In the first year in our settler’s house we were mainly focused on vegetable growing in the garden. With all that was still to be done in the house, there was neither time nor nerves to think much about other garden design. That was a good thing, because we could watch the transformation of bare, desolate areas into lush and flowering corners week after week. Since we bought the plot in winter, we could not guess which bulbs, perennials and seeds would appear in spring and summer and which of the shrubs would bloom lushly and fragrantly. Many early bloomers, aquilegia in many different colours, the flowering fruit trees, lilac, peonies, elderberries, daisies, forget-me-nots, peasant jasmine, rudbeckias, irises, hydrangeas, butterfly bush, asters.
Admittedly, before we had our own garden, we didn’t even know some of the plants by name. Again, the decision for the house made us dive into a whole new theme. It is unbelievable how many different species and cultivars there are! We quickly had to realize that the plant stock on our property, roughly, resembled every other garden in the villages around us. The same species, the same colours. They were planted here and there, without a recognizable concept, without considering the demands of the location and also without the partly necessary care. We started by cutting trees and bushes that had already passed their best times or had grown so wild that they replaced other things and clearing corners completely overgrown with nettles. This alone has already brought great changes in some cases. Suddenly, plants appeared that had previously received no attention at all. Among other things, a great white currant or a small apple tree amidst long hanging spruce branches. Both now get light and space to grow with new energy.
But there accured also places for new plants. Last year we already planted and sowed the first perennial and annual flowers. Foxglove, sunflowers, verbena, snapdragon, dahlias, poppy, lupins, larkspur, echinacea, garden cosmos, hollyhocks. Even the edible perennials around our greenhouse bloomed beautifully for months, to the delight of wild and honey bees.
Behind the small ruin of a former washhouse, which serves us as a sitting area, is a lush pine tree. Unfortunately, directly in the first spring it got heavy damages by a wet snow cover. It was split in the middle of the crown and some big branches are broken off. Only because of this we have intensively studied the area under and around the tree. A handful of wheelbarrows full of nettle roots were stuck in the ground and loosened it nicely. The humusy soil is now home to shade-loving plants and has become a favourite place in the garden. By cutting back the damaged branches, an old pump came to light, which is inhabited by birds and bumblebees. Around the tree there are now small paths made of stones that we have lifted out of the ground over the course of the two years and we have used mossy, rotten branches as borders. Tree trunks in different heights in front of a fence made of hazel rods have become a small seat in the middle of our so-called forest. From there you look down on a carpet of wild strawberries, woodruff and ground ivy, from which foxgloves, hostas, ferns, Caucasian forget-me-not, cranesbill and alumroot grow.
The bare crown of the pine tree is said to be overgrown at some point by a climbing rose and clematis.
Some other things are already in the making, but will only develop into what we have in mind in a few months or years. Last autumn we planted a wild fruit hedge, which in the future will not only serve as shelter and food source for small animals and insects, but will also bloom beautifully. Climbing roses stretch out their tendrils on the house wall and trees, new perennial beds were created and a more than 400 square meter large flowering meadow has finally been sown. More and more areas are growing in the garden, which are both beautiful to the eye but hopefully also contribute to a greater variety of flora and fauna.
Seeing everything in bloom in abundance, with the certainty that two or three cut stems would not stand out or would be missing, has also led to ever new colourful bouquets decorating our dining table or window sills. A new, colourful and pleasantly fragrant world opens up for us. Suddenly we are concerned with how flowers are cut correctly, combined in bouquets, artistically put together or dried.
Especially when guests are visiting, the best thing is to help yourself from your own garden to decorate the tables with flowers. That is why this year, in addition to all the vegetables we grow, a large number of cut flower seeds have been put into the growing pots. As with growing vegetables, it is exciting to experience the whole process and get a feeling for the effort and care that goes into each individual flower.
Hundreds of tulip, daffodil and allium were already planted in autumn and we eagerly awaited the first flower heads. While the tulips were already in the shop windows in the flower shops from February onwards, we had to wait patiently for weeks for our flowers to bloom. The daffodils started in the middle of April and even only at the beginning of May the tulips. Sure, here in Mecklenburg the climate is a bit rougher and nature is a bit behind. While only 200 kilometers away in Berlin the fruit blossom is already over, the first buds are opening here. But is it possible that a season is postponed for several months?
Since we have never really dealt with cut flowers, only a few times a year as birthday greetings or souvenirs for an invitation, the question of where exactly the flowers in the shop actually come from did not occur to us. Mass produced abroad under partly bad working conditions, treated with pesticides, cultivated in monocultures, grown under glass with high energy input, is unfortunately exactly what you find in many flower shops. There are more and more people who are creating an awareness of this issue (Slowflower movement) and are focusing on seasonality, regionality and sustainability in flower growing. After all, with a beautiful bouquet you want to bring a piece of fragrant nature into your home and not a guilty conscience. So if you are not lucky enough to have your own garden and still don’t want to do without cut flowers, you should ask the florist the next time you visit and make a specific decision for regional and seasonal flowers.
Last season we planted black salsify for the first time. From November onwards they are ready for harvesting, but as we still have stored and preserved vegetables from the garden in stock, they have so far remained somewhat unnoticed in the patch. The root vegetables, with their slightly nutty taste, are quite tasty and contain vitamins E, A and C as well as various B vitamins. Especially potassium but also magnesium, calcium and iron are found in them. It is worth taking a look!
Black salsifies release a milky juice that sticks and leaves brown stains. However, this does not make the preparation really complicated. For peeling, you should simply put on rubber gloves. It is also advisable to prepare a large bowl of water and a little vinegar so that the black salsifies do not turn brown after peeling.
Peel the black salsifies with a potato peeler and place them in a bowl with water and a little vinegar. Cut the root vegetables and the leek into pieces except for one root. Heat vegetable oil in a pot and sauté the vegetables in it. Pour in the vegetable stock and simmer covered for about 20 minutes at medium heat until the black salsifies are soft.
In the meantime, heat up in a pot about two fingers of vegetable oil to about 160 degrees. Cut the last salsify lengthwise into strips with a peeler and deep fry them in the hot fat until crispy. Let it drip off on a kitchen towel. Roast the walnuts in a pan without fat and crush them with your fingers.
Towards the end of the cooking time, add the cream to the soup and puree the soup to a creamy consistency with a blender. Garnish the black salsify soup with the fried black salsify, roasted walnuts and a little walnut oil.
In our last post we already gave you an insight into how we organize ourselves so that we don’t lose track of seeds, varieties and cultivation. The next step is to get the vegetables into the bed in such a way that we can harvest a varied and abundant crop over as long a period as possible. But before we share our bedding plans for the new season with you, we would first like to write about an exciting topic on which all our planting plans are based.
Even though our garden structure is very geometric and orderly, we basically like it wild. With different plants, which bring different colours, heights and structures into the garden, we break up the straightness again and give the kitchen garden, even if it is artificially arranged, the necessary naturalness. We find combining plants with each other to be wonderful from a purely visual point of view. For us, however, it has another, much more important meaning.
In order to leach the soil as little as possible and prevent diseases, we grow our vegetables in mixed crops. The plants are combined in such a way that they can benefit from each other. This allows one plant to absorb nutrients from the soil that the neighbouring plant does not need or only needs in small quantities. However, plants themselves also release various substances from their metabolism that can be useful for the soil and their neighbours. This creates an interplay of giving and taking. It can take place underground through root excretion, or above ground through scents such as essential oils. Other plant properties also favour certain combinations. For example, deep-rooted plants are combined with shallow-rooted plants or high-growing plants with soil-covering ones.
This interaction promotes plant growth and, in the best case, even fends off pests and plant diseases or counteracts them preventively. Such a balance makes it possible to intervene little and can save a lot of work and annoyance.
All ecological cycles that nature has perfected over many millennia are based on this principle. Take a forest or a meadow. The individual species growing there have adapted to each other over time to form a community in which everyone gets the amount of light, water, space and nutrients they need. The goal in our bed planning is to take advantage of just such good neighborhoods between the cultivated plants and avoid bad ones. Fortunately, we can draw on knowledge and experience based on decades, sometimes even centuries, of observation to achieve this. Step by step we would like to be able to better understand and comprehend these relationships.
But first of all it helped us a lot to get an overview of the different plant families. Plants of the same family are usually not good partners. They do not have a positive effect on each other, because their nutrient requirements are similar, they attract the same pests or are vulnerable to the same diseases. So whether you grow a whole row of cucumbers, or alternate them with pumpkins and courgettes would have no effect on plant health, as all three belong to the same plant family.
At the end of this article, we have put together a detailed table so that you can easily read which crops are good neighbours and which should not be planted together. We would like to introduce you to a few mixed cultures that we have already planted successfully.
Pumpkin, corn and beans
One of the probably oldest mixed cultures is the so-called “Milpa”. For centuries the Maya and their descendants have combined the “three sisters” pumpkin, corn and runner beans. The mutual benefit takes place here on very different levels. The corn plants serve as a climbing aid for the beans, which in turn supply corn and pumpkin with nitrogen via their roots. The pumpkin covers the soil with its spreading leaves and protects it from dehydration and unwanted weeds.
Cabbage, celery/celeriac and tomatoes
Last season, one of our patches consisted of cauliflower, celeriac and tomatoes. The nutrients that the celery cannot utilize are growth-promoting for the cauliflower and thus more easily accessible. Celery’s scent also keeps cabbage pests at bay. The tomatoes also keep cabbage whiteheads away and protect the celery from rust diseases.
We also plant red and white cabbage together with tomatoes to reduce the infestation of cabbage whiteheads.
Leek and carrots
The gases emitted by the growing carrot root have a growth-promoting effect on leeks. This in turn, like other onion plants, keeps the carrot fly away.
Kohlrabi and spinach
A nice mixed culture in spring is kohlrabi and spinach. The spinach secretes saponin, which promotes the growth of kohlrabi. Many other vegetables can also benefit from this. The saponins improve the absorption of nutrients by neighbouring plants. The spinach also shades the soil and thus keeps water in the soil and annoying weeds away.
Onion plants and strawberries
Between our strawberries we put onions and garlic, as both are effective against spider mites and soil fungi due to their bactericidal and fungicidal agents. Other onion plants such as chives or leeks can also protect against strawberry grey mould.
Herbs and flowers in mixed crops
A large part of kitchen herbs can be enriching for vegetable plants. Thyme, hyssop, rosemary and sage are said to drive away cabbage white butterflies, cabbage or carrot flies by emitting scents. In general, herbs, spices and medicinal plants are among our favourite mixed cultures.
Beans and savory are not only a good combination in the cooking pot. The herb expels the bean fly and the black bean aphid. The fragrances of the savory also promote the growth and aroma of the legumes. Beetroot and salad also benefit from the seasoning herb.
French Marigold and calendula
Tagetes and calendula protect against certain species of nematodes. The nematodes occur in several thousand different species and can be useful, but most of them are harmful. By penetrating the root system, nematodes can severely impair the metabolic cycle of plants. Peas, beans, carrots, cabbage, beets, onions, leeks or potatoes especially like these usually microscopically small worms as host plants. It is therefore a good idea to cultivate them together with tagetes or calendula. Tagetes are also said to keep away certain viruses, whiteflies and lice. Between the rows, calendula have a beneficial effect on e.g. tomatoes. They excrete plant-promoting substances especially through their root system.
On the edges of beans and peas, between lettuce and spinach, chamomile promotes resistance to fungal diseases. It is also said to have a positive influence on the growth of tomatoes and their flavour.
Borage does not only look pretty in the patch, it also attracts countless insects with its many flowers. Thus it acts as an excellent pollination aid. Cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin benefit from it in particular. The spice and medicinal plant is also said to have a pest-repellent effect on kohlrabi and other cabbages. The hairy leaves also keep snails away. However, the plant should preferably be placed at the edges of the bed, as it grows enormously and can quickly compete with cultivated plants for light, water and nutrients.
It fends off harmful insects, especially lice, with its pungent odor. Here, however, you should opt for a small, ground-covering variety, as otherwise it will spread quickly in the bed and, like the marigold, will leave a lot of seeds at the end of the season. These should be harvested before maturity if the plants are not to spread wild.
Sunflowers can serve as soil conditioners. This year we want to integrate a low-growing species in the kitchen garden.
Basil also grows in various places in our garden because of its beneficial effects. We use it against mildew and whitefly, for example on cucumbers or cabbage.
Dill promotes the germination capacity of seeds and its fragrances keep pests such as aphids at bay. Carrots, cucumbers, cabbages, beetroot, onions and broad beans benefit from it. We sow dill, in many of our beds, between the vegetable plants.
Of course, it must be added that planting in mixed crops does not guarantee that you will not have any pests in the vegetable patch and only drag out full baskets of harvested produce from the garden. But growing vegetables in mixed cultivation can make a good contribution to a healthy garden. We also think it looks beautiful how the different types of vegetables grow together in the bed, colourful and on different levels.
Mixed crops table
|Artichoke||Eggplant||Cauliflower||Brokkoli||Bush bean||Chili||Chinese cabbage||Peas||Lamb's lettuce||Kale||Cucumber||Autumn turnip||Potato||Garlic||Fennel||Kohlrabi||Lettuce||Pumpkin||Leek||May turnip||Chard||Carrot||Bell pepper||Parsnip||Broad bean||Radishes||Radish||Brussel sprout||Beetroot||Red cabbage||Arugula||Black salsify||Celeriac||Asparagus||Spinach||Runner bean||Tomato||Green cabbage||Savoy cabbage||Zucchini||Sweet corn||Onion|
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