Gardening Articles: Care :: Soil, Water, & Fertilizer

The Tomato-Vetch Connection (page 4 of 4)

by Jack Ruttle

Beyond Tomatoes

Abdul-Baki and Teasdale have some plots where they've been growing vetch every winter and tomatoes or other vegetables every summer for four seasons now. Any vegetable that is grown from transplants or has large seeds will work well in this system. Cucumbers, squash, melons, peppers, eggplant, sweet corn and even green beans are candidates. Preliminary work at Beltsville and elsewhere hints at success that will equal the results with tomatoes. It's a good idea to rotate tomatoes with other vegetables.

The method is not for all crops. Small-seeded, closely spaced vegetables like beets, carrots and lettuce would have trouble growing through the thick mulch. Where the season is very short or when you really need the extra 10 to 14 days that only plastic mulches can provide, then the vetch-mulch method may not apply.

But surely there is a place somewhere in your garden for this hardy and productive legume that does so much growing while you are waiting for things to warm up enough to plant the main-season vegetables. If we can all start growing at least some of our own mulches, we won't have to work so hard to find the right materials, then haul them home.

"This is the production method of the future," says Dr. Abdul-Baki. "And I think it can work as well for gardeners as for farmers, maybe even a little better. All I want is for gardeners to try it, on just one bed. Try it and make the judgment for themselves."

Jack Ruttle is a former senior editor at National Gardening.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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