In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2005
Regional Report

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The lovely blue flowers of endive actually enhance the vegetable garden.

A Thriving, Perpetual Vegetable Garden

I'm convinced I can have a "perpetual" vegetable garden, and I've have had some great luck this year (along with a little grumbling, I'll admit).

I've found that there are two absolutely essential characteristics you must possess if you plan to garden this way. First of all, you must be ruthless. Otherwise, you will be completely overrun with seedlings. This spring I had more dill than I could possibly dry, use in pickling, and give away. The good thing is that once you have dill, you will always have dill. The bad thing is that it will take over your garden. The same goes for mustard greens. Unless you are ruthless and pull out all but one or two of the plants before they set seeds, you will amplify what you have year after year. So, a great lesson is not to plant something like dill unless you always want it in the garden.

The second essential characteristic you must have is patience. When the garden is just getting started in spring, gardeners have such a yearning to get something growing, to push the season. But in the perpetual garden, the seeds are there, awaiting the right conditions to germinate and grow. You must wait because they may come up later than you want.

Tomatoes are perhaps the hardest to wait for, but they always come. You can be assured that if there is a deflated, empty tomato skin lying there from the previous year, there will be plenty of tomato seedlings as soon as the soil is warm enough. You can even sort of plan where the seedlings come up by leaving a ripe tomato lying where you want it and placing a good label with it (tomatoes are self-pollinating so a Roma will always produce more Romas). When they do come up, be ruthless and thin them out.

Another trait to cultivate in yourself is a tolerance of disorder. Seeds scattered by nature will not necessarily land where you want them, nor will they stay put. You must become tolerant of a garden that is not arranged in straight rows or tidy blocks, or you must be ready to transplant and transplant and transplant. You can certainly put things where you want them, but it will take some effort.

Which brings up another necessary bit of experience. You will need to learn how to recognize seedlings so you don't rogue them out as weeds. I had a happy surprise this spring that nearly ended up a weeded surprise. I had radishes come up on their own for the first time. Luckily, when I didn't recognize them as a weed I knew, I thought it through and realized that I had radishes in that spot last year.

I always leave a few potatoes in the ground when I harvest, or replant the tiny ones that are such a pain to wash. Next year, I will have potatoes. Of course, potatoes are somewhat prone to diseases, so the minute I see any signs of this, I start with fresh certified seed potatoes.

One last trait for the perpetual gardener is the ability to overlook an untidy garden. I've let some of my bolted lettuce, endive, and Chinese cabbage remain to produce seeds, and I must say the garden looks like no one cares. Although it is nice having some colorful flowers in the garden. Now, there's a valid reason to have an untidy garden. I just have to explain it to my friends.


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