September: Like People, Plants Don’t Like to Exist Alone Segment 2: Companion planting and layer 3-7

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In our last segment we left off with planting perennial vegetables, fruiting shrubs, and vines, and I said I would talk about companion planting.  The choice of plants you make determines where you place plants in relation to each other and their surroundings.  First, it is important to note that it is crucial and necessary to allow space for naturally occurring native species of flowers and plants to mature and take up space in and around your perennials and annuals, such as daisies, various milkweeds and creeping succulents, as these are vital components in the simulation of a natural habitat.

By year two, as  I mentioned, you want to plant perennial vegetables (sea kale, asparagus, sorrel, watercress, Jerusalem & Chinese artichokes, ramps aka wild leeks, strawberries), fruiting shrubs ( rhubarb, currants, berry bushes, goumi bush), and vines (groundnut, scarlet runner beans). 

These three areas make up the shrub, herbaceous, and rhizosphere layers, as well as the soil surface and the vertical layer.  Another thing to remember is be careful of what you plant in your yard.  Too many things going on in the yard can equal a nightmare like when raspberries go wild..  When planting apple or pear trees plant strawberries beneath the tree on the south side.  Otherwise for fruit with pits (cherries, plums, peaches), it’s best to plant chives, ramps, and other garlics.  Ground coverage can go anywhere within the first 3 layers.  Shrubs such as raspberry and blackberry sometimes don’t do well with strawberries, especially if they are not a native variety.  I planted strawberries in front of a  blueberry bush in full sun along the south side of the house.  The raspberries are against a wooden fence.  In both instances I included the herbaceous and rhizosphere layers.  This is where your annuals come in handy.  I planted beets and broccoli near my chives, as they both like growing near each other along with onions.  I also planted turnips and other root vegetable at the edge of the raspberry bushes, yielding flavorful crops.  When I do companion planting, I combine 3-5 plants often those include flowers such as marigolds, nasturtiums, and borage.

There are 7 basic layers to a forest garden, the last two are part of the first three layers.  You can start in year one with the first 3 layers.  If your fruit / nut trees survive and mature, they will produce abundant fruit by the 5th year.  Asparagus takes approximately 3 years. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries take 1-2 years. In 5 years your yields should be abundant.

I did not get a chance to talk about the vertical layer.  In our next segment I will talk about vines and their function in a forest garden.

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