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Keeping fresh garden produce coming — The Grow Network Community
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Keeping fresh garden produce coming

VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
edited October 2020 in Vegetables

Even after gardening for years in this location, I still struggle to keep as much of the garden beds as possible in full production through the growing season.

It always seems to take longer than I expect (and hope) to get things growing in the spring. This year I chitted (pre-sprouted) some of the seeds before planting them so that they would not sit out in the cold waiting for warmer weather. Other plants I started growing under lights indoors and transplanted out as soon as the soil could be worked.

The chitted seeds and transplants survived, but they still didn't put on any meaningful growth until things warmed up.

Then summer comes before the cool weather crops are fully ready for harvest. This is especially true with peas. Fortunately my peas produced well this year despite the summer heat. I'm still getting a few peas with daily highs over 80 degrees.

Now that we're in late July, I've pulled up most of the spring plants that have bolted. Spinach, mustard, and other leafy green crops have either been composted or left to go to seed. But the plants left to bolt are taking forever to produce seeds, so they are tying up my limited garden space. This limits my ability to start putting the fall cool-weather seeds out.

Then in late fall, I try to stretch things as long as possible with cold frames, row covers, and frost-tolerant crops. But you can never push things as long as you want.

No matter what I do, it's hard to have fresh food coming from a Zone 4 garden for more than about 4 months a year.

Nikki Jabbour's great book _Year Round Vegetable Gardener_ really opened my eyes to what is possible, and I've been trying to use her methods for several years now. But it remains difficult.

How have other gardeners on TGN handled the succession struggle?

Comments

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭

    I am in zone 6 (so we usually warm up a little sooner than you) but most years I always have the Spring to Summer in 2 weeks problem. Thus my Spring harvest is late because winter doesn't want to give up and I can't get them out because they are late maturing. So the way I have fought and won this battle is:

    I no longer make a brassica bed/ a squash bed/ a solancae bed etc... Now what I have found to work for me is I plant my brussels sprouts and broccoli wherever I wish in Spring. After a couple of weeks I then remove the lower leaves and plant my spinach, onions, lettuce etc (all the other Spring crops I am going to have) underneath those brassica plants. As the broccoli and brussels sprouts mature I can remove more leaves from the bottom so the lettuce, spinach, radishes etc. have room to grow underneath.

    Then in another bed ( it is about 4X12 feet long) I plant my cabbage at one end (3 plants per the 4 feet across), skip 4 feet (just leave it empty for right now) and plant 3 cauliflower across the 4 foot width, skip four more feet and plant more cabbage across and then leave the rest of that bed empty for now.

    Now I go back and fill in all the empty sections with fast-growing varieties of radish, spinach, kale, spring onions etc. All of these will be ready in 4-5 weeks and I am already pulling much of them as time goes by to use them indoors anyway. So these sections are continually getting emptied out anyway. As Spring goes into Summer those sections I left empty (and seeded with radish, spinach etc) I use these areas for my tomatoes. Plant 2 varieties in the first 4' section, 2 varieties in the section 4' section and 2 varieties at the end.

    If you are growing only determinate varieties of tomatoes you can even tighten these up a bit more since the determinates do not grow as big as the indeterminates.

    I do several of my beds this way that way I still have all the quantity of plants I want out but I just get real creative with my use of space. Almost all of my plant varieties share space with other plants. Whatever seeds you have to use, figure out which are tall, which are low to the soil line and plan that the short guys will always be growing underneath a tall plant. Get over the hangup most beginner gardeners have that you can't trim the bottom leaves off, like squash, cukes pumpkins etc. Grow all of those big bushy things vertically, train them up a pole a fence etc. and then trim out the foliage low to the ground and put in some greens, carrots, beets etc. around that tall plant. It also helps to shade your low-lying stuff so it does not bolt as fast.

    With a little practice at this you will find you can double and triple your harvest but you are still just growing the same things each year. When you get real good at combining, you can start growing other things in your space also.You just have to get used to the growing habits of each plant and just place new varieties in spaces where you will find stuff is emptying out as the season progresses.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭

    @greyfurball "I no longer make a brassica bed/ a squash bed/ a solancae bed etc... Now what I have found to work for me is I plant my brussels sprouts and broccoli wherever I wish in Spring. After a couple of weeks I then remove the lower leaves and plant my spinach, onions, lettuce etc (all the other Spring crops I am going to have) underneath those brassica plants. As the broccoli and brussels sprouts mature I can remove more leaves from the bottom so the lettuce, spinach, radishes etc. have room to grow underneath.

    "Then in another bed ( it is about 4X12 feet long) I plant my cabbage at one end (3 plants per the 4 feet across), skip 4 feet (just leave it empty for right now) and plant 3 cauliflower across the 4 foot width, skip four more feet and plant more cabbage across and then leave the rest of that bed empty for now.

    "Now I go back and fill in all the empty sections with fast-growing varieties of radish, spinach, kale, spring onions etc. All of these will be ready in 4-5 weeks and I am already pulling much of them as time goes by to use them indoors anyway. So these sections are continually getting emptied out anyway. As Spring goes into Summer those sections I left empty (and seeded with radish, spinach etc) I use these areas for my tomatoes. Plant 2 varieties in the first 4' section, 2 varieties in the section 4' section and 2 varieties at the end."

    -------------

    This is a great idea! The only brassica I grow is mustard, but your overall approach of stacking different levels makes sense.

    I usually plant carrots underneath my tomatoes, and until this year it worked well. This year the tomatoes are great but the carrots never amounted to anything. But the tomatoes in a different bed with nothing above them didn't germinate very well either. Bad seed? Some other problem? I don't know.

    My tomatoes, potatoes, and pickling cucumbers are so tangled together it's hard to pick them apart, but they all seem happy.


    I always try to do succession crops, but it's challenging. When I get busy, I often forget to keep adding later seedings of the same crops I planted earlier (lettuce, spinach, mustard, etc.) And its been harder this year because I am letting some plants bolt to seed "just in case", but they are tying up the space that would normally have something else planted now.

    I'm going to keep experimenting, trying to keep the bed as full as possible for as much of the year as possible. Early spring is the hardest, when they just don't want to get going and remain tiny no matter how early you plant them.

    I bought some brighter LED grow lights recently, replacing the fluorescent tubes that I used the past few years. Maybe I'll have more luck getting transplants started now.

  • greyfurballgreyfurball Southeastern PennsylvaniaPosts: 592 ✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy another couple of things...

    yes, Spring is the hardest. As you have noticed plants set out early in cooler temps just sit there and do nothing until it warms up. So what you have to do is warm them up artificially. This is easy by the use of plastic.

    Last year I knew I was going to be short on time so I put my tomatoes in way too early. I knew it and it was going to be a gamble. But I made each plant a hothouse. It was simple. I used tomato cages that year and placed a clear plastic garbage bag over the top of every cage (in other words the bag is upside down with two small air holes poked in the bag at the top) .I used twisty ties (or zip ties) and tied the bag to the cage from down at the soil line so the bag would not blow away in the wind. Worked perfect. Protected my tomatoes from frost and also got them growing much earlier than normal.

    Next, don't fret the years some stuff just doesn't seem to make it. It happens. Last year I had a beautiful crop of carrots... this year I won't even get enough to preserve. I'm going to try again for a Fall harvest.

    My green beans crop this year is a joke also. Every other year, I've had so many I usually have beans left over from the year before. This year I won't even get enough to preserve. I ordered some from a local organic farmer just on Saturday so I can pick them up this weekend.

    And finally yes, your 3 plants look great now but it is early in their season. As they mature though and your hot weather, and humidity sets in you are goingto have more problems with disease because they do not have enough room to breathe. Right now I would get all those lower cuke leaves cut out. They will lead to more trouble. Then thin out some of the unnecessary tomato leaf branches. Be careful and cut out leaf branches only, not blossom branches. There is nothing you can do about the potatoes so leave them be. Depending on the variety,they will start dying back first anyway.

    Once you get that opened up and air can circulate through you will have alot fewer problems in the next month or two. Be sure you also have those tomatoes trimmed from the ground up so you don't end up with disease from the soil line because of water splash on your tomatoes from rainwater splash.

    And as for seed collecting, if your plot is small my philosophy has always been, what's more important to me...Food or Seeds? Yes, you've already figured out seed saving binds up a lot of time. While I'm standing around waiting for those plants to get to maturity I could be growing more food. So I finally decided, I would rather have the food. I only save seeds from a plant(s) that I know it was difficult to get those seeds. Often I have seeds left in my packs from one year to the next anyway so I just use the same pack another year. Just pack them up right at the end of the year and they work fine for a second year.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭

    Good advice on trimming things to be more open. I've had problems with disease and rot in dense bean patches in the past, especially when top-watering with a hose. I left my beans a little more open this year and will thin them if necessary.

    I went out tonight and trimmed out many of the lower tomato leaf branches. It's more open now, especially on the side away from the cukes. The cuke leaves were also trimmed back somewhat.

    The potatoes are less of an issue than the picture implies. They're growing in the next adjacent bed and mostly didn't show in the picture. Only one plant along the edge has leaned over and encroached on the cuke space.

    I have never grown cukes before, and didn't realize they would sprawl out like squash, or that they would try to climb on the tomatoes as well as the support I put in the cuke bed. Next year I'll try to put them in a spot with more space and no large plants next door.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭

    In past years, I have done little or no seed saving. But between COVID and civil unrest, I am concerned that there may be another seed shortage next year, so I am going to try to save enough to have seeds for at least the core items next year, even if I cannot get seeds at all (which is unlikely; probably only certain things would be in short supply).

    Core vegetables in our household means potatoes, onions, peas, beans, and lettuce.

    Other vegetables are nice-to-have, but not essential. We love tomatoes, but their fruiting season here is short and they take up a lot of space. Spinach is good and easy to grow, but we can live without it. We enjoy corn, but we buy it, not grow it.

    If things got really bad for several years in a row, I could drastically increase the size of the garden. We own plenty of land, but hubby likes his lawn. :-) In bad times, that would give way to a serious Victory Garden...

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