Integrated Gardening Techniques and the Garden Co-op

This 2013 growing season marks the beginning of stepping-up our integrated techniques in the community garden on the CSC property, just west of Stelle.  It is part of our Permaculture Land Design.

Some quick background:  The community garden is a celebrated part of CSC’s history.  Each year, residents of Stelle (and the nearby neighborhood) can choose to become part of CSC’s Community Garden Co-op.  It works differently than most community gardens; rather than renting plots, the garden is planned and managed by a Garden Manager.  

A past year's garden planning meeting, where the "what to plant" and "who will be planting" is decided.
A past year’s garden planning meeting, where the “what to plant” and “who will be planting” is decided.

The Garden Manager holds a yearly garden planning meeting to get interested members’ input on what to grow and how much time they have to work in the garden. Members spend time throughout the season helping to mulch, plant, weed, water, and harvest.  The general rule for the co-op harvest has been:  work a little, take a little; work a lot, take a lot.

It has worked well for some years; however, it is still a lot of work, and plenty of members fizzle out in their volunteer hours when it starts to get scorching hot outside.  What happens?  The un-watered, un-weeded garden starts to give diminishing returns.

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Enter:  Integrated Gardening Techniques!  Some dedicated gentlemen (Ernest and Hayden)  have begun to rethink how to get the garden watered and weeded, to apply Permaculture principles to the garden and make it even easier than before to grow more food than before.  We like to call it lazy persons’ gardening.  What, exactly, are they doing?

IMG_4385 (Medium)Technique #1: Mini-swales for flood irrigation
Digging swales on contour (essentially, ditches that are level all the way across) into the garden means that the garden beds will hold water around the plants for longer periods of time and soak into the ground where it is available.  Rather than hand-watering a couple of times a day, if we were to dump a “flood” of water into our low-lying garden from the hill on its south side, the water would continue to be available to the plants all day, without creating a situation where we drown them.  In order to make walking easier, we will back-fill the mini-swales with wood chips.

 

Technique #2:  Hugelkultur bedshugel 2
To further increase our water retention below ground, we are turning some beds into hugelkultur (get a short hugelkultur tutorial here), a process which takes more time and work investment than simple tilling, but which produces a bed that will continue to hold water and increase fertility for years to come.  The only downside is that you cannot plant tomatoes on a 3ft.-high hugelkultur bed, because you will need a ladder to harvest them!

 

IMG_4344 (Small)Technique #3:  John Jeavons-style beds
John Jeavons started the (trademarked) style called Grow Biointensive.  To increase our yields, we implemented two key concepts to these beds:  mounds and companion planting.  By moving the soil from the pathways onto the tops of very wide beds, we can increase the surface area to grow on, and make clear pathways, too.  We will be planting multiple rows of crops that are suited to grow well together–lettuce, chard, radishes–and help keep down weeds while deterring pest insects.

 

IMG_4413-001
1. Conventionally-tilled plot
2. Double-dug bed
3. Hugelkultur bed

Technique #4:  Experimental Subsoil Strategies
To see if these techniques make a significant difference to our yield, we’ve dedicated three different beds to lettuce this spring: a conventional plot, a double-dug bed (in which the soil has been loosened but not turned over), and a hugelkultur bed.  We will judge the outcome based on the quality of the produce we harvest.

 

IMG_4374 (Small)Technique #5:  Cardboard weed deterrent
Our garden manager likes to quip: “You can either grow garlic or grow weeds, but never both.”  On a mission to devote less time to weeding, we’ve dedicated a small garlic plot to the idea that if you plant garlic in holes around heavy cardboard, the cardboard will smother the weeds during the growing season.  So far, it’s working: the garlic has sprouted above the cardboard holes.  Now we continue to mulch on top of the cardboard with oat straw.

 

It is important for us to keep in mind why we’d like to have integrated gardening techniques here; we aren’t looking for an astronomically high yield, we aren’t trying to make a high profit from this garden.  We simply want to follow the ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share by making it a joy for co-op members to participate in gardening and reap the bounty, and by providing a haven for beneficial insects that share our property.

Questions or comments?  Leave them below.

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