Day 21 of Your Successful Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes! North America’s favourite home-grown vegetable. (Actually, it’s said it is “America’s” favourite home-grown vegetable, but I’m sure Canadians are as keen on home-grown toms as Americans.)

Garden Tribe’s final day of Boot Camp focuses on tomatoes, and what a great ending (and how great that it’s ending!). And isn’t this a brilliant line:

Some gardeners are all about herbs. Some gardeners are all about their roses. But there is no one quite as obsessive as the gardener who likes to grow tomatoes.

I’m going to be repeating some of what Garden  Tribe says, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want. So here’s some things to know:

1. Type. Not variety, but type. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. You can remember it this way: determinate determine to all ripen together, so that you’ve got a great crop all at once to can or freeze. They are bush like, and don’t get nearly as big as the other. Which is indeterminate, as in, they can’t determine when to ripen, so they all do it at their own speed. Indeterminate tomatoes are like thick vines, just growing and growing until you tell them to stop.

So if you’re wondering what kind of tomato to get, the answer lies in what you want tomatoes for. Salad? Cherry-type tomatoes–they’ll likely be indeterminate–vine-like. Canning? Plum-type, and/or determinate, ripening pretty much all at once. Maybe you want to spread out the harvest but still for the purpose of canning–get two different kinds of determinate tomatoes with different length maturation. For eg. Celebrity tomato is determinate, ripening in  70 days from sowing. Roma, plum and determinate, ripens in  80 days. So you have time to get the Celebrity in and canned before the Romas are ready.

2. Conditions. West Coast Seeds (my source of all wisdom and knowledge with regard to vegetables) says to not plant out tomatoes in coastal BC until the nights are consistently over 10°C. Which is not going to be until June 1. I showed you what my seedlings look like now,

This tomato seedling can't be planted out for weeks yet (altho I might try the milk jug trick again), but you can see it's already pretty tall. I'll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I'll bury most if not all that stem.

This tomato seedling can’t be planted out for weeks yet  but you can see it’s already pretty tall. I’ll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I’ll bury most if not all that stem.

with still a month to go before I can plant them out. Before planting them out they have to be hardened off, which will take a week. That still leaves three weeks of growing indoors without getting stunted, or too leggy, or starved for nutrition, or left dry for too many  minutes… I’ve decided to try the milk jug treatment so I can get them outside two weeks early.

Hot weather, enough but not too much water, (slow down watering by mid-late summer so the plant will focus on fruiting instead of continuing to put on green growth–unless you’re using containers, in which case just continue as normal), protection from rain as the summer nights start to get cooler (we suffer from late blight here). Again, here on the “wet coast” buying tomato plants that have a short maturation time can take advantage of our good July and ripening in August. Most of the cherry/grape style toms mature in 60-65 days.

3. Staking. If your tomato is a vine-grower you’ll have to have some way of keeping it frowing upright. And once the tomatoes start to grow, they get heavy. Those little tomato cages you see at the hardware store will NOT hold up your crop. So decide whether you’re going to splurge on bigger better cages that will last many years, or create another kind of support–like this one from Doug Green’s Garden.

Here’s one last little trick, don’t remember where this came from. When you’re ready to get the plants in the ground, the day before, put them outside lying down. By the next day the growing end will have started to turn upward toward the light (looking like a hockey stick), so then you can easily plant it in your trench with the tops sticking out.

So I have to say, if I can grow tomatoes, anyone can grow tomatoes.

And that’s the end of Boot Camp. Get out there and grow some supper! And let me know how it’s going. I’ll keep you posted on my successes as well–of course this year I will actually have some successes!

Since this whole Boot Camp was about offering quick lessons to take the beginning gardener from fear of starting to joy in succeeding, here’s a link to another gardner’s suggestions for the beginner: In Lee Reich’s Garden.

Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

I’m running way behind on Garden Tribe’s 21-Day Veggie Garden Boot Camp, so I’ll try to catch up the next few days.

Day 8 topic is Raised Beds–a subject dear to my heart, because I think you can make a garden look really stunning by adding different levels.

Of course, beauty is not necessarily the point for Garden Tribe. Let’s just stick to the basics, “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts”.

The GT lesson has an excellent summary, so I’ll let them tell it, and I’ll just add my two-bits: and here’s a great little site for raised beds:

  1. Why do you want a raised bed?
    1. You have no ground space or your only available ground space is inappropriate for vegetables.
    2. Your need the physical convenience of raised bed.
    3. You want to control the soil better
    4. You like the look.
  2. What is underneath?
    1. Impervious concrete/asphalt/other. Walls of raised bed need to be taller than if located over soil; needs to have a bottom with landscape cloth and good drainage.
    2. Grass/turf/weeds that you’re going to cover and smother. In my experience it took at least a year for the plant material to decompose, and in the meantime was full of wireworm that got into the potatoes. 
    3. Soil that’s difficult to till/grow in/doesn’t drain well. Covering that over with lots of inches of largely organic mixture will begin the process of amending that soil, so it’s a very good thing.
    4. Reasonably good growing soil, just not high enough. So you’re going to make it higher.
  3. How high to the raised beds need to be? If you look at the link above to you’ll see how deep the roots grow for various vegetables.
    1. You’re growing plants with shallow roots, (most greens and cabbage/broccoli veg)
    2. You’re growing plants with deep roots (everything else)
    3. Even tho’ the roots prefer to grow that deep, doesn’t mean the have to grow that deep. Just remember that, depending on what’s underneath the raised bed, you may be responsible for the entire reservoir of nutrients, water and growing medium (see container growing Day 7).
      5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

      5 Gallon cloth containers. These dry out FAST.

      These 5 gallon containers (allegedly a tomato plant needs to be in at least 5 gal pot) are only about 12″ tall. I did get tomatoes last year, but not as many as I should have.

    4. So taller is better. Besides that, you’re going to be growing different things in different place in years to come (I’m sure more of that to come in future GT days), so you may not need too much depth this year for lettuce, but next year you may be growing squash or parsnips or carrots in that spot.

      I have only shallow growers in these 8" high beds, located over

      I have only shallow growers in these 8″ high beds, located over grass. The potatoes can be mounded up, hence not needing too much height, but this was the year I got wireworms in the potatoes. I’ve been meaning to add another 8″ section on top…

Stay tuned for next lesson–SOIL. (Don’t call it “dirt” in the presence of garden lovers!)

Vegetable Garden Day 7

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

Getting tired of this yet? Hope not, because today is only day 7 of Garden Tribe’s 21-day Vegetable gardening Boot Camp.

Today’s topic is nice and simple, Container Gardening. I’ve written quite a few posts on container gardening, so you’re probably all experts by now.

Growing vegetables in containers is exactly the same process as growing anything else in containers. And offers the same advantages. Your containers can follow the sun Put your large pots on castors), they can fit in the smallest of spaces, they can create a doubly colourful focal point, they can create height…

Here are the chief principles in growing your veggie garden in containers:

1. Drainage. More holes in the bottom than you think you need. Some perennials and shrubs tolerate soggy soil, but virtually NO vegetables will. Coffee filters over the holes will keep the soil in.

2. Size: Bigger is better. The container soil is the entire reservoir for food and water for your plants, so whereas in the ground the reservoir is unlimited (sort of), in the container it’s very limited. Even plants that have a small root system, like lettuce, still need lots of food and LOTS of water.

3. Potting “medium”: Don’t use garden soil in your containers. There are a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here in detail, but it has to do mainly with drainage and weight. Buy a “soilless” potting mixture (inconveniently called “soil”!) It will have peat or coir, perlite for  drainage,and compost, and might have some fertilizer that will get used up quickly.

4. Feeding: A granular (aka “slow-release”) fertilizer at planting, and then liquid fertilizer every week or so once the plant really gets going. Remember the container is the entire reservoir, compared to an in-ground garden that has a vast reservoir. As Doug Green says (Rule #1), if you want roots, fruits, or flowers, fertilize.

5. Water more often than you think you need to. Remember “reservoir”.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

Your Successful Vegetable Garden Day 6

This is the Garden Journal my friend Candace gave me several years ago. You can see the cover is faded, and decorated with coffee stains.

This is the Garden Journal my friend Candace gave me several years ago. You can see the cover is faded, and decorated with coffee stains.

Its’ Garden Tribe’s Day 6 of 21 Day Boot Camp, and today we’re going to draw out the “what” and “where” of your 2015 successful vegetable garden.

Have a good look at this --click on the image to enlarge it-- you'll see I have had some impressive failures. But I'm getting better, slowly but surely!

Have a good look at the pencil sentence in the middle –click on the image to enlarge it– you’ll see I have had some impressive failures. But I’m getting better, slowly but surely!

This was a “square foot” garden, raised beds 4′ square, so it was easy to draw.

There’s no trick to this, all you have to do is

1. Measure;

2. Identify the shade/sun orientation of your space;

3. Decide how much of each crop you want;

4. Start drawing in pencil so you can change your mind and move things around.

So, taking my 2011 garden above as an example: I wanted 8 tomatoes, and they had to be in full sun. But they cast a lot of shade by mid-summer, so they had to be at the back of the garden. But they also take up more than 1 square foot, so I staggered them. Peas are planted behind toms at the corners, which won’t shade them because the peas will be finished by the time the tomatoes are getting big.

So just get stuck in there–this is where it begins to get fun, actually putting your project into action.

Your Veggie Garden – Day 4

We’re continuing with Garden Tribe’s 21-day Boot Camp for new edible-gardeners. Today’s topic: When and How to Start.

Some plants like to grow in cooler weather, some in scorching hot weather. Some like to be started indoors under fluorescent lights, some prefer to germinate right where they’re going to grow. It’s good to know which is which. Again, let me refer you to West Coast Seeds’ Planting Charts. I write on my calendar the dates I want to be sowing specific crops, whether direct sowing or indoor starts.

So here’s a quick-‘n-dirty summary of some of the commonest vegetables and their starting preferences:

Carrots: are actually a bit hard to grow, because they’re a bit hard to get started. They need to be sown where they’re going to grow, really dislike being transplanted. But they need to be sown shallowly, and then kept moist until they germinate, which is an inconveniently long 2-3 weeks. And they like to grow in coolish weather, but germinate in warmer soil. I’m trying something new this year, having failed miserably many times before this: I sowed on a bed that’s I’d lightly amended with compost, and that previously had been deeply dug through digging up potatoes that were there last year. Then I’ve covered the damp bed with black plastic to warm it up and prevent evaporation. The seeds don’t need light until they germinate, so I just check every day or so looking for sprouts. Then (assuming I’ll finally be wildly successful) I’ll take off the cover. I’ve heard of covering the seed rows with boards so the soil stays wet, and again, checking every day or so for germination. (Notice the key is keeping the soil wet-ish?)

Lettuce: a cool weather crop, lettuce germinates in warmish soil, but not hot soil. So when the temperature is over 22° C, just wait until it’s cooler to sow another crop. And although you can definitely direct sow lettuce, you may get more predictable harvest if you sow indoors and transplant seedlings. Another thing about lettuce is that it will flower and set seed when the heat of summer comes, at which time the leaves get quite bitter and unpleasant. They do tolerate shade better than almost any other vegetable, so shade-planted lettuce with last longer into the summer than sun-planted lettuce.

Most other leafy greens: Collards, mustard greens, mache (aka corn salad), arugula–they’re all happy to be direct sown while it’s still pretty cool out, as long as your garden bed isn’t actually soggy. And like lettuce, will tolerate half-day shade. Especially second-half-of-the-day shade.

Radish: quick to grow, so start then early in March, then the next week start a few more, and carry on until they “bolt” (flower and set seed). Even then, the seed pods, when they’re small and green, are easily as tasty as the  root vegetable. I’ve been known to plant radishes just for the seed pods.

Tomatoes: Everybody’s favourite vegetable to grow ( not going to discuss the fruit/vegetable controversy!). These need to grow in warming soil, and are slow to germinate unless the soil is warm. So start them indoors under bright light, and be slow to get them outdoors, not until the nights are consistently over 10 C. If you use the black plastic (or red plastic, as is often recommended!) to warm the soil, you may be able to get them out as early as end April or beginning of May. I’ve tried the milk jug cloche idea. With limited success, but I’ll try it again this year.


This isn’t my milk-jug-garden–my picture has disaapeared into the cloud. So thanks to Bonney Lassie for this image, which looks remarkably like mine. Only neater.

Peas: are great. Can be started in or out, as early as February, as long as the soil isn’t soggy; But if started inside they’ll germinate MUCH faster, and get a head start on producing. Peas are a cool season crop, so they stop producing by early summer, so if you started them early indoors you’ll get a bigger, longer crop. But you can also sow again mid-summer for a fall harvest. Apparently. Haven’t tried that myself–maybe I will this year.

Peas and beans can be treated with an “inoculant”, a rhizobium bacterium that develops a symbiotic relationship with the plant contributing to quite a lot of plant benefits. it’s not necessary, but almost always recommended in literature on pea growing.

Beans: Green beans (as opposed to dry beans) can grow as bushes or vines. Called Bush Beans and Pole Beans. They can also be sown indoors or out, but unlike peas, REALLY want warm soil to germinate or the seed rots; optimal soil temperature is 15 -25 C. Since it takes a long time for our coastal soil to warm up, starting them indoors means you can transplant them out when it warms up. Alternatively, the black-plastic-over-the-soil trick to warm up the soil may give optimal environment. I have a patch that’s covered right now; I’ll let you know how it works…

Broccoli: is one of those vegetables that can tolerate a lot of cold weather, so can be sown in spring for summer harvest, in early summer for fall harvest, and late summer for winter harvest. Read through the seed packets to know how long it takes for your particular variety to mature. There’s one that takes 7 months: you sow in late summer and harvest the following spring! Another takes 10-12 months!  In any case start them inside under lights.

Guess what: I didn't read the seed packet! This is Purple Sprouting Broccoli, with days-to-maturity of 145 days. Meant to be sown indoors in June, planted out July for next Spring harvest. So what do you suppose I'll get from it?

Guess what: I didn’t read the seed packet! This is Purple Sprouting Broccoli, with days-to-maturity of 145 days. Meant to be sown indoors in June, planted out July for next Spring harvest. So what do you suppose I’ll get from it?

With some of those vegetables, ones that don’t take an entire growing season to mature (unlike like tomatoes or squash), reserve part of the designated crop space for successive sowings. Radishes for example, being a quick-growing crop, can be sown ever week or so through the spring/early summer so there’s always radishes ready to harvest. Ditto for many leafy greens, carrots, beets… Some vegetables you can start indoors while your previous crop is maturing, so when you finish harvesting the first round, a second round is ready to transplant out. Just remember to give the planting bed an extra shovel of compost or cup of organic fertilizer.