planting vegetable gardens according to permaculture principles

karen spacing the vegetable plantings

Grouping for shade when planning a vegetable garden

Vegetables need sunshine. To insure this when planting vegetable gardens, and planning them, tall evergreens are planted closer to the south fence, which would be the northern fence in the northern hemisphere, of course.

They should be are planted 2.5 meters from the fence in South Africa to insure the neighbors also get some sun. Medium sized trees and then smaller shrubs are planted in front of these tall trees. I didn’t do this, due to lack of knowledge, when I planted my own garden, and it now has two tiny sun spots, because tall buildings and a huge Acacia tree on the north border of the garden block the sun.

On a smaller scale, peas that grow tall are trellised on the south side of a bed, then in a northward direction, broad beans then chard, then thyme are planted, decreasing progressively in height.

successful companion planting in beds in Saskia’s garden

Another consideration when planting vegetable gardens the permaculture way is that every plant must have three uses in a permaculture garden, as a rule of thumb of course. I think here its necessary to be careful of being guided too much by common global permaculture lore, which may have areas of lack of knowledge, like on indigenous South African plants. In part we have no choice, there is very little information, so its up to us to be pioneer gardeners, and learn about indigenous companion planting, in addition to using pioneer plantings ! 

Planting vegetable gardens, for example  carrots


Karen cleared a place between the plants to sow carrots and show us how simple planting vegetable gardens is in permaculture. She didn’t make a big fuss of it and did it in a few minutes. Carrots don’t like chunky organic matter, it makes them branch. All the soil must be old and fine grained. She checked that there was no coarse material in the row, then she watered it thoroughly. Always water first and then sow, so as not to disturb the seeds you have laid down. Cover the seed row afterward with some hessian so that future watering doesn’t splash the seeds out of the soil. Her rule of thumb for seed depth is that the seed should be covered by an equal amount of soil to the greatest length of the seed along its longest axis.

Planting carrots, whose seeds are minute, mix them with radish seed and sand, to thin them. They can be sown throughout the year. Make a small groove, sow, pinch the rill closed, and pat ontop. When they come up, thin the carrots in three stages, take the smaller carrots each time to make space for others.

This article is the third in a series of five based on a permaculture workshop on companion planting I attended in May 2016. The first is on plant guilds the essence of companion planting, the second on antagonism and beneficial plants, with a useful internet source on permaculture principles, this article is of course on planting vegetable gardens (and planning them), the fourth will deal with garden pests and the last with soil and its regeneration. 

Saskia walked us around her garden to show us several successful plantings. The combinations were as follows:

In the vegetable patch which is about 16 meters square:

Amarinth, artichoke, potato, onions, marigolds, poppies all grow in one bed with Sutera, that has a small white flower as a good ground cover

The hedges are of blue Felicia, and perennial basil.

In another quadrant grow yarrow and lettuce, dill, chilli, and poppies.

Mustard and chilli growing together

Lemon balm and yarrow and celery

Chamomile and onion

Parsley and celery and yarrow

Carrots and yarrow

Peas and beans can grow together and are not antagonists, as reputed, if there is enough diversity in the garden planting. 

In another part of the garden pawpaw and fig do well together. Close by is a tree tomato. It needs a sunny spot, is fast and early to mature, and was planted as a ‘pioneer’ tree.

sewing the carrots in a matrix of friendly companions



home page for other green ideas


vegetable gardening the natural low cost way


gardening and where it all started


link to the next companion planting workshop page on pests


link to the previous companion planting page on permaculture principles, antagonism and beneficial plants

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