June 13, 2019
So what’s going on in our kitchen garden? A few things for a small space: plant connections, pest control, space efficiency, distribution and maintenance!
Yes, we have chicken wire fencing. As a barrier in its own sense, this deters burrowing inhabitants from entering our kitchen garden delectables. However, there is a second, ‘green’ fencing to further deter pests: garlic, mint and basil around our perimeter – families of plants that rabbits do not enjoy. As a third safety and organic measure, we are sprinkling a little cayenne around the perimeter to further deter our strong-nosed friends. So far, our brassicas, lettuces and anything else delectable has come up from seed very well!
There are no linear plantings like when we think of “traditional” agriculture. Plants foster relationships with other plants. In fact, they can be planted as companions. Companion planting means, for example, our pole beans aren’t close to our allium family plants, as they would impede growth. Instead our pole beans are surrounded by summer savories like sage, marigold, and nasturtium that protect against bean beetles.
As far as some of the companion planting goes, this has also had the added bonus of less maintenance. Yes, less. Polyculture systems, such as companion planting, allow for the plants to grow into one another, whivh further reduces the amount of light the soil gets – hence fewer weeds. There is a tier system in which we have a “cover crop” in each section that reduces the amount of weed growth as our larger, stronger plants grow past these crops. Think of it as a mini rainforest with different canopies. For example, this includes a cover crop of red lettuce as our swiss chard grows beyond and our okra grows beyond the chard in a tier.
The structure of our rectangular kitchen garden this year is hexagonal. This is the same shape as our bee friends use in their honeycombs and elsewhere found in nature. This is due to the fact that the hexagon is the most efficient use of area. In 1999, Professor Hales from the University of Michigan finally proved this conjecture into a theorem, now known as the Hexagonal Honeycomb Conjecture in mathematics. A nod to our own two honey bee hives on site, hexagons provide us the most efficient use of food production but also reference the pollination required by our pollinator friends. One of every three bites of food we eat is thanks to our pollinators! Not just honeybees though. Our native bees and other pollinators are just as important; We have our bumble bee friends to thank for tomatoes, known as ‘buzz pollination.’
In lieu of space efficiency, our kitchen garden is designed in the honeycomb pattern to create the most effective use of the space. Serving our community is one of our priorities, the UW campus being one of them. We are partnering with student organizations that are fighting for food security. Beyond campus walls, we are partnering with food sheds on the south side of Madison (let’s talk about food deserts?) and local business who are all about taping into locally produced foods.
by Ryan Drake | Former Horticulture Apprentice