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Campus Farming Diary #02: How to plan an organic vegetable/herb garden

Giuli Nagai, KASA Sustainability

KASA Sustainability garden in front of Building 10. Cred: Giuli Nagai (August 2021)


Sophia University resides in the center of Tokyo, which means any little amount of land available is utilized for contructing urban offices and/or residences over gardens. Even so, after much negotiation and discussion with the school administration, KASA Sustainability was granted a 450cm x 125 cm garden bed in 2019. As you have already read from our Campus Farming Diary #01, we are a group of KASA members who embarked on a mission to grow vegetables in the center of Tokyo and rejuvenate a plot of land into a healthy vegetable/herb garden.


What do we need to know in order to plan a vegetable/herb garden?

When choosing which plants to grow and how to organize the garden bed, we considered three major factors: the size of the garden bed, plant compatibility, and the plant hardiness index.


① Size of the garden

For vegetable growing, larger gardens are preferable over smaller gardens. Luckily, there is a gardening method that ensures high productivity of plants within only a small area called the “Square-Foot Gardening Method”. This way of planting allows for maximum produce and efficiency of harvest within a small space, which is exactly what our garden needed! By simply separating the garden into square-foot sections and planting the recommended amount of seeds per square foot, a diversity of plants can be harvested in abundance. See our garden on the picture to the left and a sample of a square-foot garden on the photo below.




Depending on what one wants to plant, the number of seeds or seedlings for each square-foot changes. This number is indicated on the right for each vegetable/fruit and it is usually determined by the size of the harvest. Bigger harvests require more space and thus less seeds/seedlings can be planted for one square.



Retrieved from harvestorganics.com

② Plant Compatibility

Considering most of us have never had the experience of farming before or knew how to grow plants, this factor was a bit unexpected and quite tricky to fully comprehend at first. However, by grasping a good understanding of this concept, we guided ourselves smoothly into organizing and choosing the best plants to grow. Plant compatibility is the idea that some plants grow better closer to each other than others because they help drive away pests, promote each other’s growth, and even improve flavor and aroma. The implication is that planting the wrong plants next to each other might end up stunting their overall growth and well-being. We ended up deciding on this organization:

(Each grid square represents one square- foot areas, empty rows are stepping rows)


③ Plant Hardiness Index

Out of the three factors we considered, this was the least considered but still relevant. Plant Hardiness Index separates different regions in the world into distinct zones that differ in climate. Each zone correlates to that region’s mean minimum temperature, the coldest month, frost-days, etc. It is mainly used to summarize variables that affect plant growth and survival. Tokyo was in a region where the winter climate is not so harsh, and thus this factor was not a major source of concern for our garden plans.


Final Steps


After researching everything stated above, we were finally able to get our hands dirty! Some of us went to home centers to buy the plants that needed to be planted as seedlings, and others went to buy the seeds. The day we planted, we nourished the soil with compost and balanced out its pH by adding lime.


Reflections

There might be some factors we might have forgotten to consider, but our goal was not to grow the perfect garden in the first place. From this one experience, we can create a connection to nature, learn about the difficulties and challenges of growing food, and develop a new perspectives on global issues such as hunger & poverty, circular society, and climate change effects on agriculture.


To find out more, access these links!

① Size of the garden

② Plant Compatibility

③ Plant Hardiness Index


Do you want to join our next Campus Farming meeting?

Let us know by commenting on our blog post or writing a message to we@kasasustainability.org

And don’t forget to check out the next post on our Campus Farming Diary


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