Another week, another permaculture book.
Lately Nicole Faires is teaching me about guilds, and providing several lists of common garden vegetables and their growing friends, in her Ultimate Guide to Permaculture.
Like people working to get a job done, plants can work in guilds to support one another. One commonly known guild is the three sisters of corn, squash and beans. Corn provides the other two with something to climb on, beans fix nitrogen and squash mulches the soil for water conservation.
I was most interested in what would grow well with the Brassica family (cauliflower, cabbage, kolorabi and kale). Many old time gardeners claim they haven’t successfully grown these plants in years.
Predators like cabbage butterflies and flea beetles devour them. Some claim that these have been brought in by canola, which is now widely grown here in the hills.
This year I’ve once again started Brussel sprouts, along with a few kinds of cabbage, kale and cauliflower in seed flats. Faires’ growing charts indicate that the Brassica family will do well in close proximity to the following: borage, celery, chard, chamomile, cucumber, dill, geranium, hyssop, mint, nasturtium, onion family, pea, rosemary, sage, spinach, tansy and thyme.
Fortunately I’ve started most of these in seed flats, or kept them inside from last year’s garden.
The key, say the permaculturists, is not to plant in straight rows like a commercial gardener who accommodates his tractor and harvests hack-smack all at once. Instead, think wild. Think forest. Think for just a moment, like the cabbage butterfly buzzing by who has been fortunate enough to settle into a cabbage patch, where nothing is growing for rows and rows except cabbage.
The number of eggs this little white butterfly can plant on the leaves of one cabbage can hatch in short order and devour the patch. This is not what I want to repeat again this year.
One good thing about cabbages in guilds is that it’s pretty hard to lose a cabbage. It would also be pretty hard to hide one, too, without a forest of soil enhancing, bug repelling or parasitic bug-attracting plants for camouflage.
This is going to be an interesting looking garden. I’ve never had a year where things just didn’t grow, but I have yet to enjoy a year where some kind of pest didn’t wreak havoc and shave off yields, especially with the Brassicas. Perhaps this will be that year.