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Potager gardening systems and preparation

Hi,
This is the next in line of potager garden posts. In this post we will cover some gardening systems that we can use when planing our potager garden.. 

No Dig Gardening System – Yes or No?

No dig gardening is a technique of gardening that uses mulching to keep the weeds out of the borders. That way the soil is not disturbed and the seeds of the weeds do not enter the surface. Because there is less disturbing of soil, some diseases and pests are also minimized.

To prepare the land or borders for no dig method, if there is no strong perennial weeds you could just layer cardboard and thick mulch layer and then wait for the grass and weeds to die starved of light. This way you really have no digging to do. It is also good for making raised beds, since you will only top the beds with new mulch, compost and/or grass clippings and thus replenish the nutrients. Let your worms do the digging.

Border Preparation

If you have decided on no dig gardening, and are lucky to have a lawn or simply grass in that area, then there is not much to do in order to prepare the borders. Simply layer the newspapers or cardboard atop of the grass, water it thoroughly and mulch it with thick layer of compost.

If, like me, you have a bunch of perennial weeds and plants where your veg patch should be, then you need to do some digging. The same is true if you have chosen to go for the classic digging gardening, then simply follow the later preparation.

Tilling the borders

The first step in our garden and in traditional digging gardening is to till the soil. As you till the soil you should remove all of the rhizomes of the weeds that you notice. As much as possible.

If you have a heavy clay soil, you should now leave the tilled soil to the elements. This way the frost is your ally – it will chunk the soil up into smaller and more manageable chunks(this is the only thing that helped my Mum to be able to have a veg garden).
There is one more reason why to leave the soil exposed – the cold will kill some of the pests and diseases in the soil. Thus allowing you to have a bit healthier plants.

Benefits of adding compost or manure before the winter

The problem with leaving the soil exposed during the winter is that you won’t be able to use the benefits of the worms and their work. If you put the well rotted manure on top of the tilled soil in the beginning of winter, then the worms can take the goods and carry them further into the soil with them, and in process crumble the soil further. So depending on what you want to do you will have to think about adding the compost or manure before or after winter.

Decisions for our Garden

In our garden we had no luck with the veg patch area. It was full of perennial weeds and bulbs, we had to till it. The soil will now be left to the elements to get a good freeze during the winter. And in spring some borders will have their soil improved with fertilizer and compost. The decision on how we will treat the particular border will depend on the crop rotation.

What is Crop Rotation?

Crop rotation is a planting system in which borders or even fields of crop are rotated after each harvest so that each year there is a different crop harvested. One year the field or the border can be left to rest by seeding it with nitrogen binding plants. This way the number of pests and diseases in the field or borders are reduced and the quality of soil is preserved.

To be honest, I am a big fan of crop rotation. Crop rotation is possible in any size garden. I actually witnessed its significance even in my container garden. You should never ever plant two similar plants in the same soil year after year. I even take care not to use same containers for same plant types year after year. The plants are much happier and grow better if you follow the rotation schedule.

Crop rotation does take some horticultural knowledge and research, but it pays off. Healthy plants are happy plants, and happy plants means good harvest.

Crop rotation for 4 border system

Since my potager has 4 border I will do a 4 border crop rotation system. This means that we will divide the veggies into 4 groups – legumes (beans, broad or fava beans, peas), roots (onions, garlic, carrots, parsnips, leeks, turnips, beets), fruits (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, melon) and leafs(lettuces, kale, broccoli, celery, cabbage and other brassicas). Every year we will plant different group in the different border and in particular schedule. This is where our border image comes handy:

Border numbers

This is important because it determines where we plant what. In border I first year I will plant the beans, border II roots, border III fruits and border IV leaves.

Then next year I will rotate the crop in ascending direction. Which means I will grow beans on border II, roots on border III, fruits on border IV and leaves on border I. I will do this rotation every year. So third year beans will stat on border III, and on 4th on border IV. They will again return to the border I after 4 years and the circle starts again.

Garden plans and crop rotation
Careful planning of the garden borders to get the most of the harvest

Schedule on one border

The above schedule of planting insures that on the same border leaves follow beans. Since beans bind nitrogen and nitrogen is what plants use to grow more leaves. Then the fruits follow the leaves. Nitrogen is now depleted from the ground and the emphasis for plants will be on producing fruit. Plants need potassium to produce fruit, not nitrogen. Since fruit plants are a bit demanding I will add good compost, or potassium rich fertilizer before planting them.

The last veg we will grow on that border will be roots. Roots will use the rest of the goods in the ground. They don’t need nitrogen rich soil.  It will encourage leaves and you will have the huge leafage and very small root. They also don’t need potassium because they are not producing fruit. And too much good stuff is also not good for roots, they can go a bit nutty and split. They want soil that is rich in phosphorus.

Companion planting

Companion planting is gardening system in which plants planted next to each other benefit each other. They can be planted for pest control, pollination or for providing a place for beneficial creatures. Some, like marigolds, are used to be served as munchies for some pests in hope that those pests will leave other plants alone. This, according to my Mum, is not a very good idea.

This does take a bit of research and thinking about where and how to plant in order to have the plants best situated in the borders. However, there is no reason why we could not use it in our potager garden.

Conclusion

For my little veg patch I have made several decisions:

  1. I will form it into a potager garden
  2. We will use no dig method in the end, but I have to first prepare the soil with tilling
  3. Crop rotation is a must to further secure the quality of soil and minimize the diseases and pests
  4.  My potager will also use companion planting on the borders

Hopefully nice harvests await me from my little vegetable garden in upcoming years. What do you plant to do with your vegetable garden?

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