Garden On, Vashon

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Structures to Protect your Vegetables

July 9th, 2013 at Tue, 9th, 2013 at 12:59 pm by Karen Dale


Our climate seems perfection right now, compared to the floods and heat-waves suffered by other regions of the country. Unfortunately, if you look a little closer into the garden, you can find plenty of problems our climate dishes up on the sly. Fungal infections encouraged by warm moist air or by cool rains. Insects that lay eggs in root vegetables or in developing fruit. Bigger pests that can claw, fly, or rear up on their hind legs to reach your precious fruit. Sometimes the best protection for the things you grow is a FORTRESS.

On the morning of Independence Day, I visited Jerry Gehrke’s garden on the north end of Vashon. Some Islanders may know Jerry as the local coordinator for the mason bee growing project, BeeGap. But in his working life, he was a design engineer of heavy equipment for John Deere, and he’s put all that design skill to work in his garden. I came interested to see the many defenses he’s built against pest & plague. 

TOMATO SHELTERS:   He’s made two, designed to be taken down by winter, then re-installed and re-skinned in 3 mil plastic by May lst when he plants tomato starts bought from Pacific Potager. The idea is to retain warmth in the early & late parts of the season, while keeping August rains off the plants mid-sesaon to avoid late blight, which gets on plants through rain splashing off infected soil. 

Built of 2x pine on top of level, pressure-treated wooden beds, the frame is stiffened with knee-bracing and short T-posts driven into the ground, then screwed into the frame. Screws and match numberings make re-assembly easier. Each long side can be rolled down and battened with a turn-block near the base of each corner post, or rolled up and over. The short sides are always open to air and pollinating bees. Jerry says—“I use pine to save money, and the wood is stronger than cedar. Also with pine, the wood holds up better after years of reinserting screws in the same holes. During the really wet season, the pine wood is stored under protection.”

I noticed that his beds are dead-level even though his garden is on a slope, and his frames look plumb and square. He said, “Yes, level beds are a must to have proper water distribution and for a pleasing quality look ( in my mind). It does take a lot more time up front to install.”

PROTECTION AGAINST CARROT RUST FLY:  This pest likes our PNW conditions so much, they can squeeze three generations of carrot-chewing maggotry into our long growing season. The only real defense against this egg-laying fly is to keep her off young carrots with tents of reemay cloth (seen in top photo). Jerry uses reemay for both carrots and turnips: “in the two years I’ve used reemay tunnels, I haven’t had one ruined turnip,” he claims. 

PROTECTION AGAINST MOLDY BEANS: This one’s mighty simple. At each end of his bush bean plantings stand short wooden crosses. When his beans are in danger of sprawling over, Jerry runs a jute string from one arm to its mirror twin at other end of the row. These strings help hold plants & pods off the ground, keeping them from growing moldy so fast (though not handling the plants in rainy weather  or heavy dew is the greatest preventative of all).

PUP TENT COVERS:  Because Jerry plants both a spring-summer garden and a fall-winter garden, he needs season extenders to warm soil, encourage germination, and protect plants from harsh weather. So he’s devised these pup-tent lids, a pair for each raised wooden bed. They hinge to their host bed on the short ends; the gardener opens the lids from the middle, propping each up with its built-in kick-stand. In high summer, the lids are stowed under his deck; one of the pair is smaller than the other so it nests within, saving storage space.

I asked him about his pre-planning, thinking that an engineer might even have AutoCad drawings. He said—”For structures, I must have a sketch on paper to start with. I then pause for a few days to run through each and every construction step in my mind before I start buying wood and cutting it.”

In the next blog: Structures that Protect Fruit


gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email, or leave a comment.

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