Jessica Anderson: Welcome to the Mother Earth News and Friends podcast. At Mother Earth News for 50 years and counting, we’ve been dedicated to conserving the planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. In this podcast, we host conversations with experts in the fields of sustainability, homesteading, natural health, and more to share all about how you can live well wherever you are in a way that values both people and our Mother Earth.
[00:00:48] Planning Versus Planting a Garden
Kenny: Good day, everyone. I am Kenny Coogan, and joining me today is Ben Vanheems, a keen vegetable gardener and presenter of the GrowVeg YouTube [00:01:00] channel . On today’s podcast, we’re going to be discussing how to plan and plant a successful vegetable garden in 2024.
Welcome to the podcast, Ben.
Benedict: Hello, Kenny, lovely to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me along. It’s a pleasure.
Kenny: We are excited to have you. One of the most thought provoking phrases I have ever heard was during a Master Gardening presentation at my local library when they asked the audience: “Do you plant a garden or do you plan one?”
And the audience kinda Erupted with thought and pondering….
Benedict: “Ums” and “uhs,” yes indeed. It’s a bit like the chicken and egg, isn’t it? What comes first? I suppose the honest answer is probably planning if you’re an organized gardener, but probably planting if you’re more keen than organized. So, I think both is a valid answer.
Kenny: Can you [00:02:00] talk a little bit about why planning a garden will prevent you from some agony down the road?
Benedict: Oh, completely. I mean, planning is, it’s a bit like coming up with a menu for the week or financial planning, for example, it just puts you in a lot better place. So if you’re planning a menu, you’re less likely to snack, you’re less likely to eat rubbish food, and you’ll have a much healthier week. And it’s the same with planning a garden.
The advantages of planning are that you are planning to get the most from the area that you have. So you’re considering light, you’re considering your soil, and choosing plants appropriately so you’re not disappointed. You get bigger, better harvests, and ultimately you enjoy it more, I think.
Kenny: Today we’re going to be talking about vegetable gardening, but I wanted to share that I have a little more than an acre, and I think about when I first moved here it was all grass. And I just planted a food forest, but I also did the butterfly [00:03:00] garden and edibles. But now that it’s been established for 12 years, I do wish that certain parts of the yard were monochromatic, or they had like these complementary colors, whereas it currently is, it’s just paint splatter everywhere.
Benedict: Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. There’s this sort of visual aspect of it, isn’t there? I think as vegetable gardeners, you can go down the very utilitarian road and just think, how much can I get from this plot?
But you look at some of the really beautiful, potagers in France that are really sunny mixing sort of flowers in there as well, and obviously really beautiful lacy herbs and beautiful bamboo and so on. It can be a real place of beauty.
So, I think with a food forest, though, you got so many more bigger and established plants, it’s, it’s going to be trickier, I guess, which is, you know, a bit of a challenge in that regard. Yeah. I think the great thing about pure vegetable gardening in the [00:04:00] traditional sense is that each year is the completely clean slate and you start again, you learn and adapt.
So that’s kind of a benefit there.
[00:04:07] Best Location for Growing Vegetables for Beginners
Kenny: So speaking of that, when people are thinking about where to put the vegetable garden, what is the best location?
Benedict: Yeah, it depends where you are. I would say generally the best place is somewhere that gets as much sun as possible. But obviously if you’re down south it’s going to be very hot hard baking summers then you actually might want somewhere that gets good sun in the sort of spring and fall, but then maybe gets a bit of shade cast in the summer, especially during the kind of heat of the afternoon.
So light’s important. Although there are plenty of plants that will grow in shade as well, like many leafy greens. Shelter is important. You want somewhere that isn’t going to get buffeted about by winds. And most gardens should be fairly sheltered with hedges and shrubbery around them. And generally somewhere that’s level as well because that makes life a [00:05:00] lot easier because you’re trying to water something on a slope. It’s going to be tricky because a lot of it will run off. . So generally somewhere sheltered, somewhere with good sunshine or a bit of shade in the afternoon if you’re in a hot place, and somewhere that’s kind of level as well.
Kenny: When you were talking about the potager garden, I was thinking about those French kitchen gardens. And in my mind. It’s right outside of the kitchen, like right outside the door.
Benedict: Yeah, absolutely. You’re much more likely to tend your garden and obviously enjoy it, if it’s as close as possible to your house, your back door, where you kind of come in and out of the garden. I think there’s been a tradition, especially maybe in this country in the UK of kind of relegating the kitchen garden right to the back of the garden, kind of behind a fence, so you can’t see it cause it’s ugly. But in the example of potagers or just many modern gardens where you’re getting flowers in there, too, with the vegetables, it can be a thing of beauty, so having it as [00:06:00] close to where you’re going to access it is really valuable, to be honest.
Kenny: During the cooking for dinner, I do love stepping outside very briefly and just grabbing a handful of herbs.
Benedict: That’s right. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? And you save so much as well. I think herbs is one of those groups of crops that offers the most savings as well.
Kenny: I live on the city limits, but I’m not afraid of vermin or pests. And my compost, or I should say, one of four of my compost piles is also right outside the kitchen window.
So when I’m, you know, cleaning the dishes, I can just throw it because that’s easy.
Benedict: Oh, that’s brilliant. What a great idea. I love that. It’s sort of like kind of lobbing it in and hoping it goes in. I love that. That’s brilliant. It’s better than building up a kind of on-the-counter moldy pile and emptying it every now and then, isn’t it? With all the flies and so on. Brilliant idea.
Kenny: I think I wrote this in an article for one of our magazines, but I visited a friend and her family who [00:07:00] do garden, but they don’t have poultry and I was just so saddened by the eggshells and the vegetable scraps that they’re throwing , in the garbage.
Benedict: Oh, gosh. Yeah. Do you guys have curbside collections of organic waste? Because here, it gets collected by the council and composted, but obviously you want it yourself, don’t you?
Kenny: Yes, once a week we do, but I’m not going to give them any of my good stuff.
Benedict: No, absolutely not. No, you want to hoard that yourself.
I can never understand people who export all of their garden waste. Even if it gets used, I just think, what? That’s organic matter. That’s nutrients. That’s carbon you could be adding to the soil. Where’s it? You want that.
Kenny: And then later down the road, you have to buy soil or compost.
Benedict: Well, exactly.
All of my potting soil that I buy in or a lot of it where I’m using, potting up big containers, I mix it half and half with my own garden made compost. And that saves well obviously saves half the amount, doesn’t it? So it’s really worth doing.
Kenny: [00:08:00] Continuing on the best location for a vegetable garden. Can you talk a little bit about water accessibility? And storage of tools or garden tools?
Benedict: Yeah, absolutely. I think there are sort of tools that you use a lot or all the time in the veg garden that you should always have quite close by: Pruners, a border fork, maybe hand trowel, that kind of thing, little weeding tools.
And if you can have a little stash, maybe in a garden bench with one of those benches with a kind of enclosed seats with built in storage, that’s worth having. It’s the same thing of the idea of having it close to the back door of your house. If you’ve got tools right where you need them, you’re going to be more inclined to do that work when it needs doing rather than traipsing somewhere else.
As far as watering goes yes, the closer to a water source, the better. And if you can collect as much rainwater as you can, that’s even better. Now, I know there are different rules around that [00:09:00] in different states, aren’t there? But I think most states are pretty encouraging of harvesting your own rainwater. In, in our garden, the, our faucet, we call them “taps” here, our faucet is around the front of our house, and I have to have a sort of 80 metre, 200 yard long hose that coils around to go right round the house to get to the veg patch, which isn’t ideal.
So, if you can source it near a a water source, that’s always going to save you a lot of problems.
Kenny: Have you ever heard of the workout called a “farmer’s carry”?
Benedict: I haven’t, no, no.
Kenny: Well, I have nine 50-gallon rain barrels. But you know, they’re on the corners of my different buildings, and not every garden is close to the rain barrels.
So a farmer’s carry is where you carry something very heavy in both hands and you walk basically. So, I do not need to go to the gym because I have my two 5-gallon [00:10:00] buckets filled with water in each hand and I’m walking around the yard, but it is much easier when the plants are near the water source.
Benedict: Yeah, that’s a really good idea. I’ll have to sort of look into that because that’s the great thing about gardening is it saves you money on your grocery food bill, but it also saves you money on your gym bill, doesn’t it? So going to the gym.
[00:10:18] In-Ground vs Raised Bed Gardening
Kenny: So we talked about where we’re going to put the vegetable garden, and now we should probably talk about what the vegetable garden looks like.
Raised beds are very popular now. What are your favorite aspects of a raised bed, and are there any cons?
Benedict: They have become hugely popular in the last, I don’t know, probably 20 years actually. But there’s nothing wrong with growing directly in the ground either. I, personally, I like raised beds because I, I guess I have a fairly methodical mind.
I like things being ordered. I quite like spreadsheets. So, raised beds are the gardening equivalent of spreadsheets. They create order. It means you can allocate one bed very specifically to one [00:11:00] crop or family of crops. So it makes rotation of crop families a lot easier each year. But probably the main thing is, in my particular circumstance, I’ve got very wet winters here and it can get completely sodden, the soil really, really soaking, and having raised beds actually means the soil does dry out that little bit quicker. And because it dries out that much quicker, it warms up a little bit earlier in the spring as well. So that’s a huge advantage.
I guess the disadvantages would be cost. And there’s a bit of effort involved in installing them because my garden is on a bit of a slope, so I have to dig them in so I get a nice level surface. And I don’t find a huge problem, but some people say you can get slugs kind of hiding in the, between the plank and the soil. But I’ve not really noticed that. Yeah. So I think the big thing though is , the order and the look of it really. I have woodchip paths between my raised beds, and when you’ve [00:12:00] got sort of nasturtiums and sweet alyssums overflowing amongst the vegetables, it just, it’s a real place of beauty.
Kenny: What size should a bed or a raised bed be?
Benedict: So generally, I aim for a maximum width of about 4 feet, or 1. 2 meters, and that just means that whatever side you’re on, you can easily stretch across and reach the middle of the bed without stamping all over it. Now, if you’ve got good soil, there isn’t really anything wrong with lightly stepping on it from time to time, but it just means you are doing everything from the side and you’re really concentrating your efforts. As far as length goes, I mean really it’s as long as you’re comfortable walking around and, you know, so you don’t have to sort of walk for miles without stepping on the bed. So I think that’s probably a good kind of size to aim for. I know a lot of gardeners who just grow in ground beds without using raised beds, not having sides built up, but again, they stick to [00:13:00] this 4ft/ 1. 2m wide width with paths in between and then just put all the organic matter obviously on the beds themselves and it just concentrates it really nicely there.
Kenny: When you say “raised bed,” how tall do you like a bed to be?
Benedict: Not massively, but I would say 6 inches is a good height. Well, it depends. My raised beds are on what was lawn, so there’s soil under there. So the roots can go down into the native soil, no problem. If you were to have a raised bed on a hard surface or really bad, poor soil, you might want to go a bit taller, say a foot, to give that kind of extra growing area. But if you’ve got good soil underneath, then 6 inches is more than enough.
Kenny: In the near future, in MOTHER EARTH NEWS Magazine, there’s going to be an article where I interviewed a couple of gardeners from The Farm at Okefenokee, who we’ve been partnering with, and they created [00:14:00] 365 raised beds. But the designer made it so that the beds come together like a labyrinth. And some of the beds are butted up against each other so they’re like a giant L. And the gardeners were saying that when they’re inside of that L, they can’t reach all the way across.
Benedict: Okay. Yes. Yes.
Kenny: So there’s a flaw to that design..
Benedict: Yeah. Yeah. It sounds it doesn’t it? It sounds a formidable design for 365 beds. That’s a, gosh, they must have a good team working there to keep on top of them all.
Kenny: So we’re talking about the beds. Is there a good way to prioritize what you grow and where? I’m assuming you want big stuff in the back or in the middle.
Benedict: I guess, first of all, it’s always worth making a list of what you actually like eating. I mean, there are people who grow things and then sort of realize, oh, I don’t actually like beets or whatever.
But [00:15:00] assuming you’ve got that list and you’re very keen to get going, in my temperate climate, I would put the taller stuff towards the back so that it’s not overshadowing stuff further forward. And that’s, that’s a kind of logical progression. And having things in the same bed that don’t out-compete each other or that are a similar kind of size.
I’m also quite a big fan of companion planting. Garlic, for example, is meant to repel quite a lot of aphids, like green peach aphid and potato aphid. So it makes sense to grow them in or very close to your potatoes to kind of ward off aphids from them. So you can get quite clever and save a lot of heartache later on by just considering what might benefit another.
I’m a huge fan, and only in the last few years, really, of growing lots more flowers in my beds. So I have things that kind of spill over the sides. I’ve mentioned nasturtiums and sweet [00:16:00] alyssum, but tagetes (marigolds) and calendula as well. And then poached egg plants, which has got really kind of beautiful, like sunny-side-up poached egg flowers. Those are really attracting to things like hoverflies and lacewings, and these guys then keep the pests down, so that’s another thing to consider as well.
Yeah. I think we can save ourselves a lot of bother if we kind of take note of companion planting.
Kenny: Are the poached egg plants edible or just ornamental?
Benedict: Yeah, those are just ornamental. Quite a lot of the others are. I mean, nasturtium, famously, you can eat all of it. And the petals, I think, of tagetes and calendula are good to go too.
Kenny: You mentioned taller stuff in the back, but can you talk a little bit about, you’re in the UK, and many of our listeners and readers are in North America, Canada and the US. Can you talk about North and South and tall things in their [00:17:00] relationship?
Benedict: Yes, so are we talking about North and South of the U. S., or are we talking about, as in, direction, north, south, east, west?
Kenny: I was thinking about, like, in your raised bed, you probably don’t want to have tall things on the southern end.
Benedict: I see what you mean. Yeah, that’s right. So the tall things would be in the northern end because the sun would pass by everything into the south end of the beds, if you see what I mean. And that avoids overshadowing. My summers aren’t terribly hot. Last this summer we’ve just had has been unusually cold. So we’re talking high sixties being quite a warm day. Then last summer was ridiculously hot and we had the highest temperatures ever, nudged the high 90s, which is very unusual.
So I guess you can’t always predict what your summer is going to do. But in my instance, I presume it’s going to be not so great and therefore go on the assumption that we want as much sunshine to get in there as possible. And so you kind of grading [00:18:00] shortest to tallest.
But then there are some shady areas I’ve got. So if you’ve got an area that’s slightly overshadowed by a tree or that casts a long shadow, and that is great for most brassica crops, things like cabbage. Also chard and some salads as well, like lettuce and endive and so on.
[00:18:20] Best Vegetables to Grow at Home
Kenny: In addition to knowing what you’d like to eat before you plant stuff, what would you say are the best beginner vegetables and herbs to start with?
Benedict: Yeah, good question. There’s two that immediately spring to mind, which is zucchini, what we call “courgettes.” They are kind of bomb proof, so long as you grow more than one. And I say that because you get not great pollination if you just have one on their own. And if you’ve got two or three close by, there’s more chance of male and female flowers being open at the same time. So if a cluster of those, and you’ll be picking fruits all summer long.[00:19:00]
Climbing beans is an absolute must, I would say. It’s really satisfying as a beginner gardener as well to see them climb so quickly. They go from sort of a foot high to head height within a month once they get going, don’t they?
Potatoes are very straightforward so long as you can water them. And then a lot of the salads, especially the mixes of salads. So I like those cut-and-come-again salad mixes. It’s got several things in there in the packet so nice and thinly and you get essentially a salad bowl to pick within a month or so.
I really love beets as well partly because they’re quite expensive to buy, but they just taste so gorgeous growing yourself. And they are quite straightforward to grow. I like to grow them in little clumps. So I grow 3 to 5 beet roots together, and then you get a little clump, and they push themselves apart, and you can just twist out the biggest and leave the others to grow on. That’s really [00:20:00] satisfying. Those are probably my main recommendations.
Kenny: I was thinking about broccoli. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a head on them. But yeah, I don’t know of any place that sells broccoli leaves, which can grow very large and are also edible and also tastes like broccoli.
Benedict: Absolutely. Yeah, the leaves are just like, you can use them like kale, can’t you? And they’re, they’re gorgeous.
I mean, that’s the point. Sorry, I forgot my favorite leafy green, which is Swiss chard. So chard is amazing because it’s just keeps on going. And if you crop it carefully, it can carry on for pretty much a year.
With the broccoli, I found this, if we’re talking about summer broccoli that we’re harvesting the lovely green heads, then I just find the trick is to keep them really well watered and relatively cool if you’re in a warmer climate.
Kenny: Is there a single vegetable or herb that is very difficult to grow?
Benedict: Yeah, look, I’m going to come clean here. It’s a bit of an embarrassing thing to [00:21:00] admit, but I find cauliflower probably the trickiest to grow. Now, I’ve got some started off now in the greenhouse to kind of overwinter, and they look, they’re doing really well, so I’m cautiously optimistic, but it’s going to be hoping my first success with them.
I always find they get kind of mangled by those caterpillars. So, I mean, that’s partly me being lazy, not covering them. I’m going to give it a go. But cauliflowers, I would say is tricky.
One thing that people often find tricky is cilantro or coriander. But the main reason I think for that is it’s often sown too early in the season. I find that if you sow it kind of late summer as the days are getting shorter, it’s less likely to bolt, like flower prematurely. So if you’re after lots of lovely leafy growth for Asian recipes, for example, or salsas and so on, then sow it later in the summer, keep it well watered again and you’ll find that you’ll get lots of lovely leafy [00:22:00] growth, as opposed to sowing it in the spring when it just goes straight and flowers.
I’ve got another one for our beginner crop: garlic. It’s a real beauty, garlic. If you’re in a temperate climate, then it can be planted in the autumn, in the fall. And you know, it, sort of just grows no matter what. It’s a beautiful, I’m still enjoying my garlic from the summer now.
Kenny: So it’s the beginning of 2024 now, and you just mentioned that your cauliflower is inside.
Benedict: That’s right, yeah, just in the greenhouse ticking over, yeah.
Kenny: Do you recommend beginners to start off with seeds or seedlings? Or if they’re doing either one of those, do they need to have a separate space, like a greenhouse or indoors?
Benedict: So obviously a greenhouse is a bit of a luxury. Not everyone can can have the space for that or the resources.
A good halfway compromise is what’s called a “cold frame.” So it’s a sort of ground level kind of miniature [00:23:00] greenhouse almost. I like having somewhere separate to start off seedlings because it means that I can overlap crops. So I can have something in the ground but be starting something off away from the vegetable garden so they can go straight in once they’re ready.
But as a beginner gardener, you really don’t need any of that. You can start with little sort of plant starts or seedlings. They’re widely available in most garden centers and stores. There are some things that are worth sowing directly: any root crop, so parsnips, carrots, and beets, always good to sow directly. And many salads as well.
Kenny: I don’t know if people in the U. S. or Canada enjoy parsnips.
Benedict: Oh, really? Oh, no! Well, gosh, maybe you guys are having it all wrong. I lived in Portland, Oregon for nine months back in 2000, and we had Thanksgiving dinner together, which I absolutely love Thanksgiving as a thing. I just wish we had that here. All the good food and family without all the fuss and presents and stuff.
[00:24:00] Anyway, I thought I’ll bring a dish to the table, and I presented parsnips. And it was the sort of a curiosity at the dinner table, and I love it. Roasted with a bit of thyme, little bit of honey and some olive oil, and so it goes all sticky , and, oh, it’s the royalty of vegetables. If I can get you guys to grow more of it, then please do.
Kenny: I know Brussels sprouts and cabbage are botanically the same thing, and sometimes people think those are, you know, the stepchilds, but I know a lot of people who love roasted Brussels sprouts and shredded cabbage and things like that. But I don’t know if parsnips have been able to recover.
Benedict: Yeah, well, they’re, they’re the highlight of our our Christmas dinner here, I reckon.
Kenny: If people are starting with seeds, do you recommend them to to space them out to delay the sowing of the seeds, so you aren’t bombarded with 50 beets?
Benedict: Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, I see what you mean. So you’re like [00:25:00] succession sowing. So you’re sowing a little bit every, maybe two or three weeks. Definitely, yeah. This is where garden planning comes in handy because you kind of almost do want a plan to sort of work out what you’re going to sow when, and so you’re planning how much you’ll harvest ultimately.
But yes, so there are some things that are quite quick growing and that you want a steady supply of. So many salads like salad onions or scallions, radishes, for example. Roots as well like carrots and beets. Things that you can’t store very well, very easily, and then you want a steady supply of, yes, definitely. It’s one of the reasons, for example, I like plants like chard. You can harvest regularly from the same plant, and it doesn’t need resowing, whereas spinach does .
I would recommend spacing out your sowings for that reason, especially if you’ve got a nice long growing season, probably like your good self.
Kenny: All right, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we return, Ben will answer your [00:26:00] questions.
[00:26:00] The MOTHER EARTH NEWS Garden Planner
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[00:27:25] Growing Vegetables for Beginners: What About Weather, Watering & Pests?
Kenny: We’re back with Ben Vanheems . On our MOTHER EARTH NEWS social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, we encourage you to ask future guests questions. Here are some that we received for Ben.
Annie asks: “Where I live, our forecast for spring is going to be cooler and wetter than average. What should I do to prepare my vegetables?”
Benedict: Honestly, I don’t think you can predict the weather more than seven days in advance.
Kenny: Can they even predict seven days in advance?
Benedict: [00:28:00] Well, maybe, maybe not. So I mean, it’s fun, isn’t it, to try and have a guess at what it’s going to be. I would say, please don’t worry. Assume a normal spring. But if you are thinking it’s going to be a cold, then you might want to think about sowing as usual at the normal times, but having it kind of in the back of your mind that you might need to re-sow if the first batch doesn’t succeed.
It’s always worth, I always try to push my luck by sowing a little bit earlier than I should. Looking at the kind of immediate forecast for the next 7 to 10 days, with the knowledge that it might be a complete failure and I might need to re-sow, but why not try your luck if the seeds are relatively cheap.
But I guess, I guess you’ll know pretty quickly as spring progresses whether it’s going to be cold and how soon it’s going to crack and turn warm.
Kenny: On the other end of the spectrum, Joelle asks: “What is the best way to cope with a dry, hot summer? Any tactics that [00:29:00] can be planned for?”
Benedict: Yes, absolutely.
I think the first thing is to love your soil, and by that I mean lavish it with lots of organic matter generally, so you’re building up organic matter content within the soil, and that ensures it holds onto moisture much better. The other thing is mulch, mulch, mulch. So I got into using grass clippings recently because they’re nice and light, and I spread them thinly in between my vegetables, and they disappear quite quickly into the soil, but then I add more, and that just keeps the surface slightly cooler, shaded if you like, and keeps the moisture in.
Just make sure you’re watering either at the start of the day or later in the afternoon so that the plants can drink it up and they’re not struggling. And of course there’s things to deploy like shade cloth, or being clever with where you plant things. I know that, especially in the West, you guys have had some pretty gnarly droughts recently. I think [00:30:00] it’s sort of broken, hasn’t it, recently? But yes, it’s a concern, and it’s even a concern here. We had a really hot summer last summer and, you know, it really tried our patience. It made me feel for people in Texas and so on, how you must struggle with that.
Kenny: Regarding the watering, sometimes when it’s really hot and dry, the plants will have this afternoon wilt. Is it bad to water them? If the soil’s wet, should you still water them?
Benedict: Well, yeah, so I noticed that things like squash family plants like zucchini and tomatoes as well, you get this kind of afternoon wilt. And it’s a kind of a a coping mechanism on behalf of the plant often related to the heat. It’s nothing to worry about. If in doubt, stick a finger into the soil , an inch or two down where the roots are and check. Is it moist? If it is, then you don’t need to worry about it. It’s just responding to the heat. If it’s dry and dusty, then be sure to get on the [00:31:00] water that evening.
Kenny: Kenny Gill asks: “Is there a way you can plan to minimize pest attacks organically?”
Benedict: Yeah, so I mentioned earlier about companion planting, making sure that you’re including lots of pest predator attracting flowers, and lots of herbs do that as well: parsley, cilantro, dill, and fennel. These the flowers are really attractive to pest predators. That’s one tactic. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can grow many brassicas without netting now, or insect mesh, that kind of really fine mesh. So I do cover those sort of plants as well, to keep them off. And I find that just keeping plants in good health ensures that they can shake the worst of it off. And you can buy so many resistant varieties that are resistant to, well, diseases specifically.
This summer, I had a surprise where my tomatoes outdoors got wiped out by [00:32:00] blight. And then this one plant was kept on growing, it’s smashed back, and producing more tomatoes. And I looked at the variety and realized it was blight resistant. So you can do a lot of that kind of clever selection of varieties.
Another tactic actually is to plant and grow outside of the main pest attack season. So I find that early summer is a good time for a lot of brassicas. So I get an early crop of broccoli before the cabbage white butterflies, the cabbage worms, are out and about. There’s a lot you can do, actually. And just being vigilant as well, going out, picking things off, and reacting quite quickly when you see a problem.
One other thing is having the belief that the pest predators will come. My beans every single summer get covered in black fly for the first few weeks of summer. But then, honestly, another few weeks on, there’s the ladybugs all over them, devouring them up, so if you provide the right [00:33:00] conditions for a good balance of wildlife in your garden, then you’ll find pest problems are fewer and far between.
Kenny: Sometimes with new gardeners, their eyes are bigger, not only than their stomachs, but also bigger than their garden. And let’s say somebody is mesmerized by blue cherry tomatoes, but then they also like the yellow pear tomatoes, and then they also like the big stripey tomatoes. I think the problem is when you buy a seed packet, you get 50 seeds, or 200 seeds. How would you plan that? Do you do five of everything? Do you do 10 of everything?
Benedict: There’s two ways around that. A local garden center literally up the road sells a pick-and-mix, like a supply, lots of different varieties. And you buy one plant, you know, match them up. And they’re quite affordable, like $1. 50 per plant. So that’s actually quite reasonable if you consider how much fruit you’ll be getting off them. I [00:34:00] did that this summer in my greenhouse; I bought eight different varieties, one plant of each and had great crops, and it was lovely just having that variety.
But if you want to grow them from seeds, I mean the thing is to remember that most seeds will store for at least two, often three+ years. You could say have five varieties, start off and have three of each . So 15 plants in total, carefully fold up the seeds, store them somewhere cool with those little sachets of desiccant to kind of keep it nice and dry, and then have the same next year.
So it’s, it’s nice to be curious. It’s nice to have those eyes bigger than your space or whatever, but yeah, you know, give it a go. It doesn’t matter how much of anything you grow, as long as there is enough space for what you are growing, because it’s a false economy to cram everything in and think, oh, just one more plant. And we all do it. I’ve done it. And it just results in poorer harvests and disappointment. So, yeah, if you can [00:35:00] get the spacing right, go for it.
Kenny: All right. Thank you so much, Ben Vanheems. It was a great discussion about how to plan a garden for 2024. So thank you once again, Ben.
Benedict: Thank you so much, Kenny. I really appreciated it. Thank you.
[00:35:14] Podcast Credits
Jessica Anderson: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Mother Earth News and Friends. To listen to more podcasts and get connected on our social media, visit www.MotherEarthNews.com/Podcast. You can also email us at Podcast@OgdenPubs.Com with any questions or suggestions.
Our podcast production team includes Jessica Anderson, Kenny Coogan, John Moore, Carla Tilghman, and Alyssa Warner.
Music for this episode is “Hustle” by Kevin MacLeod.
The Mother Earth News and Friends podcast is a production of Ogden Publications.
Until next time, don’t forget to love your Mother. [00:36:00]
Meet Benedict Vanheems
Benedict Vanheems is a contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, the author of GrowVeg, and a lifelong gardener with a BSc and an RHS General Certificate in horticulture.
Additional Resources About Growing Vegetables
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Jessica Anderson, Kenny Coogan, John Moore, Carla Tilghman, and Alyssa Warner
Music: “Hustle” by Kevin MacLeod
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The Mother Earth News and Friends podcasts are a production of Ogden Publications.
Ogden Publications strives to inspire “can-do communities,” which may have different locations, backgrounds, beliefs, and ideals. The viewpoints and lifestyles expressed within Ogden Publications articles are not necessarily shared by the editorial staff or policies but represent the authors’ unique experiences.