Garden Tetris

My paper version of garden Tetris

My paper version of garden Tetris

Whenever I’m cramming more and more items into an already full fridge or suitcase, I think of Tetris. The video game Tetris was released in 1984 and is still around in various forms. I’ve even played a board game version and have an ice cube tray of Tetris pieces.

Tetris game play begins with an empty well. Pieces of different configurations, but always comprised of four blocks, fall one by one. The aim is to re-orientate falling pieces to fit them into blocks already on the well’s bottom to create complete horizontal block lines. Completed lines disappear and as the game progresses the pieces fall faster and faster. Eventually, the blocks pile up and reach the top, ending the game.

Early on Tetris was a favorite video game of mine, sucking me in for hours. A couple of decades later, I’m still willing to play a short bout of Tetris from time to time. I must have the right kind of spatial reasoning for the game, getting into a groove as the pieces fall faster and faster, I actually find it relaxing to play. A single game can last me for a long time.

Every spring, I play garden Tetris, but not literal garden Tetris as seen in this video. The goal is to optimize my vegetable harvest – so it is just like Tetris in both space and time. I’m attempting to fit all the plants I want to grow into raised beds taking crop rotation and succession planting into consideration. Sometimes a piece doesn’t fit – for example, I didn’t grow parsnips last year because I ran out of space (parsnips have been assigned plenty of space this year because I missed them).

I’ve tried more rigorous space management techniques such as square foot gardening (sounded great in theory but turned out too labour intensive for me) and free-form, plant-everything-together methods I found in a permaculture book (ended up with open patches and no control over how much of each thing I got).

Now I manage my garden space with a rough diagram giving each type of crop a chunk of space, then I plant the entire chunk in rows. This way, I know where each type of plant is and within each block know where to expect seedlings poking through the soil (makes early weeding easier). To keep track of my blocks, I segregate them with old yarn like done at Roots and Radishes – this year my garden yarn is blue.

As a tangent: the name Tetris is derived from the Greek prefix -tetra meaning four as all game pieced are composed of four blocks, and tennis, the game’s creator Alexey Pajitnov’s favorite sport.