Spring Fever

While Baby worked on the site plan, I’ve been working diligently on a companion planting scheme for our garden on 10-1/2 Street. See, I have this whole thing about weeding–as in hating it, especially while sweating and swatting bugs in July. So I want to try  something I’ve only read about: planting biointensively. You could think of it as a square-foot pattern rather than rows, with the edibles interplanted with herbal and floral companions.

Gardens can easily be planted with this method. But it works on a large scale, too–even with farms. According to the studies I’ve read, the yields are the same with organic vs. conventional methods–while using 30% less fossil fuel/other energy inputs plus less water and, of course, no pesticides. And the fields just look so much … well, prettier and so much more harmoniously balanced with the landscape.

Look at how the plots are laid out so as to work within the topography, using terracing and natural irrigation, instead of flattening the fields out for the convenience of fuel-guzzling, water-wasting machines

Just consider this lovely image of agricultural biodiversity from Andrew Kimbrell’s Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture (which is simply a must for any foodie or food advocate’s bookshelf.) Kimbrell makes the case for going organic in pictures.

The images of industrial agriculture look like science fiction: miles-long soybean, cotton, rice, sugar, and cornfields being dive-bombed with pesticides, or wreathed in  dust (i.e., blowing topsoil), or backing up to giant sinkholes caused by erosion, or surrounded by sickeningly foul  algal blooms from fertilizer runoff. Those pictures are more powerful than all the words I’ve read on the subject of organic vs. conventional methods… And I have to say, I’ve read quite a few.

Lately, for instance, I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry, particularly the poetry, much of it published in the ’70s and ’80s and quite difficult to find. (I searched for weeks for The Country of Marriage and finally had to settle for interlibrary loan. To get Home Economy, the essays, I had to resort to library recall). The work is not flashy, but simply some of the finest, most limpidly clear, and yet profound and provocative work on humankind’s place in the natural world that I have ever read.

Berry says simply, clearly, beautifully what it took that poor guy from the New America Foundation (a post I shared on Facebook recently) nearly 6,000 not very interesting words to say: Humans have lost their place. We’ve lost a sense of ourselves as part of a “chain of being,” great or small. I might add, given my endeavors of the past week, we have, metaphorically speaking, no companions on our journey, and in our loneliness have become destructive … of ourselves and all the life that surrounds us.

So that’s what I’ve been musing about as I think of companion planting  schemes: the fact that blackberries love  tansy, but tansy is, sadly, antagonistic to the apple trees planted nearby; the fact that I can find nothing on apple companions, but then–of course!–recall that apples are from the rose family and roses have many, many friends and fellow travelers in the plant world … And we do, too, if we can recover the habit of thinking of ourselves in that way.

So the scheme I’ve shared below reflects the fact that our intrepid garden volunteers inherited three boxes, and the bulbs and perennials planted in them, at the curbside area  of the garden. Nor is it complete, because I keep finding packets of herb and medicinal seeds that it would be cool to weave into the living tapestry. And that’s been the fun of the process, picking annuals and herbs that would either attract beneficial insects or poison the harmful ones. Finding the edible companions that increase each other’s yields. And discovering, by the way, that all of these plants and patterns were part and parcel of my grandmothers’ gardens.

The wisdom of those unlettered people never ceases to amaze me: the hard-won knowledge of  soil and terroir, which my parents’ generation threw away in the name of science, convenience, progress–you know, getting ahead. I mean it’s understandable–they were Depression-era babies and craved security above all things. But isn’t it ironic that I’m recovering this knowledge–in moments stolen from work and so-called real world responsibilities–during another Depression? Even though I have to do it  by the book and with even more trial and error in the soil…

Sigh, back to the companions. The itals indicate plants that overwintered or for which we have seed… And beds 8 through 11 are still being dug… But stay tuned… I have a vision of where we’re going, and I have a really strong feeling we’ll get there …


Box #1: Beneficials/Herbs 

Tulips, Mallow

Zinnias, Yarrow, Four O’Clocks, Rudebeckia, Echinacea, Hyssop, Dahlias, Anise, Bee Balm, Cosmos


Box #2: Beneficials/HerbsTulips

Fennel, Basil, Dill, Anise

Box #3: Beneficials/HerbsTulips

Zinnias, Yarrow, Four O’Clocks, Rudebeckia, Echinacea, Hyssop, Dahlias, Anise, Bee Balm, Cosmos


Bed #1Blackberry



Chives, Feverfew, Garlic, Geranium, Marigold, Onion, Parsley

Bed #2 Spinach






Bed #3Collards

Pak Choi




Bed #4Potatoes

Bush beans



Bed #5 Beets

Sweet Potatoes



Bed #6 Tomatoes




Bed #7 Lettuce





Bed #8 Okra



Bed #9Eggplant

Shell Beans



Bed #10Scarlet runner beans




Bed #11Squash





5 comments for “Spring Fever

  1. Caroline
    March 16, 2011 at 8:59 am

    We are trying to figure out what to plant this year, and your post comes at the perfect time! Sounds like you have much domestic bliss these days . . .

  2. March 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

    You make this soooo interesting. Write more!

  3. March 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Hey, Caroline–great to hear from you. A little garden would make your spot even prettier than it already is. And thanks, T! Coming from a Fresh Air Fund baby like yourself, I guess that’s a high compliment indeed!

  4. Gail South
    March 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Sounds like those lovely French gardens. Good luck, post pictures. The best gardening advice I found was weed early, mulch heavy. I don’t garden in July or August either.

    • March 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks, Gail! I wish I could bail on July and August, but I discovered the fun of planting a fall vegetable garden. I’m still eating spinach I planted last September. Not to mention the Asian greens–though we’ll be ripping them out because they started to bolt last week.

Comments are closed.