Let It Go, Let It Grow: Planning and Planting Your Garden

Are you planting too many tomatoes? Or the wrong variety of winter squash? Esteemed garden writer Carol Deppe gives thirty-seven reasons to weed your list of vegetable garden crops so that your cucumbers stop ending up in the compost.

growing chard

How many gardeners grow chard every season only to feed it to the chickens?

Photo by Fotolia/GoodMood Photo

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The Tao of Vegetable Gardening (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015), by plant breeder Carol Deppe, is designed for organic gardeners of all levels and gardens of all sizes. Deppe’s work has long been inspired by Taoism, and the book is organized by basic Taoist concepts. Still, it also offers a wide array of practical vegetable garden advice, such as the list below, which itemizes 37 good reasons to not plant certain vegetables.

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Thirty-Seven Reasons for Not Planting Various Vegetables

There are hundreds of vegetable crops and thousands of varieties I have never tried. I tend to want to try them all. If I plant too many new things, though, I fail to evaluate them well enough for the planting to be a fair trial. When it comes to my regular tried-and-true crops and varieties, I always want to make sure I have enough, so I tend to plant too much. But there is only so much land and so much time. The more I get carried away in planting the less good a job I do on everything. I know this. I tell it to other people. I even write about it in books. However, over and over, each planting season I plant things I’ve already figured out many times before that I don’t need to plant, and plant too much of some of the rest. These days, I keep two kinds of lists to help me exercise more restraint in planting. One is the ordinary list of all the new things I want to try. The other is a list of reasons not to plant things or to plant less of them. Before planning or planting anything (or ordering seeds), I review both lists.

Having both lists helps me best set priorities and create a garden that gives me the most of what I want for the space and work involved. My list reflects my own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, but you’ll undoubtedly be able to adapt it to reflect your own. So here is Carol Deppe’s Secret Second List—Thirty-Seven Reasons for Not Planting or Growing Less of Various Vegetables.

1. I don’t like the taste. It doesn’t matter whether you call them beet leaves or chard, or claim the greens of this particular variety of them are especially mild or sweet. They never are. And I don’t care how well it overwinters. Part of the reason it overwinters so well is nothing else likes to eat it either.

2. The kids (husband, wife, others in the household, ducks, chickens, rabbits, cow) won’t eat it. My laying ducks love kale or leafy radish greens, and these are easy to harvest for the flock. The ducks won’t eat the blazing-hot ‘Green Wave’ mustard greens. So I cheerfully err on the side of planting too much kale or leaf radishes, but restrain myself and err on the side of underplanting when planting hot mustards.

3. It doesn’t grow here.

4. It’s the wrong variety. It’s a long-season variety, and I need a short-season one. It’s for fall planting, and now is spring. The variety is bred for the radish root and makes few and small leaves; I want the leaves. It is a popular variety nationally, but needs more heat or less cold than we have in summer. It needs a longer season than we have. It is a popular variety nationally, but doesn’t do well here because it isn’t resistant to the appropriate diseases. The packet is in a rack in a big-box store where the varieties are selected on a national basis with no regard for what actually grows and performs best here. And the seed quality on such racks is often what my friend Steve Solomon calls “sweepings-from-the-seed-room-floor grade.”

5. It’s the wrong time to plant it. If I wanted that, I should have planted it earlier.

6. It needs to be in full sun. The spot I’m planting isn’t.

7. It won’t do well on the watering regimen I’m going to be using in that spot (which is appropriate for the other plants in the area).

8. It’s too tall for that spot. It will shade out other plantings, or block the sprinkler patterns so other things don’t get enough water. (A trellis of pole beans blocks a sprinkler water pattern almost completely, creating a dry strip behind it.)

9. It’s too big. If I plant it I won’t have room for many other things I care about more.

10. It’s too little/low/droopy. The leaves would get all muddy. And muddy salads and cooked greens taste awful. I have already ascertained that I’m unwilling to wash my leafy greens. I need my greens to be big enough and grow upright enough so that they stay clean enough so that I can eat them without washing.

11. It would need to be started indoors under lights. I don’t like starting things indoors under lights. I’ll only do it for things I like a whole lot and where it is the only option. In my garden, unless you are a tomato you had better know how to germinate and grow from direct seeding.

12. It grows too slowly. Before it’s big enough to harvest I’ll have stepped on it, forgotten what it is, or changed my mind about wanting it.

13. It grows too fast and spreads. If it ever got away, I’d have nothing else. And it’s notorious for getting away. If I want that, I’d better wait until I can put it in a bed by itself. (Horseradish, sunroots, comfrey.)

14. I can buy ones just as good (or better), and they are affordable, and it is hard for me to grow. And it isn’t all that nutritious. (I’d rather buy the occasional celery I eat than try to grow it.)

15. Picking, shelling, cleaning, or preparing it is too much work. It doesn’t matter how productive it is if getting it from the plant to the plate is too much work. I’ve found I won’t pick the cherry tomatoes if full-sized tomatoes are available. Likewise, I tend to not pick shelling peas because I resist the amount of work involved in the shelling. Edible-podded peas give much more food for the same amount of space and for lots less work.

16. It yields too poorly for the space it takes.

17. It doesn’t make a good gift. Most non-gardeners are much more enthusiastic about a gift of tomatoes than zucchinis, and don’t even know what to do with mustard greens. I most happily err on the side of planting too much when I know the excess can be joyfully shared. Part of the fun of gardening is having prime gifts to give. Prime edible-podded peas are received joyously, but are laborious to pick. Prime fruit is usually received happily. But not blemished fruit. Most people these days aren’t used to blemished fruit and don’t know how to deal with it. It’s hard to beat full-sized tomatoes for gifts. They are received joyously and are easy to harvest in the larger amounts needed for gifting.

18. It’s too fussy. If I looked at it crossly it might die.

19. Nobody around here grows it. They might know something I don’t.

20. Everyone around here grows it. I could swap something else for it, or stand outside somebody else’s garden admiring theirs till they give me some.

21. Does it meet the WIRHaMoTo standard? “Would I rather have more tomatoes?”

22. It tastes very similar to something else that grows better or requires less work. Sweet potatoes taste similar to winter squash. But winter squash are much easier to grow and harvest. You can plant from seed instead of needing to create and transplant slips. You can lift the produce right off the top of the ground where it presents itself cheerfully instead of having to dig it up laboriously. Winter squash also keep well under my storage conditions, constituting a carbohydrate staple I can eat fall to late spring. Sweet potatoes don’t store well here without an elaborate temperature-controlled curing process.

23. People will steal it. I won’t get a one. (Strawberries adjacent to a much-traveled sidewalk.)

24. There are too many problems with producing it organically, which is how I garden. It’s a full-season radish root crop variety, and under my growing conditions such roots get riddled with little moldy worm or insect tracks, for example. I don’t relish chopping out the small bits of good radish between all the lines of mold. So if I want clean radishes I grow the fast-developing kinds that produce an edible root in forty days or less, not the full-season daikons.

25. It’s a perennial vegetable or herb that should go in a permanent bed, not in an annually tilled part of the garden.

26. It’s especially great for processing or canning, which requires hours standing over a hot stove in August when it is way too hot for that, and when I don’t have the time anyway.

27. It will produce its entire yield in August just when I’m too busy to even harvest it.

28. It will produce its entire yield in August when I have plenty of other things I like better.

29. It’s too fuzzy. If I’m supposed to eat it raw in salads, fuzzy stuff need not apply, no matter how many other people say they like it in salads.

30. It’s too thorny.

31. It would need some stakes or poles or something. I probably wouldn’t get around to putting them up. And it doesn’t do well sprawled all over the ground, which I have already ascertained several times before. I’m willing to do the work of staking peas, pole beans, and tomatoes. Most everything else had better be varieties that know how to grow without support.

32. It’s poisonous. (This means “poisonous to me,” even if it isn’t poisonous to others. I can’t eat wheat, for example. Some people can’t eat tomatoes or potatoes.)

33. It’s “dual purpose.” Sometimes this means it isn’t very good for anything.

34. The seed catalog says it’s “very tasty in pies.” That often means it’s too acidic, astringent, bitter, or tasteless to eat fresh, but if I really want to grow it, it is edible—if I put enough sugar on it and bake it in tasty dough—in which case it will taste like baked sugar-dough, which isn’t bad at all, though perhaps it would be better by itself.

35. Slugs (bugs, birds, gophers, deer, elk) love it. They would eat every one.

36. It isn’t resistant to powdery mildew (enation mosaic virus, plagues of locusts, flying saucers), which is/are common in my area (or might occur, you never can tell).

37. Giant Sasquatches might be attracted to it and come steal it and leave nasty footprints all over the garden.

Reprinted with permission from The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe and published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015. Buy this book from our store: The Tao of Vegetable Gardening.