Looking Back On the Season

Spring Effervescence

I like the cyclical aspect of my work. First, there is the start of the season, where everything falls into place. The Urbainculteurs team is growing, we feel the early season rush coming. Garden installations and plantings fill our calendar. It’s a moment of effervescence, all the work of the previous planning is finally taking shape. It’s intense yet satisfying for both body and mind. There’s no routine, each day reveals its share of surprises and unforeseen events. We spend hours preparing and organizing everything, but if you only knew how unique and different each project is! We are always in solution mode, we adapt, we’re going back and forth throughout the city. This is the time when we work the most as a team, we help each other and we laugh a lot. It’s sometimes difficult, but at the end of the day we’re always proud. I love these moments, they are concrete and rewarding.

After the installations comes a rhythmic but definitely calmer period. The vegetables are in place. They take root and capture the energy of the sun, garden maintenance begins. Our calendar becomes more stable, we stake, fertilize, track problems: in short, we make sure that everything is beautiful. It’s good that the tempo slows down a bit, we make some adjustments and hope for good harvests.

The season follows its course and in a blink of an eye, we wake up at the end of September. The cycle is reversed, it’s been a while since we sowed new seeds, harvests are ending. We gradually prepare the gardens for winter, we plant the garlic, it’s the garden closing period until the end of October. We’ve come full circle, a new cycle is completed. This ending allows me to turn a page, a bit like a school year that is ending.

A finished project!
Credit: Les Urbainculteurs
Harvests are on the way!
Credit: Les Urbainculteurs

What Comes Next?

Around this time, I’m often asked: “But what do you do when the gardens are closed, do you still have work?”. The answer is yes! We’re finally taking a step back and can do everything that’s been put aside or put on hold during the summer season. But of all the fall chores, the reviews are definitely what occupy our minds the most. I wanted to name this article “The time of assessments.” Writing it at the top of the page, I realized it might sound stark and uninviting. So let’s say we take a look back on the season in order to better direct ourselves and adapt for the next one. Because as soon as a season is over, we project ourselves into the next one! And believe me, we do it for all departments, from the online store to the educational center, from the urban farm to operations management.

Is this exercise relevant? Of course! In the midst of the season, we’re often in reactive mode, we’re constantly in action because we work with living things. It’s only once all this is behind us, but still fresh in mind, that we can make real observations. I therefore propose to you today to take a break and take a look at the season that has just ended.

Have Your Garden in Mind

If you haven’t already done so, draw a sketch of your garden so you know where your vegetables were. This will come in handy for the following year if you want to rotate crops. Also, ask yourself about your planting densities. Did your garden look like a jungle? Did your kale plant look lost among the weeds? Finally, think about your areas of sunshine. Were the locations adequate? You may have placed a tomato plant in complete shade without knowing it. I have heard this story many times, especially if the garden plan was designed when there were no leaves in the trees yet! You can adjust this in your next planning.

Think about what you have grown. Does this meet your needs? Did you miss something, or on the contrary, did you harvest an overabundance of some kind of vegetable? Consult your family. They too have a say in what was in the garden, you might be surprised. Let’s take a few examples from my thoughts to fuel yours.

Hello Variety!

I’ve been subscribed to an organic basket for several years. My family farmers only grow red tomatoes, but for my part, I love having a multitude of varieties on my plate. In this sense, my vegetable garden has become a variation on the same theme, inspired by my organic basket. For example, I now grow more “funky” varieties like Green Zebra or Black Crimea at home. My summer salads are full of colors! In addition, each year I improve my vegetable garden with new ancestral or little-known varieties, discoveries that amaze me.

Green Zebra Tomato
Credit: Les Urbainculteurs
Noire de Crimée tomatoe
Credit: Les Jardins de l’Écoumène

When You’re Overwhelmed

I also get cucumbers every week. I used to put three Lebanese cucumber plants in my garden. Combined with those in my basket, I found myself overwhelmed with them. Even daily consumption is not sufficient. Losing crops is never satisfying for a gardener, so it was important for me to overcome this. So I replaced these three plants with foods that are not in my basket. Good supplement, right?

A few years ago I tried cucamelon. It was the new trend. I went strong with two plants. They completely invaded my other vegetable, even compromising some harvests. The production was phenomenal but I confess, I didn’t like it at all. I was very disappointed. Observation: I should have started with only one plant as it was a novelty, and I never put cucamelons back in my vegetable garden!

Credit: Les Jardins de l’Écoumène

Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work

I’ve persisted for several years in growing beets, but despite all the care given, it’s been a repeated failure. I have to face the facts, it’s not working. Looking back, I realize that I uselessly monopolize a precious space in the vegetable garden, only motivated by the pride of succeeding, in addition to creating a feeling of frustration. Why persevere then? It’s okay to let go when it’s not working, you can’t do everything perfectly. Don’t fret over repeated failure, you will definitely find this food at a farmer’s market near you. It’ll be just as tasty.

Did you experience any difficulties? Gardening often comes with its share of bugs and sometimes diseases. Fall and winter are good times to learn how to properly recognize these insects and diseases. I invite you to delve into the literature on this subject in order to know how to mitigate and counter these undesirable but inevitable effects.

Reflect on Your Practices

You can finish the whole thing by taking a quick tour of your practices. Think about your staking, fertilization and your irrigation. For my part, I made changes in my fertilization. I tried something new, all over my vegetable garden. I fertilized at the same frequency and at a similar dosage despite having completely changed fertilizer. The result: the growth of several of my vegetables stagnated, I’ve even observed a drop in yield in certain crops. I’ll have to adjust and learn for next year. Maybe I should have done some tests in one section of my vegetable garden before making a complete change.

Global Appreciation

But above all, ask yourself has the practice of gardening been a fun experience for you? Gardening requires an investment of time. There’s the time spent in the garden, but also the time outside the garden for the management and processing of crops. I’ve seen a lot of people get into gardening with great big plans. Many became discouraged after a year because the ratio of time invested versus pleasure didn’t hold water. If this is the case, know that it’s possible to reduce the size of a vegetable garden so that it better fits with your lifestyle. Planting a vegetable garden is a gratifying and rewarding activity on many levels, you just have to find your balance.

Has gardening been a great experience for you?

Here is my proposal for a horticultural assessment. The level of reflection is up to you. The next season can be planned taking into account your cumulative learnings, a valuable experience to consolidate and share.

Marie-Andrée is the urban farm manager and a trainer at Urbainculteurs, where she has been working since 2015. She plans and supervises the production of Jardins du bassin Louise, an urban vegetable farm with a social and educational vocation. Outstanding at teaching, she also co-hosts the podcast Mâche-patate and is one of the main trainers of the Urbainculteurs online training course. Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization, based in Quebec since 2009. Their mission: to develop and promote a productive, accessible and responsible urban agriculture for the benefit of organizations and individuals, in order to increase food security, improve our living environments and promote an ecological transition.

8 comments on “Looking Back On the Season

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  5. Diane Hull

    Lots of our own thinking in this article. This is our third year growing raised vegetable gardens. I have learned that we planted too close in many situations (cabbage), and we learned from previous years how to avoid bugs by starting squash in our house and planting them out much later. I think the bugs gave up! We also learned that we need the trellis/fence a little higher so that we can pick them without crawling under. Also, to put the trellis or climbing structure up earlier for snow peas. We do make a big diagram plan to rotate our crops and put marigolds and nasturtiums where needed near the vegetables we grew a ton of veggies to the point of having to buy another freezer. Next year, we hope, will be the same or better.

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  8. Jt Michaels

    Solid advice – especially for newer gardeners!

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