As for the lesson on agroforesty, here’s what I gleaned:
An edible forest is designed using two parameters. One is structure, the layers that make up the forest composition. The second is plant archetypes, the polyculture that works together to create a nutrient rich system.
The agroforest is made up of an overstory, an understory, a shrub layer, an herbaceous layer, a rhizomatic layer, and a vining component. We quickly discovered that each of these categories are loose and relative to the other crops housed within the system. While the red currant bush is most commonly used in the shrub layer, it could easily serve as an overstory in an edible forest of a smaller scale.
With regard to the plants, there are three important archetypes to include: nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, and insectaries & nectaries. Nitrogen fixers have the capacity to pull nitrogen out of the air and send it down into the soil, providing nitrogen for itself and allowing that nitrogen to be captured by nearby plants so long as its needs are met. Dynamic accumulators have long tap roots that reach down into the earth and pull nutrients up into the top soil where it can be accessed by shorter root systems. Nectaries keep non-desirable insects away, insectaries attract the beneficials. Meghan suggested that gardens and edible forests alike should have flowering plants through the length of the season. These flowers should be diverse in terms of color and shape so as to attract the greatest number of beneficial insects.
It’s a fruitful moment, rounding the corner to late summer now. With each visit to the garden, I am amazed by the generous green jungle that has emerged from the beds that were bare just three months ago.
It’s easy to forget about the little things when the garden gets so big. The little things – those little pollinators so crucial to the fruit bearing wonder of the moment. For the tomato, the potato, the eggplant, and the blueberry, it takes a particular pollinator to unlock the pollen that facilitates the plant’s reproduction. According to biologist Anne Leonard, with buzz pollination, ‘the flower is almost like playing hard to get.’
Of all the shared beds at the Tommy Thompson teaching garden, I have a soft spot for the cabbage patch. It was one of the first beds we planted – a row of green conehead cabbage on one side, a red cabbage row on the other. As the season went on, we planted a row of beans down the center – offering a wonderful combination of color on the thin growth of the bean stalk to contrast the sturdy round of a head of cabbage. What I love about the bed though, is within the red cabbage row itself – eight heads of cabbage, all of which were planted on the same day, from the same tray of starts, into the same bed, tended by the same gardener with the same regularity and yet, demonstrating the entire spectrum of growth.
I’ve loved this cabbage bed as a reminder of the unpredictability of the garden. It is a comfort on days when my own bed shows distress and it is humbling when I begin to take credit for the growth of what I’ve planted.
As it goes in the garden, even our favorite beds have their time. And this was the time of the cabbage bed:
Alas, with communal cabbage harvest, there comes communal sauerkraut: