Week 7: Garden Design & Companion Planting

Now we had our concept plan and the beds outlined, but that was really only the beginning of the garden’s creation. It was finally time to get into the details.

We essentially had 4 different vegetable garden beds of different shapes and sizes that would each have a unique design that would fit the needs of the plants as well as showcase different permaculture design techniques.

Bed 1: Cantaloupe- Tobacco Sun Trap

The cantaloupe garden was the most basic design. Since cantaloupes are large, sprawling, and require full sunlight, our options for companion planting were fairly limited. We opted instead to stick to traditional rows of cantaloupes, but with thin rows of pole beans planted in between the rows, inspired by the well-known Native American “Three Sisters” triad. The beans will be able to grow upwards along a trellis without being shaded out or shading out the cantaloupes, while fixing nitrogen into the soil. Surrounding this bed, we chose to create a sun trap with tobacco plants- a tall-growing plant that accumulates potassium, repels insect pests, and attracts pollinators. We planted them along the northern border and partly on the sides so that instead of casting shade, sun reflecting off the tall plants would concentrate on the cantaloupe beds. Around the southern border we planted a few lower companion plants, like comfrey and calendulas that will also deter pests and attract pollinators.

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The concept map for the cantaloupe bed



Planted cantaloupe seedling amidst the cardboard

Bed 2: Tomato- Asparagus Network

Our second bed was more complex in terms of plants and arrangement. Both tomatoes and asparagus grow well together, and with a long list of herbs and companion plants. Asparagus is said to repel harmful nematodes from tomatoes, while the tomatoes protect from the asparagus beetle. We threw in basil, parsley, chives, borage, marjoram, and nasturtiums for added protection against insect pests. Not only do aromatic herbs help to ward them off, but the high diversity makes target plants harder to locate.

After helping to build the herb spiral, PDC-classmate and star volunteer, Evan, suggested that each of our garden beds represent a different permaculture pattern. While that didn’t completely work out, this bed does manage to integrate TWO patterns: Lobes and a Network. We decided to separate each tomato into individual systems surrounded by their own collection of companions. Each of these patches became a ‘lobe’ in the garden bed.

Lobes are a pattern used to maximize surface area. They can be found in clouds, buds, petals, even the lobes of the brain. In this case, the result was 14 semi-circular or circular garden beds. We designed these patches to be ‘double reach’ beds, meaning the radius was no more than an arm’s length, so the entire patch was accessible from the path around it, but there was still a large unbroken planted area in the middle. A single continuous path in a network pattern interconnects all the patches. Networks are of course, for connections. Social networks, synapses in the brain, and spiderwebs are all examples found in the world. Here it creates and organic and easy to move through space in between the circular garden patches.

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Concept map for the Tomato-Asparagus garden


Semi-circular garden patch with planted seedlings

Bed 3: Kale – Arugula Keyholes

This bed holds all of the greens, like kale, sea kale, arugula, winter purslane, along with some companions like mint, nasturtium and good king henry. In terms of organization it is essentially the inverse of the tomato bed: all of the plants are congregated together in the middle, with semi-circular keyholes lining along the edges for access. The keyholes are spaced so that all of the garden is reachable, and the garden is arranged with the smaller plants on the outside and the taller ones in the center for easier harvest. We picked perennial sea kale and arugula to make this bed more self-sustaining.

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Original Concept Design for the Kale bed

Bed 4: “Three Sisters”

This bed is the three sisters in heavy quotations, since we are replacing the corn with extra tomato plants and not following the traditional pyramid structure to take more advantage of space and sunlight. The setup is similar to the cantaloupe bed, except with the beans acting as a suntrap, while also providing shade for the introduction presentation area behind it. Tomatoes are planted in between the beans also on the North side. Amaranth lines the eastern edge, serving as a pretty purple border between the squash and the food forest next to it. 8 different types of squash and 1 type of pumpkin fill the space in the middle.

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Squash Bed design

That is what has been planted up to now. The cantaloupe and squash still need a few more companions, currently they are more like proximate monocultures than true polycultures, that will be put in soon. Now just to wait and see how everything adjusts and grows! While it is exciting to create and implement a design, the true test is how well it actually works in practice. It will be interesting to see what succeeds and what doesn’t, and if it really makes a difference. Either way, there will be sure to be much more evaluating and re-designing over the next few years as the garden grows and develops, and that is all part of the process.




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