Many years ago, over a decade ago, I desired to start a garden. So, with my in-laws' cantankerous 8HP Craftsman
roto-tiller, I tilled up a 24'x 24' patch of lawn and built a fence of treated lumber and chicken wire around it, largely to keep out the dogs
. At the end of the first summer, I could barely walk through the garden as various squashes, melons and cucumbers grew over each other and amongst the flotsam of weeds that grew everywhere. In successive years, I learned to train most of these vines vertically and to stay on top of my weeding. As I became a better gardener, I desired to grow a larger variety of crops and I expanded the garden in successive 24 x 12 foot blocks until it was 24'x 60'. For many years, I tended this 1440 square foot garden. But last year, I threw in the towel in September
having had my fill of entrenched yellow nutsedge
taking over the beds and withering vines killed by diseased vermin such as the squash bug
and the cucumber beetle
The Cucurbitaceae family of plants include squash, melons and cucumbers. These plants are strong attractants of cucumber beetles which, in addition to feeding upon them, lay their eggs at the base of seedlings in the spring for their larva to feed upon the roots. Cucumber beetles can be a vector of bacterial wilt disease and squash mosaic virus. Infected adults spread these diseases to healthy plants which in turn infect a new generation of beetles. Surviving beetles overwinter in the surrounding landscapes to start the process anew the following season. It has been my experience (or at least my theory) that once an infected population has taken up residence, growing any Cucurbitaceae will result in complete loss of the crop by mid-summer.
I attempted to fight the cucumber beetles last year in the old garden with neem oil sprays and by introducing parasitic nematodes into the soil to prey upon the larva. Both failed to have any effect on the cucumber beetle population. At the end of the 2012 growing season I decided to take a break from gardening and deprive the beetles of their larval hosts in the coming spring. My plan was starve them out and break their life cycle. So I dismantled all but the original lengths of the garden fence and let the old garden lay fallow.
A few years earlier, I roto-tilled along the inside of the north-west corner of the yard along the inside of the privacy fence and planted raspberry canes from a Burpee collection. I also planted strawberries amongst the raspberries but after three years, these became largely lost underneath the dense growth of raspberry canes.
Come springtime, I decided that this would be the site of my new garden. I used the privacy fence and some of the old garden's fencing to enclose a roughly 28' x 44' space and staked down black plastic sheeting over the lawn to kill the grass. I waited until mosquito larvae threatened an impending epidemic of west nile virus before pulling the plastic up, months later in late June and found the grass quite dead, having been starved of sunlight and moisture.
It was too late to start any summer crops but plenty of time to sow in some long-growing brassicas for a fall harvest. I fired up my Troy-Bilt tiller and broke new ground in early august to find an exceptionally rich crop of rocks. It took two passes with the tiller to break the topsoil. Then I loosened the stone rich soil manually with a 16" cultivating fork before making a third pass with the tiller to make properly deep and loose beds. I unearthed so many rocks that, instead of using marking stick, I surrounded each sowing with a ring of them. I sowed the cabbage, brussels sprouts, carrots and beets which I intended to grow at the end of 2012. The latter two failed to mature before a killing freeze in mid-November, but I harvested many stalks of sprouts and cabbage heads.
Having brought in the crops and trimmed the old growth canes from the raspberries, my garden preparations have moved indoors due to an early deep freeze. The raspberry beds take up the northern-most four feet of the length of the new garden leaving me 936 square feet. This should give me the room to have 22 ten-foot beds about 3 feet wide with a foot of space to work between rows. This should be sufficient for double rows of smaller crops such as carrots, beets, onions and spinach and single rows for larger crops like Brassicas and tomatoes for the upcoming spring and summer!
NEW GARDEN (SPRING/SUMMER)
Along the northern boarder of the garden, I will erect 8 foot tall trellises in the spring and sow Big Mama lima beans. I will also grow cucumbers and a zucchini plant or two along this trellised northern boarder, but I will likely purchase these as plants from a local farmstand. Because I am very wary of squash bugs, I have been toying with the idea of growing a pair of tromboncino plants instead of zucchini.
The tromboncino, also known as zucchette, is one of the cultivars belonging to the species Cucurbita moschata . Butternut squash is another moschata. Many common squashes such as zucchini, yellow squash, acorn squash and pumpkin belong to the species Cucurbita pepo, which is one of the favorite hosts of the destructive squash bug. Moschatas seem to be less attractive to squash bugs and also to the squash borer moth. My mom grew a tromboncino vine last year, along with zucchini-like romanesco, a pepo, on the ground which grew well over twelve feet long and it attracted no Squash Bugs. She has never been subjected to the squash bug plagues that I have suffered in the past, however. The tromboncino fruit were watery and tasteless, according to my father, so I wonder what the point would be of growing it. Maybe I will simply grow a few container varieties of zucchini, such as this Patio Star, far from the garden and the cucumbers which I intend to grow.
Most of these crops I have grown for many years now. One of the things I am changing will be growing bush-beans instead of pole beans. I have the fence space to grow pole beans up a trellis, but it seems that Japanese beetles are less interested in the bush varieties for some reason. I think maybe I will plant some clematises on the western fence to attract bees and to make the garden look prettier instead.
With less space, I am going to have to limit my potato beds to my favorite variety. The German Butterballs are a particularly tasty and creamy yellow variety which produces with relative vigor in my soil, so I will go with these.
I am going to try Strike sweet peas instead of the Mr. Bigs because my mother grows these and always has peas weeks before I do.
I am giving up trying to grow broccoli raab because it always bolts too soon in the abrupt Midwestern transition from winter to summer. Instead I will grow a collard/kale cross known as Nero Di Toscona, which is also known as "black palm."
After the summer harvest, I will re-sow many of these crops with winter hearty cultivars, as available. The Storage No.4 cabbages held up excellently in the early freeze this November despite getting frozen right through the heads. I will also try to grow rutabagas for the first time. Rutabaga's are a large turnip/cabbage cross grown for its large taproot, which is sweeter than that of a turnip.
NEW GARDEN (SUMMER/FALL)
As for the old garden, after considering abandoning it altogether, I have restored it to its original 24' x 24' size. The asparagus bed is there after all. One of the first things I grew there, years ago, were sunflowers. I think that I will grow them there again, just to be pretty. Those Ring Of Fires look nice in the seed catalog.
I will also grow sweet corn there, despite the fact that every year the stalks get blown down in a thunderstorm. And after the corn is harvested, I will follow up with a crop of fava beans to restore the nitrogen to the soil that the corn used.
OLD GARDEN (SUMMER)
OLD GARDEN (FALL)
To all my fellow gardeners, I wish you all a warm and cozy winter with many seed supply catalogs to keep your imagination company! See you in February, when I dusk off my seed-starting stuff in the basement.