This year’s veggie garden theme is Organization. While I foster wildness in the flower gardens, I’ve learned from previous failures that a chaotic approach in the veggie garden decreases the harvest. To be honest, though, beauty is probably my biggest motivation in taming the veggie patch. Wild veggies look unbelievably ugly by July or August. And I need more than nutrition; I need beauty.
A creative approach in plant placement that works in a flower garden will undermine all beauty in a veggie garden. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive. The more rows, repetition, and regimentation in a veggie garden, the more lovely it becomes. Veggie plants grow very quickly, and some like tomatoes and cucumbers are very disorderly vines hell-bent on the destruction of all logic in their mad rush to reproduce. Others like cilantro and spinach bolt into flower suddenly, ruining the leaf crop. With a combination of good vertical support, careful attention to warning signs of bolting, and successional sowing, I hope to have a beautiful and productive garden this year all the way through Fall.
I’m also trying to be really really healthy by eating my own chemical free organic produce. Surprisingly this doesn’t translate into thriftiness or time saving. Since I can buy less at the grocery store, I just buy more expensive stuff; but it’s so yummy! How could I not? As far as time management, I’ve spent a lot of time washing my lettuce with obsessive-compulsive vigor since I discovered caterpillars munching it. I am fully aware that insects contain ridiculously large quantities of nutrients, and when the world ends and there are no stores and everyone’s starving I’ll know what weeds I can eat and I’ll be glad about all these bugs…but not yet. Not until the apocalypse. For now, I just want salad in my salad.
The Texas Tomato Cages are performing beautifully, and I’m using the regular tomato cages for my eggplant. I start my tender plants earlier than weather allows by using water cloches, and I already have one green tomato starting to ripen up! My favorite tomato, the German Queen, has lots of flowers. She makes very ugly tomatoes, after all, she’s a German Queen; but they taste astounding.
I discovered radishes this year. We finished batch one last week, have batch two almost ready to harvest, and seeds sprouting on batch three. They sprout fast and are very easy. I use radishes in salad, and as a chip substitute with humus or guacamole, and like a cracker with goat cheese and chives on top. Basically I’ve decided radishes are nature’s crunchy peppery potato chips, and I need to grow an infinite quantity.
Bolting continues to be my Evil Nemesis. I had to abandon rapini after about two and a half harvests (one very substantial), and my beloved Mizuna mustard seems to want to make flowers instead of leaves. The spinach is threatening to bolt despite its shady spot, so tomorrow I’ll harvest all the leaves I can for dinner. I thought these plants could keep producing all season, the mustard especially. There’s so much I need to learn.
Beets and carrots are lined up like little soldiers, and I have respectively two and three batches started a few weeks apart so there won’t be a glut of one thing, or too much food for a family of two. I’m proud that I thinned the beets and carrots this year; it’s hard to pluck out your darlings and toss them in the compost. I always taste things just for the hell of it, and those beet thinnings were delicious; I included them raw in a salad, and they lent a nice woodsy/meaty undertone, so now I can relax about thinning the beets and get some use out of them.
I did the same salad treatment with radish thinnings on my first batch, but then decided with the second batch to plant the seeds farther apart. It worked; no thinning was needed, and no seeds were wasted. I kind of tried it with carrots, but those damn seeds are almost microscopic. I don’t have time to sort out that kind of nonsense.
Peas are climbing their vertical support, mint is taking over a rocky corner by the back door, and red leaf akashiso which I couldn’t find seeds for this year obligingly self seeded. Now I’m just waiting for the Armenian cucumber to start climbing the black obelisk.
The lack of chaos in the veggie garden so far this year fills me with pride. The interplay of colors is pleasing, the plants are growing well and making food, and no pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals have gone into the food. There’s an almost zero carbon footprint compared to produce trucked in from California and Mexico. No one was exploited or injured in growing or harvesting this food. I hope I can learn to do this better and better every year, and I hope the veggie patch isn’t a hot mess by August.