Polycultures at the Tefft House

This post is a little over due, but better late than never, right?

All of the annual beds are planted! I’m experimenting with square foot gardening, polycultures, and guilds. Here’s what we tried this year:

We have 8 beds of different sizes. They all wrap the circular lawn area, with the inner parts of the curves facing the uphill direction of the topography. Here’s a view of what we’re working with.

I’ll start with the left hand side, top bed, and work left to right, top to bottom, like a book.

The smallest, top left bed has parsnips, chard, kale, and marigolds. The center left bed has 4 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes (bought from the Timm family, local organic farmers who sell plants and produce at the Plainview Farmer’s Market), different colored sweet peppers, purple and green basil, carrots, garlic chives, and marigolds.

Moving across the sidewalk, we have our brassica beds. In the larger one, we have broccoli, cauliflower, and Romanesco broccoli (which I call fractal broccoli, because it grows in a perfect fractal shape!), red and yellow onions, beets, and marigolds.Here’s what it looked like right after planting. I grew the brassicas from seed in my college apartment under a grow light. It was so exciting to see them go into the ground! A few weeks later, look how big they’ve grown!

In the smaller bed, we have a similar combanation, with red and green cabbage, shallots, a different variety of beet, and marigolds.

The arrangement of the beds was very experimental. First, I consulted a few different resources regarding companion planting. The University of Minnesota Extension was helpful, and so was a book called “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte. After placing the annuals into groups, we looked at the spacing requirements for each different plant. The book “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine” by John Jeavons was also helpful. We laid out seeds to get the proper spacing before we planted and mulched with straw.

Moving back to the lower left side bed, we have watermelon, cantaloupe, and marigolds. In the center left bed, we are experimenting with this trellis to maximize plating space. Growing up the trellis, we have cucumbers. underneath we have bush beans, and flanking the sides we have radishes and marigolds.

The right center bed is a variation of a three sister’s guild. In this bed, we have decorative corn, a dry pole bean variety, yellow squash, and a few radishes. The lower right hand bed is another variation of the three sister’s guild. In this bed there is sweet corn, pole beans, zucchini, a few radishes and marigolds. And then there’s other things growing that we didn’t plant, but are indicators of a healthy biological system. Here’s one of the many mushrooms that have started growing out of the sheet mulch, next to some common wood sorrel and grass.

Our next tasks in the garden will include de-constructing the landscape that is currently in place, cutting down a dying maple tree, and sculpting some earth works in the yard.

The Three Sisters of Industrial Agriculture

So, working at Whitewater has presented me with the opportunity to learn so much more about my local environment. And with this new knowledge, comes a greater respect and appreciation of the place I call ‘home’. The Driftless Blufflands (pictured in the banner of this blog) is a beautiful asset to local communities. The landscape was carved by water melting off the glaciers of the last ice age. The glaciers themselves didn’t reach this far south (hence “Driftless Region”) but the water cut out the bluffs as it moved toward the Mississippi and shaped the land into what we see today. This area boasts the highest concentration of biodiversity in Minnesota, and harbors 40% of Minnesota’s rare or endangered plant and animal species.

But as soon as you drive up out of the valley, the views change substantially. Recently, I’ve been noticing how stark of a contrast it really is. I guess when you grow up around something, it just becomes the norm, and you don’t ever second guess it. Here’s a cell-phone picture I took while driving home after my shift one day.

So within about 5 miles, you go from dense, hardwood forests with tons of different species, to this:

The three sisters of Industrial Agriculture: GM corn, GM soybeans, and Wild Parsnip.

As far as the eye can see, we have GM corn, GM soybeans, and Wild Parsnip (the yellow-flowered vegetation in the ditch which is a non-native, invasive, poisonous plant that gives people itchy rashes and pussy blisters upon contact).

There’s three different plants, so that’s a polyculture, right?