My gardens at the Dirt Farm are permanent raised beds. I don't have any fancy boxes just mounds of dirt with walkways between. On top of each mound I keep a layer of straw as mulch. Over time, the straw breaks down providing nutrients to the soil, and every year I amend the beds further by top dressing with compost or manure. Occasionally I listen to my dad and a few of the beds might get some sort of cover crop like buckwheat or an oat/pea mix.
This photo below shows the beds in Spring after I moved the top straw off temporarily to plant them. They look like nests!
Over the last few years the population of volunteer plants in these permanent beds has increased. Where last year I planted tomatoes, new plants sprouted this year. Potatoes that I might overlook during the harvest come back to provide me a second crop. Garlic and onions always have a way of being overlooked so come popping up early in the spring. Parsely, cilantro, arugula and lettuces sprout up all over the place as their seeds tend to travel. I often joke that I may as well not even plant the garden in the spring just wait to see what will volunteer! I typically rotate the vegetables each year, but when this happens, I'll have a mixed bed of whatever volunteers and whatever is next in that rotation. The longer this garden is around, the wider the variety of plants that are growing on each bed. This year I planted ground cherries where dill, feverfew and some summer squash volunteered. It's a mess!
These photos shows the garden when it was still a bit tame.
In reflecting on how my garden has evolved, I had one of those "Ah ha!" moments while cleaning up a mess of orange Amish paste tomatoes. Instead of picking them all up from the bed, I decided to leave them. Last year where they grew, a few were squished and left behind. This spring I had TONS of seedlings. Why start tomatoes in the house if Mother Nature will do it for me? This year I pulled out the extra plants and just let four seedlings mature in this bed. Next year, I will let the starts grow, transplant some to share around the neighborhood and move a few to the beds that are designated for tomatoes. Can tomatoes be considered a cover crop? Why the heck not? It seems that whatever chooses to volunteer in the garden flourishes, so instead of trying to control every plant in each of the raised beds, I'm leaving it to become a bit of a food forest! Less clean up for me...at the moment!
This bed will still get a layer of compost and a topping of straw before it goes to sleep. Next spring I hope I don't forget that I left these tomatoes - after the fact, I'm not necessarily happy with my lazy gardener ideas. I'll let you know how it goes next summer.
Happy harvesting everyone!
The farm store is open Thursday - Sunday 9-5 with soups, hats, honey, hot sauces and CBD balms for chapped harvesting hands.
Sending love from the farm,