I have talked extensively about my vegetable garden, but it is not my only garden and not my favorite garden. I grow vegetables because I feel it is important to teach my family about exactly where food comes from and I enjoy eating and sharing the harvest with friends. I am mainly an ornamental gardener but the vegetable garden is a must for gardeners. I notice many gardeners are very gung-ho about the vegetable garden in the spring, then kind of let the garden go come mid-summer. Weeding and watering can be hard and do take commitment, but it is not difficult.
I will share some secrets of my vegetable garden. I promise you, in the summer the only thing I do in the vegetable garden is harvest veggies and water once per week. To grow vegetables with ease like this you have to change your way of thinking of vegetable gardens. Most people relate the traditional vegetable garden to rows of vegetables with walkways in between the crops. I feel this is such a waste of time, square feet and energy! It is, in my opinion, a very inefficient way to grow vegetables. Back in the eighties I got hooked on Organic Gardening magazines. One idea the magazine espoused was the French intensive method of gardening. The French intensive method is where you double dig beds. Double digging means removing one shovelful of soil, setting it aside, then turning the next shovelful of soil. When you have turned the lower shovelful of soil, you then replace the removed top soil. When done correctly, your bed will be be raised about 6-10 inches above the surrounding soil. The beds are to be no wider than 3-4 feet and as long as you like. The key is to be able to reach the center of each bed to weed or harvest WITHOUT stepping on the beds. Once the beds are complete you plant the crops closely together in a random pattern leaving just enough room between plants so that they can grow undisturbed by their neighbors but so that the leaves of the individual plants grow closely together, thereby providing a living mulch for the soil. I love this method and have used it exclusively in my garden.
I also like to companion plant. For instance, in the spring when I have garlic and lettuce growing, I am able to slip in cucumbers or tomato plants. By the time the garlic and lettuce are harvested, the tomatoes and cucumbers have taken over. I do spread some straw or dried leaves on the beds in the fall and under vining crops. The living mulch is sometimes not enough for me and the benefits natural mulches provide are immeasurable. Rotation of crops is very easy and simple. Just plant crops in beds they didn't grow in the season before!
Watering is also simple. These past few years I have used soaker hoses. Next year I am going to switch to drip irrigation. The soaker hoses don't last long and sometimes the flow is not as even as I'd like, so it is time for a change.
Weeding is almost non-existent because of mulch in the beds and mulch in the pathways. I have traditionally used straw mulch over 4-5 layers of newspapers. This mulch lasts all season and provides a nice footing for the gardener. I plan to install brick paths with landscape fabric under the bricks this year with my moving the veggie garden. Any weeds that do grow are easy to either hoe off or hand pull because the soil is so soft and fertile.
Now all I have to do is convince Mr. Fix-it and the kids to go pick, can and freeze the harvest! Try my ideas and see if they don't make your life in the vegetable garden easier!
in the garden....