Vegetable Garden Tips & Tricks.



Welcome to my garden.  This post isn’t for you fancy people who buy your broccoli in the store like some sort of aristocrat.  It’s for the rest of us. The common folk who grow our own broccoli, realize it has green caterpillars in it, wash it several times, attempt to consider eating it, throat gag,  throw it out, THEN go to the grocery store to buy broccoli.

Living like an 17th century peasant isn’t always fun and fabulous. Sometimes it’s scurvy and scabies.

But let’s forget about the cabbage worm problem for now and talk about the things you can do to make your garden a) easier to use b) more productive and c) cheaper to maintain.



The first thing I want to say to anyone who is thinking of creating a vegetable garden or changing the one they already have is, just because it’s a garden doesn’t mean it has to look like a complete disaster.  Design and digging can go hand in (gardening gloved) hand.  I mean, it’s a garden and it’s filled with bugs and dirt but that’s no reason to let all design sensibilities go out the window if design is your thing.  If it isn’t … then don’t worry about how good it looks no matter what pictures Pinterest assaults you with.

I wanted a good balance between design and function and it all starts with the gate.  I used a jigsaw to cut my logo out of the plywood board, then put chickenwire behind it.  It looked good in real life, but when it came to photos the cleaver just sort of disappeared. One of the other gardeners even went so far as to grab a piece of orange plastic fencing to put it behind.  He loved my gate but didn’t think it was quite up to par for me.  I agreed.  But wasn’t sold on the construction site orange fencing.  So I went to my favourite store, the dollar store, and bought some squares of astroturf and stuck them behind the cleaver.  Perfect.

My garden is the place I go to for quiet and calm.  It’s where I don’t have to think about  a single thing and can focus on mindless, repetitive tasks like weeding and dating Idris Elba in my mind.  Last year my community garden was O.K. It was a bit of a gardeney mess but it didn’t bother me quite as much as I thought it would.  Still … I had a bit more time this year to devote to actually making it look and function the way I really wanted it to.  What I didn’t have was a ton of money to spend on it.

I knew I wanted to have raised beds because no matter what kind of disaster your garden is in, raised beds will fool everyone into thinking it’s actually pretty tidy.  Also, I had a hunch that raised beds would be easier to maintain. Note to everyone who is thinking about doing raised beds … they are easier to maintain.  Plants are pretty close together so weeds are smushed out.  I have no idea what else makes them easier to maintain but they are.  They just are.

Raised beds however cost money.  A lot of money if you have a big garden.  Mine is 20′ X 40′ and has 12, 4′ x 4′ raised beds and 5 8′ X 4′ raised beds.

So how did I build all the raised beds for only $25?  I scrounged.  I went to dumpsters at construction sites, used old wood I had from around the house, got some from my sister who is renovating but most importantly …. your biggest tip here … is  bought wood from the lumber yard that they couldn’t sell because it was either discoloured or warped.

Lumber yards almost give away their “culled” wood.  The wood they can’t sell.  Now, some of my raised beds are a bit wonky of course, but I can deal with that.  None of the beds match and are all made up of a mismash of wood but they’re functional and building them for cheap makes me happier than seeing them straight would.

My fence was also made from scrounged wood.  It’s made from broken up skids and  old fence boards that my local feed store had in their garbage pile.  Yes, I know.  Not everyone has a feed store to scrounge at, but construction sites and dumpsters are everywhere.  You can get wood there.




The only new wood I had to buy (which isn’t included in the $25) were the tomato stakes, which I bought tall enough (8′) so that as they rot in the ground over the years I can just cut the rotted ends off and continue to use the stakes.


Then there’s the garden table I made which is  probably the number one thing I would recommend to anyone who is creating a vegetable garden; big or small.  Make. A. Garden. Table.  Or buy one, whichever makes more sense for you.

I had to buy the 4’x4’s for the legs, but the rest of it is made from broken down skids.  Even the super-thick top!  It was donated to me by another gardener who works in a business that gets MASSIVE strong skids.




Kind of like the kitchen table, the garden table is where it all goes down.  I keep my mason jar of water there all season long and just empty, rinse, and refill it.  I have baskets (also free thanks to local store Picone’s Fine Foods) on the shelf below for carrying produce home, a watering can for when I can’t be bothered to drag the hose, a hook for my purse or jacket, a tea towel for drying off my hands and a Rubbermaid bin for storing extra seeds, garden gloves, a hammer, and a bunch of other stuff.

This table has made my gardening life WAY easier.  Idris and I smile about it all the time.



The garden dibber.  I also made this.  It’s a hunk of wood with holes drilled into it and dowels inserted.  One side has 16 dowel and the other side has 9.  When I want to plant something I just press it into soil and all my holes are perfectly even.



I’ve gone nuts on occasion and bought vegetable tags at the dollar store, but when I run out of those I just write the name of the vegetable or variety on a rock with a Sharpie.  It works great, doesn’t wash off in the rain and looks cute.




And here’s a tip.  Starting your plants indoors isn’t always the right thing to do. I got ahead of myself this season and started some Eureka pickling cucumber seeds too early. They were so used to being indoors that once they got outside they revolted and just wouldn’t grow. They go into vegetable shock.  Then there was that slight frost which they didn’t take kindly to either.  It didn’t kill them but it sure angered them.

I finally gave up on them becoming anything and planted more seeds in June.




I’ve left them in the ground just to see what happens to them, but as you can see they’re pretty much pathetic.  The seeds I planted in June are now almost 3′ tall and thriving. The ones I started too early indoors and didn’t protect from a light frost?  They’re about 8″ tall.  That hardware cloth for the cucumbers to grow up is actually plastic hardware cloth.  It’s way easier to deal with and is strong enough for things like cucumbers or peas.




This corn on the other hand? That’s another story. The huge stuff in the corner is the Glass Gem corn I told you I was going to plant. I started it inside and transplanted it very successfully.

Then I started to succession plant.  The day I planted my corn seedlings, I planted some seeds of corn. Then I waited a week and planted more seeds of corn. Then one more week and some more corn. Then I stopped.

Succession planting will let you get way more out of your garden because you aren’t wasting food.  If you plant 17 broccoli plants all at the same time you aren’t going to be able to eat them all if they mature at the same time.  If you plant them in stages, you’ll get a longer crop of less broccoli.



Speaking of broccoli, that’s it over there by the compost bin. I did my best to keep the pests off of it (and by that I mean I ran around my garden chasing the offending cabbage moth, never once catching one).  Cabbage moths were BAD this year for me.

Cabbage moths are the white moths with a single black spot on their wings that flit around crazily like they’re on an acid trip.  They lay eggs on brassicas  like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli as well as kale.  Black (dinosaur) kale is a specific favourite of theirs.  Once the eggs hatch, they turn into little green caterpillars that not only eat your vegetable, more alarmingly, blend in with it.  So your head of broccoli which might look pretty darn good, is actually teaming with caterpillars the exact colour as the broccoli.

I love my garden and the vegetables I grow in it but I’m not such a freak show that I’m about to eat wormy broccoli out of it.  So this year the chickens got that broccoli.  Technically you can soak anything you think has bugs on it in your sink filled with cold water and a handful of salt to draw the bugs out, but you know what?  I did that 5 times with the broccoli and worms kept coming out.  That’s where I draw the line.  Idris doesn’t like it either so there’s that.

NEXT year I’ll be using row covers.  Something thin that won’t change the temperature underneath too much.  Just something to keep the moths out.  To try and save my beloved black kale this year I’m going to pull off the worst of the leaves, pick off all the eggs and caterpillars I can see then spray it with BTK.  BTK turns the inside of this particular type of caterpillar to juice and kills it.  It doesn’t harm other insects and is approved for organic use (although some organic farmers don’t like to use it).  This is an emergency though.  I mean this is my beloved black kale.

Once I’ve done all that I’ll throw a row cover over it and hope for the best.




Luckily I’ll have a second chance with my broccoli.  Because … in case you didn’t know, if you cut your first head of broccoli off instead of pulling the whole plant up, it will grow a few more small crowns for you.  Very small, but still good for dinner.  THESE little crowns are going to be wrapped with nylon or row cover as soon as I’m done writing this post.

Cabbage will also grow a few more little heads for you.  Just cut the main cabbage off and then you’ll have 3 or so of the cutest little cabbages you’ve ever seen.  They’re the perfect size for braising and eating whole as a side dish.



Another indispensable thing to the modern garden is a lawn chair. Where the hell else am I supposed to sit and text?



It’s the middle of July and my cauliflower and broccoli are all done.  Once I pull them out (after gathering my mini broccolis) I’ll add some compost to give back the nutrients the previous plants sucked up, rake out the soil and plant radishes and lettuce for a fall crop.  If you want to do this make sure you use a spot in your garden that’s shaded from afternoon sun because radishes and lettuce don’t like sun and heat.  They are the vampires of the vegetable world.   Planting them within bushy crops where the leaves will shade them is a good place to consider.

Do you have a garden you’re proud of?  Send me a photo and it might be featured in an upcoming post on reader’s gardens!  Send photos to with a 1 sentence explanation of it.

Cabbage worms need not apply.

(update:  sorry, but the vegetable garden show off post is done)


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  1. Rondina says:

    This your home away from home where you meditate. The garden is gorgeous. I don’t think you have ever told us how the community garden got off the ground and whose land is being used. I’ve never heard of a community garden where people had there own plots before. Does the garden have its own FB page where plot owners discuss bug and blight problems? It should. We have lawn of the month here, which tons of neighborhoods do. (And is taken very seriously.) Do you have a “Garden of the Season” award? One of the garden centers gives out a $25 coupon as a reward and there’s the neighborhood (award-winning) website coverage.

    Love the rock idea. For flowers, I’m going to go big smooth rocks so they don’t get lost in mulch.

    Five times, eh?’


  2. Trish says:

    I am appreciating all your efforts, Karen…love your workbench…that’s what I ‘m going to try to make this summer…fantastic garden… look at amazing you!

  3. Erin says:

    Really inspiring, Karen. Thanks for all the tips!

  4. Melissa in NC says:

    Look at that garden grow…and look at that smile. I loved seeing your smile :)

  5. Robin says:

    Karen your garden looks great you are amazing at what you do .
    Thanks for some clever ideas I will be using I would love to send you a pic of my garden but it has way to many weeds and I would be embarrassed to show it off

  6. IRS says:

    I normally breeze in here to carpet bomb you with a thick layer of snark, which of course masks my jealousy of your skill, competence, and total lack of laziness. But today I have a question, which concerns the much hated broccoli worms, so please pardon my ignorance. The salt soak does indeed sound like it would be foolproof, so when you said you soaked FIVE times, and still had vermin, I got to thinking. Did you soak the entire head? Depending on how big the worms are (how big are they?), it would be easy for the worms to hide in a whole head. Since I am way too lazy to grow my own broccoli, and even too lazy to cut it up, I buy my broccoli already cut into tiny little florets with the tough stems removed. Hoity toity I am. Anyway, if you turned that bowling ball sized broccoli head into stir fry sized florets before the torture salt bath, wouldn’t it get all the worms? Or is this a stupid question because you already tried that? I mean, it’s a head of broccoli, not a clown car. How many of the damn things can fit in it?

    • BethH says:

      IRS, I love your snark in general, but this comment has me laughing so hard tears are running down my face! IT’S NOT A CLOWN CAR!!!

      • IRS says:

        Sorry Beth; of course Donald Trump is driving the ACTUAL clown car. I meant it in the metaphorical sense. No matter how small the worms are, there has to be a finite amount of space in a head of broccoli for the little bastards to hide in. Unlike a clown car, which can apparently hold an infinite number of Republican candidates. It just makes sense to me that if you separate the head into bite size florets, you eliminate the air pockets where the worms can hide. If I put the work into growing my own broccoli (which I don’t), I would be determined to eat it no matter what, even if it came with some extra protein.

  7. Mary W says:

    Another question about the community garden – what if your neighbor uses a lot of insecticide that blows into your garden or washes in (maybe the raised beds help there)? I LOVE that garden door with the green inside and could see this in many different settings. Actually would be a fun present to give. And another question – do you succession plant to keep up all the good stuff during the fall months? I would think the brassi-gassi types would love it then without as many unwanted insects. Final question – do you plant nitrogen rich or any other nutrient rich grasses in the garden after you have finished then till it under for the winter? Last, I promise, question – did you give my “squish up the offending bugs in water and spread over the plant” method a try? Would love to know if it works as well for you as it did for me.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mary W. Phew! Here we go. 1. No one is allowed to use insecticides. It’s a 100% organic garden. 2. I do try to succession plant. I’ve just put in radishes, beets and more lettuce. 3. I don’t plant cover crops. There isn’t time to do that here unless you’re going to do it for a whole season. 4. I haven’t tried to squishing and watering yet although I’ve heard some people have had success with it! There’s a bit of a science to it apparently though which I haven’t quite figured out yet.~ karen

  8. danni says:

    This is the first year I’ve managed squash, because I covered the seedlings with tulle. Don’t spend the money on “garden netting” its a scam. Go buy $3 a yard tulle. I bought 5 yards, cut into 3 pieces, quick sewed together, and made a 5′ high tunnel that they grew in totally protected until heavily flowering. Once uncovered I took the same tulle, cut some long strips of it, dug down around the stem and wrapped it about an inch or so down under the dirt, and a few inches above. I’m hoping it keeps the squash borers from getting to the sweet spot they lay eggs in. Seems to be working fine… my zucchini should be called rabbit squash, reproduces that quickly!!

    • BethH says:

      Danni, What did you use to support the tulle tunnel? I was thinking of cutting dollar store hula hoops in half.
      Karen, what a beautiful garden (sigh…)

      • danni says:

        BethH, I have raised beds, I cut pieces of pvc pipe and attached to the sides with plastic strapping, (comes in a roll with holes for screws already in place,) then took 10′ length of smaller pvc and bent and inserted one side to the other. When it came time to take off the cover the pvc is removed, (although if I had climbing squash I would have left and used as support.)
        Cutting hula hoops is ingenious tho! Could be used for smaller tunnels for sure! Also you can use short pieces of rebar and thread the hollow end over that, or any other sturdy straight pole/post.

      • BethH says:

        Thank you so much for all the info! I’ve been wanting to make these for a couple of years now.

    • Anne says:

      Another suggestion for inexpensive row covers. Try your local thrift stores for window sheers. I’ve got huge ones for a couple of dollars. I use rebar and pvc pipe for my tomato greenhouse later in the season. Cheap, easy to put up and easy to store. Rebar and clothes pegs are the gardeners’ friends!

  9. Lisa says:

    I LOVE your blog about the gardening, the No soliciting sign, everything! You are a hoot and a half!! You are so cleaver with all the projects you do and inspire me to do more.
    I have a garden plot in my community garden, I’ve had it for 3 years now. I wanted to do a design but couldn’t wrap my head around it. However, I always plant my herbs in the center of my garden in a circle. I have driftwood and my favorite rocks in there as well. I put a rock at the start of my rows of plants all except my tomatoes. Well, this year my peppers and tomato plants are not very big,but they have fruit. I planted potatoes, even though last year I swore I wouldn’t plant those dang things again…I guess I forgot. They had those gross potato beetle all over them so I just pulled them up–last year. This year I put my garden gloves on and picked them off and squeezed their guts out, the babies and the eggs. Man, it felt good! Now the taters are doing fine and they have flowers and I can’t wait to see how many I get. Reds and purples.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lisa! Yup, those potato beetles are actually easy to get rid of as long as you keep on it. I had them last year and just went to the garden every night for a week or so and knocked them into a jar of soapy water. No problems. In fact they’re definitely one of the easier pests to deal with. See? And now you get potatoes! And purple ones at that. :) ~ karen!

  10. Tigermom says:

    Amazing! Again. And I understand your need for a gardening table. I get very frustrated doing anything without a flat surface somewhere on which to spread out a bit and set things on and work.

  11. Jen says:

    Oh my…I loved every pic and word of this post. It all looks so lovely….I just have to wonder….what do the other community gardeners think? Your gate…table…your imaginary gardening companion…..are they all insanely jealous….or just proud and happy to be part of your blogger universe? :) Maybe I’m not understanding your community garden? Here, you get a box or two….in a large area….shared by many. Are there other users next to you? How do their gardens look? ;) I have a small garden, that brings me so much joy…it’s actually ridiculous.

    • Karen says:

      Hi jen! The garden is huge. HUGE. And there around around 50 plots in it of varying sizes, but they’re all big. My size is the largest at 20′ x 40′, the smallest you can get is a half plot which is 20′ x 20′ feet I think. It’s pretty hard core compared to the type of community garden you’re talking about. Those are great though for people who want a bit of space to grow some tomatoes but not have the responsibility of something this big. ~ karen!

  12. Barb says:

    You’re so frikkin’ awesome, Karen!! I’d marry you if I lived in Canadia…I mean Canada. :-) And….GREAT post for all us peasants trying to get a little more bang for our lowly U.S. buck.

  13. Ts Willoughby says:

    Your garden is beautiful! I love that you upcycled, repurposed and scrounged wood to put it together. It’s so much more gratifying when you do that.

    I was soooo hoping you would mention slugs in this post. They are such a problem in my yard. Last year, I lost most of my garden to the greedy little pests. This year, I’m hoping to find something that actually works. I’ve tried a number of home remedies without much success. I’d like to avoid any kind of pesticide if possible. I remove them by (gloved) hand when possible, but they can cause quite a lot of damage overnight. Sigh…

    • Karen says:

      I really have had luck with just putting beer in a shallow container dug into the soil and then covering it with something. They drown. It’s pretty effective. ~ karen!

      • IRS says:

        For those of us who refuse to share our valuable booze even with our loved ones, let alone with disgusting slimy creatures, you can substitute the beer (it’s mine, all mine, I tells you!) with some baker’s yeast dissolved in warm water. It’s much cheaper, and it works just as well, since it’s the yeast in the beer that they are attracted to. If anyone is going to drown in beer in my garden, it’s damn well going to be me.

      • Teri says:

        I have heard this remedy for slugs – get a can of beer, and a deep bowl. Pour some water into the bowl. add sugar. add yeast. Cover the bowl partially. Open the beer. drink the beer. feel pleased that the slugs will indulge in your yeasty slurry and the beer will go where it will be most appreciated…

    • Jennifer says:

      If you are growing in a raised bed, you can put copper foil tape around it. Snails & slugs don’t like the little electric charge and they won’t cross the tape. I put it around the whole bed, about 1 inch from the top. I also stapled it into the wood to keep it on when the sticky stuff wears off. I Put it on my 1st raised bed 2 years ago & it’s still working, but I do plan to replace it next year. I also do this on large pots, without the staples, of course. I live in a mild-weather area so these stay out all year. You can buy the copper foil tape online or at Orchard Supply if you have one near you. Hope this helps!

  14. Kim says:

    I am green with envy as an apartment dweller. Oh well, I can live vicariously through you as you Do Stuff! Awesome garden!

  15. Jody says:

    Love the table and all your accouterments. How often during the week do you go to your garden. Is it a lot of work? Do the raised beds get taken apart in the autumn? Why did you turn over all the soil in the spring and then put in the raised beds. So many many questions.

    • Karen says:

      Jody – The soil needs to be worked no matter what. Now that the soil is in raised beds, that’s the only soil I’ll have to amend and turn in the spring. The paths will stay the same. The beds don’t get taken a part, God no, lol. They stay where they are from here on in. I go to the garden about 5 times a week. Sometimes just to pick something, sometimes just to wander around it, sometimes to work like a crazy person. ~ karen!

  16. Auntiepatch says:

    We bought our first houses in West Central Ill. We had 1/2 acre so I thought I would plant some corn. Corn Nuts was enclosing little packets of their corn seeds in their bags. I planted those seeds at the end of my rows of corn with “regular” corn seeds in the other rows. The Corn Nut seeds grew twice as fast as the others rows. We lived next door to a retired farmer. I could see him watching my corn and a few times I found him out there scratching his head. I would go out and look at the stalks and ask him why the last row was growing so much faster than the other rows. He said he couldn’t figure it out. I asked him if it was because the taller plants were on the last row; maybe they got more sunshine and water. He didn’t know. Meanwhile, I told his wife that the seeds on the last row were “special” so she was in on it with me. I could see her in her kitchen window watching and laughing when he went out to check on my corn. We moved back to Calif. and I never told him what I had done. I’m sure his wife didn’t either! I think of him, 30 years later, when I buy corn on the cob. And I smile.

  17. Nicole says:

    No photo this year but a sort of disaster to share. My husband and I both went out and bought seed potatoes the same day. We planted three rows each 20 feet long and decided that was enough. The plants are doing well and some are flowering. What is doing amazingly well are the extra seed potatoes that my husband threw in the compost. They are easily three feet high. We keep trying to bury them but we don’t have nearly enough compost. If I ever see flowers in there I’ll be harvesting them. Now that I think about it some of my Grandma’s best squash was self-seeded in the compost pile. Maybe it’s a family tradition.

  18. Barbie says:

    Veggies just make me happy…..I can see they do the same for you! Great picture of you with ur Broccoli btw!

  19. Grammy says:

    I am just so glad that you and Idris are still together. What a lovely way to spend the summer, walking around the beautiful vegetable garden together, selecting the perfect things to take home for your romantic dinners. Perfect.

    Also perfect is your garden. And cabbage worms are why I stopped growing broccoli, cabbage, and any other of their type about 30 years ago. There are wonderful people at the local farmers market on Saturday mornings and I let them deal with the brassicas for me. I’ve found I just have less tolerance for garden failures than I used to, so I grow fewer things but they are very good and I have more fun. I still enjoy watching you go the extra mile and try different and difficult things. You’re good at it.

    • Sherry339 says:

      Thank you for your comment. It reassures me that I don’t HAVE to grow everything… just a few things that make me happy! Cheers!

  20. SusanR says:

    I marvel at all you get done, Karen. You’re amazing, really. I love the garden table. I cheated and bought a funky desk at a thrift store for my potting bench. It looks like something out of The Jetsons.
    I have had no luck with broccoli or cauliflower. They end up covered in a white dust that is actually a billion disgusting, tiny bugs. I don’t use any pesticides, so that’s it. I tried covering them with flour but they were still crawling around the next day. Yuck. I’ve never had a problem with my kale or chard, though.

  21. ardith says:

    I tip my straw hat to your gardening skills, tenacity, and fine humor. Cheers, Ardith

  22. Mel says:

    Beautiful beautiful, Karen. Question, do you have good luck timing your corn in that staggered way? One year I tried planting my corn in a single long skinny row as a border along my plot, and it was pretty but didn’t give me many edible ears at all. I read that the tassels need to be densely planted so the wind can carry the pollen from plant to plant. The next year I planted them in a dense square, similar to what you have, and it was fantastic. I miss gardening.

  23. Pam says:

    So the downside to apartment living is having zero outdoor space. And there isn’t even a community garden nearby to allow me to use your helpful gardening tips. I do remember having a garden as a kid and it looked nothing like your orderly ‘designy’ garden. I am (broccoli) green with envy!

  24. Becky says:

    What about the gardens we aren’t proud of?? Like the one where the chard went to seed (which I hate– I discovered this AFTER I grew it) I thought the bunnies got the plant, and the chickens were let loose in the garden too, but apparently all they did was spread the seeds, so now I have approximately 5000 baby chard plants.

    Or how about the bush bean bed that got mowed down by one ravenous baby bunny?
    The peas that never sprouted? The strawberries that I didn’t plant? (I suspect my compost isn’t killing seeds)
    Its a disaster.
    I’m about to rip it all out and think about a fall garden.

  25. judy says:

    Didn’t think it would be interesting, loved it- read every word and wished I was you. Young,talented,Witty and always interesting.

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