The Vegetable Garden

The Problem with Traditional Vegetable Gardening

  • Written by Jonathan White, Environmental Scientist

Traditional vegetable gardens require an enormous amount of hard work and attention - weeding, feeding and strict planting schedules.  There is also the problem of seasonality, allowing beds to rest during the cooler months producing nothing at all. 

Let me ask you this question.  Does a forest need to think how to grow?  Does its soil need to be turned every season?  Does someone come along every so often and plant seeds or take pH tests?  Does it get weeded or sprayed with toxic chemicals? Of course not! 

Traditional vegetable gardening techniques are focused on problems.  Have you noticed that gardening books are full of ways to fix problems?  I was a traditional gardener for many years and I found that the solution to most problems simply caused a new set of problems. In other words, the problem with problems is that problems create more problems. Let’s take a look at a common traditional gardening practice and I will show you how a single problem can escalate into a whole host of problems.

Imagine a traditional vegetable garden, planted with rows of various vegetables.  There are fairly large bare patches between the vegetables.  To a traditional gardener, a bare patch is just a bare patch.  But to an ecologist, a bare patch is an empty niche space.  An empty niche space is simply an invitation for new life forms to take up residency.  Nature does not tolerate empty niche spaces and the most successful niche space fillers are weeds.  That’s what a weed is in ecological terms - a niche space filler.  Weeds are very good colonizing plants.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be called weeds.