This year many different practices were experimented with in test plot No. 7. These involved using cardboard as mulch and trying different plant combinations. Also crop varieties from traditional Romanian lines and commercially bred Dutch store-bought varieties were compared.
The following table shows what crops were sown, if Dutch or Romanian seeds were used and if they germinated or not, and how the harvest was.
All crops were sown in March/April except for the beans which were sowed in June.
There were also quite a bit of perennial crops already present in the plot, such as strawberries, Jerusalem artichoke, and lots of mint. Naïve complete lack of control of the mint resulted in it taking over a substantial area of the plot, to the detriment of other crops (even though one couldn’t complain much about the enormous refreshingly minty harvest thus provided!). The Jerusalem artichoke would have done better if it had been thinned.
At the start of June some more Romanian cucurbits and tomatoes were sowed to see if they would still grow enough to give a harvest, but despite a good start, through drought, weeds and a much shortened growing season, this yielded nothing. At the same time some observations could already be made: both the Romanian and Dutch radishes yielded well, and after being thinned the parsnips and fodder beets were growing very nicely. The cabbage was not performing extremely well, suffering a lot from grazing insects, in particular by the caterpillar Pieris brassicae, a typical cabbage pest. The Dutch cabbage did better than the Romanian, the latter probably performing poorly because the top had not been cut off as is usually done (when this was done the previous year in the Netherlands, and in a different soil, there were good yields from the same seeds).
Cardboard that had been laid out in certain spots was very helpful for retaining humidity and helping to create a layer of organic litter, as well as suppressing weeds at first, though not too long afterwards the weeds reclaimed their ferocious domination, especially the grass.
In the middle of August some more observations could be made. Sowed Romanian tomato plants seemed to grow equally well as their planted counterparts, so going through the extra effort of first growing tomatoes indoors is unnecessary, at least if weeds are properly controlled, but the fact remains that planting has the advantage of prolonging the growing season and gives a head start to the plant.
Beets and cabbage( Dutch as well as Romanian) did better in the shade of the corn standing in front of them because of the higher humidity levels in the soil which was especially advantageous during the hot dry summer season.
Some conclusions can be drawn from certain companion planting strategies. We tried out the three sisters method, which consists in intercropping beans, corn as support, and cucurbits as ground cover. This association worked out well and all crops grew nicely, but yield was relatively low, most likely because of insufficient spacing and nutrient availability. Good ground cover mitigated effects of drought in the hot dry summer days. Also not all corn cobs fully developed grains, possibly because there weren’t enough plants to assure full fertilization.
Furthermore radish and carrot were planted together. Because radish is harvested in late spring and carrots take time to grow competitively this provides a fairly good succession of crops coupled with satisfying weed suppression until the carrots can take over. A drawback is that both require extra space in the soil for adequate development.It was difficult to compare Dutch and Romanian crop varieties, partly because one of the differences was a generally lower germination rate for many Romanian crops. Also it was not possible to assure the same growing conditions and equal resource availability, and differences may also arise simply from cultivar differences (for instance the two cabbage cultivars used were completely different).
However it could be observed that the Romanian popcorn maize seeds grew more vigorously upon germination but yielded a bit less than the Dutch sweet corn. Romanian and Dutch parsley performed equally well as did the radish. The Romanian beans yielded less but bigger beans and of better quality than the Dutch brown beans.All in all it was a fairly fruitful season last year and much was learned. One of the positive achievements was substantial production of biomass (partly thanks to weed tolerance) which along with a good amount of mulching and manure application provided a nutrient-rich organic matter input which will help retain humidity and enrich the poor soil biotically as well as abiotically through decomposition and the eventual formation of a good humus layer.
Sowing crops earlier in the season or starting certain ones indoors more efficiently would likely greatly enhance overall performance through increased competitiveness and prolonged growing season (some crops such as tomatoes hadn’t even fully ripened by the time we had to harvest them).
Lenient weed control, though benefitting biodiversity, pollinators and biomass production, was undoubtedly a major inhibitor of crop performance, and future seasons should involve stricter weeding to counter this (room for biodiversity can be made at the edges of the plot and in spots unsuitable for proper crop production).
Following seasons will hopefully show even better results as the young TT Permaculture Garden builds up more stability, knowledge and experience, and soil quality.
By Oana Maria Ardeleanu and Philippe Belliard