This garden project is a small first step toward more forest gardening and “food forests” in Portland Maine. It is nested within a broader initiative called “Edible East Bayside” which seeks to increase edible landscaping, vegetable gardens, fruit and nut tree planting, rooftop growing, food-related business and access to healthy food for all in the East Bayside Neighborhood.
Choose a great spot for your veggie garden! Ideally it would have nutritious soil and 6 to 8 hours of golden sun! If you are on a slope, consider some wise water moving terracing. Slow, Spread, Sink. If you only have a marsh area, maybe raised beds at the edges and pallet walkways are the answer.
Water flow. Look at the lay of your land for highs and lows. You could leave those natural areas and capitalize on them for bioswales, rain water collection and purification with native grasses. Plant perennial herbs with deep roots in the higher dryer areas. Mingle them with some shapely and beautiful rocks and a chair or two so you can sit and enjoy the scents. Channel water to moisture loving plants like lettuces, arugula, bok choy, bunch onions, celery, chard and spinach in lower areas. Give colorful chard a space where it lights up your garden like a flower!
Greywater or your water source location may define where your garden can be well placed to save water in drought times and lower your water bills. Get your gutters up, and some knowledgeable assistance to decide how and where your water will be directed.
Wind and dryness can easily be tempered with well placed wind permeable shrub lines. Blueberries are tasty! Instead of blow away mulch, you use gravel. Waffle gardens are an age old way of gardening in hot and very dry areas. Mulch in the basin, wind flows over the tops of the basin berms.
How much space do you have? Enough land lets you raise veggies in succession – start crops once a month for a continuous table supply for your family, and allow you to rotate and rest areas. Small spaces profit from going Vertical! That means trellises, cages, fences for vining plants like peas, and in the summer tomatoes, squash, melon and beans! Understory companion plants carefully placed increase your harvest by almost double! If your space is really limited, but you want a variety, plant dwarf and container varieties. Use vertical stack and tiered planters with hanging pots above! Clamp boxes to balcony fence rails, hang containers on fences!
Plant Tall to the north, shorties like strawberries to the south! Plants that take longer to mature often take up a bigger footprint and get taller. Place them north of the others, like when you plant mixed varieties of Broccoli to ward off aphids. Shade from the West means you plant tall in the East and vice versa.
Incorporate a greenhouse into your plans if you have space. It can be small or big, dug into the slope, with or without electricity, or fine and fancy! In colder areas you can start plants much earlier, grow some plants much longer in fall, overwinter others!
Locate the composter or compost pile, and a worm box if you will be having them. Neither needs shade; that’s where your storage shed can go. Compost and worms process faster in the sun and are less likely to be forgotten! If you don’t have space, simply buy great compost and think about having a worm system in your kitchen to eat your kitchen scraps! Comfrey, yarrow and chamomile are compost speeder uppers. Great to plant comfrey, a most nutritious nutrient accumulator, near the composter and comfrey by a water spigot. Comfrey loves water, and compost needs to be moist to decompose. Perfect threesome!
Borage is a perfect winter flower for bees since their favorite color is blue. Yellow is next. Plant other bee plants too! If you are willing, have a bee keeper come and install a bee hive, or learn how and do it yourself! Make a home for native bees too! Honey bees need a sunny place. Consult with your beekeeper for the right safe placement for you, guests and your bees.
Bees are day flyers, bats and owls are night flyers. Owls are amazing and super rodent catchers! Owl houses have specific requirements. Inquire with local experts to see if your location meets their needs. Bats are terrific insect eaters, approximately 1200 per night!
Mono-cultures, Poly-cultures and Companion Plants If your family were row planters maybe you will be too, but you don’t have to! Mixing it up, planting anything anywhere is the extreme opposite, but you get the idea. Plant a couple brocs here, another two or three somewhere else, and so on. Keep pests and disease from spreading right down that monoculture row. Biodiversity really works and is the magic of our planet!
Companion planting adds its special effects to Poly-cultures! It makes sense and is easy to do. It can be a spatial thing, like carrots go down, peas go up. Or it can be that carrots enhance peas and the peas are more prolific. Cilantro enhances broccoli and Brassicas. Plant fast growers between slow growers, like lettuce that repels cabbage moths between slow growing cabbages. Onion, chives and beets are wonderful fillers, just no alliums (onion types) near peas! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!
The ultimate Poly-culture and ideal garden per land use is an edible Forest garden/Food forest! Every square inch is productive! Start with trees, then shrubs, veggies as detailed in the image. There are guilds of compatible (companion) plants starting with the permanent residents, the trees, as your key plant. This is not your formal English garden, but there is no reason why you can’t have a few beds or rows here and there. Gardens grow best when you are happy! Check out the trees already on your property or closely neighboring. Decide which will be the anchor to your garden. Work with it. Sit there, sleep there, feel it. Talk with other Forest gardeners. It will take some time, but there are clever ways to get there.
For many, sustainability is the key word. Every veggie garden is meant to feed us, but how well does it do it for you? Yes, we are not using plastic or food miles and have super garden to table nutrition. Another question, would it feed you in emergency conditions? Nuts are protein. Do you have seeds stored in your emergency kit? Start where you can. I don’t own property, but I do garden at a Community Garden and you better believe I save seeds!
For others, their garden is a place of serenity, taking a break from all the rest, no talking. We get to hear the birds, get outdoors, and at community gardens exchange ideas and make new friends. A garden is a special place. Your design tells your story. We laugh about how dogs and their owners often look alike, well so does your garden look like you. It may be a gleefully tumultuous jungle or a right proper place. Happy to meet you!
This edible food forest mixes styles and principles. Likely yours will too!
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!
See the entire September 2016 GBC Newsletter!
September Starts SoCal’s Second Season!
Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden! Think Big!
Two Mexican Herbs Used Instead of Cilantro!
Other Community Gardens – Cultiva Ciudad-helmed Huerto Tlatelolco, Mexico City
Events! National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA, 6th Annual Fermentation Festival, Master Gardeners’ Year-Round Edibles from the Garden – Fall Planting!
…and wonderful August images at Rancheria Community Garden!