Two Vegetable Gardening Commandments

Two of our vegetable beds looking kinda shabby.

I spent the Thanksgiving weekend up on the vegetable gardening equivalent of Mount Sinai receiving a set of revelations. Someday I’ll have Mrs. Homegrown transcribe the complete stone tablets (urbanite rather than stone, technically) I received in their entirety. In the meantime, I’ll share two of the commandments:

1. Thou shalt not have more vegetable beds than thou canst maintain in a worthy condition.

We’ve already reduced the amount of vegetable space in our garden and replaced it with native perennials. I’m considering cutting more vegetable space. Having a lot of poorly maintained vegetable beds sends out a big invitation to the sorts of insect visitors we don’t want in our gardens. Better to have one well maintained and productive vegetable bed than ten poorly maintained beds. And right now I’ve got a few less than optimal beds.

Light row cover stretched over hoops protects the bed from cabbage moths

2. Thou shalt secure thy vegetable beds with bird netting or row cover material even if thou thinkest “I’ll get lucky this time.”

I do this every year even though I know that if I leave a newly planted bed unprotected it will be visited by a clumsy skunk or a cat looking for a place to poop. I hate bird netting–it inevitably gets tangled and is a pain to work with–but the fact is that if I don’t use it I don’t get any vegetables. And, if I plant any brassicas at this time of the year without first covering them with row cover material, they will get munched to the ground by cabbage leaf caterpillars.  I’ve found that once the plants gets established I can pull off the row cover or bird netting and enjoy a season of un-munched veggies.

Kelly Speaketh on this Issue:

Erik seems to need to get this off his chest–he gets dramatic when garden disasters occur, and we’ve been hard hit by the skunk and cutworm brigades this week– but I’d say he’s being way too hard on himself.

First and foremost, we learned about the possibly high levels of lead in our soil, just when we were at the critical transition stage between the summer and winter garden.The whole yard became off-limits at that point. We just let things go until we knew what we were going to do–and we’re still figuring that out. So yup, the two beds in the top pic look like crap, because they are completely untended beds–beds that have been waiting around for us to figure things out. They don’t look that way because we have too many beds.

We’ve had fallow beds, and cover cropped beds, beds gone a little wild, and beds full of things going to seed, but I’ve never thought our beds poorly maintained–except in the last two months. So I think Erik just needs a glass of scotch or something tonight.
Just to be factual, we have four vegetable beds. We used to have more ground space where we could plant food, which helped with rotation, but we’ll be doing all our veg growing in our four raised beds from now on out, and dedicating the ground space to natives and other perennials. We had planned to do this prior to the lead thing, coincidentally–to save labor. We figure four beds is plenty for the two of us.

As to the lead thing (that’s what I call it–“the lead thing”), we are still getting conflicting tests from different services. One testing service even insists we don’t have a problem at all! Until we sort this out, we’ve decided to “Keep Calm and Carry On” and plant in raised beds.

As to Commandment #2: I agree entirely! The beds must be protected. Otherwise husbands have breakdowns.

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    • And sometimes you just need to walk out INTO the garden, with the promise that you will sit and just ENJOY being there for at least 15 minutes without pulling a single weed. Easier said than done, however!

  1. Now have 3 garden beds, with one planted with alliums in winter. One will be used for those lettuce and broccoli with row covers. My hoops have to be substantial because we do get snow here. Use large grow bags to give me that fourth “garden bed” during the summer months.

  2. We kept it to one bed for a late-planting of what I thought were pumpkin seeds but turned out to be butternut squash (my seed storage system needs to be better than keeping similar seeds in open dishes next to each other). I just harvested the squash today because the patch’s condition was increasingly decrepit. I did manage 11 pounds of squash divided up among seven individuals (half of them still mostly green though) — all without any protective overlayment. Did I “just get lucky” or are squash somehow not attractive to critters?

  3. Maybe you just exerted yourself on the trek up Sinai and imagined those commandments. How high were you? Crack the tablets; have a drink. Maybe “the lead thing” will prove not to be a problem. I don’t understand how you could get such disparate results from the samples. Do you still eat the food from these beds?

  4. Or Bourbon (buy local!)
    I am all about less is more. Three (down from seven) was the max we could maintain effectively. Now that we are in containers on the balcony it can still seem overwhelming at times.

    Fruit trees, berries, grapes, strawberries, and anything else that mostly cares for itself pays dividends completely out of proportion to the effort involved.

  5. @Kevin: Mmmm. Bourbon. And yes, perennials are fantastic.

    @Parsimony: We haven’t since the diagnosis, but we will. We’re building up the beds higher and switching out the soil. And we don’t understand the mixed results, either.

    @Will: Yeah, around here squash don’t need protective covering. They will get powdery mildew as they age and get weaker, but that isn’t usually fatal. We’re beginning to figure out that it’s good to plant squash and melons late, to avoid June gloom. Those weather conditions make the mildew very, very happy. So your “lateness” was excellent timing.

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