I’ve taken over responsibility for our backyard vegetable garden while Betsy works on other projects. In past years of sharing the work, there’s been too much “I thought you were going to weed that bed” and “No, you were going to do it.”
We have 11 beds of about 30 square feet each within a fence that’s buried a foot deep to keep out critters. We also have nine beds outside the fence, most with less secure fencing. In deciding what plants go where, I am using the theory that some vegetables like being near each other.
It’s called “companion planting.” Some plants give off a smell that deters insects that harm their companions. For example, in a bed with six eggplants, I’ve poked tiny holes in the red plastic mulch and planted beans, which are said to ward off beetles. I’ve put some zucchini and cucumber plants near a radish that’s gone to seed, which is supposed to scare off the dreaded vine borer and cucumber beetles.
Some vegetables just seem to like being near each other. I’ve planted potatoes near some horseradish, a supposed companion, along with broccoli (photo at top). A bed with garlic along the sides (planted last fall) has six pepper plants in the middle (photo at left). I’m sprinkling some carrot seeds around the tomato seedlings.
I’m doing several other experiments. Betsy has read that leaving the stumps of last year’s kale plants in the ground, rather than pulling them up, allows their roots to decay naturally and the soil structure to remain intact, thus enriching the soil. We’ll see whether these disintegrating roots help the tomatoes planted there this year or get in their way.
Last year, I filled some buckets with compost, poked holes in the bottom, filled them with water, and placed them in the middle of some tomato beds. (Explained here.) The goal was constant fertilization and drip irrigation. This year, I’m doing the same thing with upside-down plastic milk jugs that have been cut in half and attached to tomato cages (photo at right). I’m still figuring out how to create holes that allow for slow seeping of the water.
In my never-ending battle with the squash vine borer, I covered the plants as soon as they went in the ground. I’ll have to expose the plants when they flower, and give them enough space to grow under the row cover, which lets in light and water but keeps out bugs.
Many people are predicting a challenging year for organic gardeners, because the mild winter failed to kill off as many insects as usual. Yesterday I pinched off some cucumber beetles from our potato plants and noted their early arrival date.
Late blight has been a serious problem for tomato growers, though last year the damage was minor. Instead of buying blight-resistant varieties, which had a disappointing yield last year, I’ve gone for the trusty Big Boy and Jet Star and plan to spray them with a copper fungicide starting in July.
I’ve already trapped one woodchuck and sent him off to Woodchuck Heaven, and will be on the lookout for more. Two years ago woodchucks found a way to climb our garden fence, prompting me to go out and buy a trap. Now we think we have a problem with moles for the first time, and are inviting all the neighborhood cats to come and visit.
I’m constantly amazed at how complicated vegetable gardening is. Every plant has its own distinctive pests, diseases, soil requirements, spacing and support needs, and planting and harvesting schedule. I’m glad I’m doing this for a hobby and not for survival!
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