Temporal Nature of Farming

In gardening, planting takes planning. There are so many factors to consider. Luckily I have 40 years of mistakes behind me, so here we go.

First, where were the crops over the last few years? Crop rotation keeps the ground growing a different crop each year. Most crops can come back to the same land after three years, but peas and melons would rather wait for seven years.

Next, how long will the crop be there? We grow celery, swiss chard and parsley together every year, because they stay in the ground until December. Beans, cucumbers and summer squash each last about 90 days, so they are planted together. Sweet potatoes and peppers go until frost, so they are together too.

But a sweet potato row will devour a early pepper row. We have had to take a machete into the battle between them to save the peppers from the viney mass that sweet potatoes can be in September. You wouldn’t think these spindly slips could ever sprawl eight feet away, but just wait. We plant a row of October beans between them, and they get harvested about the time the sweet potato cines reach their row.

Melons are also viney, so they also get a row of shelly beans next to them. This year its Vermont Cranberry bean, a pretty red and white variety. Okra gets tall, so it needs a row of Shelly beans between it and the tomato patch.

Six rows of tomatoes will make a jungle, so I have a plan. Two beds of lettuce divide the tomato patch in half. The lettuce will be harvested b the time the tomatoes ripen. I’ll mow the bolting lettuce and weeds to create a path through the tomato patch, making harvesting easier and more pleasant.

We also have to think about timing and quantities. If you are going to can pickles, green beans and tomatoes, and freeze sweet corn, you don’t want them all to ripen the same week. By staggering the planting dates, we can have them come in at different times.

How much of each crop you plant doesn’t determine what youll harvest, because every year is so different. We plant lots of everything, but there is only so much land plowed and ready, so decisions have to be made. Four rows of melons became six when we started picturing sweet juicy ones. More than one row of okra would mean way too much time picking it.

Over the winter, I fill up notebooks with my garden plans. I never follow them. A cover crop may need to stay in longer, or a spot may be ready sooner than another. Varmints, like deer, ground hogs and raccoons are an issue too.

Plans make plans make plans. It is endless, watching the mind. Eventually we just have to plant. Knowing we’ll get something wrong is somehow comforting. The beauty of gardening is its temporal nature, it will grow, get crowded, over-produce, and eventually be plowed back in for another year of thinking about it.

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    1. I mow to cut weeds, and yes, some cover crops do produce a harvest. Plants, no matter what they are, build soil, so it is important to have something “covering” the soil at all times.

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