Our new favorite thing is to walk around the neighborhood and spot our plants. Wherever four little chard seedlings are lined up in someone’s new garden box–hey, I bet those came from us! Love it.
This week we had enough breathing space before the next sale to start working on our community garden plots out at Troy. It turns out that Troy also counts as our neighborhood–we saw plenty of plants that we know originated in our basements, which was great! But the world of community gardens can be cutthroat, as we saw here:
That’s one of our little broccoli raab plants, in a plot next to one of ours, and it has been decimated by flea beetles. Check out this other little sister plant:
Whatever disease or critter pressure you might feel in your backyard, that pressure is intensified in a community garden setting. So many of the same crops–tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, squash–in an area where plants are often abandoned, it’s like a buffet for voles, woodchucks and insects of all kinds. When it comes to our community garden plots, we defend aggressively. We fortify. We blanket everything, not with pesticides or rat traps, but with the most impervious protection available.
Floating row cover protects our plants from most of the critters that want to suck the life out of them. We use it over all the brassicas–broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts–to keep out the cabbage moths and the flea beetles, and with the cucurbits–squash and cucumbers–to ward off cucumber beetles and vine borers. The weight we use doesn’t really protect against frost (yeah, we learned that one the hard way), but it does keep in the heat enough to warm the soil and baby the plants a bit in the cooler spring months. Eventually, the plants get too big to keep covered, and we have to release them to the wild of the garden, but by then they are generally well-established enough to overcome the insects.
I’ve heard people complain that row cover didn’t help them with their weed problems. Absolutely–the weeds under there are thrilled to be protected, and pretty much flourish, along with whatever you’ve planted. As organic gardeners, our expectations surrounding weeds might be different from a lot of people; weeding is the main thing we have going on for most of June and July. That’s the plan. Once we remove the row cover and do a serious run-through with the hand hoe, though, we pile on the mulch. Not only does that help keep moisture in the soil (especially important at the community garden, where we can’t get up to water frequently), it keeps new weeds from establishing.
There you have it: our secrets to successful community gardening. Row cover and mulch. Compost for extra credit. And try not to get too attached to those plants–especially if it’s broccoli raab.