It’s been another year of bizarre weather for much of the summer here in Bloomington. Instead of the dreaded drought we were inundated with record rainfall and what seemed like two sunless months! All of us who watched the blight devastate tomato, potato, squash, and everything else in our gardens learned that excessive water and moisture can be just as damaging to our favorite summer crops as not enough. But there’s always a sunny side to too right?
Sure, if you love weeding the garden! If there’s something wild plants love, it’s water, and these tougher plants easily outcompete our scrumptious garden veggies. But if cultivated, plants can grow in even the most inhospitable places (just look at any modern corn/soy farm)
So what lessons can we take away from this wet, not-s0-hot, middle-american summer?
1) Swales and raised beds work! Compared to other places I’ve seen around town, the crops at Bread & Roses Gardens have held out through the monsoon fairly well. One note in particular about growing potatoes: raised beds are a must, especially raised compost beds. That’s right, last fall & winter I filled two raised beds with compost, straw, spare soil, and old compost, and planted potatoes in them mid-March. These two beds yielded double the amount of potatoes of my other potato beds, which were still amended with just rabbit manure.
2) Greenhouse cultivation rocks! Not just because it allows season extension, but because you can gain a higher level of moisture control. Record harvests, amazing quality, still pumping out eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, celery, chard, and hopefully coming soon–figs!
3) Forest Gardening has one major downside that is not discussed adequately in Permaculture courses, articles, books, etc. That is, Forest Gardens create ideal habitats for the varmints who covet the delicious fruits of your labor! Having a robust understory of beneficial herbs, flowers, nitrogen fixers, medicinals, groundcovers, you name it, provide cover and habitat for the axis of evil to any fruit grower: birds, chipmunks, and raccoons. As I’m trying to establish a productive and sustainable (for my wallet as well!) Permaculture orchard, I’m seriously rethinking whether or not the Forest Garden approach can fly. Of course abundance is the Permaculture answer–by growing more than we need we won’t mind if the animals get a few nibbles here and there–but raccoons are the most un-PC creature there is. Any creature that takes one bite out of every single unripe peach, pear, and apple and then drops it on the ground serves no function in my Gardens except fertilizer. By thinning out the understory, I believe it would make their access more treacherous and easy to prevent rampart gorging. If anyone has any other ideas, I would love to discuss these possibilities.
4) Perennials are always the answer. After four years I’m seeing greater and greater yields on everything, including soil quality and weeds. Until the fruit trees mature and cast more shade over the understory, there will still be weed pressure, but at least it’s beginning to feel like a worthwhile endeavor (save I can mitigate pest pressure). And with perennials comes the abundance we all need. Gleaning from fruit trees around Bloomington and wild-picking still reap incredibly fruitful yields. Some of this year’s finds: peaches, serviceberries, sour cherries, black raspberries, elderberries, and soon apples, paw paws, and persimmons! I hope this encourages more people to consider planting something edible instead of purely ornamental whenever possible. By doing so you are going to make some forager’s day, even if it is years later!