by Terry Kramer
Fieldbrook gardeners Rose and Carson Bledsoe never weed their vegetable patch because there are no weeds to pull. Their secret comes from "The One-Minute Gardener," by Derek Fell, which features the use of black plastic and drip irrigation to produce an abundance of vegetables quickly and efficiently.
"We cannot do a lot of weeding because we both hurt our backs," said Rose. "We've grown gardens before and we'd just be up to here (pointing to her chin) with weeds and grass, and my back would be killing me. So when I saw this book on a television gardening program I went out and bought it. It's great," Rose said. The Bledsoes have been One-Minute Gardeners for eight years.
The vegetable garden is located midway down a gentle sloping acre that is landscaped in a cottage garden style. Surrounded by neatly trimmed grass are nine 2-by-16-foot raised beds with black plastic placed over drip lines in the middle of each bed. The Bledsoes cut holes in the plastic and plant vegetable starts.
Lightly preparing the beds each spring is the main chore. Every spring Carson fluffs the soil with a minitiller. Since the plastic is left on the vegetable beds all winter there are no weeds to mow or pull.
"I can come out here and till right after the rains because it isn't very wet," he said.
At tilling time Carson adds two bags of manure per row, chicken or chicken and steer. The plastic-covered beds look "like a graveyard in the beginning," Rose added, but the vegetable plants quickly fill in, hiding much of the plastic.
The blanket of black plastic not only deters weeds, it also gets vegetable transplants off to a quick start because the soil remains warm through the night when air temperatures cool. "The peppers, tomatoes and corn grow excellent. They just really do well, and the lettuce and broccoli and cauliflower mature quicker. It probably takes weeks less, and you just pick and replant," said Rose.
Straw or chips can be used as a mulch over the plastic, but the Bledsoes have allergies and do not use it.
Winter squash, salad greens, peas, beans, watermelon and eggplant are among the many vegetables the Bledsoes grow successfully.
Because the drip irrigation is placed on a timer, and liquid fertilizer is fed through the lines, the Bledsoes can go on vacation and not have to worry about the garden.
"We used to come back (from vacation) and the garden would be a disaster area with weeds and grass," Carson said. "Now we just have the neighbors come and pick the vegetables while we are gone."
Back in 1979 the Bledsoes' park-like yard was full of Himalaya brambles, neglected fruit trees and a single large walnut. "It was all briar bushes when we moved here and we hacked them away," said Rose. The vegetable garden grows where an old lath mill used to be. The ground was filled with rocks.
"In the middle of winter you could drive on it," said Carson. The Bledsoes placed weed mat on the ground and added 15 yards of top soil which they molded into raised beds.
Deer and aphids are the only two pests the Bledsoes have to bother with. Rose uses ladybugs to eat the aphids and sprinkles bloodmeal about to deter the deer. Deer nibble about the ornamentals in the landscape, but Rose takes their dining in stride.
"You know, sometimes the deer are helpful. I mean, they will trim things up in the spring and then you are all mad about it, but then the plant comes back healthier and bigger. It's not that bad."
The vegetable garden is just part of the Bledsoes' cottage garden-style yard, neatly trimmed with islands of shrubs, perennials and annuals. Wide swathes of lawn separate beds of rhododendron, pieris, clematis, Iceland poppies and Japanese maple. Weed mat covered with bark and gravel mulch, combined with drip irrigation, make the Bledsoes' yard low maintenance. The Bledsoes love to garden, but they don't want to slave away at it.
"Weeding is not fun. Picking is the fun part," said Carson. One-minute gardening "is for anyone who doesn't like to weed."
Terry Kramer is a Bayside free-lance writer and owner of Jacoby Creek Nursery.