Although the seed planting season doesn’t start until March (or even later, as most vegetable plants need to be started in April), at least here in Quebec, I’m already planning my next vegetable garden. Allthough, many of you finished this task long ago!
@#$%&! This is so much work! I seem to forget from one year to the next. But what a great job! I love researching new varieties, planning the dates and seeing life come back indoors despite the snow still covering my yard. It makes me dream!
That said, I’ve barely started planning my garden and I’m already wondering if seedlings are really for laidback gardeners like me. The thing is, if you want to have different or original varieties of vegetables, herbs or annuals, you can’t just buy seedlings from a nursery, even though that would be the lazy thing to do. Sometimes even laidback gardeners have to get off their butts!
Back to the Vegetable Garden
Some of you may remember my article Back to the Garden, in which I reflected on the previous season’s garden, a container garden, as it is located on my terrace, on the second floor in the middle of the city. Basically, the conclusions were as follows:
- Plant tomatoes without mildew.
- Choose parthenocarpic cucumbers.
- More greens as I have little sunlight.
- Plant more flowers! They’re beautiful and attract pollinators.
- Avoid certain vegetables that don’t adapt well to the conditions in my garden.
- Ban clay pots!
I’m very meticulous in my planning even though I’m quite absentminded. That’s why I’m so well organized (not sure my girlfriend would always agree but that’s another story!) It’s also because of my experience as a landscape designer that I have to draw everything, put everything on a spreadsheet. So I started planning my vegetable garden edition 2023!
Plan of the Garden
Yes, I have a plan of my garden. Everything is there, even the furniture, planters and pots. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but now that it’s done and transcribed into my drawing software, it’s so easy to explore different design options. I’m not asking everyone to make a scaled drawing. A quick sketch will do to plan the space you have to allocate to your garden. You can then change it from one year to the next, see the evolution of your garden, and remember what you had planted in a certain place in order to rotate your crops. Personally, I use Autocad since I already have this professional drawing software and I am used to it. However, there are also free applications. And you can always use graph paper, which is what I did in my early days as a designer.
Again, I know there are apps out there for planning dates, transplanting, outdoor planting, harvesting, etc. Maybe you know of some that work for you. As for me, I’ll stick to my old ways for now, so I still use a spreadsheet. It gives me the flexibility to manipulate my spreadsheet the way I like. In the past, I used grid paper to make my chart by hand.
It contains a lot of information: a list of locations with their sunlight level; the names of the plants with their light requirements; and columns in which I indicate the start date of the planned sowing, transplanting and harvesting. Then, it’s easy to know what to do, at what time, without forgetting anything. It also helps me to visualize the availability of each place during the season. For example, to see that my peas are no longer producing, so I can plant lettuce there. The information I add to my chart comes from seed packets, websites, but also from my father’s book Les semis du jardinier paresseux (not available in English).
Choice of Plants
I plan to grow some fairly typical annual herbs (dill, basil, cilantro, parsley) in addition to other perennials I already have: chives, lovage, mint and oregano. Nothing exciting for the moment. But my father introduced me to culantro (Eryngium foetidum) last year and it intrigues me. This biennial, which has a taste reminiscent of coriander, is native to the tropical Americas such as the Caribbean and Florida. It produces a rosette of leaves 12 inches long by 1.5 inches wide. Unlike coriander (Coriandrum sativum), it only flowers in the second year, and this is its main interest for me. Coriander blooms too quickly for my taste, as I have no room to make successive seedlings. Also, I tend to let it bloom because I think it’s beautiful, as well as producing seeds. I’ll plant cilantro anyways, which will be ready before the culantro. It is perfect for Latin American and Asian dishes.
I think the tomato is the most popular vegetable for home gardeners, both in the ground and in containers. This obsession is completely understandable! Tomatoes come in a variety of colors and flavors, and they are used in cooking in all sorts of ways!
At home, I only have room for six plants. At the beginning of the year, I planned to plant only indeterminate and disease resistant tomatoes. But as I flipped through my seed book (a photo album converted to a book for my seeds, thank you Marie!), I saw that I had some seeds left over from last year. So I decided to replant the Maskabecs and Tumbling Tom Reds that I already had and to add the Zenzei F1.
The Maskabec tomato is a variety developed in Quebec in the 1970s by Roger Doucet. Although it is determinate, so it stops growing early in the season, the fruits ripen faster. I will have tomatoes earlier, which I can replace with other vegetables for my fall garden.
The Tumbling Tom Red tomato was given to me by my father and it produces phenomenal amounts of small red fruits. This trailing variety is perfect for pots or hanging baskets. It was my biggest producer last year despite the small size of the plant.
I also wanted to try a disease resistant tomato plant, as I had a little trouble with late blight last year. So when I saw that the Zenzei F1 tomato had been chosen by All-America Selections in 2023, my choice immediately fell on this beautiful Roma. Although indeterminate, it is said to be productive, with uniform fruit on a nice bushy plant. All this plus disease resistance. This is my trial of the season.
Last year, my one cucumber plant barely produced. I blame it on the cool weather and disease but also on the lack of pollinators. Since my garden is on a terrace in the middle of the city, it doesn’t surprise me that insects have a hard time finding my cucumber flowers. So what’s the solution? Parthenocarpic cucumbers, which do not need to be pollinated to produce fruit. I chose the Socrates variety for its resistance to diseases and its delicate taste.
Several vegetables didn’t do so well in my garden in 2022: zucchini and Swiss chard, both of which need a lot of sun. My concern is that my terrace is not very sunny and the part that is sunny is dedicated to tomatoes (sorry zucchini, if you had produced better, I would have kept you!) Lettuce, spinach, kale all tolerate a little shade. So why change a winning recipe? As a change, I will be content to plant my lettuce in successive seedlings because I didn’t harvest any at the end of the season, even though it resists our cold falls.
I’ve been planting snow peas for a few years now, with mixed success. But, despite my tendency to get rid of plants that have little success, I have persisted. Partly because I love peas, but also because they are among the first and last to produce. I couldn’t figure out how to grow them successful when a friend told me she was buying a legume inoculant! Peas, like other legumes, live in symbiosis with bacteria (rhizobia) that take up nitrogen from the air and convert it into substances that the plants can use. You may already have these bacteria in your garden, or you can buy them. Then your garden soil should support these rhizobia without having to inoculate the soil every year. This is the peas’ last chance. If they don’t produce this year, I’ll find other vegetables that will satisfy me better!
It was only last year that I started with flower seedlings. Previously, I was hesitant to leave them a place I could have used to grow more vegetables. But when I saw the number of insects swirling around my Salvia ‘Lady in Red’, I knew immediately that flowers would be part of my garden for life.
Salvia will be back, of course, but I’ve also added verbena (Verbena bonariensis) to my list, another plant that attracts pollinators. Several readers have suggested nasturtium for its edible flowers, so I’m taking a chance with the ‘Baby Rose’ variety, which is pink, of course, but also well suited to growing in a pot.
And since the National Garden Bureau has named 2023 the year of the Celosia, I’ve indulged in the ‘Asian Garden’ variety, which is known for its compact form and sturdy branches that produce deep pink flowers that are a pollinator magnet. Get ready, my love, there will be a symphony of buzzing bees on our patio this summer!
Honestly, I don’t want to talk about it anymore because my disappointment is so deep! I let you read my text The Snowflake That Broke the Terracotta’s Back if you want to know more. As a replacement, I’ll use geotextile pots. Yes, I know, I already said that I found them ugly. But it’s better to have an ugly container that can withstand the cold than beautiful stoneware pots that can’t! So I’m looking for geotextile pots that are not too hideous. To be continued!
What do you have planned for your garden this year?