[permaculture] Tales from the Forest Garden

Robert Waldrop rmwj at soonernet.com
Tue May 10 15:55:46 EDT 2005



May 10, 2005

I plucked the first ripe mulberry today, well, it
was purple but it wasn't completely ripe. Even so,
it was a foretaste of things to come. It really
looks like a bumper fruit crop this year (God
willing). Everything is loaded with fruit, except
for the apples which are still skimpy.. Peaches,
plums, sand plums, boysenberries, mulberries,
dewberries, blackberries. The elderberries are
readying themselves to burst into riotous bloom.

We are having a cool and cloudy spring, but hardly
any rain. Fortunately, the deep mulch on the beds
is doing a good job of preserving water. I have
not had to do much watering.

This year we decided to ramp up our production of
tomatoes as one of the items we are still buying
at the store is tomato sauce. We can buy tomatoes
through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, of course,
but most of them are slicing tomatoes and since it
takes about 5 pounds of tomatoes to make one quart
of sauce, it would be prohibitively expensive for
us to buy enough tomatoes to make 100 quarts of

100 quarts of sauce requires about 500 pounds of
tomatoes and that suggests a need for 50-60 tomato
plants. When I started thinking about this last
winter, I thought, "well, where would we find room
for 60 tomato plants?" Especially since I didn't
want to plant them in a monoculture, but rather to
design a "tomato guild".

As it turns out, we had plenty of room. The longer
I live and garden here, the more the area seems to
expand. In the beginning, six years ago, I
wondered just how much food could be produced on
this 1/5 of an acre urban plot, with a duplex,
small house, driveway, and sidewalks. Each year we
produce more. I keep finding new places to put
plants. Besides the tomato plants, this year we
also added hazelnuts (4), buffalo berry (3), 3
more Nanking cherries, 2 more chokecherries, and
20 prairie rose bushes. Also new herbs, 3 more
varieties of oregano, 5 varieties of basil, 3 more
varieties of thyme, also lemon verbena, dill,
yerba buena, passion flower and lots of pansies,
petunias, and calendulas. Oops, I forgot some new
medicinals, boneset and all heal and astragalus,
and 3 more comfrey plants. I planted the comfrey
in the fruit tree area, as they are great mulch
plants and comfrey's deep roots bring up

And then there are the seven buckets of potatoes.
I had tried potatoes-in-buckets before, but they
didn't do so well, I used dirt and compost for the
planting medium. This year I splurged and got peat
moss and vermiculite to add to my home-made
compost. Four of the buckets I have continued to
fill with my homemade potting soil as the plants
grew bigger. The other 3 buckets I filled with a
mixture of straw and leaves as the plants grew.
One hears about both ways of doing potatoes in
buckets and I am curious as to any difference in
yield between the two methods. I also had a
problem last time with the buckets getting hot, so
the buckets are placed so that the bucket itself
is shaded, but the plant is in sunlight. I planted
summer squash (yellow and zucchini) in our cold
frame, together with catnip, lemon balm and
marigolds. Hopefully the squash bugs won't find
them. They are sporting their first blooms today!

Permaculture speaks of guilds as associations of
mutually beneficial plants. In cultivating annual
plants, people usually talk about "companion
planting", but the concept of "plant guild" takes
the concept up a notch or two. Guilds are an area
of on-going research and observation in
permaculture, and a lot of experimentation is
going on. I decided on the plants for our tomato
guild by researching companion plants for

Here are the plants we are associating together in
these tomato guilds:

Tomatoes - Amish paste, Hungarian paste, San
Marzano, Principe Borghese, Roma, Yellow Pear
Chives (onion and garlic)
Bee Balm
BorageHot peppers (cayenne, habanero, jalapeno,

The tomato guild beds are laid out like a Square
Foot Garden bed, with one square per plant.
Indeterminate tomatoes needing trellising go along
one or two sides of the bed (yellow pear, Amish
paste, San Marzano), determinate tomatoes
(Hungarian paste, Roma, Principe Borghese) which
don't need support are inside the beds scattered
among the other plants.

We already had the asparagus scattered around here
and there, so adding that to the guild was a
matter of siting some of the tomato guild beds.
Bee balm, asparagus, horehound, and chives are
perennials, I will have to think about what we
will do next year, but we hope this works well for
this season. The chives we transplanted from
elsewhere, bee balm I either started from seed or
bought plants. Borage we started from seed, and we
also started most of our tomato plants.

I have acquired a cinnamon yam plant. It is a
climbing vine, frost hardy in this zone, that
bears edible tubers above ground. I have it in a
pot still as I haven't quite figured out where to
put it.

We've been picking and eating greens several days
a week - chard, mustard, and turnip. They are very
tasty. We blanch them in boiling water for 2
minutes, and then sautee them in a skillet, with a
little broth or stock, also onions, garlic,
crushed red pepper, dried oregano, rosemary, and
sage. Maybe some soy sauce and oyster sauce and
sesame fire oil, for variety.

I ran out of compost this year, all the new bed
building and planting consumes compost like it was
plentiful or something. Since this is a harbinger
of things to come, I am ramping up my compost
production. I am now in the process of building 3
compost piles, each about 14 ft long, and when
done they will be 4' high and 4' wide. I am also
doing considerable compost making on the existing
planting beds and around the trees and bushes with
thick mulches.

I do not produce enough plant material on this
property to make all this mulch and compost, so I
am always bringing stuff home. I drive around a
bit in the neighborhood on trash day and bring
home bags of leaves and lawn clippings. I bring
home wilted altar flowers from church. I buy some
bales of straw at the farmers market and a local
feed and seed store. To give folks an idea of how
much mulch and compost material is required, Ruth
Stout's "No Work Garden Book" estimates that 25
fifty pound bales of hay or straw are needed to
mulch a 50' x 50' garden area to a depth of 8
inches. (Ruth Stout's book, which is a collection
of her columns published in Organic Gardening
magazine, is one of my garden "bibles".

Volunteer vetch came up in the garlic, shallot,
and multiplying onion beds, I pull it every other
week or so so it doesn't get too thick. Right now
it is in beautiful purple bloom, and it looks very
elegant twirling around the onion and garlic
stalks. It takes nitrogen from the air and puts it
in the soil, so it helps the alliums grow. The
allium harvests are coming up soon. Last year I
picked garlic on May 24th. We're ready for some
fresh garlic, we are out of last year's crop. We
planted considerably more garlic this year than
last year (which is one reason I guess we ran out
last year). We should have enough garlic to have a
whole bulb of cloves every day, plus enough to
replant a similar amount, and maybe some extra to
distribute as seed garlic.

As of today, we have 120 different varieties of
useful or edible plants growing on our former
lawns.  (Full list is at the website.)

Robert Waldrop, OKC

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