I have always wanted to have a vegetable garden. But, the marauding herds of deer in my neighborhood have made most gardening an exercise in futility. However, last year, my wonderful husband built me a raised bed garden with a nifty cover that effectively protects tender seedlings from all and sundry critters. The great thing about the framed chicken wire covering is that he constructed it in two-pieces. Eash side is hinged on the end so that both sides can be levered on and off the garden for easy access.
It took a while to build the protected raised bed, so I didn’t get to plant until well into the heat of summer. This meant that planting from seed was nearly impossible. In addition, many people decided to plant gardens last year so, even if I had gotten my act together earlier, seeds were hard to come by. Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to plant, even the seedlings at the nursery were pretty picked over. Still, I ended up with several varieties of tomatoes, basil, flat-leaf parsley, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, and cantaloupes.
I wasn’t sure how all these plants would fit in my compact 4′ x 6′ garden. So, I googled my heart out and found an interesting and informative post about square foot gardening. The article showed the number and spacing of different vegetables you could plant per square foot. It even offered an interactive tool to help you plan the spacing for your particular plants. Easy peasy.
Armed with my trusty plan and feeling confident, I packed all the vegetables into my well-composted and irrigated raised garden bed. I then sat back and waited to harvest what was sure to be a bounty. It wasn’t until the two canteloupe plants, a la “Little Shop Of Horrors,” started to take over the entire garden that I began to suspect that I’d made a significant error.
It turns out that cantaloupes and cucumbers are wildly viney. And, if left to their own devices, they will get out of hand very quickly. Never having grown anything but herbs and tomatoes before, I really didn’t understand this. The vines grew like Jack’s proverbial beanstalk but produced no fruit. I ended up having to tear them all out in a desperate attempt to save the rest of my plants.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of my problems. The other garden troublemakers turned out to the zucchini. Now, don’t get me wrong. zucchini is very hardy and easy to grow. And my plants were relatively productive. However, because they have huge leaves that tend to spread out, they hogged both space and light in the small raised bed. I hold them responsible for murdering my poor herbs. Yes, I am throwing them under the bus.
In the end, the only plants that really thrived in my garden were the peppers. Once I had removed the crazy vines, I was able to stake the peppers. After that they really produced. We had banana peppers coming out of our ears. Unfortunately, I never figured out what to do with all of them. I kept trying to sneak them into various recipes, much to my family’s dismay. Banana pepper pancakes, anyone?
So, what did I take away from this debacle? I learned that if you are going to grow a variety of plants in a small raised bed garden, you have to choose your plants carefully. I believe that it is necessary to pick plants that have a tidy growing habit. If you wish to grow more invasive plants and you can’t plant in an open garden bed, you can plant them in their own containers. And if they are vining plants you can train them up a trellis.
Now I am sure that many gardeners will disagree with me. I know that square-foot gardening is very popular. It is entirely possible that I misunderstood the concept. And I most certainly made many other mistakes. However, having the experience of putting in the labor to grow and tend a garden, only to be disappointed in a pretty pitiful harvest, I intend to take my own advice.
This spring, I have already planted arugula, romaine lettuce, cilantro, cabbage, broccoli, and a couple of jalapeno peppers. A variety of herbs are growing in my flower bed and I will be planting zucchini and tomatoes in pots on my deck once the threat of frost is over. I doubt I will ever attempt cantaloupe again. They are scary suckers!
Please keep your fingers crossed for my gardening efforts this year. It’s clear I need all the help I can get.
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