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basjoos 04-03-09 08:19 PM

Naturalizing the vegetable garden
One thing I have been trying to do is to get as many of the veggies in my garden to self seed themselves around the garden and hopefully eventually to develop into land races adapted for my local growing conditions. To do this, I let a lot of my vegetables seed and distribute their seeds in the garden. So far, self-sown seedlings of lettuce, corn salad, radishes, seminole squash, and tomatoes have appeared in the garden.

I also brought the wild garlic that pops up in everybody's yard into cultivation in the vegetable garden and grow it the same manner as I do multiplier onions. I don't need to sow any seed to grow it, it comes up on its own, no pests bother it. Its like a smaller version of a multiplier onion and I use it in salads and recipes where I would normally use onions.

Higgy 04-04-09 08:23 AM

Cool. How do you let the vegetables seed? I know how onions do it because my grandmother use to grow them and then the seeds would come out of the long green stems after a while.

What's a land race? I've heard of that term before but I'm not sure what it is.

basjoos 04-04-09 05:20 PM

For leaf and root crops, I let them seed by leaving them in the garden when they start flowering (bolting) and then either let the seed scatter naturally or, for non-shattering fruits, harvest and scatter them in the garden beds. For large fruit crops like squash I collect the seeds when I eat the squash and scatter them in the garden and transplant seedlings that come up in the compost piles. Enough cherry tomatoes drop every year that I have tomato seedlings coming up everywhere.

From wikipedia :

Landrace refers to domesticated animals or plants adapted to the natural and cultural environment in which they live (or originated) and, in some cases, work. They often develop naturally with minimal assistance or guidance from humans using traditional breeding methods.

basjoos 05-09-09 04:26 PM

I've found a useful fringe benefit to eating wild garlic, the ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums leave me alone, so I don't need to use deet when working out among them. Deer fly season has started up, so I'm testing it for effectiveness on deer flies, no bites so far. I wonder if that's why the sheep prefer grazing on wild garlic in preference to other greens, in that it helps deter horn flies and the other insects that pester them. I normally eat about 3 or 4 wild garlic bulbs a week chopped up raw in my salad.

TimJFowler 05-11-09 04:07 PM

You might also try perennial arugula. We have a volunteer arugula plant in front of our compost bin that is one of the first things to sprout up in the spring.

There are other perennial herbs and veggies (oregano, chives, rhubarb, asparagus, etc.) that will come back year after year with minimal work.


basjoos 05-12-09 08:00 PM

I have herbacious perennials in my garden (asparagus, Jeruselem artichoke, strawberries, multiplier onions, wild garlic). Add cucumbers and edible gourds to the list of self-seeding vegetables in my garden. With the plentiful self-sown seedlings of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and seminole squash coming up, it is simply a matter of letting them grow when they come up in a good location, and weeding them out otherwise.

Sandcruiser 07-28-09 05:43 PM

the real trick is learning to differentiate the "yummy salad fixin" young plants from the "noxious garden-engulfing weed" young plants. Once I figure that out-- I'm there.

I've got papaya trees coming up like gangbusters (easy to recognize) and I think some peppers (waiting to see what they become) and have had several volunteer tomato plants, but few that survived to produce fruit (dang iguanas LOVE tomato leaves). One year the basil bolted and we had an entire patch of happy basils (lemon, purple, and "normal"), but that got flooded/killed and I haven't repeated the success yet.

Fun times, but not always easy.

basjoos 09-07-09 06:32 PM

Now that the nights are starting too cool off a bit, the self-sown cool season vegetable seedlings are starting to make an appearance. So far, lots of carrot and amaranth seedlings, a few lettuce seedlings and various types of onions. I've been letting a lot of my surplus vegetables go to seed and add their seeds to the dormant seed stock stored in the garden's soil. Hopefully this dormant seed bank will build up to the point to where vegetable "weeds" will outnumber the usual assortment of non-vegetable weeds that pop up in the garden beds.

basjoos 09-10-09 07:03 PM

One way I have been reducing my garden's need for fertilizers has been to let any mimosa seedlings that pop up grow whenever they come up in a location that isn't in the way of any of the vegetables. They'll grow 6 feet high during the growing season, provide convenient support for any pole beans or cucumbers growing nearby, fix nitrogen, and then add biomass to the soil when I cut them back in the fall. Then next spring they will grow back from the roots so I can do it all over again. I also allow other nitrogen-fixing pea family plants like clover to grow whenever they don't interfere with the vegetables. I'll weaken and slow down their growth by thinning or partially up rooting them when establishing a new vegetable crop in their midst so the vegetables can can outcompete and overgrow them.

The whole idea in naturalizing the garden is to keep enough plants growing on the soil at all times so that it mimics a meadow and the amount of organic matter in the soil keeps increasing with time. This contrasts with the weed-free, bare-earthed-except-for-the-few-crop-plants conventional garden. I never have more than a small area of bare soil exposed at a time. I will usually sow seed or plant seedlings of the next crop while the existing crop is still in place or clear a small space to allow the dormant vegetable seeds already in the soil to germinate. For me, weeds aren't an undesirable element of the garden, but are simply part of the garden ecosystem, whose changing mix of species gives me valuable information about the changing fertility of the soil. They provide additional organic matter for the soil, and add complexity of the garden ecosystem, making it more difficult for garden pests to find the crop plants in their midst.

This natural farming method is unlike conventional synthetic fertilizer gardening where the organic matter gets oxidized out of the soil so that, over time, the soil level in the garden drops below that of the surrounding lawn. It is also unlike permaculture where they keep adding organic matter from sources outside the garden to keep the organic soil content up or grow and turn in green manure crops every few years to build up the soil organics.

Loss of organic matter via soil oxidation may not be a major problem in the cooler northern climates, but down here in the hot, humid southern summer, organic matter quickly oxidizes away leaving behind the red clay mineral soil unless you keep replenishing it via manuring or plant growth. This region of the South originally had a thick, rich grayish topsoil that was oxidized away to red clay by clearing away the native forest, plowing the ground, and growing repetitive crops of cotton until all of the nutrients in the soil were mined out. Then the land was abandoned or converted to pine plantations or pasture. The soil in my garden is gradually turning from red to grey as I rebuild the levels of organic matter in the soil.

basjoos 09-11-09 08:21 PM

In traditional farming, you first plow the field to kill all of the existing vegetation, then sow seed and fertilize, then weed out all non-crop plants that come up in the field, then after you harvest the crop you have a bare, easily eroded field. Typically there is lots of exposed soil between the crop plants throughout the growing season, so there is a fair amount of erosion during heavy rains even when the crop is in place and lots of erosion when it isn't. Under typical moist humid southern growing conditions, you also have lots of soil organic matter being oxidized away that isn't replaced by the limited crop biomass being grown. So you eventually end up with low humus and nutrient-poor red clay or sand that you have to add fertilizer to in order to continue growing crops. This is how cotton farming turned our native, rich, greyish-colored soils into our familiar red clay as they mined out all of the nutrients in the soil and then abandoned the land to pine plantations or pasture once it finally played out.

In Fukuoka style farming, you maintain a continuous plant cover, preferably of leguminous plants, to maintain the fertility and organic content of the soil and manage this plant cover to allow your crops to get established and grow in it. As outlined in his book "One Straw Revolution", Fukuoka practices what he calls "natural farming" where he raises crops with no plowing, weeding, or fertilizing by mimicking natural ecosystems. He fertilizes his fields by growing a stand of clover under his crops and seeds each rice or barley crop into the field while the existing crop is still in place so there is never any bare exposed ground in the field. In the vegetable garden, his crops grow among the weeds and are allowed to produce seed so they can re-seed themselves as much as possible without him having to continually sow new seed each year.

In my interpretation of natural farming, I manage a continuous weed/clover/mimosa seedling plant cover as I grow my vegetable crops in it. Since I started this operation, the red soils have gradually been turning back to grey. So far, carrots, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, winter squash, beans, and amaranth have been self-seeding themselves in the garden, reducing my need to sow seed for new crops. Over the years there are enough dormant crop seeds getting built up in the soils to where all I have to do is clear a small area of its weed crop (to remove the soil competition) and the dormant crops seeds already in the soil start popping up on their own. Pest problems are gradually diminishing since the pest have to try to find the crop plants growing in among the non-crops plants and the most hardiest crop plants produce the most seed for each new generation of crops. Its an interesting method of farming since I am essentually managing an continuous ecosystem that happens to include crop plants rather than bludgening an existing ecosystem out of existance and trying to force feed a new one in its place as is happening with traditional farming.

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