by Charlene Burgi
After establishing good grading, drainage and irrigation practices as covered in last week’s blog, hydrozones are one of the next most important considerations. The word hydrozone sounds more ominous than it is. Basically, the word freely translated means “watering zone,” but there is more to it than just that.
You have probably heard an old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” That adage can be applicable when talking about hydrozones. The water needs of your plants must be considered as the name implies, but you will also want to consider the sun, weather and soil conditions they prefer.
When considering plant choices, reflect on the like-needs of your plants to create good hydrozones. For example, when planning an herb garden we assume the plants have similar sunlight requirements. Typically herbs like full sun, but some herbs of Mediterranean origin don’t require as much water. These plants—such as oregano, thyme, sage, lavender and artemisia—do best with soil that drains very well. On the other hand, basil, parsley, cilantro and chives would not thrive as well if planted in that same soil or with the same irrigation schedule. These herbs specifically require soil with higher fertility and more frequent watering. In essence, you want a good partnership when considering your hydrozones.
Another partnership takes hydrozones one step further. It is known as “sister planting.” This old Iroquois tradition consisted of planting beans, squash and corn in the same block of soil. The symbiotic relationship between these plants is great hydrozoning; not only do the three plants prefer the same watering schedule, soil conditions and sun exposure, but they assist each other in their growth.
I found this to be an amazing working partnership. Once the corn seeds grow to 4 – 5 inches tall, the beans and squash seeds are planted. The beans are planted in the same mounded space as the corn. As the beans grow, they use the corn as a growing pole and add support to and strengthen the shallow-rooted corn stocks. Nitrogen becomes fixed in the soil after the first growing season that the beans are planted.* The nitrogen provided by the beans is important for a healthy corn harvest since corn is a heavy feeder. The last leg of this triangle is squash, which is planted at the same time as the beans but planted in mounds between the corn/bean rows. Squash as it grows provides a leafy sprawl and acts as a natural mulch shading the roots of the sister plants. At the end of the growing season, the remains of the squash can help provide added nutrients to the soil by leaving them in the ground and overlaying with sheet mulch.
This partnership goes one step further—it is perfectly balanced for a healthy diet. Corn provides carbohydrates, dried beans are rich in protein and squash offers an abundance of vitamins. All of this wealth comes to you in the form of a 10-x-10-foot area of your garden!
One of my favorite recipes that includes ingredients from this garden is called:
Middle Kingdom Vegetable Dish
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup green beans, cut into 1/2 lengths
1 cup potatoes, diced
1/2 cup celery, sliced
2 tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 crookneck squash, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into flowerets
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh green peas
1 cup corn
1 cup vegetable stock
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
2 teaspoons vegetable salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Sliced Jack cheese
Combine in a shallow baking dish the carrots, green beans, potatoes, celery, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, onion, cauliflower, red pepper, green peas and corn.
Heat vegetable stock and combine with olive oil, garlic, bay leaf and tarragon. Pour over vegetables.
Tightly cover baking dish with foil before putting on lid. This seals the pot and prevents evaporation of the stock.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender but still crisp. Gently stir vegetables a few times during baking.
Before serving, season with vegetable salt. Sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese and cover with slices of Jack cheese. Place baking dish under broiler until cheese melts.
*Beans take a full growing season to fix nitrogen in the soil so be certain to amend the soil that first year with plenty of rotted manure and compost to feed the corn.