I have fond childhood memories of the seed catalogues my father received in the mail. There were all kinds, shapes, languages and origins. My favorites were the ones with color pictures, of course. What wonders! I was especially intrigued by anything weird or colorful, like purple potatoes, loofahs, or multicolored chard. I would spend hours reading them, far more interested in browsing than in ordering or planning a garden. That work was left to my father!
Now that life is calming down after the madness of the holiday season and a thick layer of snow has enveloped us, I finally have time to reflect and look back on last year’s vegetable garden, to better plan the next one.
First of all, you have to understand that, as I only have a terrace, although it is big enough to grow my vegetable garden, I garden exclusively in pots and planters.
Last summer, I didn’t run out of tomatoes! Several readers have told me about the problems they had with theirs. I don’t know if mine liked the conditions on my second-floor deck (tomatoes need a lot of light and I barely get 6 hours of sun, and then only in certain areas), but they grew and produced continuously until October. We ate delicious roasted tomato sauces and soups for months with only 6 tomato plants.
Of course, there was mildew on the leaves in August after a cold and rainy period. But as a good laidback gardener, I did nothing. New leaves grew and the plants continued to produce as if nothing had happened. I was still worried: since mildew often arrives later in September here as the season is coming to an end, I never remove infected leaves because I have so little to gain. To avoid possible problems, I’ll choose disease-resistant varieties in the future. Why make things complicated when you can make them simple?
And since I don’t have much space for my tomato plants, I’ll only use indeterminate varieties from now on. I had a determinate plant that produced a good crop in July, but after providing half a dozen tomatoes, it was already finished. I have to say that the squirrel had as many as I did, since it’s a shared custody deck. So I’ll wait. I think it would be more productive with tomatoes that will continue to grow and produce throughout the season. Some of my tomato plants were over 2 meters high!
Lots of Greens in My Garden
The lettuce was a big success this year too. I had started Romaine and leaf lettuce seedlings that fed us several times a week until August. Unfortunately, I didn’t do successive plantings, and that was the end of the lettuce after it went to seed! So I will have to be a little more diligent and forward thinking with my future plantings.
We didn’t run out of herbs either! Basil, parsley, oregano, mint and chives were all available. I even got some lovage, the easy-peasy celery, from a friend. It seems to have adapted well to life in a container!
I also planted two Tuscan kale plants. I think they look pleasantly prehistoric: their shape and texture add some “punch” to my garden. But they were so beautiful that I barely ate any… Maybe I need more?
A Little Fantasy in the Garden?
Previously, my vegetable garden was a huge pile of greenery with almost no color. I was reluctant to use my limited space for colorful plants that would not produce anything useful. So it lacked a little fantasy. But for the first time, last spring, I started annual flower seedlings indoors with my vegetables. I soon learned that the color they added to my garden gave me happiness just looking at them! In addition, my Salvia ‘Lady in Red’ was not only an eye-catcher, but also popular with pollinators.
Problem Vegetables… at Least for Me!
The bush beans produced, but I would need more space to get a satisfactory amount. However, the climbing beans I planted late in July did much better, growing higher and longer. By starting them earlier, in June, I should have even better crops.
Swiss chard? A big fat zero! Probably not enough sunshine. Peas, so-so! I love peas, though, and since they are among the first vegetables to produce at the beginning of summer, I will give them one last chance. But the zucchini, it’s over between us. There are very few pollinators at my home in the middle of the city, so I’m always excited to see a bee. “WOW A BEE IN !!! GET YOUR CELL PHONE OUT TO TAKE A PICTURE!!!” I always share my wonderment with my girlfriend who is valiantly (but slowly!) learning to appreciate the beneficial insects in our gardens.
Let’s get back to the zucchini. Due to a lack of pollinators, I had to pollinate them myself. However, since I only have room for one plant, it often happened that only male and female flowers were present. Since the female flower has to be fertilized with the pollen from the male flower, it is imperative that both are present at the same time. Solution: have several plants. Problem: I don’t have room for these huge beasts. So, even if I love pan-fried zucchini in butter, we’ll buy them at the market for now.
A similar complication with cucumbers. The lack of pollinators explains why I didn’t harvest many cucumbers. I’m thinking of growing English cucumbers this year. They are parthenocarpic, which means they produce fruit without being pollinated. So no need for bees! I will also choose disease-resistant and insect-resistant varieties. After all, I only have room for one cucumber plant, so I might as well give it my best shot.
You Can Put Your Vegetables in It
When it comes to containers, terracotta pots are out! They’re attractive but require too much maintenance. Indeed, since they do not resist our Canadian winters, they must be emptied of their potting soil in the fall, then stored in a dry place so that they do not break and, finally, refilled in the spring. Life is too short to share it with pots!
I built some wooden planters last year and will build more next spring. They are moderately resistant to cold, but at least they are easily repaired. I will also add geotextile pots (smart pot) even though I find them ugly. There are several colors and qualities, so I’ll try to find the least bad model.
A garden or a vegetable garden is always in progress. We learn from our mistakes, we make choices that are sometimes heartbreaking (bye-bye zucchini!) and, even when we think we’ve done everything perfectly, Mother Nature can always knock us down a peg by sending cold, drought, heat waves, insects or diseases. Still, winter is a good time to look back on the year that is ending, to plan for the year ahead and to accept with equanimity what we cannot change.
How was your 2022 season? What have you planned for 2023? Do you have any suggestions for me?