Edible gardening, Potassium, compost, worms, bees, mycorrhizae fungi, garlic, grapes, leeks, Apples, Blueberries, Potatoes, Pumkin, Squash, garlic, strawberries, watermelon, Brussel sprouts, eggplant, chinese cabbage, figs, fish

Edible Gardening originally written in May 1991 and added to ever since.

Plant Boxes

I create a series of boxes using 2x12 treated lumber (36" wide x 36" long). Each frame can be placed on another and fastened together on the outside. Just one frame can be created or several in a row (long axis should be north to south) seperated from each other by more than one lawn mower width (allowing you to easily mow between). I like creating a walk with 10 boxes on each side, a broad path down the center. Then I fill these boxes with grass, leaves, woodchips and manure. I place a 4 inch cap of finished compost on top (12 inches if you plan on blanching leeks). Then I put on my soaker hoses and cover the soil with black plastic (I exclude the black plastic in some boxes for some crops). Initially the raw material under the finished compost produces a lot of heat but it finally cools as it runs out of air. Later it shrinks in volume and the top box of the stack can usually be removed. As soil temperatures exceed 80 degrees I mulch the black plastic and later in the fall I uncover the plastic as the soil temperatures cool. As temperatures finally drop to frost levels I reattach the top box with an attached plastic top. Finally when all crops are finished I remove my 4 inches of finished compost and place it in a container to be reused next year. I remove the organic material that was underneath and put it in as few boxes as possible. As I rake leaves I grind them with my lawn mower and add them to the remaining vegetable frames for next year. Some of the organic material becomes nice dark compost after several years and I add it to my container to be reused as the top layer in later years.

When you plant you cut an x through the black plastic being careful not to cut the soaker hoses under the black plastic.

If you are worried about treated lumber line it on the inside with something you feel safer with. Untreated lumber perhaps? But as the untreated rots the treated lumber on the outside will provide strength so the frames dont fall apart.

I usually grow tomatoes but I have grown; peppers, chinese cabbage, eggplants and squash. In the past though Ive found these frames work pretty well for almost anything. To the point where I have had phenomenal yields for the least work.


fresh vegetable matter added to the soil acts as food for soil organisms. When decomposition occurs in your soil instead of in your compost pile you stabilize soil aggregates while creating good soil structure, drainage and distribution of nutrients.

Allow 2 weeks between amending the soil and planting to allow nutrient stabilization.

Potassium carries the message that triggers protein production, activates enzymes and regulates water. Stress resistance, winter hardiness and greater yields result from its availability.

The soil contains little packages of potential potassium storage. When soil is depleted of potassium, initial fertilizing can be used up just filling these packages before it is ever available to the crop.

6) Worms

You should encourage earthworms in an edible garden because; Earthworm burrows reduce water runoff and soil compaction.

They take plant residue and while allowing it to decompose under ground reduce growth inhibitors and add growth stimulants.

Worm castings make nutrients and minerals more available to plants.

Soil processed by earthworms is closer to a neutral pH and has a higher concentration of beneficial organisms and mycorrhizal fungi.

Castings contain substances which help stabilize soil particles reducing erosion.

Worms eat harmful nematodes.


90% of wild honeybees have been wiped out in the last 15 years by pollution and 2 kinds of mites.

The smaller of the two mites lives in the breathing tubes of adult bees (sucking blood) has been gradually spreading across the U.S. since the 1920's.

The varoa mite attacks bees in their larval state and can kill entire colonies.

One possible alternative to honeybees is the orchard mason bee that is not affected by mites.


Mycorrhizae are fungi that have symbiotic relationships with plants. Sprinkling of new fields with soil from older, productive fields used to be common in old farm communities.

The root like hyphae absorb nutrients and moisture from rotting stumps and swampy areas; then share these nutrients with a wide variety of plants within the colonized area in exchange for simple sugars the fungi can't produce.

Huge mycorrhizal colonies are created connecting many plants together while seeking areas of high nutrient concentration and microbial activity. Through the colony, plants have a much larger area from which to draw moisture and nutrients than would otherwise be available.

Chemical fertilizers, insecticides and regular rototilling reduce mycorrhizal populations. So if you use chemical fertilizer you will get a boost in growth but due to the reduction in the size of the mycorrhizal population you can also have a corresponding reduction in nutrient concentration. Sounds like catch-22.

Garden Location

People who garden in a visible location invariably get higher yields. Joyce has incorporated her kitchen garden into her back patio. Whenever she walks out onto the back patio she sees the garden and fixes any problems she sees.

Pete's garden is a bit further away but also much bigger. It's along his driveway so every time he leaves or comes home its obvious.

Local gardens are often the subject of my Local Garden Newsletter. Go to that page and check all 32 pages of it.

Antique Apples

I grow apples pretty much the same way whether they be modern or antique. Full sun, average soil (I do double dig in at least 25% organic material because having grown them both ways I have found faster growth in these "improved" soils; peat moss, cow manure and leaf mold is what I have used), and they need between 400 and 1800 hours every year at temperatures beneath 45F depending on variety. I train most of my trees to espalier. Once the apple trees have set fruit I take around 200 white paper bags, reduce each cluster of small apples to the best one, enclose the apple in the white bag and carefully staple the opening shut around the apples delicate stem. During the year I fertilize the trees once every two weeks with 10-50-10. As ripening time approaches I occasionally remove one bagged apple and test for ripeness. The fruit are almost blemish free. Even if the apples fall from the tree the bags can prevent insects and dirt from touching the fruit. My favorite tree is probably the Winesap. Following are short descriptions of several antique varieties.

Arkansas Black ripens in October has hard, crisp, juicy flesh with an aromatic flavor. Its resistant to Cedar Apple Rust.

Cox's Orange Pippin ripens in September and has small streaked orange red sweet slightly acid flesh. It's used as a dessert apple and is a good pollinator.

Grimes Golden ripens in late September and is green to yellow often russetted with crisp sweet spicy flavor. It's used as a dessert apple for cooking and cider. It's a good pollinator.

The apple in the garden of eden was most likely an apricot. When the bible was being translated into english the translator didn't know what an apricot was and substituted apple. More than a few hundred years ago apples were small sour crab apples. They could be used for apple sauce or preserves and fed to the farm animals but you wouldn't offer one to a friend.


Highbush blueberry pruning involves removal of the non productive gray wood, leaving the productive red or yellow wood in late winter to early spring. I plant a hedge of blueberry and holly plants, alternating, planted 2 feet apart and pruned narrow at the top, wide at the bottom. I dig post holes among my plants covered with large flat stones. When I prune, branches that are romoved are clipped small enough to fit the hole and dropped in.

Vaccinium corymbosum or Highbush blueberry are hardy to 20 below 0F. They produce their best crops when cross polinated by more varieties. This means that 3 varieties together will out produce 2 etc. They need acidic well drained soil rich in organic amendments pH 3.5 to 4.5 They do best in full sun but will tolerate part shade.

At Azalea House Flowering Shrub Farm I grow Native American Vaccinium corymbosum Blueberry Bushes along with other flowering shrubs.

Brussel Sprouts

to get sprouts to mature all at once, when sprouts are 1/2 inch or larger break off cluster at top. Sprouts mature bottom to top, strip leaves upward as you harvest.

Chinese Cabbage

I plant my chinese cabbage plants in the fall only. They germinate and grow in warm weather while tolerating cool weather. I clip my plants back to two inches allowing them to regrow. Use a very fertile soil using lots of composted manure.

Currants and Gooseberries

I put these two together because they are very much alike in their cultural requirements. Both of them have nice spring flowers, colored berries that ripen in summer and brilliant fall foliage. The black currant is an alternate host of the disease white pine blister rust. Never plant within 1500 feet of pine trees that bear their needles in clusters of five. Currants and Gooseberries are cold climate plants that require 800 to 1500 chilling hours in winter. Both plants are self fruitful. Gooseberries are best in part shade while currants prefer full sun. Both plants bear fruit at the base of one year old shoots and on the spurs that form on three year old branches. In the first winter remove all but 6 of the strongest shoots. Cut each one back to 5 buds to force branching. In later years remove 4 year old branches that will no longer bear fruit and shorten one year old shoots to 5 buds. Always remove tangled or dead branches. Water and fertilize regularly be careful not to damage the shallow roots.


Eggplants need hot temperatures and protection from insects. Hoe up a north to south raised soil row, lay down a drip line and cover with black plastic (I plant them in my plant boxes with mesh or screening attached to the top frame). Plant the eggplants through the plastic and provide a row cover of spun remay that raises the air temperature as well as keeping off insects. eggplants will be bitter if not watered enough so run the drip line frequently.


Can be grown to zone 4b with winter protection. They like rocky soils as it deters tunneling animals (pH 6 to 7.8). Paint with a 50-50 mixture of white latex paint and water to prevent sunscald. Easy to maintain at a height of 10 feet but wear protective clothing as white latex sap causes dermatitis. To protect in cold climates tilt the tree into the ground and cover with boards, soil and mulch.


The pond is around 200 square feet and dug into the ground around 2 feet. Because I want to be able to cover it with a mesh lid to keep children from falling in it can only be around 4 feet wide so it has to be 50 feet long. Oxygenating plants (25) are Anacharis, Myriophyllum, Cabomba. Lilly pads will be needed to shade the water and check the growth of algae. Snails will be needed to eat rotten foliage and algae. A 20 mil plastic liner padded with sand to prevent punctures. 10 4" catfish, and bullfrog tadpoles (scavengers). Water hyacinths can be added or subtracted based on how bad the algae gets. A lid hinged in sections on one side attached to a box frame mounted on top of the pond (a lock can insure its not opened by minors). To catch the fish a pond spanning cage can be lowered into the pond and the fishscared into it.

A precipitator which injects fertilizer into a waterline can be used to inject the pond water into a drip line for plants. The guts of a toilet tank can be used to keep the pond level up. As water evaporates or is drawn off for fertilizing the float activates a valve for fresh water.


Plant cloves (pointed end up) in fall 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart. Mulch after planting and remove scapes from hardnecks. Harvest when half the leaves have died back.


choice of a mediocre site can influence what you consider a good or bad quality wine grape. Choose tougher hybrids when site is less than ideal. The vines are particularly susceptible to herbicides. Nearby lawn areas can pose problems. When planted near vegetable gardens grapes will flourish at the expense of the vegetables. Bud damage can occur when temperatures remain at 50 degrees F or above for a week or more with a return to colder winter temperatures. Rain during ripening may cause fruit to split.


Start seed in 6 inch in diameter plastic pots where temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees F during the day and 55 at night, 8 weeks before last frost, a moist well drained commercial seed starting mix, quarter of an inch deep and one inch apart. Once they develop leaves move to bright light and fertilize with half diluted water soluble fertilizer. Harden of on a front or back porch. The most fertile soil produces the best leeks so its good to amend with compost and manure. Make trenches 6 inches deep and wide, spaced a couple feet apart. transplant seedlings into the bottom of the trench 6 inches apart. During the summer gradually fill the trenches in order to blanch the stems and make for more edible leek.




Potatoes grow best in cool weather. Getting seed potatoes mailorder in early spring may be a problem because they cannot be allowed to freeze. Stick with varieties that mature quickly. Big baking potatoes are the slowest to mature and so should be grown only by those whos local temperatures are between 60F and 80F all season.

Potatoes aren't root growth. they come side growth off the main stem (rhizome). Potatoes that grow above ground exposed to sunlight become green and inedible. The greenness of seed potatoes helps protect them from wire worms so lay your seed potatoes in a suuny window when you get them and let them green up.

Just before the last frost cut your seed potatoes up into several pieces each with at least two sprouts and allow them to dry.

Cover soil with black plastic (put soaker hoses under plastic paralell to the row but around 6 inches away), cut crosses and plant shallowly. When you harvest you'll find most of the crop just beneath the plastic.

When plants are four inches tall mulch plastic with wheat straw to reduce colorado potato beatles and keep the soil cool. When the soil gets too warm potatoes stop forming tubers. Early varieties usually set all tubers together.

Potatoes keep getting bigger til the top dies. When potatoes are in bloom they are big enough to eat but small sweet and tender. To hasten toughening of the skin kill the top with a knife and dig 10days later.

Or wait until the leaves turn yellow then harvest and replant area with corn.

Store your potatoes at 50 degrees F. When they are stored in a dormant state it slowly turns starch to sugar for energy. So keep them cool and they will slowly get sweeter.

For insects including wireworms go to azalea.yonatan.us/insects.htm

Pumpkins & Squash

You need warm weather for squash and pumpkins. During the second week in May start seed in 3 inch pots, water thoroughly and then withhold water til they germinate to prevent rot. Plant during June in a sheltered location (from wind), in soil that has been enriched with much compost, water them in and fertilize with liquified seaweed every 2 weeks (watch for slugs). Summer squash (zucchini, patty pans or custard marrows) is quick maturing best picked small (more will grow) and eaten quickly as they dont store well. Autumn squash (Acorn squash, Spaghetti squash, Marrow Squash) matures toward the end of summer and will store for several months. Winter Squash (Hubbard squash, Butternut squash). Pumpkins (the smaller the sweeter) can weigh up to almost a thousand pounds. You can bakle them whole and serve with butter (remember to puncture so they dont explode).


Day neutral strawberries disregard the length of the day that prompts June Bearers and EverBearers to flower and fruit. It sets fruit all summer long unless the soil becomes to hot. I plant tristar in spring (in a plant box) in a sunny location, well drained, pH 6.0, fertile soil. Each plant will produce between 5 and 10 berries a week. Use mesh on top frame or berries will be eaten by furry or feathered friends.


Sugar bush beans

Sweet potato




The soil must be well drained and you have to water a lot (the soils fertility is less important than drainage and regular watering). If warmth is not adequate they wont do well (watermellon originated in India). If it gets wilt remove the diseased parts and destroy them.

A watermellon is ready when the stem is dead and brown, the belly of seeded varieties is creamy white, the belly of seedless varieties should be a golden yellow, the overall shiny green color should have turned dull and the fruit when thumped should produce a low pitched sound.

This page derived from my booklet "Local Edible Gardening" by Andrew Van Cleve.

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