It is the fifth year in my garden. I researched, planned, built and destroyed. I have cheered with joy at the first fruit, danced under the lights at night, cried over deer decimation and cursed the critters that munch on the plants I was planning to feed to my family.
Along the way I have come to appreciate diversity in an organic garden above all else. No amount of willpower, Diatomaceous Earth applied, ladybugs released or lemon water sprayed has the beneficial effect of an interplanted landscape.
Monocropping, the practice of dedicating farmland to a single crop species, has been the main industrialized agricultural practice for decades. While there are obvious financially driven reasons for doing this in large scale enterprises, we as home gardeners and cottage companies, tend to do the same, even if we do not know it, out of convenience, habit, or tradition. It is what we have seen and so it is normalized. It is systemic. The rows of carrots or lettuce, the patches of brussel sprouts and cabbage, the caged tomatoes and peppers. Culinary herbs are planted as landscape. Vegetable gardens are for food and the flower gardens are for show. Everything tidy, kept with their own kind. It is sensible and right, isn’t it? Well the bugs know we do this and come to party. The diseases spread easily. The soil loses more and gains less. Year after year the garden can start to look less like Eden and more like a vacated urban core.
I am not here to tell you that you cannot plant your garden this way, labeled crops all in a row, separated and untouching, and still experience some success. It happens. What I am sharing with you is as you plant your marigolds, petunias, borage, nasturtiums and zinnias in with your cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes and brassicas, you will not only see less pests, fewer weeds, and a reduction in disease, your yields will be greater. You will also be planting more food as many flowers are beautiful unknown edibles. Pungent herbs planted with vegetables repel would-be thieves. Some volunteer weeds are strategically located, and are not weeds at all.
I accidentally planted my cabbage inside a couple rows of squash last year. The squash spread out and kept the weeds down leaving more water for the thirsty cabbage. The heads grew faster and denser and without attack by the myriad crawlies and flyers that find it as tasty as I do. I had in previous years begun to plant some flowers and herbs together but the idea of mixing up all of my veggies never crossed my mind. Perhaps next to one another, neighbors if you will, but not all dumped into a melting pot. That just occurred to me as absurd. Wouldn’t their different needs, benefits and specific growing times be best addressed if planted in bunches of the same?
I truly like a clean garden. I love labels and straight lines and to know where everything is. I have a design app and a spreadsheet. I plan and plan and then plan more. I am that kind of gardener. But I am learning to listen and quietly observe more every day. To follow instead of strictly adhere to my design and argue with the wind and earth when it won’t bend to my will. To experience where I end and the other begins. To know there are things I do not know I do not know. My garden and in turn, my life, are shaping up for bumper crops this year.
I decided to let loose this year. More than ever before. The basil interplanted with tomatoes, shaded and warm, grows deep green and bushy. The beans added to the bed of mint, escaped being breakfast, lunch and dinner for the resident ant colony. Fast climbing peas shade the spinach and arugula delaying bolt and adding moisture. It is the most beautiful garden I have created thus far, because it was not my creation alone but the will of the garden. Although I have planted more varieties and spaces than ever before, it is not messy or unorganized. It is just organized differently. And it continues to flourish as new plants pop up under ones ready for harvest. The soil is rich, the environment magical.
I offer you this in closing. If diversity, cooperating as individuals in a beautiful biosystem, works so well in nature, cultivated and in the wild, would it not stand to reason that our communities could benefit like this as well?
Experiment yourself. Take a step into the unknown. Use what you now know as your guide, but not as you law, and give it a go. It could be a bumper crop for you too.
Heatherann Franz Woods grew up all over, collecting life experiences and old addresses, until settling back in Spokane in December, 1999. A freelance writer, backpacker, gardener, plant lover, painter, mother, grandmother and want to be yogi, she is a self-described renaissance woman, still searching and still learning. She believes at the heart of being human is connection . Of living deliciously. Of being in life as love.
Owners of both Grounded Herbs and Edibles and The Missing Piece Tattoo, she and her husband Zack Woods, are cultivating different ways to participate in the community. With seven collective children and two and a half grand children, they keep busy but always have time for a chat.