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43 yards of compost and 3 weekends.

Started from bare ground, this Santa Barbara garden yields vegetables year-round A FRENCH POTAGER (kitchen garden) inspired the design of this Santa Barbara vegetable garden. In wedge-shaped beds, owners Peggy and Bryan Rishe grow vegetables year-round. Since the garden is all organic, it's also a haven for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. "We've managed to create a little slice of nature in suburbia," says Peggy Rishe.

Creating the garden was a challenge for the Rishes, both first-time gardeners and recent transplants from the Midwest. "We had a clear idea of what we wanted, but we literally didn't know the difference between a seed and a bulb," Peggy Rishe says.

Before they started the project, she read every garden book and catalog she could get her hands on and took adult education classes in gardening. Soon she was hooked. "I was raised in a farming town; I guess learning about gardening brought out the dormant farmer in me."

At first, the Rishes were going to put in a lawn, but once the project was under way, they decided that grass would demand too much water and maintenance without giving anything in return ("You can't eat grass clippings," Bryan Rishe observes). That's when the vegetable garden idea took shape. IMPROVING THE SOIL TOOK THREE WEEKENDS

The first step was to improve their adobe soil. During construction of their house, the topsoil had been scraped off and the remaining soil was compacted. For three weekends, the Rishes shoveled in 33 yards of mushroom compost and manure, 14 yards of sand, and 10 yards of redwood compost.

To counteract the garden's rectangular shape, the Rishes formed wedge-shaped beds bordered by crisscrossing, wood-chip-covered paths.

Then the planting began. To get the greatest selection, Peggy Rishe started plants from seed, and she's always trying new kinds.

For summer harvest, she grows five successive plantings of yellow, white, and bi-color sugar-enhanced corn ('Miracle' is her favorite); six kinds of basil; high-yield 'Early Pride' cucumber; 'Celebrity', 'Lorissa', and 'Marmande' tomatoes ('Lorissa' and 'Marmande' are high producers, but not as flavorful as 'Celebrity') and 'Macero II' paste tomatoes; 'Ambrosia' melons; 'Sunburst' squash; and a rainbow of sweet peppers.

She is always plugging in new plants. She grows lettuce in the shade of corn, and successive plantings of carrots as a border around several beds.

STRATEGY FOR AN ORGANIC GARDEN

"People think that growing everything organically is difficult, but we found it cheaper, easier, and more healthful than traditional methods. Lots of products and tricks can help," explains Peggy Rishe. Here are some of the most successful.

Enhance the soil regularly with compost. Before planting, the Rishes mix in compost, which they make in their barrel composter with garden waste and manure from their two rabbits. After planting, they add a 3-inch layer of mulch. To further increase nitrogen and organic matter in the soil, they plant a different bed each fall with a cover crop of clover, hairy vetch, and buckwheat, which they turn under in spring.

Building up the soil has paid off. They now have an active earthworm population and rely very little on commercial fertilizers.

Rotate crops. To discourage crop disease, the Rishes rotate beds so no vegetable is planted in the same site longer than three years in a row.

Choose flowering plants that attract beneficial insects. Encircling the vegetables are flowers to attract and maintain the beneficial insects that Peggy Rishe introduces in spring, as well as ones that arrive on their own. She also grows the flowers for drying.

She finds that perennials such as asters, tansy (if you have room), and yarrow are more effective than annuals like marigolds. She also allows some of the carrots, Chinese chives, cilantro, dill, and parsnips to flower; these also attract beneficial insects.

Use least-toxic pest controls. To control aphids, mites, thrips, and whiteflies, she released green lacewing eggs and trichogramma wasps (1,000 of each every other week for six weeks). She already had ladybugs from previous introductions. She handpicks beetles and caterpillars and sets out sticky traps for whiteflies and thrips, and beer traps for snails.

She doesn't try to completely eradicate insect pests, so that beneficial insects will have a continual food source. She doesn't use toxic chemicals. For serious outbreaks, she spot-sprays as needed with Bacillus thuringiensis, insecticidal soap (mixed with rubbing alcohol for whiteflies), and pyrethrum.

Drip irrigate. The entire garden is watered with ooze tubing. Each bed is on a separate line and turned on manually, so plants get just the amount of water they need when they need it, not according to a schedule.
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Title Annotation:vegetable gardening
Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1994
Words:765
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