I know it’s hot out there, but let’s keep our food gardens growing seamlessly through the summer and into fall and winter. A number of things have changed the way we grow our own food. First, less is more. Food gardens have become smaller but more productive. I think most of us have realized that we tend to grow too much of one type of vegetable, that it all matures at the same time, and that a lot of it ends up in the compost because we have busy lives and no time to process and preserve our food. Zucchini anyone? Now we grow two to three clusters of lettuce and a few tomatoes, cucumbers and squash to keep us nicely supplied with fresh produce through the summer. The same is true of brassicas, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, and of root crops like beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips. Greens, like swiss chard and spinach, are now planted in smaller quantities so we can use it up in two to three weeks with little or no waste. We are growing pole beans and peas on tripod frames to make better use of space and to enjoy a far greater production. Cucumbers are also being grown this way. Smaller spaces, fewer plants, more creativity, all make for a well-used garden needing less effort.
Another trend is towards adopting a more continual and sequential planting scheme. Not everything needs or should be planted at once. Early, cold-hardy plants, like onions, early potatoes, brassicas and peas can be planted in late March or early April. While carrots and beets germinate better in warmer temperatures, and squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and basil love the heat. To save time and to make food gardening more efficient, many folks are using transplants and even larger plants grown in 4” pots for a quick turnaround. They can save weeks of time and keep a nice supply of fresh food flowing to your table. As one crop finishes, another one is popped in throughout the summer and on through fall until winter vegetables take over.
I have to give the breeders in our industry a great deal of credit for their creativity in developing, through traditional breeding practices, a whole array of more compact vegetables that produce better, more disease resistant crops that have higher levels of nutrition and antioxidant values. Bush cucumbers, tumbling tomatoes, ‘Simply Salad’ lettuce and ‘Simply Kale’ blends and bush summer and winter squash are all examples of new varieties that produce quality food in much less space. We now have smaller cabbage heads, more productive peppers and better, longer-lasting broccoli and other brassicas.
The variety of food has also expanded, like multi-coloured carrots, green, cheddar and purple cauliflower, gold and green beets, sweeter yellow tomatoes and crossover hot peppers, such as ‘Chenzo’ and ‘Loco’, which are both edible and ornamental. Food gardening has become exciting again, even for those who only have containers on a deck. It’s now a year round buffet with new colours, flavours and sizes. Food gardening is easy and fun, so keep that little garden space going.
We’re only halfway through the growing season, but because of the heat, many veggies have finished early. If you have empty space in your garden, a lot of vegetables (especially transplants) can still be set out now for a late summer harvest. What can be planted now? Lettuce, spinach, beets, swiss chard, late varieties of most brassicas (it’s a little late for brussels sprouts) can still be planted. It is especially important to plant kale now as well as leeks, cucumbers, squash and pre-started beans. Radishes have time to produce from seeds, and I think carrots, parsnips and turnips are worth a try.
Remember to save a spot for winter vegetables. They can be planted starting in August. If you’ve never tried growing them before, you are in for a delightful surprise.