First, a Word About Varieties

As recently as the 1930s, most American country folk still did not
have running water. With water being hand-pumped and carried in
buckets, and precious, their vegetable gardens had to be grown with
a minimum of irrigation. In the otherwise well-watered East, one
could routinely expect several consecutive weeks every summer
without rain. In some drought years a hot, rainless month or longer
could go by. So vegetable varieties were bred to grow through dry
spells without loss, and traditional American vegetable gardens were
designed to help them do so.
I began gardening in the early 1970s, just as the raised-bed method
was being popularized. The latest books and magazine articles all
agreed that raising vegetables in widely separated single rows was a
foolish imitation of commercial farming, that commercial vegetables
were arranged that way for ease of mechanical cultivation. Closely
planted raised beds requiring hand cultivation were alleged to be
far more productive and far more efficient users of irrigation
because water wasn't evaporating from bare soil.
I think this is more likely to be the truth: Old-fashioned gardens
used low plant densities to survive inevitable spells of
rainlessness. Looked at this way, widely separated vegetables in
widely separated rows may be considered the more efficient users of
water because they consume soil moisture that nature freely puts
there. Only after, and if, these reserves are significantly depleted
does the gardener have to irrigate. The end result is surprisingly
more abundant than a modern gardener educated on intensive,
raised-bed propaganda would think.
Finding varieties still adapted to water-wise gardening is becoming
difficult. Most American vegetables are now bred for
irrigation-dependent California. Like raised-bed gardeners,
vegetable farmers have discovered that they can make a bigger profit
by growing smaller, quick-maturing plants in high-density spacings.
Most modern vegetables have been bred to suit this method. Many new
varieties can't forage and have become smaller, more determinate,
and faster to mature. Actually, the larger, more sprawling heirloom
varieties of the past were not a great deal less productive overall,
but only a little later to begin yielding.
Fortunately, enough of the old sorts still exist that a selective
and varietally aware home gardener can make do. Since I've become
water-wiser, I'm interested in finding and conserving heirlooms that
once supported large numbers of healthy Americans in relative
self-sufficiency. My earlier book, being a guide to what passes for
ordinary vegetable gardening these days, assumed the availability of
plenty of water. The varieties I recommended in [i]Growing
Vegetables West of the Cascades[i] were largely modern ones, and the
seed companies I praised most highly focused on top-quality
commercial varieties. But, looking at gardening through the filter
of limited irrigation, other, less modern varieties are often far
better adapted and other seed companies sometimes more likely

FINING. FOR FIGHTING PLANT ENEMIES facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail