The Vegetables of Our Labor

By Michael Buck and Michelle Pittman

So far, our 75-square-foot farm has produced about five pounds of broccoli, three pounds of spinach and many, many onions. And while we munched on that we tended to a dozen other plants: six tomato, three green pepper, two yellow pepper and a mammoth jalapeno. We check on it nearly every day and do some pruning a couple times a week. Soon, we’ll have lots of ingredients to make salsa and pasta sauce. It will be an awesome time.

Since this is our first year tending to a sizable garden (not in pots), we’re learning some valuable lessons that we would like to pass on:

1. Plants need room. Seriously, spread them out. Especially broccoli and tomato plants. The broccoli was the biggest surprise. We balked at the three-square-feet growing space requirement when we planted the tiny tenderlings. “No way,” we said. But, dude, they get HUGE. Next year, we’re definitely going with at least 3 feet square for broccoli. Tomato plants, too. They get really bushy.

2. Tomato and pepper plants need something to support them. It keeps them out of the dirt where fungus can start to grow and cause problems for your bounty. It also keeps them orderly, which might not sound like a big deal, but they get out of control. Fast.

3. Fertilizer is good. If you’re worried about the environmental impact, buy an organic variety. Think about it: how long could you go without food? Plants are alive, too.

4. Weeds suck. The lasagna method eliminates much of the need for weeding because it’s straight up topsoil to begin with. But anytime you have rich, fertile soil, weeds will grow. And they will grow really, really, well, quickly and with deep roots. Pull them out immediately. They compete with your produce for soil resources.

5. You need a fence. We stapled chicken wire about a foot high around our raised beds. We’re glad we did this, because we have seen rabbits stalking our veggies. We’re not too concerned about the birds, though. They appear to be having a good time taking shelter in our tomato plants’ shade.

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