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Master Gardeners Have a New Demonstration Garden

Sean Cawley
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This year, The Jackson County Master Gardeners designed a new demonstration garden as part of an extended Vegetable Garden. We call it The New Garden. This new garden is separate from the current vegetable garden. It is located northeast of the Apple Orchard.

The inspiration for this garden comes from the Indigenous people of this country and incorporates companion planting techniques. The garden is an experiment with Three Sisters planting – corn, beans, and squash. There is also a fourth sister, sunflower, as well as numerous smaller companion plants to add color, biodiversity and to enhance pollination. Here is a great video which explains the process.

The demonstration garden has been constructed in three concentric circles of corn, sunflowers, squash and pole beans interspersed with basil, parsley, nasturtiums, and calendulas. In the outer ring, buckwheat and more sunflowers are planted as cover crops. The entire design fits within a 40ft x 40ft square.

The addition of buckwheat and sunflowers enables us to experiment with allelopathic plants. An allelopathic plant is one that produces one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of the plant and/or the growth of other plants and seed germination around it.

In the garden, many varieties of squash were chosen to extend the harvest for both summer squash and winter varieties. The beans are a purple variety of pole beans. Pole beans are necessary as they climb up the sunflower or the cornstalk. The purple beans were chosen to make them easy to harvest – you can easily see purple beans growing among the tall corn and sunflower stocks.

Walkways were dug out to add soil to create the “raised beds” and cardboard was laid down in the walkways to reduce unwanted plants from developing. Entrance paths were also dug out to remind visitors not to walk on the raised beds and compact the soil.

The key factor in the design of a garden with corn is pollination. Pollen must fall on each silk tassel to create each kernel of corn, one tassel of silk = one kernel. Planting corn in bunches, circles or some other closed configuration ensures the best pollination. Thus, a little breeze goes a long way to ensure a good crop yield of corn.

Pole beans are self-pollinated and do not require close proximity to other bean plants. Squash is cross-pollinated by insects including the squash bee (Peponapis pruinose), a native insect of Oregon. Sunflowers are both self-pollinated and cross-pollinated. The addition of the sunflower, as well as buckwheat, also ensures greater attraction of other pollinating insects.

The buckwheat was intentionally planted to help reduce the amaranth seed (aka pigweed) germination and the sunflowers will be cut down and used as mulch to reduce grass and other unwanted seed germination for the next year.