The Four Principles Of Synergistic Agriculture
1. Keep the soil undisturbed and uncompacted.
2. Use the soil's self-fertility as fertilizer.
3. Integrate the litter zone with the agricultural soil profile.
4. Establish a partnership with beneficials to protect crops.
Raised beds are only needed where crops are harvested continually. For areas where produce is harvested once only, a good layer of mulch will he enough to protect the soil from compaction.
The following examples apply to raised beds in regions with a temperate climate, where nighttime temperatures in the winter do not fall below -10 degrees C. For gardens in more extreme latitudes, or at high altitudes, a quite different strategy is needed. Equally for climates that are frost-free in winter an alternative planting and cropping succession plan will apply.
In my experience the positive or negative results that I have had with sowing dates have happened as a result of studying the development of plants throughout the season, in relation to weather etc. (I've long since given up following the lunar/cosmic calendar, there being insufficient evidence of results to justify the time and complication of applying it.) Perhaps certain influences come from our attitude rather than from further afield... and besides a happy, self-fertile soil does influence germination and the growth of plants.
Let's look then at how to handle production for a three-year cycle (which can be repeated indefinitely) on three different raised beds.
RAISED BED 1
Sow root vegetables in lines, planted 25-30 centimeters apart, of carrots and/or beets, as well as turnips on the flat top of the raised bed. When sowing small seeds, push back the mulch in the line to be sown, and without 'working the soil', simply make an indentation the same length as the line, put your seeds in as you normally do and sprinkle some soil on top. Then put some pressure on the soil so that it adheres to the seed. If the seeds are small do not replace the mulch, but do keep the area moist. This crop can be combined with any type of sweet garden pea, which can be sown either in pockets or across the narrow bed every 2-3 meters.
On the sides of the raised bed plant in a zig-zag pattern; try onion sets or seedlings interspersed with any type of lettuce or salad chicory. Keep the sides permanently planted with cut and come again salads, planting new seedlings next to the plants that are going to seed. When the onions are harvested, use the same zone for new onion varieties, or for garlic or leeks. Over a period of time you should try to plant 'salads' where the onions were, and put the liliaceous varieties where the salads were. The sides of all raised beds should be treated similarly except where you want to grow perennial chives or other perennial or self-seeding members of the same family.
Be sure to sow flowers too in all your beds: calendula (predominantly the orange variety), as well as all types of French marigolds and nasturtiums, paying attention to their growth pattern. Each bed should have at least one of each of these plants as beneficial companions to the crops. Plant them on the flat top of the raised bed, but don't let them take up too much space.
As you harvest the root crop, sow mustard greens in the same spaces. As the sweet garden peas are cut and left as mulch, sow pockets of beans at random.
September - October
Sow winter varieties of spinach as the mustard greens are harvested.
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas among the spinach.
March - April
Plant lines of Swiss chard plants among the broad beans. Sow legumes now if you didn't plant them last autumn (or if they didn't survive the winter).
June - August
Before harvesting the legumes, sow beans between the Swiss chard; continue putting in beans throughout the summer.
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas (different varieties than last year), parallel with the lines of chard.
March - April
Continue harvesting the Swiss chard until it begins to go to flower. As soon as this happens cut most of the plants back as low as possible. Depending on the size of the bed and how many plants you have, choose at least two, but not more than four, to stake and let go to seed. (Space doesn't allow for details of selecting which plants to choose for seed production). Planting parallel to the spent Swiss chard roots, begin a further root vegetable sowing following the Year I pattern; when choosing succession plants bear in mind the crop rotation, and try to avoid having two plants of the same family following each other.
RAISED BED 2
March - April
Sow small peas in pockets, at 50-60 centimeters distance.
In the center of: the bed plant tomatoes in two zig-zag lines. In front of the tomatoes sow basil and coriander.
Sow beans among the tomatoes all through the summer.
Sow broad beans in between the dying/dead plants that have been cut and left as mulch.
March - April
Tomato plants like growing on soil where tomatoes have been grown before, so no rotation strategy is needed - so repeat the Year I pattern although it's worth moving the plants round so that roots are distributed through all the soil (put the coriander where you had the basil and vice versa).
For winter legumes alternate each year between sweet garden peas and broad beans.
Repeat Year I or follow the pattern in raised bed 3 if you prefer to integrate a rotation pattern.
RAISED BED 3
March - April
Sow small peas.
Plant (or sow) two rows of any type of squash in a wide zig-zag line towards the center of the bed, together with some sweet corn.
Begin sowing your beans.
In the spaces between the squash leaves, plant Chinese cabbage, broccoli or Brussels sprouts (the squash leaves providing shade to protect the transplanted seedlings).
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas in between the cabbages.
The roots undisturbed in the soil), you can sow spinach, mustard greens and/or borage and New Zealand spinach.
Sow beans among the other plants.
Broad beans or sweet garden peas.
Year 1 can be repeated or alternate with raised bed 2 (or another one).
Install a drip irrigation hose (a simple narrow hose with perforations every 25-30 centimeters works fine and shouldn't suffer from chalk build-up). 2 hoses per bed is the optimum, placed in parallel about l0 centimeters from the edges of the flat top of the raised bed.
If you want to set up a system of supports which can be left permanently in place in the garden and which will not be damaged however strong the wind, try 6 meter long building rods (10 or 12 centimeter gauge) forming an arch across the beds. Attach a strong wire from the apex of each crossed arch to the next and these will form good supports for winter climbing peas as well as summer beans.
Be sure to use biodegradable string for attaching plants to the supports, so that at the end of the season you can simply undo the knots from the support and let string and plants mulch together on the bed. Cucumbers, melons and many squashes can be encouraged to climb in this way, thus freeing up a lot of space at ground level.
Gardening the self-fertility way produces a rich harvest: the more plants which live and die in the soil the richer and more fertile it becomes.