Monday, March 7, 2016

Succession Gardening Concept

A topic that don't see being discussed when it comes to gardening methods is succession planting. Everybody seems to believe that you get your growing area fully ready for your primary crop, then go ahead and plant/produce it. It's all done as one giant step. But sometimes I see valid reasons to get a garden developed via steps, such as succession gardening. 

I always have plenty of projects going on and don't want to wait until the soil in a particular garden spot is "perfect" before planting my target crop. It could easily take a couple years to get a new area perfect. Thus in the meantime, that area is producing nothing unless I use the concept of succession gardening. I don't see the need to put off producing a crop on my farm just because the rocks still need removing (could take years) and the soil needs a long series of amendments (could take years). 

After a natural devastation (volcanic explosion, massive flood, landslide, etc) Mother Nature gradually returns the land to greenery, but it's a slow, successive type process. I mean, maple trees and meadows aren't the first thing to return to devastated land. Hardier vegetation takes hold first. As the soil quality changes and favors less hardy vegetation, then the next plants in the line of succession take over. Several steps like this occur before the mature forest reappears. 

So on my farm, I'm taking a hint from Mother Nature and using the idea of succession to help expand my food production. I'm not exactly following Mother Natures recipe, though. But it's the general idea.

So here's one of my projects I've been tackling lately. I have a section of front pasture that I'm converting to garden. The livestock (sheep, goats, chickens, horse) grazed this area for seven years. (Crop #1 from the land - meat, eggs, manure). Even though it received many years of manure and urine additions, it suffered from the compacting effect of hooves. Plus, tropical soils in my area leech plant nutrients....and many weren't even there to begin with! So the soil is low fertility. And of course, the ground is just lots of lava rocks with a bit of soil between the rocks. Not an ideal garden soil for annual veggies. But these veggies are my ultimate goal even though they won't be successful in this spot yet.

For two years now I've been harvesting the grass in this area for clippings, not allowing tree saplings and brush to grow back. (Crop #2- mulch). Thus no tall perennials nor trees at this stage. That's step one. In the past couple weeks I've moved to step two......grass suppression. I've mowed as close as possible for two weeks, then followed up with weedwacking right down to the soil, leaving the wacking debris in place. 

Above: grass in lower left of the photo is two foot tall, still being grown for mulch. Short grass in upper left has been mowed closely once so far. Grass on right side of photo is the area I've mowed closely twice in order to stunt the growth, then just recently weedwacked down to the soil line. That's my weedwacker, a battery powered Ryobi that is my current weedwacker of choice. A surpringly effective tool that is cheap, lightweight, easy to use, very functional. 

Here's a view from the other side. I've gotten one swath ready for the next step. 

Now some folks will say, "Why don't you just cover the area with real thick mulch to smother the grass and then plant through it." Good suggestion, but I don't have truckloads of mulching material available. Nor is the soil very productive initially, even for grasses. And then there are those pesky rocks. So I've come up with an alternative method to get the land producing asap, but also giving my time to work on the soil. Besides, I know that there is more than one way to deal with this problem, and I'm using just one of them. 

Anyway, after getting two "crops" off this land so far, I'm ready to move in to the next step in succession. I will plant a crop which can grow in the less than ideal soil, succeed in some fashion in spite of the rock, and be able to compete with any grasses that grow back. I've had good results with sweet potatoes and winter squash/pumpkins. Both will shade the soil, root through whatever mulch I apply, grow even in semi shade, grow in spite of the fertility issues. I won't get many good sweet potato tubers, but there will be some that will be nice enough for the table. The rest will go to feed the livestock. The greens will become livestock food and provide starts for the next crop. The winter squash/pumpkin will produce decently in spite of any grass regrowing. While these are growing, I will have time to add various organic mulches, soil amendments, and compost mulches. Maybe even pop some rocks out if I have time. 

Following these crops, I'll plant something that is individual large plants, as opposed to beds or rows. This means that I only need to remove a few of the rocks in order to plant. Depending upon the actual site, I've planted sugar cane, taro, tomatoes, and pipinola. I haven't tried others, but I'm guessing that other veggies could work too, ones that don't require lots of great soil. As long as it's individual plants, I'd have room around the plants to apply manures, compost, etc......thus gradually improving the soil, encouraging worms, improving soil moisture, etc. I would have the time to gradually make the improvements, plus remove more rocks here and there. As time went on, I could be harvesting, then growing the next crop, keeping up with improvement efforts so that eventually the area would be ready for bed type gardening. This step could take one year or ten to become a good garden site. But at least it would be producing in the meantime.

So rather than spending years creating the perfect garden site first, I find that I can be harvesting some sort of crop as I'm working on my creation. It's sort of along the lines of succession regrowth. But my succession goes like.......grass; vines; large individual vegetable plants; small clumps of veggies; larger veggie beds; large garden area. 

1 comment:

  1. Good approach! As long as the sunlight remains un obstructed by surrounding trees, or just throws dappled shade, the sequenced plan sounds very good. I reclaimed a much smaller but totally barren patch of dirt/rock by "posthole composting, literally just gouging out about 2 sq ft or so, down to maybe 2-3 ft deep, refilling it with woody stuff, leaves, lots of overripe fruit, and whatever I had that needed using up, like almost empty fertilizer, bone meal, sifted dirt, da kine. I'd start another pit as the first approached being full, mounding it with the surface dirt of the second hole. The soil there was a dense shale, very acidic (pH 3.2), and had the porosity of linoleum. I google-earthed that property recently, and now it has mature trees and green shrubbery, surrounded by brown, parched-looking land (SoCal drought effect). I really think you'll get the garden you are building up with your successive approach.