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More raised beds allow for new veggie varieties

The newest additions to the Mulvihill garden include three large raised beds and a drip irrigation system. (Susan Mulvihill)
The newest additions to the Mulvihill garden include three large raised beds and a drip irrigation system. (Susan Mulvihill)

The weather is always a gardener’s biggest challenge. After all of the temperature extremes this spring, it’s no wonder some of our plants are looking a little stressed.

The vegetable crops in my garden are no exception. First they looked very pale, a result of cool soil temperatures preventing microbes from making nitrogen available to the plants. Then there were the late frosts. Try as I might to protect each crop, some plants got a little nipped.

My most exciting news is that my husband and I expanded our veggie garden this spring. We built three raised beds that are 4 feet by 16 feet. We’re growing corn, winter squash and tomatoes in them, and will rotate the crops each year to avoid insect and disease problems.

We also replaced our soaker hoses with a new drip-irrigation system in all of the raised beds. The drip lines, called “T-tape,” are less likely to clog and should last longer than the soaker hoses.

The most unusual veggies I’m growing this season are fava beans, celery and artichokes. Favas are cool-weather broad beans with gray-green leaves and black-and-white flowers. The plants will reach 4 feet tall when mature. They’re already 3 feet tall and I can see small bean pods along the stems.

Tango celery is a variety that does really well in northern climates. The leaves looked sickly while it was still chilly but greened up nicely once the temperatures rose. According to the seed packet, I can harvest a stalk at a time instead of pulling up an entire plant.

Three of the artichoke plants I grew last year over-wintered, thanks to our relatively mild temperatures. Usually, artichokes are grown as an annual in the Inland Northwest. One plant already has seven baby artichokes on it.

Two raised beds are covered with floating row cover to keep leaf miners from getting to the beets and Swiss chard, and aphids and cabbage loopers off the broccoli and cabbage. Since none of these crops needs to be pollinated, these beds will remain covered for the whole season.

I’m growing six grafted vegetable plants: three tomatoes, two eggplants and one pepper. I was so impressed with how well last year’s grafted tomato plant grew that I wanted to try them again. And since I’ve never had particularly robust eggplants, I felt it would be worthwhile to see if the grafted version exceeds my expectations. Stay tuned for a report later in the season.

I had a problem in my winter squash bed recently. I noticed two formerly robust young plants were suddenly very wilted. When I gently pulled on each plant, they easily broke off above the roots. Upon examining the stems, I noticed they had been chewed at ground level. The culprits were cutworms.

These fat, brown or gray worms are about an inch long and do their damage at night. During the day, they curl up around the plant stem they’ve been chewing on just below the soil surface.

The easiest way to prevent damage is to put paper collars around the plant stems at planting time, with half of each collar pushed into the soil. Since I don’t ordinarily have this problem, I didn’t use collars and now it is challenging placing them around established plants. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the stems of the remaining plants. This is a natural insecticidal dust that should cut the worm’s skin, causing it to dehydrate and die. It appears to have worked because there hasn’t been any more damage.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at her blog at susansinthegarden.