshades. 

2. Carrots and Beets
Carrots and beets are from different families, but both families are difficult to just plant by family. Carrots are from the Apiaceae family which also includes parsley and celery. Alliums like Carrots, but hate Parsley. The similarity is the division. 
Beta vulgaris, the family that contains chard and beets, like bush beans, but dislikes pole beans.   

3. Radishes Drive Off Pests!
Planting radishes near Gourds, Legumes, Brassicas, and Nightshades will drive off many types of beetles. It is best to let some radish go to seed to drive off the pests through the growing season. 
Many plants drive off pests and discourage other infestation. Potatoes drive off the Mexican Bean Beetle and Beans do the same for the Potato Beetle. 

4. Always use Marigolds
Not only do they drive off beetles, nematodes, and flies, but their roots excrete a strong natural pesticide  

This is the end of our Early Garden Planning series, so we will be looking at future series and other posts after Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook!

There are so many wonderful ways to communicate and we want to start giving you more opportunities to connect with us! Connect with us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter! Homestead Revival is more than a blog, it is a community of like minded people and we want to hear from you!

On Facebook...

This is where we announce all of our posts and find out what you are interested in. You can message us, post on our wall, and talk about our posts with other homesteaders. Here it is easy to share your favorite posts with your friends and tell us what you want to read about!

 On Pinterest...
We have almost a thousand posts and it is easy for useful and helpful content to be buried under years of material. Pinterest's simple beautiful format enabled us to link about two hundred posts by category. Every category and label we have used has its own board. Enjoy browsing through our posts on beekeeping, goats, chickens, and home tours!

 On Twitter...

We have had a Twitter account for a while, but I have started my own page to share my apartment homestead. Because tweets are so fast I will be able to talk about everything from blog post prep to my current projects. These will inspire future blog posts and be the most interactive of all of our pages. This is where I want to hear from you and see your plans. 

We can't wait to see how our community grows!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Square Foot Gardening vs. French Intensive

While there are many alternative methods we will discuss in future posts like straw bale gardening, today we are focusing on the main ones, Square Foot Gardening and the French Intensive Method. Each system is a tool that gives something to your garden like time management, companion planting options, and food production. They also leave something wanting whether it is water use or space.

In my first garden we used raised beds to grow tomatoes and sunflowers at the bottom of a revine behind our house. The hill was steep and I remember long hikes up and down the hill to bring water and haul produce.  Even then we had our garden far away from our house. Raised beds are a staple in a high dry mountain town like ours. The dirt is hard and rocky for the most part and it takes years to rebuild topsoil eroded away. The only thing that does love the dirt are the gophers whose holes turn the ankles of unobservant adventurers.

Raised beds at their simplest are a sturdy wood box with gopher wire on the bottom filled with clean dirt. The soil is in good condition, it drains well, and is easy to work with.  Season extending is made easier in both spring and winter by warmer soil and easily contained areas. Dormant weeds aren't a problem and the loose dirt makes new weeds easy to handle. The only draw back is the investment and periodic replacement. 

Square Foot Gardening
I have used wood scraps to build a small raised bed in my front yard for my cold weather crops with Square Foot Gardening. The Square Foot Method is a way of using the raised bed space as efficiently as possible. We have a 4'x4' square box with twine dividing each square foot off. The best way to divide the box up is to use a simple wooden grid as seen in Amy's garden below. 

Each square can be divided even further for plants with closer spacing like radishes and carrots. Bigger plants like squash or cabbage take a full square while smaller produce is planted close together to create a mulch like covering for the soil preventing weed growth. Mel Bartholomew, the author of The All-New Square Foot Gardening Book, also uses a soil mix of one third peat moss, compost, and vermiculite. He says you should switch it out every year in order to reduce weeds and ensure enough nutrient for the next crop. 

There are drawbacks to Square Foot Gardening. Like raised beds there are start up and maintenance costs. Not only the materials for the raised beds, but also the soil, a.k.a. Mel's Mix,  which runs eight dollars per cubic foot.

The biggest issue with square foot gardening is that it does not give back to the land around  and it drains the nutrients from the raised bed with no long term return. While cover crops are suggested, the emphasis is to continue bringing in the best, use it, and ditch it. This does make gardening prep easy, but it is not very responsible. 

The French Intensive Method
The French Intensive Method is incredibly detail oriented. I like this one because it uses the land and feeds it with loads of compost and aeration. It is very water conscious and also very productive. It is not related to the raised bed methods and requires more patience as well. Like the Square Foot Method the plants are spaced so that the mature leaves barely touch leaving a vegetable mulch on top of the compost soil. Double digging came from this method where they turned over 24 inches of dirt for deep aeration. 

A clever combination of raised beds and the French Intensive Method was developed by Alan Chadwick called the Biodynamic French Intensive System. He includes beds planted north to south for maximum sunlight, careful cultivation of a luxurious green house layer, management of water so the plants receive just enough. Like the Square Foot Method beds are planted to be comfortable to reach into and everything planted closely together. Slim walkways only inches wide allow the beds to keep the right temperature and foster a warm environment. Of all of the methods this one is the most labor intensive involving double dug beds slightly raised for good drainage and, most difficult of all, the ability to straddle and squat over your beds while planting. 

Each system we have looked at has a unique purpose and goal. Square foot gardening is made to be easy on the gardener while French Intensive gives back to the land a lot more. I agree with Alan Chadwick that there is something worthwhile in both of these methods. At my house we double dig and then mix all of our dirt with peat moss, worm castings, and compost. The compost is from horse, goat and chicken manure and kitchen scraps. There are Square Foot Gardening years and French Intensive years. The most important thing is to keep growing. 

In our next post in the series we'll be talking about companion planting!


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