Biodiversity at home
As the summer growing season winds down, I’m continuing to nurse along some summer crops at Belly Acre Farm. Okra is still very productive, and we’re still eating green beans and field peas – although as the deer get hungrier and bolder, I’m losing more peas than I’m picking. My tomato plants are putting on a last gasp, producing as many tomatoes as they did at peak season, but smaller, with a more intense, acidic flavor. The sharper flavor may be because my deer are also discovering the tomatoes, so I tend to pick the fruit before it ripens completely. We dug our first sweet potatoes last week, with more to be dug over the next few weeks.
The garden is also entering the fall growing season. I’m planting more different fall and winter vegetables than ever—a number of salad greens, radishes, beets, broccoli, potatoes, garlic, and onions. These last three won’t be harvested until next spring or summer, but I’m putting them in the ground now.
Even though I’m planting more in the fall this year, I do have less to do in the garden, so I’ve used the extra time to update my plant inventory. More properly, I’m creating a plant inventory. Being an English major, I’ve kept my garden records as narrative journal entries, illustrated with quickly sketched diagrams to show where things are planted. Finding when I planted something and how it performed requires re-reading my textual notes for almost the whole year.
That changed after Joyce and I attended the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. We caught part of a seminar on managing a home garden/mini-farm given by Cindy Conner. (Her website is http://www.homeplaceearth.com) She showed a simple timeline style chart of her garden beds done as Excel spreadsheets. It was one of several “well, duh” moments I had during the festival.
I had already decided to convert my open field to a series of defined beds, so the timeline charts seemed a natural progression. Each bed will be tracked on its own section of the spreadsheet, with each crop listed under the bed where it grows, and a timeline showing when it was planted, when it started producing, and when it was finished and removed.
In the process of developing my spreadsheet, I went back through my notes from this year and listed out all the different crops I’ve grown.
I was amazed when I saw that my little garden has been home to 67 different crops since March!
I haven’t planted anything exotic (well, maybe mache would strike many as exotic), but I have grown several varieties of several common vegetables – five varieties of green beans, four kinds of corn, two different potatoes, three different watermelons, for instance. I’ve also tried to keep every section of the garden planted for the whole growing season.
And I’m putting more emphasis on extending the growing season with my fall crops. The mache, along with kale and other greens, are supposed to survive our typical winter weather so we can eat fresh food all winter.
I’m not sure I’ll keep growing this many different varieties in future years, but I’ve already identified several things I want to add, and we enjoy the differences between the different green beans, tomatoes, and potatoes. So next year’s list probably won’t be any shorter.