Thursday, June 16, 2011

Southern "Roots" Garden (heritage gardening)

Let me point out, it's hot here.  It's really hot.  Even the nights are hot.  And it doesn't rain much from late June to mid September, aside from a stray hurricane or tropical storm that straggles up from the gulf coast.  So it behooves the serious gardener to consider the benefits of tried and true garden plantings -- that date here in the south before interstates and even railroads facilitated cross country distribution of produce.  Our culinary and gardening heritage here in the south is a mixture of European influences, made unique with heavy doses of Africa and the indiginous Native American cultures of the Southeast (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee).

So, with all that in mind I decided to have a southern "roots" or "heritage" garden, grown in a kind of traditional indigenous or African style -- that is, garden beds containing a mixture of plants that mimic the canopy, lower under growth, and ground cover of the woods, so to speak -- a mixed vegetative planting that work together creating a more beneficial diverse environment.

In this mixed bed I have one eggplant (old world), and a self seeded tomato growing (new world), along with a pepper plant (new world), constituting the lower or middle growth.  Ultimately creating an upper story to protect the plants below from the searing heat and sun are several okra plants (brought to the south by African slaves).  Although they aren't very tall now, within a few weeks they will be taller than the eggplant and peppers, and showy with their hibiscus like flowers.  The hotter it gets, the faster and better okra grows!  Creating a ground cover to shade the roots and cool the soil are several sweet potatoes scattered through the bed.  Sweet potatoes take heat, neglect, and are traditionally a "first" crop planted here, because they break up our clay soil improving it for later crops.  Okra, sweet potatoes, peppers -- favored plants by agricultural laborers who put in long hours on other people's property and grown on the poorer left-over land, tended in left-over hours -- productive with little care.  I also have some malabar spinach planted, a vining green whose leaves can be used like spinach but can take our heat in the summer, unlike most greens.  There is also some squash planted here, also cooling the soil and roots with its leaves and providing some protection to the other plants with its prickly stems.

The bottom line is, I know that even if the squash succumbs to borers and disease, if the tomato doesn't set fruit and likewise succumbs, if the pepper drops all of its leaves and buds (as they sometimes do in our drought/deluge rain pattern -- I can count on the okra, the sweet potatoes, and the malabar spinach to give a good harvest with next to no effort on my part other than the planting and the harvesting.

posting on   Tuesday Garden Party .


Paige Puckett said...

What a fun idea! I enjoy the explanation of it all. I have a garden where I planted the three sisters: corn, beans and squash, along with sunflowers. The beans next to the corn have been more protected from insects than those on their own. After seeing all the benefits from mixing up the planting, I'll always do it this way. The okra is slow for me in NC, and the deer has been messing with it. Hopefully it will be up soon.

Anonymous said...

Well you are having the opposite weather we are and I cannot grow, or at least very well, the same as you. So there is a silver lining. But I think you idea is a very clever and yummy one. Clarice
ps. peaches would be yummy in the salad

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

Interesting idea! I had forgotten about malabar spinich. Must see if I can get some seeds. It's been an incredibly hot June. I'm scared to see what July and August will be like!

The Schneiders said...

We have much of the same weather, I'm going to have to try and find some malabar spinach. Can you eat it raw in salads or is it better cooked?

Thanks for visiting my blog. We got 1.75" of rain this morning. No flooding, but also no power.

Diana said...

We got about an inch of rain yesterday (all in about 7 minutes). With Malabar spinach the young leaves can be eaten raw. The bigger leaves are better cooked, or at least wilted, in my opinion. The more mature leaves are kind of thick. I use it in the place of spinach in cooked recipes mostly, but I will add the young leaves to a salad of other salad greens. I'm glad you got some rain, too!