Looking toward the northwest corner of my raised vegetable bed, you see sick, stunted, and yellowing pea plants to the north (right), and vigorous plants to the south. The northern plants took a beating from water that accumulated in the soil during a three-day rainstorm in late April or early May.
I’ve lost a lot of pea plants in my small kitchen garden. After the winter that never happened, we’ve had less than average rainfall and I planted just about everything at least two weeks earlier than usual this year. The pea plants grew vigorously until we had an impressive three-day rainstorm. That’s when trouble started.
Drainage Problems in my Small Kitchen Garden
Last year’s biblical rainfall revealed that my kitchen garden is drainage-challenged. I had no garden soil until June; instead I had mud. Things dried up in June and I was able to plant but six weeks later, rain returned and whatever was growing in my raised vegetable bed was wet until autumn.
So, I started excavating a rain garden. I dug a trench to channel water away from the vegetable bed and I dug a deep hole as a reservoir to hold overflow during heavy rains. Soil I removed to make the drainage channel and reservoir went into my raised planting bed. I also bought a hopper of sand—about one cubic yard—and added that to the planting bed.
Overall, I raised the level of soil in my vegetable garden about three inches … and then I planted.
My Raised Vegetable Bed Needs Work
The new drainage system and the deeper soil in my raised bed handled the impressive three-day rainstorm pretty well. At no time during that rain was there standing water in my planting bed. Apparently, however, water was not far below the surface at the northwest end of the garden.
I’ve served fresh peas only once so far, with more to come in the next few days. We’ll most certainly eat all the peas in-season this year and none will make it into the freezer. The sickened pea plants have shown me where I need to increase the depth of soil in my raised planting bed.
Half of my pea plants are in the northwest end of the garden and they’re not happy. Their roots must have been saturated for five or six days. That was long enough, I guess, for them to start rotting, and the pea plants are dramatically stunted. As you move south along any row of plants, the vines become more vigorous and about two-thirds of the way along the row, pea plants tower six or more feet.
From the healthy plants, I’m harvesting more peas per vine than in any previous year. However, the harvest will clearly be less than half of what I get in a typical season. Makes me sad because homegrown peas taste nearly as good after freezing as they do cooked fresh and I love to have a gallon or two in the freezer to serve into the winter (I don’t start serving the frozen peas until we finish with fresh vegetables in the fall).
This fall or next spring, I’ll add more soil and sand to the northwest end of the raised vegetable bed and try to provide a buffer between rain-saturated soil during wet spells and the roots of my vegetable plants.