Planning vegetable families’ seating arrangements

By Lee Reich, The Associated Press
Friday March 29, 2002

How many families are you having over to the vegetable garden this summer? You have to plan their seating arrangement, you know. 

We’re talking about plant families. An example of a plant family is the mustard family, which includes among its members cabbage, broccoli, collards, and brussels sprouts. With their similar, pungent flavor, you might have guessed that they were relatives. 

More important, though — because it’s the primary characteristic that unites members of any plant family — is the similarity of their flowers. All members of the mustard family have flowers with four equal petals in the shape of a cross. 

Another prominent family that you will undoubtedly have over this summer is the pea family, which also includes beans, and, if you step over to the flower garden, lupines. Step onto the lawn and you step on another member, clover. The pea family has “irregular” flowers, each with three different shapes of petals. 

The small flowers of another family, the carrot family, all arise on stalks that radiate out from a common point atop a thicker stalk, resulting in a flat-topped or rounded cluster. Except for dill, which we grow for seeds and leaves, we miss the flowers of carrot, parsley, celery, parsnip and other members of this family because we grow them only for their roots or leaves. 

Five equal flower petals characterize one of the most-loved families in the garden, the nightshade family. World famous members of this family include potato, tomato, eggplant, and pepper. 

More than just number and shape of petals characterizes a plant family. Cucumber, squash, and melon flowers also have five, equal petals, but the flowers are either male or female. Nightshade flowers all have both male and female parts. 

Why all this ado about plant families? Because members of a plant family usually share common pest problems. As examples, clubroot disease attacks the mustards, blight attacks the nightshades, and parsleyworms chew on leaves of the carrot family. 

Except where it is sufficiently mobile, you can starve out a pest by not planting a family member in the same place more often than every three years. So if you plant a member of the carrot family at a particular location this year, plant a member of a different plant family there for the next two years. No need to banish carrot or parsley from the garden. Just plant them somewhere else — actually, in two different places — over the next few years. 

Similarly, keep changing the seating arrangement for the other families.