Experiments in Efficiency (part 1)

My number one goal is to grow as much food as possible, eating and/or preserving as much of it as possible.

So, to facilitate that, my natural inclination is to cram as much into the garden as possible…which may or may not be the best practice. I’ll be honest. I don’t necessarily like to listen to others. Particularly with plant spacing. It isn’t that I don’t like or trust others, I just like to know things first hand. I don’t mind making mistakes if I can learn from them. Also, people have preferences and that’s what they are – preferences. So I like to read and glean as much information as I can about a particular subject and try to organize it in my mind to get the general impression of what defines a “good practice”. And to be honest again, sometimes I just follow someone’s idea verbatim and things work out ok.

Potatoes

Since my eastern garden has all new raised beds, I made a plan that I thought most efficient. A few months into the season and I am learning the limitations of the plan with regard to spacing, and I am trying to figure ways around these limitations. Consider these beds of potatoes below from mid-April. Blue and red fingerling potatoes are growing in one half of the bed, and I was just preparing to transplant eggplant and direct sow bush beans in the other half of the bed. There is plenty of space.

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Compare that with the growth of the beds on May 27.

20160527_083915Now, I grew potatoes last year. I knew the vines were going to grow out… I just don’t remember them being this large! The eggplant is growing along the green stake at the center of the picture, and is being completely eclipsed by potato vines. I have potatoes in a total of 10 raised beds where I am companion planting with beans, and I am seeing the same kind of encroachment.

I tried driving both a 2′ wooden stake and 6′ bamboo stake into the middle of the bed and using twine to keep the vines away, but it is working in a very limited way. The wooden stakes are not long enough, and I can’t drive the bamboo into the ground far enough for it to not be flimsy. So, I could either (1) get 3-4′ steel stakes drive them in, or (2) try to secure the bamboo tops to the eggplant steel stakes using wood and twine. I think option 2 would be the cheapest way, as I have plenty of 6′ bamboo. I think rather than just twine, I will try some trellis netting (which I already have) to create the barrier and spacing for the eggplant. For the other beds, I may try making an A-frame to keep the potatoes from encroaching, or opt to spend money on the steel stakes.

Tomatoes

Consider the tomatoes below, freshly transplanted in mid-April:

 

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The trellis structure is just painted 1″ pvc piping, 8′ tall, with tomato twine dropped down to trellis the tomatoes. The plants are spaced ~2′ apart, and I thought I could fit another offset row of tomatoes directly down the center of the two. I cut and secured some 2″x2″ wood (that I already had), and dropped twine down from that. Below you can see the results on May 27th.

20160527_083859

I knew it would be tight, but I thought it would work, and so far it has. I did prune the branches up 12-18″ to avoid disease from the soil infecting the leaves and to create good air flow. I read that some farmers prune up to the first fruit, and on some I did that. I am wondering if there is enough airflow through the mass of plants, and if this will have detrimental effects later in the season. One problem may be if disease/fungus hits one plant, it would be easy to infect them all. One option would be to prune some/all of the branches, as I saw in the video below. This is not ideal, and was done in a greenhouse, and if I had some sort of episode with disease, I would surely  consider a more open arrangement for my tomatoes.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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