No-Fail Organic Vegetable Gardens

Eating the garden bounty

By Mickey Stobbe ©2012
Penn State Master Gardener

Barbara Pleasant believes that one out of five people would love to have a vegetable garden and reap the benefits of meals based on what’s ripe and ready just outside their kitchen door. She further states, “Having a vegetable garden pushes you to eat differently. Six months out of the year we eat from the garden bounty. Whatever is ready determines the menu.”

Pleasant’s 25-some years as researcher, writer and organic gardener have made her one of North America’s leading experts in organic vegetable gardens.  She will share her knowledge of creating organic vegetable gardens at this year’s Western Pennsylvania Garden and Landscape Symposium, the annual day-long horticultural event on April 14, co-sponsored by Penn State Extension, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and Shady Side Academy.

Her talk, “Wiser Living Through Gardening:  Using Edibles in the Landscape”, will include advice and helpful tips found in her latest book, Starter Vegetable Gardens, 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens (Storey Publishing ~ $ 19.95).   The book is geared to gardeners of all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.   Pleasant says that people can also learn about new vegetables and growing techniques by shopping their local farmers’ markets.


Barbara Pleasant
Barbara Pleasant

One of the interesting things about Starter Vegetable Gardens is that it provides the reader with one, two and three-year plans for each of 24 different types of gardens.   It keeps in mind that beginning gardeners may want to start small and expand in subsequent years as the gardener’s experience and success grow.  Every garden plan includes a materials list, wonderfully illustrated, colorful layouts, skill level needed, and tips on when to plant, thin, and harvest.  Pleasant’s book also provides advice on 46 garden-worthy vegetables and 10 must-have herbs, mulch, fertilization, insect friends and foes, and much, much more. 

Bag Garden

Starter Vegetable Gardens opens with the simplest plan:  “The Easy-Care Bag Garden”.   Designed to bring wonderful veggies to a city backyard or a suburban lawn, no prior gardening experience is necessary.  And this healthful project can be managed successfully by those employed full-time outside the home or those working inside the home, taking care of young children.

Pleasant says that she sees a need among young people, especially young mothers who want to feed their children well.  They want to stay home and care for them, cooking meals that are healthy and fresh.   Her ultimate goal is to give people a better relationship with green living and I can do it attitude.  Starter Vegetable Gardens has plans for short, medium and long growing seasons, and each of these gardens can provide vegetables for a family of three to four “with a little extra to put by.” Beds designed for gardeners with specific tastes--such as sweet corn, Cajun spice, and marinara sauce--are included.

Tips on Tomatoes


And talk about tips on tomatoes--many gardeners will list among their favorites ‘Prudens Purple’ or the popular ‘Cherokee Purple’.     These purple varieties might not ripen soon enough in shorter summers, and you might find better success with ‘Black Cherry’ or ‘Purple Plum’.

Pleasant encourages us to think about insects as six-legged friends that actually help in the garden.  Mixing specific blooming herbs and colorful annuals and perennials among your veggies enlists beneficial insects to fight some battles for you.  Braconid wasps can take on tomato worms; hoverflies can control aphid outbreaks.   Deep mulch and perennial herbs will provide a wonderful habitat for those helpful night predators:  beetles, spiders and garden toads. 


Barbara Pleasant grew her first tomato in 1974 in New Orleans and has since kept organic food gardens in four states.   She currently resides in picturesque Floyd County, Virginia where she keeps a large vegetable garden terraced into a west-facing slope.   She also grows berries, tree fruits and flowers.   A gourmet garden cook, she cans, freezes, makes pickles and keeps the dehydrator humming in late summer.  Her work has been honored by the Garden Writers Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association, and her current and self-described  employment is “one of the best jobs in the world”--contributing editor at Mother Earth News.

During our conversation, Pleasant mentioned she was obsessing about her onion seedlings (long red onions of Tropea, Italy).  “You won’t see this variety in a market; they don’t store well.  You simply cannot find them unless you grow them yourself.  That’s the beauty of having your own garden.”


Growing potatoes

Pickling the Harvest

Fall garden tasks


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