Finally, I’ve found the secret—secrets, really, to making my frustrating vegetable patch into a thriving and beautiful organic farm. Without killing anybody.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been in love with the transformation of seeds into plants that give us flowers and food. The first house I remember, my grandmother’s house, had morning glories and irises. The morning glories re-seeded themselves every spring. The bulbs magically created big purple flowers. In our next house, my mother, sister and I planted a small, square flower garden near the back door. As a young adult in my Chicago apartment, I resorted to seeding the strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street with grass.
So I was thrilled when Polly and I, a couple of years ago, found a house with a raised garden bed in a sunny spot in the back yard. And the rest of the yard was begging for landscaping.
The flower beds we put in did beautifully. The vegetable garden not so much. I didn’t understand. At a previous house, I’d grown enough beans, squash and tomatoes to feed half the block. Here, the plants would grow for a while, produce small quantities of pathetic food, and then just sit there. The beans were sparse and most of them never grew enough to climb. Even though we’d dug in lots of good soil and fertilizer, it was a losing battle. I’d noticed weed fabric creeping out from under the logs that made up the bed, but how could that be a problem? I was battling hordes of snails at the same time and couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I tried a bowl of beer. Raccoons drank it.
After the first year, I hired someone to dig down, find the weed suppresser, and rip it out. I still had snails to contend with but the plants did a little better. The ones that made it beyond seedling-hood. But only a little better. I laid strips of wet/dry sandpaper around the plants to repel the snails. More or less. I’d already tried copper tape. Which I’d learned was too narrow to work. But now I became aware that the snails weren’t the only problem. The garden was infested with sow and pill bugs. I Googled. Don’t worry, my research told me, they like dead stuff. Don’t believe it. Turns out they like dead stuff and baby stuff.
This spring, I got the guy back to make sure all the weed fabric was gone. He found many more layers of it down at the bottom. Many. Who does such a stupid thing? The food roots couldn’t get through it. The weeds did fine. But I still had the snail and roly poly problems to solve. I don’t kill. Well, maybe fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. I cut much wider sheets of wet/dry sandpaper and stapled them all along the top edge of the garden. And did more research. I discovered a site that actually admitted the little armadillo-like bugs love seedlings. After wading through a hundred murderous remedies, I came on one that seemed promising. Cayenne pepper around the plants. As I was sprinkling it into a corner, I noticed a sow bug hurling itself deep into a crevice to get away from the red stuff. Aha! I thought.
Aha indeed. My beans are a good six inches tall and will be climbing soon. A few nibbles around the edges of a few leaves. The squash is coming up and I don’t see a single leafless stem. I keep waiting for something to be amputated, but so far so good.
Now you have my recommendations, Go thou and be fruitful.
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