Thursday, February 19, 2015

Planning My 2015 Spring/Summer Garden

Let me tell ya folks, I made things hard on myself this year. Planning out my spring/summer garden this year was a real bear. I gave myself a lot of big goals for one patch of land:
  • Use succession planting to keep the garden going at full production from early spring throughout the end of summer. (Anyone remember the domino disaster from last summer? Let's avoid that happening again, shall we?)
  • Experiment with using okra to shade tomatoes throughout the whole summer, keeping the delicate little darlings going so I can get a second batch of tomatoes out of them in the fall. (Tomatoes are the delicate darlings here, by the way. Okra is an indestructible summer warrior.)
  • Make the most of companion planting to help ward off nasty bugs.
  • Squeeze in a lot more varieties of vegis than previous years. (I've got a big garden--17 by 24 feet--I ought to have room to experiment with some exciting new edibles, don't you think?)
  • Add flowers to spruce the place up.
  • Work around the existing plants that I have (like gazanias and artichokes) that will keep going throughout the spring.
  • Incorporate more of my beloved ollas into the garden. 
Needless to say, it took me a little while to work this all out, but I was up for the challenge. So how did I do it? 

Planning the Okra and Tomato Patch

Let's start with my okra and tomato patch. I won't tell you how many iterations it took me to get to this, but here's the final plan. I started by building a ring of okra plants around ollas. I needed to make sure I would be able to reach the ollas to water them (hence the gaps in the ring), and that there would be plenty of room in the center of the ring for the tomatoes. I also wanted to make sure to cram the okra as close together as possible to create a nice humidity zone during the summer:

Next, I added tomatoes in the middle. I didn't worry too much that the tomatoes would be hard to reach, because tomatoes don't produce in the middle of an Arizona summer anyway. (It's too hot.) The whole point was just to protect them through the summer so they could start producing again in the fall. I also added a few marigolds in there to help keep away the nasty buggies. 

So now I had my tomatoes taken care of, but that wasn't quite enough okra for my taste, so I added another row for good measure. I also planned for a few basil plants in that row to help ward off more bugs (and because it's tasty): 

Lastly, I surrounded the whole thing with a few lines of cosmos. Cosmos is also supposed to be a good companion for okra. Plus it's just plain pretty. (You'll notice a line of carrots in there too. Those were planted before I started my planning.) 

In my area, the ideal planting dates for all these beauties are: 
  • Okra: Mid-March through May
  • Tomatoes: Mid-Feb through March
  • Marigolds: February through May
  • Cosmos: March through June
  • Basil: February through May
For my plan, March seems to be the common denominator for all of them, so I'll just plant the whole kit and caboodle then. Excellent! Okra and tomato patch planning, done! Next up, corn and green beans. 

Planning the Corn and Green Bean Patch

Corn is a pretty high maintenance crop for the home gardener, but my family loves, loves, loves it when I grow it, so really, it's a must have on my list. My daughter has also recently informed me that she really likes green beans, so that's another must have on my list.

In my area, the ideal planting dates for my family's must-have vegis are:
  • Corn: Mid-February through early April, then again in mid-July through August
  • Green Beans (bush variety): Mid-March through April, then again in mid-July to mid-September
  • Green Beans (pole variety): All summer
Beyond planting dates, I have a few other requirements for my corn and bean planting:
  • Contrary to popular advice, I don't plan to plant the corn and green beans together. (I've never been able to make that work.) Instead, I'll plant them in succession. 
  • Again, contrary to popular advice, I don't want to plant the corn in large blocks. People commonly advise this to help with pollination, but I always meticulously hand pollinate my corn, so it's not necessary in my case. I'd rather grow corn in small batches to have a steady supply of fresh corn for dinners. Fresh corn straight out of the garden is the real goal here--not so much that I end up freezing it. 
  • I don't have enough ollas for the corn patch, so these will be grown with drip irrigation. That means tidy little rows. 
  • I want to make the most of companion planting. For the corn, that means I'll plant it with sunflowers (to make the corn sweeter) and dill (to ward off bad bugs). For the green beans, that means I'll plant it with rosemary, radishes, or petunias (depending on when I plant) to ward of the nasties. 
Phew! Are are you tired yet? That's a lot of requirements. Let's see how the puzzle pieces come together. First, the corn:

OK, this is relatively straight-forward, right? I've got seven rows of corn (plus its companions, sunflowers and dill) being planted at periodic intervals throughout the growing season. The first row was planted on February 15th and the last row will be planted on August 15th. So far, so good. Now it's time to start layering in green beans.

On March 15 (the beginning of planting season for green beans), I'll add a row of green beans and its companions (radishes in this case) where corn is planned for later in the season. The idea is that the green beans will have a chance to grow, produce, and be done before it's time to plant the corn on July 15th in the same spot. I've got a couple more rows of green beans planned to finish up before the corn ever gets planted as well:

And then the rest of green beans will be planted after the corn is finished. For instance, I have a row of corn that I planted on February 15th. I plan to plant green beans in that same spot a few months later on July 15th.

Planning the Rest of It

The rest of my plan is going to be pretty anti-climatic after all that. The remainder of my garden has a lot of existing plants in place that I had to work around, so I just squeezed in a few extras where I could. There's not a lot of complicated succession planting or plants protecting other plants. If any of them need extra shade, I'll just construct something and put some shade cloth over it. No permaculture ninja stuff here.

So here's my starting point. I've got some existing snapdragons, gazanias, artichokes, carrots, green onions, cilantro, parsley, and a peach tree to work around. Some are being watered with ollas, some with drip irrigation: 

So I just decided to fill in the gaps with what I could--zucchini (a good old summer staple), armenian cucumber (something new and exotic), cantaloupe (one of my daughter's favorites), sunflowers (gorgeous!), butternut squash (I've got a divine soup recipe for it), peppers (why not?), another tomato or two (you can never have enough), and marigolds (to ward off bad bugs). Here's the final look:

And here are the three plans all put together to make up the whole garden:

Now there's just the minor matter of planting it all! Let's see how that works out!

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