Part two of our interview with Marie Iannotti

15/09/2014 17:00
In part two,I want to discuss vegetable gardening in general as I think we covered the heirloom issue enough. Here we go.
Marie, with the price of food these days and the ongoing economic issues more folks are considering vegetable gardening but are not sure how to get started or which vegetables to start with. Your suggestions?

I always caution people to start small. Planting is the easy part. It's the care and feeding of gardens that can overwhelm you and plants don't like to wait until you have the time to care for them.

Then start with what you like to eat. There's not much point in growing a bumper crop of green beans if you don't like them. Also, consider growing what is not available locally. If you do like green beans, you can probably get them very inexpensively in summer. But chances are good you won't find the slim French beans or the fat Romano beans, so you might want to try them instead.

And everyone should grow tomatoes, if only for the chance to eat one fresh off the vine.

Here are my recommendations for the easiest vegetables to grow from seed and the top money saving vegetables.

What does the saying 'Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants' mean?

It means we should let plants get their nutrients the old fashioned way, from the soil, rather than from continually pouring fertilizer on them.

Synthetic fertilizers became popular because we were ruining our soils. Manure became scarce and composting fell out of favor, so the organic matter in the soil was not being replenished. Soils became compacted and no air could get through. Then with the addition of salt based synthetic fertilizers that killed off all the soil organisms, there wasn’t much life left down there. Which meant ever more fertilizer was needed.

By contract, a healthy soil is rich in organic matter and all the tiny organisms, like worms, dung beetles, fungi and bacteria, that turn the organic matter into a form accessible by plant roots. In turn, the plants give off carbon dioxide, which these organisms need to survive. Plants grown in a healthy soil can consistently get the nutrients they need to grow hardy and productive and they'll be able to pass more nutrients along to us, when we eat them.

Feeding the soil is an ongoing process, but it’s not as labor intensive as feeding with fertilizer every other week. As a bonus, rich soil performs that miraculous feat of being both well draining and moisture retentive, all of which means healthier plants and less work for the gardener.

Many are now saying that the common practice of rototilling the soil can be harmful to the soil. What do you think?

I think anything that makes for less heavy lifting is great. If you have compacted soil or existing turf, tilling can be useful to get your garden up and growing. But once it's loosened, you shouldn't need to till it again, unless you are continually stepping on it and compacting it. That's why raised beds are so nice. You never step into them and the soil stays fluffy.

No tilling means the structure of the soil remains undisturbed, not to mention all those earthworms that would get tossed around in the mix. I rarely even work my compost and amendments in anymore. I top dress and let hose happy worms work it in.

What is companion planting and does it work?

Does it work? Sometimes. It's so hard to test these kinds of theories, although many people try. There are just too many variables. How can you come to a definitive answer when no two gardens are the same? No two seasons are the same.

Certainly some plants have affinities for one another, although the reasoning may elude us. Why do we always find jewelweed growing near poison ivy? Thank goodness we do, but is it just a happy coincidence?

It's hard to prove that tomatoes are more flavorful if grown next to basil. How would you even test this with a large enough sample to be certain one way or the other? I guess if the basil is nearby, you're more likely to pick some to spice up your tomatoes.

What I have seen evidence of is that mixing things up produces a healthier garden overall. Tucking pungent onions around your broccoli to foil cabbage worms, growing sweet peas with pole beans and trellised squash to attract pollinators, and using nasturtiums or letting your lettuce go to seed, to lure aphids away from your peas are all examples of companion planting that have worked out well in my garden.

It's popular right now to label companion planting as folk lore, but I'm not willing to write it off completely. Like everything else in the garden, you have to experiment, see what works for you and continually make adjustments. That's the nature of gardening.


I love most gardening 'chores' or I wouldn't be a gardener but I admit that I hate thinning out seedlings such as lettuce and carrots. Your thoughts on seed tape and what gardening chore do you hate most?

I've never tried seed tape. I don't think I'm coordinated enough to use it. I know some people make their own. To me, that seems like more work than thinning. And I don't mind thinning because I just toss them into a salad.

My bane is watering. I hate to water. Indoors or out. I hate dragging hoses or lugging watering cans. I've used soaker hoses and drip irrigation, but I don't plant in the same pattern every year or even for a single season, so that, too, got tedious. I'm on the lookout for a reliable rain dance.

Many vegetables/fruit require pollination. Your thoughts on the ongoing problem of honey bee colony collapse disorder and how can gardeners deal with it?

I don't think many people beyond farmers and gardeners really realize what a crisis the loss of honeybees is. The last report I read said there are probably multiple causes contributing to their decline, like pesticides, loss of habitat, and disease.

There's not much individuals can do, besides keeping their own hives, except to step away from the insecticide aisle and plant more flowers to attract all kinds of bees. That's really not hard to do, since many of our favorites are favorites of bees, too. Salvias, sedums, Black-eyed Susan, and lots of herbs, such as oregano, basil and hyssop will be covered in bees while in flower.

Guess what folks? This only part one of part two:) I have Marie talking now and I'm going to get more out of her while I can. Stay tuned.

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