The Big List

January 2, 2009 at 9:53 am

Brad Moldofsky

Over the New Year holiday, I’m deciding what to plant and where to plant it. Later on, I’ll determine how, how much, when and which varieties to put in the ground.

It was pointless asking my boys, 8 and 10, to help whittle down the list of vegetables and herbs I’ve selected to plant this spring. They want to grow it all—even the stuff they won’t eat or haven’t heard of.

They’ve always been excited not only to help harvest or eat tomatoes right off the vine (look ma, no hands!), but my little video game fanatics even enjoy the menial tasks many gardeners must loathe. Both were avid helpers at The Talking Farm on oppressively hot days when no other volunteers showed up. They were eager and diligent, even though they only watered and weeded in the Evanston community garden where TTF has its temporary residence. They clearly enjoyed muddying their hands and shoes as well as eating freshly picked greens.

My older boy (known on the Internet as “Smartypants”) took his weeding duties seriously and was as proud with producing a clean row of watermelon seedlings as he was embarrassed to have accidentally uprooted a watermelon. Fortunately, the farm manager resuscitated the spindly little thing and reburied it. The Mini-Farm suffered worse indignities last summer, including floods and theft, and I look forward to the day when they finally break ground at their larger farm site aside the North Shore Channel.

To compile my master list, I chose some likely candidates from James Fizzell’s Guide to Illinois Vegetable Gardening, then seasoned the list with companion herbs from Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes. We lack enough land to plant more than a few samples of each species—even after adding a 16 sq. ft. box near the rain barrel. So I asked the boys to help whittle down the list. The result was a much longer list which includes asparagus, pumpkin, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprout, peas, cucumber, eggplant, hot peppers, kale, pumpkin, spinach, potatoes, garlic, basil, dill, sage, garlic, green beans and cucumbers.

My next step is to delve deeply into the literature and familiarize myself with each plant’s personality, then assign each of them a spot in the garden map.

Asparagus must grow three years before it can be consumed by people. I’m sure the bunnies will happily devour any premature crowns that peek through the dirt without protection. This troubles me. I can’t even guarantee we’ll be in this house in three years. Am I planting something for the next occupants to enjoy?

Pumpkin (and watermelon) require maybe 25 square feet to spread their vines. Hanging varieties need less space, but I once grew a squash (yes, only a single squash) back in the ‘90s whose vine grew yard after yard like a horror movie monster, slowly encroaching on the house night after night. I’m giving pumpkins the heave ho, but I’m still tempted by the thought of freshly picked asparagus in 2012. If we do sell the house, maybe I’ll guarantee myself asparagus rights in the real estate contract.

One thing the companion planting book taught me is that tomatoes repel all brassicas, but help protect asparagus from pests. This might explain why last year’s tomato/cauliflower/broccoli patch fared so poorly. But now I’m even more convinced to put asparagus in the ground, if for no other reason than to give the tomatoes some friendly company.

Tomatoes also don’t give a hoot about crop rotation and, barring disease, can accompany the asparagus into the next decade. These partners are going to share their bed with parsley, which assists asparagus and tomatoes, and basil, which helps asparagus and tastes great with fresh tomatoes.