Sometimes gardeners get stuck in a rut. We often plant not only the same vegetable varieties, but also, the same quantities. Year after year we follow suit, not planting based upon what we will use, but rather, planting according to “how we always did it.”

This brings to mind a proverb by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

It’s easy to remain consistent, and in many cases that’s a good thing. But in gardening, Emerson’s words carry some weight. This doesn’t imply that we gardeners have little minds, though. Let me elaborate.

Green beans rank among my favorite vegetables. I always plant at least two varieties, and sometimes three. This ensures that not only will I have fresh beans all season, but also that there are plenty left for freezing and home canning.

But sometimes a good thing can go too far. Right now, my pantry still abounds with 3-year-old canned beans. It’s a job to eat everything up in time for the next season’s crop. So why do I do this? Because that’s how I’ve always done it. But that will stop this season. From now on, I’ll plant only enough beans for fresh eating and perhaps freezing or canning only one batch.

The same goes for Swiss chard. Chard stands high on my list of favorite leafy greens. But a little chard goes a long way. Rows and rows of chard make no sense for a single person. Sure, it’s nice to give things away, but sometimes it just makes sense to plant less.

Here’s another item that takes patience and lots of care and I’m not convinced it’s worth the effort. Last year’s drought required that I water my carrots daily. But still, the carrots were cracked and malformed come harvest time. Besides that, just days prior to digging my carrots, voles came around at night and ate the carrots down to ground level. I cut the damaged part away, but still wasn’t too comfortable eating a root crop that vermin had already chewed on.

Carrots are cheap to buy, either at the store, farmstand or farmer’s market. For the foreseeable future, I’ll buy my carrots and use the same ground for other vegetables, herbs and perhaps some flowers.

Open space

For some years I labored under the idea that more was better. French intensive gardening is all about that, cramming lots of plants into a limited space, thereby creating little oases that don’t need as much water as plants in regular garden rows. But you know what? This kind of gardening also makes it difficult to remove weeds. So this year I’m going with fewer plants and wider spaces between rows.

This will make it easier to weed and cultivate. Also, fewer plants will mean larger plants. The fewer plants that compete for available nutrients, the larger individual plants can become.

There’s something to be said for neatly-manicured garden beds, especially those with wide areas between rows. Not only do they offer visual appeal, they offer less room for garden pests such as voles, to hide. And with wider rows, it’s easy to keep beds weed-free.


This year my garden will be hand-tailored to my wants and needs. One thing I haven’t grown in many years is shell peas. Edible pod peas have done well in my EarthBox, but the trouble is these peas, despite being advertised as stringless, are never stringless. So this year regular, old-fashioned peas will take the place of edible pod varieties.

It might take two EarthBoxes to give me what I want for peas, but that’s fine. The variety I plan on for this season is called Knight. Pinetree Garden Seeds says this about Knight: “The largest, highest yielding pea in the early maturing class. Vines are short, a little over 2 feet and don’t need staking. Pods are full sized, 4 inches with up to 10 peas. Sweet flavor.” We may be looking at fresh peas and salmon this July 4.

So with pea selection taken care of, it’s on to another veggie. I love beets, but the last ones I planted, Cylindra, tasted like cardboard. It was a total waste of time and energy to bother with these. So now my beet of choice will be Early Wonder. This heirloom variety goes back to 1911 and grows to maturity in only 50 days. Since voles usually make forays in the gardens in late summer, this early-maturing variety should circumvent that problem.

Here’s another vegetable that I’ve snubbed for far too long. I love fresh lettuce and always plant several loose-leaf varieties, figuring that butterhead types take up too much space. But with carrots and all those extra green beans now gone, the space left can go toward growing head lettuce.

My head lettuce variety of choice for this season is another heirloom variety called Tennis Ball. Ready in 50 days from setting out, this variety, when cut in half, provides two full servings.

But that’s not all. Cimmaron, an heirloom romaine variety, was popular in the 18th century and all but disappeared from the scene. But recently, a grower discovered some seed in a warehouse and now this hearty, delicious variety has made a comeback.

Looking back at these different choices, a pattern comes into view. Three of my selections are heirloom varieties. These weren’t chosen because they were heirlooms, but because of their positive attributes. Being heirlooms is just icing on the cake.

Making choices

The most important thing I wish to stress in this column is that in gardening, nothing is, or should be, set in stone. Everything is subject to change if that change is for the better.

It is far too easy for any of us to become tied to one way of doing things. But so often, inertia keeps us set in our ways, unwilling to even consider doing anything different from the way we have always done it. Inertia, then, is the enemy of the modern gardener.

None of this is to say that tradition is bad. If, for instance, a homeowner lines a path or walk with red white and blue petunias every year, and this patriotic color scheme works well and seems pleasing, then there is no particular reason to change things now.

But if you, like me, are tired of the same old same old, then perhaps it’s time to look to a garden makeover. As per vegetables, the way to choose what to plant is simple. Just make a list of what you buy in the store during the off season. Then go out and buy seeds of those varieties. The only difference between your homegrown produce and store-bought stuff is that the homegrown veggies will be of a variety of your choosing and always fresh. And that’s a big plus.

Tom’s tips

When it’s time to apply a layer of mulch to a bed of newly planted seedlings, first place a container over each seedling. Then apply the mulch to whatever thickness you deem proper. After that, remove the containers and the seedlings will stand straight up and no part of them will be covered by mulch. Any kind of container will work, but plastic flowerpots suit me well.