Have I mentioned that I’m in love with gardening right now? I’m finding it hard not to gush about my spinach, chard, kale, salad greens, and snap peas. We’ve also already harvested a couple of artichokes and lots of strawberries, and the hop plants are conspiring to take over our back fence. It’s thrilling to eat from our garden morning, noon, and night, and to watch the boys’ delight in finding peas and berries.
This season, I had the fortune of reading Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates just as my gardening season began. (I reviewed it for the Summer 2013 issue of YES! Magazine.) Toensmeier and Bates managed to turn their blighted tenth-of-an acre, inner-city backyard in Holyoke, Massachusetts into a lush permaculture food forest. What struck me most about their approach to gardening was their commitment to experimentation. They inspired me to experiment with polyculture this spring.
Polyculture is the practice of planting interdependent plants together in a garden to mimic the complex relationships found in nature. The most famous polyculture is the Native American Three Sisters: beans, corn, and squash. The prickly squash leaves cover the ground to keep out weeds and predators. The corn stalks offer supports for the beans to wind up. The bean flowers attract bees and beneficial insects and fix nitrogen in the soil. Together the Three Sisters provide a balanced, nutritious diet for us.
In April I dug out a ten-by-ten foot garden to plant the Three Sisters. The soil is not ideal yet, and only a few corn came up. But the squash are doing great. I just planted the beans, so it’s too early to know whether they’ll thrive. Regardless, I’ve had a lot of fun planning and sowing a garden with such a rich history in the Americas.
I’m hooked on polyculture!
How’s your garden growing? Are you experimenting with anything new? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.