In this continuing series of edible landscaping we're going to discuss more elements that should be in the sustainable edible landscape plan. In the last post we brought up the importance of good soil and water systems as well as having a good way to take care of pests. If you're new to this series of posts please check out the first post on how to begin an edible landscape plan. Today we're going to plan for a system of crop rotation, weed control, fertilization and a few other miscellaneous elements that many people might overlook.
Elements of a Sustainable Edible Garden Plan
Crop rotation is an essential part of a healthy garden system. Every crop you grow will have different needs based on the type of plant grow. A heavy feeder like corn is going to use up a lot of available nitrogen in the soil and so some method of replenishing the soil is necessary. You can fertilize the soil but what if you followed with a cover crop that would return nitrogen in the soil like legumes do instead? That is where you can plan your beans. Grow pole beans or bush beans after the corn and the decaying plant materials from those beans will help to put nitrogen back into the soil.
When you rotate crops you avoid planting the same family of vegetable/fruit in the same spot which not only helps with plant nutrition but helps you to avoid soil born diseases. Diseases can lie in wait for their next victim for a couple years or more. To avoid these diseases and let them die off naturally crops can be rotated to new locations where that family of vegetables wasn't planted before.
Crop rotation requires a little bit of record keeping. If you have a notebook you use sketch out a little diagram of your garden so you can see how your layout is from previous years. Another method is to take a good whole garden picture with your camera.
Weeds are one of the most annoying parts of gardening. They have to be controlled because they sap available nutrients from the soil, take away space from the plants you are growing, shade out plants, and spread prolifically in many cases. They can be difficult to deal with like Bermuda grass or can be very simple to eliminate. Some weeds are actually beneficial to the garden like dandelions. A tea made from dandelions contains many beneficial nutrients that your garden plants will enjoy and they have the added bonus of being edible too!
To control weeds in a sustainable system you need to use organic methods. The best way is to not even let the weeds see the light of day. Light will help weed seeds germinate so mulch your garden with enough material to keep them from growing. Weed fabric, newspapers, or cardboard can be laid down as a barrier then covered with a mulch to add extra weed prevention material.
There are several other methods of weed control that you can read about in this post: 5 Natural Weed Killing Tips. Read this post on 6 Common Weeds and How to Deal With Them. Weed control can make all the difference in the world between a productive edible landscape and a complete mess.
An edible landscape plan should account for a method of fertilizing the plants. Compost (as discussed in the previous post) is essential and can mitigate much of the need for fertilizers especially when used in conjunction with crop rotation and cover crops but probably can't do it all for everything. Natural organic fertilizers are a great benefit to your edible landscape. Kelp meal, blood meal, bonemeal, rock phosphate, alfalfa meal and many others can supply nutrition to the soil where the plants can get it.
Compost tea is also beneficial and can be made at home just by steeping a couple spadefuls of compost into a bucket. Manures are excellent at adding nutrition to the soil but be sure to allow them time to mature and age properly. Manure directly applied to a garden can burn the plants. Remember that when fertilizing plants more is not always better. Too much nitrogen encourages green growth which is not good for fruit bearing plants like tomatoes and peppers. Research the best fertilizer amounts for each type of plant your grow. There are three numbers for fertilizers which are called the NPK ratio. It is a measurement of how many parts per 100 of the elements of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are in the fertilizer.
I like making my own fertilizer teas from plants I grow in the garden. I will gather ingredients from plants like comfrey, dandelion, clover, and other beneficial plants and allow them to steep overnight in water. The next day I'll dilute it to about a 10:1 ratio of water to tea and water my garden with it. I have noticed a direct benefit to using it once roughly per week although I have not documented a test experiment as of yet.
A Few Other Elements to Consider for Your Garden Plan:
Seed starting can save you hundreds of dollars a year. If you have a spot indoors to pre-start your seeds consider shelves and lights to help increase your seed production. Often though a kitchen window will work just fine! Try using this easy method to start your seeds.
Every gardener's desire is to have a greenhouse. Do you have a location for one planned out? Plan a spot for one if you want one someday so that you can easily add it to the garden when it is time.
You will need basic equipment like rakes, shovels, trowels, pruners, and gloves but you also might want more specialized equipment like tillers or even tractors. The equipment needed largely depends on the size of your garden. A small garden doesn't need lots of fancy stuff but larger operations will.
A safe place to store all your garden equipment, seeds, tools, hoses, and even the crops you harvest is important. Do you need a shed, a few water proof boxes, or a root cellar? Everything you have needs to be taken care of to insure its maximum longevity.
You will always think of more things to add to the garden. Plan it all out as best as you can from the beginning to achieve your garden's maximum potential!