There are few greater pleasures than feeding friends, family and even your community from your own harvest. Laying the right groundwork can make light work of what might otherwise be a long, hard grind through seasons spent fighting the elements. Using time-honored traditions that harness nature’s habits can make your garden thrive. Here are a few harvest garden design ideas that will make your landscape both beautiful and fruitful.
Plant a Food Forest
Since a forest thrives without tilling, irrigation, weeding, or fertilization, you can use this ancient gardening technique to help your garden succeed. Plant a seven-layered system: Canopy trees (Pecans, Walnuts, Chestnuts) at the northern end of your garden, flanked by fruit trees to the south. Next, come your shade-tolerant fruiting shrubs (gooseberries, guava, elderberry), followed by vines ( kiwi, grapes, passionfruit) which can climb fences, arbors, or trees that are tall enough not to get smothered. Put herbaceous plants (aromatic herbs, artichokes, asparagus) alongside groundcovers (strawberries, nasturtiums.) Many of the edible herbs will also repel destructive insects. Finally, the rhizosphere or root-crops (sweet-potato, yacon) add the finishing touches to your forest. Each successive layer is planted south of the taller layer before it.
Picking plants that are appropriate to your climate is key to your food forest’s success. Do your planting in the winter when trees and vines are available as bare-root, dormant plants. While this type of garden is built on perennial plants, annual vegetable crops can be planted around the edge of your food forest as well. This is a garden that will take years to fully mature but will give you much joy and bounty along the way.
Maximize Space with a Keyhole Garden
A keyhole garden is a round, raised bed approximately two feet high and seven feet in diameter. One side features an entry point that gives access to a round, caged-off center: the exact shape of an old-fashioned keyhole. Traditionally used to combat poor soils and searing temperatures in Africa, this garden is an excellent fit for states in the southwest, where similar conditions exist. Additionally, keyhole gardens protect plants from being whacked by weed eaters or lawn mowers. This is a type of wicking bed, but with one huge modification: you can compost as you grow in this garden.
The caged area is constructed first on a mound built up with sticks, rocks, or other material, so it forms a high point in the garden. The walls of the raised bed can be constructed with stacked stones, cinder blocks, vertical cedar trunks–your imagination is the limit. Once the bed is built, fill with soil and start planting.
Begin your caged compost with an appropriate ratio of leaves and grass clippings or green food waste, and continue to fill it and water it whenever you water your garden. This source of moisture and nutrients will continuously feed your plants, while the unique shape of the bed gives you access to all of its planting surfaces. A helpful tip: plant your root crops and large single-harvest veggies (i.e. cabbage) toward the center, and vining plants like squash or tomatoes around the edges for access.
Construct an Herb Spiral
A truly stocked herb garden can take up a lot of sunny space, which some gardeners don’t have. An herb spiral is a perfect way to get all the variety you crave in a small footprint. You can build a spiral-shaped bed with stones, blocks, or any material that lets you step it up from flat ground to a peak of about four feet high. If you want irrigation, a small sprayer at the very top and center is perfect–run the line before you fill the bed with soil.
Plant your herbs in the spiral according to mature plant size and water requirements. Your thirstiest, largest plants should be close to the base, while your smaller, more drought-tolerant can be planted higher up. As your herbs grow, water as needed and prune them to ensure they’re not crowding each other out. Done well, this handsome addition to the yard can give you savory, fresh herbs for years to come.
Join the countless other Americans who are making 2019 a record year in gardening and find your way to the harvest garden of your fantasies.