Design 2 – Vegetable plot based on Gaia’s Garden – Jajarkot’s Advanced Polyculture

mmmmm does this look like a veg patch??



General: South facing garden, great sun exposure, some shaded areas due to existing trees, a lot of lawn, fairly monoculture, but does have trees, berry bushes, lots of moss on the grass, nettles growing wherever it can, has privacy/windbreaks created by large trees (laylandies?) all around. Some willow trees, wild strawberries and various other young trees which, which have now found out are mostly none-edible. Close neighbours have successful veg gardens although they are neither using organic nor polyculture methods

Specific: When I arrived there was an existing ‘veg plot’ at the far end of the garden which the previous tenant had used to grow salad leaves and mint, so I am told by a neighbour. However, in the past another previous tenant had good yields from this plot and her experimentation went well.

The ground was mainly bare and having observed it from October 2011 –April 2012 did not have many ‘weeds’. The plot is around 20ft by 7ft, gets lots of sun exposure, although on the west side it is much more shaded in the afternoon. The soil didn’t seem too compacted, lots of worms near the surface. Plenty of shelter close by from large trees, the small hut (both to the east), hedges on the west and the house directly in front, south. Over the last few months feb-april 2012 the surrounding grass started to move in to the allocated space and a few weeds sprung up, but I considered them healthy (as in maintaining the soil)

Clients desires: I would like to learn how to grow my own food, initially just for myself and hopefully with success I could grow enough to ‘feed’ my other business ideas (small-scale catering for workshops and/or in-house catering) My main aim is to grow the foods I like and can use for myself but also to experiment a little bit and see what works here. So the priorities are growing fresh food that I like, learning how to garden, having enough to feed myself and make preserves/pickles etc for winter and then to advance to growing larger quantities.

The garden is peaceful, sheltered, and very large, has existing space allocated for growing vegetables and seems to have supported growth in the past.


My lack of gardening skills, this feels like a major ‘boundary’ at present, but could also be a blessing in disguise because I am prepared to experiment, my ideas are very loose, and I like the idea of spontaneity and wildness.

Initially my hesitation and fears of making mistakes or just going for it and feeling overwhelmed with amount of information available which highlighted my lack of information or capabilities..

Not the ‘perfect’ location in terms of it being furthest from my sight

Maybe too much shade??

Seems to have been chosen as plot so that it is out of sight!!


Lots of leaf mulch and some compost, dried grass cutting to use as mulch when plants are established.

I have lots of seeds (some bought, others given to me at seed swaps or by friends), and had read lots including the Toby Hemenway’s polyculture methods

The soil, which doesn’t seem to damaged or compacted

Neighbours who have lots of knowledge about what grows and gardening techniques which work, also their wilingness to share with me their time, some seedlings, anecdotes etc They also seem interested in what I am attempting to do which adds some symmetry and helps me in building contacts and friendships

Sunshine, rain, lots of birds/wildlife, soil seems fairly healthy given what is growing in surrounding areas/neighbours gardens and what grew here before.

Surrounded by farms if I need manure/hay or advice!!

Have many friends from my PDC willing to come and help me out and give me advice.

My enthusiasm and desire to be more self-sufficient

I love food, know food, know how to use/cook food and how to be creative with ingredients so will be able to utilise surplus if there is any.

My instinctive nurturing nature and my love of seeing things grow/evolve/develop.

I care where my food comes from which gives me more incentive to get this going.

My instincts and when I tune into it my natural/animalistic nature and in-built knowledge (just need to let this come to the foreground)


I have a very large garden that I would like to take more time to observe before deciding where to place elements, however, this piece of the garden already existed and rather than leave it to become over-run with pioneer plants and grass it seems practical and sensible to use it to experiment. Also in terms of my experience in drawing out base maps or evaluating my garden ‘properly’ this seems as good a place as any to start without making interventions or changes to the overall set-up of garden, and I wouldn’t know at this stage where else to begin another vegetable garden!! “The problem being the solution”

With the wealth of knowledge around me (neighbours/food growers/farmers) and also other resources it would be silly not to go ahead and use this piece of land to practise and learn.

My inexperience need not be a hindrance as I have no fixed ideas and so therefore open to just going with it and see what transpires. Physically I would like to keep the garden low maintenance as I am on my own and I believe it to be the best way, so using this already dug plot makes perfect sense.

I have a risky and experimental nature, but that is balanced by my sensitivities and love of nature – which I think adds up to a good mix in terms of starting out!!

Having read so many different books and getting conflicting advice I decided to stick with just one book this year and observe how that goes – Gaia’s Garden ~ Toby Hemenway.


I am using a tried and tested (albeit in another country) polyculture system, sowing out a large variety of seeds for their ability to support each other, having different growing requirements, light/shade requirements and maturing times, based mainly on the model as identified in page 181 of Gaia’s Garden.

The design method is to sow seeds of cabbage, broccoli & cauliflower indoors, one month before the last frost date (these were planted on 4/4/2012)

Then planting seeds outside directly in the soil beginning with  fast growing cover crops (1) *listed below in Implementation

Followed by salad seeds (2)

Then you put in your herb seeds, sown more densely (3)

Followed by various types of beans, one foot apart (4)

And lastly to sow alliums (5)

The seeds should end up mixed together covering the whole plot

Photos attached of plot and various stages of design


On the 23/4/2012 after having a group of organic gardeners visit me I decided to go ahead with using the existing plot. By now there were a few more weeds and grass covering various parts of the plot. I realised there was not much time to prepare the ground but I took the decision to cover the whole area with large sheets of cardboard sprayed with water and a molasses mixture 1:10, this was based on information received at my PDC and was something of an experiment as normally you should leave this covering for 1-2 months, but I never had that amount of time. The idea was to loosen off the weeds so they were easier to pull out prior to sowing the seeds and to bring the worms to the surface to loosen the soil. I decided I did not want to dig.

Stage One of sowing seeds – Sown brassicas; cauliflower, broccoli & cabbage indoors on 4/4/2012

Stage two – On the 4/5/2012 (two days before the full moon) I lifted the cardboard and noted that the soil was much darker and fluffier in texture, there were lots of worms very close to the surface and many slugs attached to the cardboard!! The weeds came out easily with minimum effort many of which I just threw back on the ground as a kind of mulch, the grasses were a bit harder to get rid of but did come up with some light loosening off of a spade (I never pushed it in very far) Otherwise I did no digging, but loosened the soil slightly with a small fork on areas. The worms were in abundance.

Stage three – covered the ground fairly densely with mustard seeds, alfalfa (less of) fast growing radishes and some fast growing lettuce with a few clover seeds thrown in. (1)

Stage four- Next the salad crops sown lightly, a mixture of; Radish, rocket, Swiss chard, Carrots (2 varieties, Chantenay and giant red). Mixed lettuce, Leaf beet, perpetual spinach, Red Orach, Purple Orach, (2)

Stage five – Then the herb seeds were sown, more densely: Coriander, fennel, calendula, parsley (3)

Stage six – I added some miscellaneous seeds to the mix.; Beetroot, parsnip, Hamburg parsley, borage, nasturtiums

Stage seven – I then pushed in some beans one foot apart; Broad beans, Tao beans & Fava beans (4)

Stage seven – was adding some alliums to the mix, I added chives and some sturon onions within the body of the ‘bed’ but also planted some Garlic chives, Garlic cloves and winter leek around the borders of the bed (based on other Giai’s Garden tree guild where he recommends that these bulbs stop the growth of grass entering the area) (5)

I raked the soil very lightly & watered the seeds in!! Now it is time to wait and see.

All of the above stages have been documented with photos.

Ethics: Care for the Earth, Care for the People, Fair share

Principles:Observe & Interact, Catch & Store Energy, Obtain a Yield (hopefully), Apply Self-Regulation (and accept feedback), Design from Patterns to detail, Use Small & Slow Solutions, Use & Value Diversity, Creatively use & Respond to Change, the Problem is the Solution

Well you have to start somewhere..

Evaluate – Update: 31/5/2012

The seeds are sprouting, having been planted on the 4/5/2012 the first signs of seedlings came through on the 19/5/2012 which was a miracle of nature…. after two weeks of dull, windy weather and practically no sunshine!!

first signs of seedlings on 19/5/2012

And then after almost nine days of sunshine and then a bit of rain, the ground is almost covered and I am starting to identify some vegetables!!

the seedlings are coming along 31/5/2012, and the grass is also growing, along with the weeds!!!

Evaluate – Update 10/6/2012

Based on Gaia’s Garden  poly culture design, things happen daily and after 2-4 weeks you should start having food that you can harvest.  Well things are now changing daily and food is growing, but so far I have not harvested anything from the plot, but that has only been five weeks, so for me it is going well.  No harvesting so far could be possibly because of the climate here, or that I planted the seeds too early, the situation of the vegetable plot? Could be any of these reasons, but things are coming up, the ground is being covered, I am starting to be able to identify plants and I think soon I should be able to begin harvesting some food, salads to begin with.

What I have noticed is that the east side of the plot has less seedlings coming through, in fact only a couple are visible. This area had more grass invading it before I planted, so that could be the reason.. Or that it gets less sunshine, although I don’t think the difference could be so dramatic between one end of the plot to the other, but maybe I am wrong.. I suspect it is the grass. But there are some things coming up in that space, but more sparsely, they are  calendula, garlic and possibly some other seedlings which are still unidentifiable.

What I am finding a bit difficult is to know what are ‘weeds’ some are easy to spot and gently remove but others I am unsure if I may be pulling up a future edible plant!! So I am doing very little ‘weeding’ as whatever weeds there are there are being overshadowed with edibles (or this is what I am hoping).

The centre of the plot leading out to the west side seems to be the most abundant and here I can identify various potential plants, namely; beans, calendula, coriander, garlic, carrots, radish, beetroot, lettuce (an abundance of) orach, parsley and nasturtiums.  I will start thinning these out soon as there should be food ready to eat, leaving space for other things to grow.

I still have the seedlings of cauliflower, brocoli & cabbage (been placing them outdoors for last few days to harden them off) which are to be planted in as spaces arise, after harvesting other foods.  As I have a few of these on the go, and have also started off more beetroot, onions, brussel sprouts and chives then I may plant these out soon in the part of the garden where there seems to be less seedling sprouting, too utilise this space, but also to test out if food can grow there if given a head start as seedlings!! I shall also plant some within the more abundant parts of the bed to be able to further check out what works.

abundant growth, and starting to look more like edibles!! 6/6/2012

a fine bean. 6/6/2012

a good ground covering is starting to happen  6/6/2012

Evaluate/Update 25/6/2012

The vegetable plot seems to like the british weather!! Amazingly so, although I don’t have anything or any experience to weigh it up against. I hear that things are not doing so well for other gardeners, and maybe my plot is not at the stage it should be? What I do notice is that the ground cover seems to be ‘weeds’ as opposed to edibles. This may be that I planted the seeds to early and the ground cover of cress and mustard seeds never made it. what is doing well are the salad leaves, the beans and I can see signs of root vegetables. I also have coriander, parsley, radish, nasturtiums and calendula coming through nicely.

The east side of the bed is definitely doing less well, it had the most grass to start with, and there is very little if any growth there (only calendula seems to be thriving) the middle of the bed and the west side seem to me to be abundant. Another thing I have noticed is that where there is a bigger concentration of seedlings things seem to look more healthy, as opposed to plants on there own which are smaller and less healthy looking. Another reason to have a poly-culture maybe? I have little pockets of abundant growth and healthy looking plants, no apparent attacks by slugs or snails, as reported by other people who are growing vegetables. The weather has been very wet, torrential rains, which apparently brings out more slugs, I can only see that my radishes have been bitten by some kind of insect (probably slugs) otherwise the lettuce leaves are in great condition!!

25/6/2012 centre of the veg patch, looking abundant, to me!!

25/6/2012 the beanstalk!!

4/5/2012 this is the day the seeds were sown

25/6/2012 east side of the veg plot not so abundant, but some growth!!

Evaluate – Update 8/7/2012

It is now nine weeks since I planted out the seeds and the weather has continued to be most un-summer like, hardly any sunshine, very high wnds at times and the last week we have had torrential rain, meaning I have not spent much time in the garden. Two days ago when I did venture out I found the garden to be kind of wild, devastated and overgrown with weeds!! also the beanstalks had blown over (they are now firmly held up with canes and seem to be oblivious to their downfall. So far I have had several large colanders of lettuce from the garden, all very healthy and it is still growing abundantly. The radishes were all eaten by slugs. In the last week with the rain the rocket has bolted, flowered and doesn’t look to good, although the leaves tasted lovely.

The east side of the garden is by far the least abundant and the grass and weeds seem to be taking over this part. Other parts of the garden have clusters of growth, and where there is a high density of growth things seem to be healthier. Around clumps of lettuce for instance there are some good signs of root vegetables growing; parsnips & carrots, beetroot along with purple orach, calendula, coriander, fennel, all looking healthy. I have seen no signs of spinach, chard or leaf beet. And the brassicas (seedlings) of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage that I planted in a few weeks ago seem to have disappeared without trace. According to Gaia’s garden design I should be harvesting whole plants by now and leaving space for further things to establish, but apart from the lettuce and a bit of rocket there is not much I can harvest. Out of all the alliums (see stage seven of the design) the only thing which seems to be thriving are the garlic bulbs, no signs whatsoever of any of the others.

So I decided to take some further action, and also to plant some seeds which you can still plant at this time of the year and hopefully give me further yields later on in the season. Gaia’s Garden Design does not mention doing this although it states making plantings of edibles that mature at different stages, like early and late brocoli or head of lettuce and leafy lettuce. But I reckoned that given that I am in another climate completely and the weather has been particularly challenging that I should give it a go with more seeds. So…

Maintain  and/or Tweek- 8/7/2012

Today I have spent several hours in the garden, mostly weeding (they seem to love the rain and the grey weather!!) which left lots of bare patches of soil and a good opportunity to use the spaces to plant more seeds!! And hopefully have more food..

Based on the same principle as above design, mixing the seeds, so that I have a poly-culture and using a similar mixture and not deviating too much from anything that wasn’t there before, I planted in no particular order:

Four different types of beetroot; Boltardy, Golden, Cylindra & Sanguina

Red flesh hardy radish (I am hoping the slugs leave some for me this time)

Blue kohl rabi (this I hadn’t planted before but hoping to get an autumn crop)

Carrots; Giant red & Chantenay and also Guernsey parsnips

Leaf beet chard & swiss chard

Winter leek & garlic chinese chives

Mixed lettuce (as it was doing so well I thought I’d have more for later!!) & Cultivated rocket


Red clover as a ground cover in patches which were particularly bare

Then a few seedlings of brocoli & brussel sprouts

With that I then laid all the weeds that I had pulled up over the bare patches/seeds and I didn’t even have time to water them in because it rained so hard just as I was finishing!!

Dense growth, lettuce and signs of root vegetables

Overall view taken from the east side


3 responses to “Design 2 – Vegetable plot based on Gaia’s Garden – Jajarkot’s Advanced Polyculture

  1. A nice design! I might give this method a try. What is the purpose of the molasses on the cardboard?

  2. Pingback: Living off the land (or lettuce as the case may be!!) | whatgrowsfromaseed

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