Vegetable garden

Vegetable garden.

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The vegetable garden was started several years ago. Each year brings improvements, which will be described here.

When the vegetable garden was started, we were having huge problems with groundhogs. They had tunnels everywhere and multiple ways of getting under the outer wood and metal fences. As soon as we filled up one tunnel, they would clear it or build a new one. A litter of groundhogs was born under the shed. We figured we would never get rid of them.

I will lament much more about groundhogs in another post. This post is about the vegetable garden. So, we decided first thing to build a fence around the vegetable garden, using metal stakes and 6′ high wire fencing with 1″ square openings. We dug a ditch around the perimeter of the area, which is L-shaped, bent 9″ at the bottom of the fencing at right angles facing out, and buried the fencing with the right angle in the ditch. This would keep the groundhogs from digging under the fence, we hoped. The top of the fencing was then bent at right angles facing out to keep the groundhogs from climbing over the fence. We hoped. You can see the top of the vegetable garden fence in the picture below.

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Well, it worked. Knock wood. No groundhog found its way into the garden. At the same time, we were doing everything we could to discourage their digging under the outer wood and metal fences.

I got Daisy, my yellow lab, almost 3 years ago as a puppy. I think she discourages critters from coming into the yard, particularly at night. I don’t mean that she gets left out by herself at night, just that she chases, and sometimes catches, critters if they are in the yard whenever we take her out.

About some other critters. Next in line were the rabbits. The little ones could get through the 1″ squares in the fencing and snack on lettuce. When I got tired of thinking they were cute, I tied chicken wire to the fencing with wire. I didn’t bury it since rabbits don’t dig like groundhogs. It worked, and the rabbits were left to enjoy the clover outside the vegetable garden fence.

Next came the meadow voles, or field mice. They particularly liked to get under the row covers in winter, or under the salt hay mulch. Who could blame them. So, the next spring, I buried hardware cloth all around the fence, leaving it about a foot high up next to the chicken wire. No voles in the garden this fall/winter. Hurrah.

So, wire fencing for groundhogs. Chicken wire for rabbits. Hardware cloth for voles. Nothing is easy.

Back to the description of the vegetable garden. I had some raised beds from Gardener’s Supply from previous gardens. They are black recycled plastic. 24 3’x3′ beds and 10 18″x3′ beds. That’s 261 sq. ft. of growing space.

The 3’x3′ beds cost $50 apiece now. They were $25 when I first started buying them if I remember correctly. I would never have bought this many at one time, but when I was adding 2 or 3 each year, it seemed worth it. The oldest are perhaps 10 years old. They have stood up well. This will be the first year that I don’t feel a need for more beds, so that part of the garden is complete, I guess.

I should mention that part of my interest in raised beds stemmed from concern about the soil. Houses were first built in this area in the 1940s. Before that, this space was a dump. Literally. When we dug the ditch for the garden fence, we found glass bottles, broken china, all sorts of metal objects. Next door, when a new house was built on a previously vacant lot, we saw a Model T Ford being excavated from the site. In addition, the soil was hard-packed and tended to clay with jillions of small to medium-sized rocks interspersed.

So, in an abundance of caution, as they say, I decided on raised beds. Over several years, I bought top soil and dug in compost for each new raised bed. The soil in the raised beds is now wonderfully fertile and easily worked. I also add rock minerals from time to time to the raised beds, as well as to the compost as I’m building a new pile.

Now I think that I may have been overly concerned about the materials left from the dump. After all, the 1930s were well before plastics and most of the chemicals and heavy metals present in waste material today. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

The paths between the beds are 18″ wide. I thought I took this recommendation from Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest. But on checking, I see that Coleman recommends 12″ walking paths between beds with a 3′ wide center path. Well, whatever. Every gardener has to decide these things for herself. For me, 18″ is just the right width to sit on an overturned 5 gallon bucket and weed both sides before moving along. This routine works for harvesting as well. My knees just aren’t what they used to be. Anyway, might as well be comfortable while picking lettuce and listening to bird songs.

It took a few seasons to figure out the current configuration of the vegetable garden. I started with much wider paths plus spaces between the beds. This multiplied the weeding chores and wasted water from soaker hoses between the beds. Now the beds are pushed together as tight as possible in a long straight line that is perfect for drip irrigation.

Wherever there is leakage from watering, I add more clay soil to the outside of the raised beds and tamp it down. Walking on the 18″ paths helps to keep them packed down as well. Weeds still come up in the pathways, but each year there are fewer.

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I bought a gate for the vegetable garden, which you can see at the far end of the photo above. Instead of using hinges for a swinging gate, I let it slide between two metal stakes on each side. Bricks along the bottom help it to slide easily.

A couple of years ago, I added a 4’x8′ raised bed at the near end and put a fence around it, mostly to keep Daisy and her dog friends out, now that the critter problems seem to be solved–for the time being at least.

So, that’s 293 sq. ft. of raised bed space. There’s also an asparagus patch inside the fence not in raised beds, around 36 sq. ft., making 329 sq. ft. inside the vegetable garden fence. This year I’m planning to plant hot peppers out in a flower garden in grow bags. All in all, that’s as much garden space as I need, if I use it effectively.

So far as season extenders are concerned, I have small hoops that fit into the raised beds nicely and 2 different weights of bed covers, one light for summer, one heavier for fall. The hoops are from Gardener’s Supply. They are called Super Hoops because they are two hoops joined together by 4″ cross-braces. They are much more stable than single wire hoops. 6 for $17. They last through many seasons. I think they are worth the money.

The bed covers from Johnny’s Selected Seeds are called Agribon. AG-15 for summer use. AG-30 for spring and fall. It’s expensive. I cut it into bed-sized lengths and secure it with earth staples from Gardener’s Supply. This is getting complicated. Johnny’s bed covers last for many seasons. When they are not in use, I fold them and store them in a trash bag in the shed. The staples don’t ruin them, as I was afraid they might. The small holes made by the staples seem to be self-healing. The bed covers are water permeable, so the rain goes right through. Good deal.

The earth staples from Gardener’s Supply have a metal ring at the top to make them easy to pull out of the ground. The metal ring also keeps them from getting lost in the ground, which happens with the flat-top earth staples. 15 for $9.

I tried holding bed covers down with little sand bags, but the bags kept breaking and there was the problem of storage when they weren’t in use. I’m much happier with the earth staples.

Although Eliot Coleman is an inspiration with his 4-season farm in Maine, I haven’t had a successful winter garden yet. I lose garden energy when it’s cold. The hoops and bed covers are useful in summer to keep insects out and to keep plants cooler in hot weather. They are useful in spring to transplant out a little earlier, and in fall to keep the harvest going a little longer. Season extenders. The hoops and bed covers look like little covered wagons in a row. Cute. Covering each bed individually rather than covering a whole row of beds in a little more work initially, but doing so greatly facilitates harvesting individual beds. Since each bed usually has a different vegetable in it.

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I have compost bins. More about them in another post. Whenever a new crop goes into a raised bed, a new layer of compost is added, and the soil is loosened with a broadfork, which is a wonderful tool, and exactly the right size for 3′ beds. See photo below.

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This year I purchased a pH meter which is also a water meter, so I may have better information for adding soil amendments and for irrigating.

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Now, if only spring would come. Tomorrow, March 20, is the first day of spring on the calendar. The weather forecast predicts 4-6 inches of snow for tomorrow. Oh, good grief. I can’t take it anymore.

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