In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2003
Regional Report

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Mushroom growing doesn't count as vegetable gardening, or does it?

Vegetable Gardening

I have never had a vegetable garden of my very own. Oh, I've grown tomato plants and herbs, and I love to plant cucumbers just because they are so much fun to find hiding in the foliage. I plant sugar peas in my community garden plot because I like to have something to snack on when I'm gardening. I've grown corn and especially Indian corn, even miniature Indian corn, but I've never had a whole section of my garden dedicated to vegetables growing in rows.

Plant Only What You Like
While I was working as a gardener at Sunset, we had a large vegetable garden and grew artichokes, sweet and hot peppers, squash for summer and winter, giant okra (you can never have too much of a bad thing....), eggplants of dizzying dimensions, and every color of bean you can imagine. I even kept a few pet tomato plants back in the nursery to supply the staff. But none of these belonged exclusively to me. If I were to plant a dedicated vegetable garden, I would make sure that I only grew things that I like to eat. Why plant okra when I hate slime food? Rule number one: plant only what you like.

Give Plants the Best Soil Possible
Rule number two: perfect soil, perfect plants. Vegetable plants are mostly annuals, meaning they grow from a seed, flower, set fruit and die within a single season. For them to do their best, vegetable plants need deep, rich soil that drains quickly. Root crops, such as carrots, onions, and beets, need loose soil for the roots to develop. Organic compost and manure will take care of most problem soils. Give plants what they need and they will reward you by doing their best.

Heed Plants' Sun Requirements
Rule three: Sun, sun, and more sun. Cucumbers don't mind a bit of shade, but most other crop plants require full sun for at least 6 hours. Warm-season vegetable crops, such as tomatoes, corn, beans, peppers, and peas, need heat and light to produce flowers that eventually turn into the vegetables.

Forego the Pesticides
Rule four: Don't use pesticides on stuff you eat! Bugs like to eat the same plants that we do. If you find insect pests on your vegetable plants, please use a non-toxic method of removing them. Hand pick them, spray them with a little soap and oil, or purchase and release carnivorous insects to eat the vegetarian pests.

Vegetable gardens don't have to be laid out in rows like marching soldiers. Maybe that's why I have never dedicated a whole section of my garden to the cultivation of food. Some of the most productive -- and beautiful -- vegetable gardens are incorporated into flower gardens. Insects are attracted to mono crops, or large plantings of one type of plant. If you plant a few corn seeds in various places throughout the garden, you will not have to fight corn earworms. Planting cucumbers near bright yellow coreopsis will eliminate the cucumber beetle problem. Basil makes a delightful border plant that also attracts pollinators. You won't get produce unless the flowers are pollinated.

So, maybe I have had vegetable gardens of my own. They just don't look like they are supposed to.

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