Monday, May 23, 2011

Tomato Guild

The permaculture concept of planting in communities or "guilds" has intrigued me ever since I first learned about it. Today I put together a permaculture-for-dummies installation including tomatoes (the tomatoes were already there) and a few of the beneficial companions said to enhance their growth: marigolds, basil, parsley, and nasturtiums. Whether the purported mutual benefits are science or merely lore, I do not know, but it makes an attractive grouping and I look forward to seeing how it fills out.

Here are the members of this guild, nestled together in a nine-foot-square raised bed:

1. Better Boy hybrid seedlings from Garden Crossing mail order nursery (Better Boys, B.'s favorite, are getting harder and harder to find. This is the first time we had to resort to online shopping to locate some.) The tomatoes are the lead plant in the guild. These were planted out May 9.

2. Queen Sophia marigold seedlings from Natural Gardening. The roots deter nematodes.

3. Genovese basil seedlings from Natural Gardening. Who could imagine tomatoes without basil! It's said to improve flavor not just in the kitchen but in the garden too. The flowers attract beneficial insects. It's edible. Being pesto lovers, we grow it as a crop in its own right. B.'s most frequent comment on the garden: "Not enough basil!"

4. Italian Flatleaf parsley seedlings from Natural Gardening. I'm not sure what parsley does but it's always on the guild lists for tomatoes. Edible.

5. Moonlight nasturtium seeds from Renee's Garden. Nasturtiums deter pests, draw beneficial insects, and are edible.

As I understand it, a true guild is based on perennials and ideally starts with trees, but hey, you garden with the plants you have, with the materials at hand, and with the time available. I've discovered that the best way to learn new things in the garden is to start some small scale experiments and see where they lead.

Tucked in with all the seedlings and seeds in this bed are two sunken clay pots filled with water and covered with the pot's own drip dish turned upside down to form a lid. This was an experiment from several year's back that has yielded good results. The pots provide a steady water supply close to the root zone as the water slowly seeps through the clay walls, responding to the moisture level in the surrounding soil. I think the plants like this system because when I pull the pots out at the end of the season the hole is lined with a thick netting of pale roots.

Here's hoping this tomato installation becomes a happy little cul de sac in the larger garden community.

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