Ordo Ab Chao

There’s a lot of conflicting advice in the vegetable gardening world. You’ve got your square footers, biointensivists, permaculturalists and survival gardeners, just to name a few. The truth is these often conflicting techniques probably all work for someone. I’ve been thinking lately that the next book we write should be a version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders turned into gardening advice.Got attention deficit disorder? Well, here’s how ya mix up your own potting mix.

Face it, we’re all in the diagnostic manual somewhere. I suffer from a chronic lack of organizational ability. Square foot gardening has never worked for me–I just can’t keep up with the schedule. For some folks, I’m sure it works great. John Jeavons’ biointensive methods, however, have worked well for me. That is, when I actually follow his advice. I offer as evidence two beds from our winter garden. The one above, containing chard, carrots and beets turned out really well. It has produced an abundant and attractive harvest. The one below, on the other hand, is a mess.

The difference: planning. Whereas some people can probably improvise a vegetable garden, my unique place in the diagnostic manual means that I benefit from some degree of organization. With Jeavons, you project how much of a particular vegetable you’d like and plant with tight hexagonal spacing. Plan ahead and you get an abundant and attractive garden assuming you’ve taken care of your soil. At least it works for me.

My new commitment for our summer garden is to carefully choose what I’m going to grow, how much of it to plant, and stick with the program. No last minute improvising. And better note taking! I attempted to weigh vegetables this winter, earning the scorn of Mrs. Homegrown who deemed it too male an approach, too much about bragging rights. All that weighing took away note taking time from what would have been more useful information: when things were planted, transplanted and harvested.  That data could help prevent gaps in the garden in the future and clarify the best times to plant, information that’s hard to come by in our unique Mediterranean climate. Not to say that weighing is without merit–it would be a good way to compare  methods–but I’m going to leave that to academic researchers and Mr. Jeavons. I’m also trying to figure out a way to share my gardening diary with other people in the L.A., area via Google docs so that we can all compare notes. More on that once we get our next book done!

As for keeping track of planting times, simply hanging the Stella Natura calendar by the stove has done wonders. I now keep better records of planting and transplanting dates. Cooking while looking at the calendar prompts me to plan ahead and think about the things I actually like to eat. Less turnips next year and more arugula!

Leave a comment about your vegetable gardening methods and, if you’re so inclined, your place in the diagnostic manual!

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  1. Hi I have been loosely following your blog for a while. I think it is really neat what you are doing there. I usually don’t have much time to read all those interesting posts but I always enjoy them. Hey, you are on my list of garden heroes 🙂

    I have somewhat a similar unorganized way to plan my vegetable garden which sometimes means I forget to put in my vegetables at the right time or I forget to fertilize or cover them and then the aphids get to eat them instead of me. I also got some of those biodynamic books, but I just could not follow them, too complicated for me >lol< I have a hard time following those directions in any of these instructional gardening books, and end up always doing my own thing anyway. I think the most important thing is, grow organic, don't till the soil, add good stuff like compost and just go with the flow of nature. Right now I made all my beds into raised garden beds, filled them with good dirt, I am trying to stagger my plantings so I don't grow too much at one time. Somewhat I mixture of Square foot and Bio dynamic and Perma culture I guess. It has been a bit of a challenge, something what is helping me a bit getting more organized is a software program from the Uk, you can read about it all on my blog
    http://diegartenfrau.blogspot.com/2010/03/igpro-garden-software-review.html and a vegetable planting chart I made up myself.
    The software is a bit work to set up and it is actually written for ornamental gardens but I have noticed an improvements in my organization.

    I think almost all models of how to grow your veggies have good points (aside the ones they spray everything with toxins) and everyone has to find their own way, whatever works for them. It might not be perfect, but who cares. right?

  2. We’re all about improvisation over here. To the extent that there’s a method to the madness it’s the raised-bed cultivation of Bob Thomson’s The New Victory Garden, leavened with various other ideas I’ve picked up here and there. Permaculture? Sure, we’ll try a little of that. Floating row covers? Cover crops? Why not?!

    Actually, I haven’t managed cover crops yet due to lack of organization. I had grand plans last year, and was keeping good notes and planning rotations all the way into June, when our first child was born. Turns out kids take some time and attention! This year I expect he’ll be able to help out in the garden, so we should see great things.

  3. Your garden beds look lush and pretty, and such a timely post. I spent part of this weekend filling in my rooftop garden chart–one square for each sub-irrigated planter (this sounds obsessive, but wait).

    My list then goes to Bruce, who’s starting all our warm-weather seeds.

    I assiduously counted the specific number of each particular veggie or herb that I needed for every planter. Then, I added a huge number of extras in a column I cavalierly called “for the in-ground garden.” This is a tiny bed with limited sun.

    Look for me under “Delusional in Chicago” in DSM-IV.

  4. I started up square foot gardening in the front yard this year, just because the 6 x 12 foot bed in the back for my dad got completely overrun and is currently a tangled mess. He still goes a bit overboard, but by planting different things in the squares (I monopolized the middle ones with garlic, which won’t be harvested till late spring – this makes maintaining and accessing the edge squares easier), it seems a little more controlled. Until we put in tomatoes… I already smell trouble with the peas/beans. I haven’t had a chance to put in proper trellises for them. Maybe I could go with a triple pole teepee-ish type shape? I stress the importance of the 3 foot wide walkways around the boxes. Though it seems like a huge waste of space, I’ve learned to really value clear pathways in terms of being more inclined to manage the garden. If you had any tips for taming jungley type plants (cucumbers, peas, tomatoes, etc.) that doesn’t involve too much hardware – is that possible? – I’d love to hear it. I imagine I can rotate the peas with the tomatoes if they’re going to be permanent structures.

  5. That top bed looks beautiful! I really committed myself to the Jeavons Biointensive system for the first time this year. I sure hope that the bounty is great enough to warrant all that counting and measuring and spacing and rotation. It’s hard damn work!

  6. I guess my greatest flaw might be passive aggression. Emilia Hazelip’s methods work great for me.

    She is all about the Mediterranean climate, and minimal intervention, including no tillage once beds are established.

    I need to keep my tomatoes cut back better this summer. Last year’s growth would have completely killed the bed if it had been used as green manure, so I hot composted almost all of it.

  7. hi. 🙂

    yes, i piddled around with plangarden a little bit, but found myself off searching for more…then i found growveg! which i’m lovin’. it’s soooo simple, and it has all these extra things like color coding of vegetable groups for crop rotations and email updates on when to plant, etc.

    So (especially) considering i’m brand new to growing, i think it’s priceless. i’m definitely bying it when my 30 day free trial is up. 😉


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