Kitchen Garden Planning, Part Two: Companion Planting, Design & Layout

April 18th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Potager_Seat_michaelamedinaharlow_thegardenerseden In the Company of Friends: My Potager is Planned for Companionship!

Fresh air, sunshine, a cool drink and a warm, cozy spot in the garden, surrounded by friends; I can’t imagine a better way to spend my summer days. Turns out, plants feel much the same way we do. Like humans, plants tend to grow, thrive and produce best when they are provided the conditions and companions they prefer. Given the varying needs and desires of the fruits, herbs and vegetables on this year’s garden party guest list, I like to give the seating arrangement a little thought.

kitchen_garden_companion_planting_ plan_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Sample Potager Layout with Cool & Warm Season Companion Plants

Every spring, when it’s time to design and layout my potager, I pull out my garden journal and a fresh sheet of 1/4″ graph paper to sketch my seasonal planting beds. Now is the time to decide what crops I want to grow in my vegetable garden this year. First I list my favorite cold crops and then the summertime fruits, herbs and vegetables (see lists below). I also like to replant certain fast-maturing crops —such as lettuce, peas, beets and carrots— for autumn harvest, so I make a note to remind myself to sow again in late summer. When I head to the garden center to pick up my seed and six packs, I take my garden journal —or a copy of my client’s plan and plant list— along with me for reference.

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In my previous post —Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One— I mentioned the importance of a keeping a garden journal from year to year. One of the keys to successful, organic vegetable gardening is crop rotation. Insect pests and diseases can be diminished by planting vegetables from the same families —see the basic groupings below— in different locations each year, following a three year cycle.

Here’s a simplified list of vegetable families to serve s a basic rotation guide, from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension Service Online. Avoid planting the same vegetables —or those within the same families— in the same spots next year by keeping a record of what is planted where, this year.

kitchen_garden_layout_and_design_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Step One: Layout Planting Beds on 1/4″ Graph Paper

In addition to assisting with crop rotation, laying out a garden plan on grid paper can help to maximize available area; particularly in small gardens, where space is at a premium. Keeping diagrams and written records of where you have sown/planted what vegetables can assist with intercropping (planting different herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables —such as basil, carrots and tomatoes— within the same beds, instead of planting long rows of just one kind of vegetable), and succession planting (repeat sowing quick-to-mature crops like lettuce, peas and spinach). By continuously replanting and filling all voids, weeding tasks are reduced and high yields can be obtained from even the smallest garden.

cool_season_crops_and_companions_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Common Cool-Season Crops and Selected Companions

When laying out my annual vegetable garden, first I list my favorite cold crops and then the summertime fruits and vegetables. Mesclun greens, arugula, lettuce, chard, beets, carrots, radishes, broccoli and peas? Those all-time favorites are definitely on my spring planting list. I also like to replant certain crops for a late autumn harvest. Fast-maturing, cool-season crops —such as lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, beets, broccoli, lettuce and others— can be planted early in the growing year and repeat sown over the course of several weeks (succession planting), or replanted later in the season for autumn harvest, making use of newly open space as crops mature throughout the summer.

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Next, I need to think about the summer crops, and plan space for those as well. Some warm season crops can be planted earlier in the season than others; think potatoes and onions. Once the threat of frost has passed, I’ll plant summertime favorites like tomatoes, basil, zucchini, squash, melons, sweet and spicy peppers, all kinds of beans, cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds. Keep in mind that the growth of warm-season and slow-to-mature crops can be assisted by intercropping with helpful companions. Some of the more common cool and warm season crops, and good companion plants for interplanting, are listed in the illustrations above, and below.

warm_season_crops_and_companions_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Common Warm-Season Crops and a Few Good Companions

Many flowers and herbs have protective properties that keep pests and diseases to a minimum my vegetable garden. For example, sage (Salvia officinalis) is protective to Brassicaceae (cabbage family), against the cabbage butterfly and to Apiaceae (carrot family), against carrot fly. Try growing herbs in an amongst vegetables, rather than separated in an herb garden. Flowering herbs will also attract pollinators, which help nearby fruits. In addition to providing beauty and assisting with pollination, growing flowers, such as marigold (Calendula), can help deter pests like eelworms (plant-parasitic nematodes).

Interested in learning more about the benefits of companion planting and intercropping? I own and highly recommend Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening,and Ed Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

chair-with-nasturtium_copyright_thegardenerseden.comjpg In My Own Garden, I Like to Grow Herbs and Edible Flowers in and Amongst the Fruits and Vegetables

Photography, Illustration & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Is It Time Yet? Getting a Jump-Start on the Vegetable Growing Season………. {Plus a Special Anniversary Give-Away}

April 7th, 2010 § 18 comments § permalink

Herbs and vegetables acclimating to conditions in the great outdoors before planting. A process known as “hardening off”…

Well here we are in early April, and it’s finally almost-but not-quite-growing-season. What, you say, is she talking about? Why, haven’t you heard of almost-but-not-quite-growing-season? You see, this is the time of year when people start to go a little crazy in cold climate gardens. They load up the back of the car with six packs of warm-weather plants from the local greenhouse, and when they bring them home, sometimes they take unnecessary risks. If frost isn’t an issue in your area, then you have little to worry about. However in the Northern regions of the country, new gardeners can be easily seduced by a week of warm weather in early April; tempted to plant out their tender crops too soon. Just the other day, while talking with my friend Daisy at Walker Farm, I mentioned that I’d overheard some folks planning to till their soil and plant the vegetable garden. Daisy, who is an amazing horticulturalist specializing in greenhouse growing and plant propagation, noted the same thing: it seems that the unseasonably warm weather in New England is tempting some gardeners to plant out the sunflowers. Whoa there partner! Check on your last frost-date before turning those little seedlings out into the cold world! Over the years, I have learned to bite my tongue when it comes to handing out unsolicited advice to strangers. But there are no strangers here! And I must be direct with new gardeners, coming to The Gardener’s Eden for a bit of advice. Perhaps you live in a warmer climate, south of zone 7, and if so, you can probably afford ignore my worry-warting, (somewhat anyway). But if not, given the gardening frenzy developing out there, I feel I should issue a warning: please be patient and don’t plant warm weather crops too soon!

Getting a jump-start on the growing season is smart gardening practice in cold climates. However, it’s important to be prepared and protect both your plants and your soil. If you have mulched your vegetable beds, and/or covered them with black plastic, your soil will likely be warm and dry by now and you may begin adding compost and other amendments, and perhaps planting cool-weather crops like spinach. But first, scoop up a handful of soil and check on its moisture content. When you squeeze it, does it form a wet, mushy ball? If so, wait until the dirt just holds its shape when pressed, but then breaks apart into a texture resembling crumbly chocolate cake when you let go. If you till and turn your garden while the earth is still wet and mushy, you will risk compacting your soil. It’s best to wait till things dry out a bit more. Covering your soil with IRT, (infra-red transmitting), plastic will help warm and dry your soil and keep down weeds – so if you are impatient, this is a product worth investing in for quicker results. It’s also important for the soil to warm up enough for seed to germinate. For cool crops, like peas, spinach and radishes, this date is quite early, (as soon as soil is workable), but for other crops, such as cucumbers and squash, it’s important to wait until the last frost date. A soil thermometer is an inexpensive tool, and a worthwhile addition to your garden tote. Use it to match soil temps to the guidelines on the back of seed packets, or charts available online, (see below for more)…

Turning green sand, leaves and compost into recently uncovered raised beds. To the right, wire mesh for snow peas is embedded into the mounded soil…

It’s always important to test your soil’s pH and nutrient levels in spring, and again in fall. If you need some information about testing your soil, click back here to my post on the subject from last year. The best time to amend garden soil is in the fall, but if you need to adjust your pH, get on that right away, as it takes awhile for the soil’s natural chemistry to adjust! Adding compost, and perhaps green sand, (a natural soil conditioner), is the first thing you will want to do when your soil is friable. Deep, loose soil is key to growing good produce – particularly root crops. Using a garden fork, work compost into the top layer of soil, loosening the layers with a rocking motion as you go. When your soil is thoroughly dry, turn it again  – ideally with both a shovel and a fork-  removing any rocks and/or weeds. When you have prepared the soil to your satisfaction, rake it over smoothly and let it rest and warm….

Turning in compost and edging the raised mounds…

If your have been gardening for awhile, you likely have some activity going on in the garden already. In my own garden, some perennial herbs, garlic greens and cold-crop seeds are already emerging. After pulling back mulch this weekend, I was pleased to see that the sorrel, (Rumex acetosa) , is looking -and tasting- fine! New green growth is showing on the chives, mesclun greens are popping up everywhere I look, and the ‘Spanish Roja’, ‘Music’, ‘German Red’ and ‘Continental’ garlic -planted last fall- are all off to a good start. Crops in the hoop-houses are about to be re-sown, and I am just now planting my spring snow peas, (hoop-houses and row-covers are two excellent choices for protecting early season crops). Some gardeners start peas very early, but I have discovered that seed started in early April catches up very quickly with peas started in March, with no delay in harvest. Earlier sowing wasn’t possible this year due to the wet weather, but peas are a fast-growing and reliable crop to plant throughout spring. I like to sow a few rows in succession, insuring a steady supply of peas throughout the spring and early summer.

I will be writing much more about vegetable gardening as the growing season progresses. But for now, my best advice is to start slowly. Test and amend your soil as soon as it is friable. Check your seed packets for optimum soil temperature, and sow when the soil consistently reaches this level. Be sure to harden off seedlings, (in a protected outdoor place during the daytime), of all kinds before transplanting. Need help with last frost dates? Seed Planting Dates? Check with the Old Farmer’s Almanac online. The Almanac is a great resource for all growing region…

Uncovering sorrel, protected by leaf mulch, in the herb garden

Emerging Mesclun Mix…

Spanish Roja Garlic emerging in the raised beds, with a new layer of compost added…

Beautiful emerging mesclun mix on a rainy day…

Presenting The Gardener’s Eden Anniversary Give-Away # 1

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition)

I’m a professional gardener, so I need to have an extensive library of horticultural titles on hand, from the simple to the complex. And, as the result of my workshops and coaching work, I recommend many books to gardeners throughout the year. But there is one vegetable gardening book I recommend above all others: Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is simply written, scientifically sound, and beautifully organized. This is the perfect book for vegetable gardeners of all levels. If you don’t own one, I suggest you flip through a copy at your local bookstore – it’s a gem. And at the end of this month, one lucky reader will receive a complimentary copy of the new, 10th Anniversary edition of this vegetable gardening classic from The Gardener’s Eden! Today and every Wednesday though out the month of April, in honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden will be giving away a special gift to one reader. In order to enter, correctly answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to the 12:00 pm Eastern Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page. So now…

The first question is, (this is an easy one): What is the name of Michaela’s garden? In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in comments here on the blog, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/8*

Entry Deadline is Midnight, Eastern Time, 4/7/10

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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