Tag Archives: container gardening

Vegetable Garden Update

In Manitoba we don’t go from winter to spring to summer. We go from winter to summer with hardly even a few days to catch our breath in between. After the frost last Friday night, summer came roaring in with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. (80s for my American readers.) I took full advantage of this abrupt warming to get my garden in. Maybe I should say my gardens, plural, because I have more than one. I have a tradition dirt patch in one corner of my yard. That is where I started gardening when we moved here some years ago. At the time I moved in, it had almost gone back to grass. A neighbour with a huge tractor came in and worked it up and I’ve been battling the grass ever since. I use this patch for larger crops usually potatoes and corn. Last year we had a cob with a corn borer in it so this year I went for potatoes, onions, cucumbers and a row of mixed carrots lettuce and radishes.

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I then have two small gardens with cedar board edging. One contains my strawberry plants. For some reason this winter was really hard on them and very few survived. I am at a loss because the winter was not that cold. it might be the way winter came so fast, before the leaves fell off the trees and the plants were caught off guard. I dug up the plants that survived, cleaned out all the grass, put in fresh soil and fertilizer, and replanted the strawberries. I am hoping they will send out runners and refill the space but I will be very surprised if I get any strawberries this year. I am also considering making these beds into raised beds to try to keep the grass out.

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I have an herb box with perennial herbs and oddments. I also started taking seed from my asparagus plant and planting in the box and wonder of wonder, two baby asparagus have started. In intend to keep this up and if we get enough I can devote the entire box to asparagus. Asparagus has no trouble competing with our prairie grasses. It acts like a native and rapidly takes over. I also had a lovely perennial oregano which was, like he strawberries, decimated this winter. I thought it was gone entirely but a small bit is coming up in one corner. I cleaned out the grass and filled the rest of the space with onions, celery, and parsley. The shortages we had due to the COVID-19 have thoroughly spooked me and I am worried about the predicted second wave. I planted more and I planted that which I use. Celery and parsley are staples in many of my soups and stews and both freeze and dry beautifully for winter use. The dandelions are really thick this time of year but I always let them go to seed in the lawn because the American gold finches love the seed and hubby dearest loves the bright cheerful yellow color of both the birds and the dandelions. In a few weeks they will vanish into the green grass.

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I also have two large cedar enclosed gardens in a particularly sunny spot. One, against the garage, is for my tomatoes and one is mixed peppers and seed vegetables. I had a large amount of garlic I had started from seed three years ago in my herb bed. It grew up but was getting really crowded so this year I broke up all the tiny garlic plants and spaced them out. With luck I can use these some of the garlic plants for pickles. The rest will keep over winter in the garden. The balance of the mixed garden is the usual lettuce varieties, spinach, beans, radishes, carrots and beets. It’s not a lot of them but then with just two of us, we don’t need a lot. If I get any excess I can always freeze or can it.

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Because of the corn borers I had last year I am planting my corn over in one of the community raised garden boxes. These were put in with a community grant for seniors some years ago and they are all used. I said I would take a box only if no one else wanted it and fortunately for my corn, one box was free. Having battled corn borers in the past I know a one year break from corn should mean next year it is safe to plant corn again.

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Finally I have my containers. I grow several things in containers, especially my zucchini squash. I already have some tiny squash! Last year I also purchased six marigold plants and stuck them in odd spots and they did seem to work keeping bugs away. Even if they didn’t, they were so cheerful and bright looking. This year I started five dozen marigolds from seed indoors and I have popped them anywhere there was space.

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This year I added extra tomato, pepper and peas and I did a little experiment with a container having a mix of peas, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, spinach and a few onions. The idea was to get a jump on the homegrown veggies by starting some indoors. I’ve already pulled all the onions. Yesterday I harvested enough spinach and a few radishes for a nice snack. As the radishes get pulled there will be more room for the carrots and beets. I can eat beet greens with the spinach. So far it has been worth the fuss and it’s felt fun doing it.

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A few years ago I had a container garden and planted a single potato in one container. I didn’t think anything came of it until I dumped the soil and discovered, to my astonishment that the container was packed full of potatoes. So I trying that again. I am also doing two containers of peas, one a regular variety and one edible pod snow peas. I’ve never had good luck with peas. I’ve never harvested enough for a meal. So I feel I have nothing to lose trying a container dedicated to peas. I have one just for a mix of green and yellow bush beans. I also made some extra containers of peppers and tomatoes. I have a container of cucumbers I am hoping will give enough to eat. We’ve had two very cool springs and very late frosts so I am chary about what fall will bring. Last year, winter came in with a harsh blast very fast and very early. I am hoping that if winter comes in early, or even earlier, this year I can at least move some pots into a safe place and get a little more of my own veggies.

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So far the year has begun well if a little cold and late. Last year was cold and exceptionally dry and my garden was poorly at best. Gardeners are eternal optimists. Maybe this year will be better and maybe by having a variety of gardens, I will also have of my own veggies for a longer stretch of time.

Zucchini in containers.

My husband and I are big fans of zucchini. Our typical breakfast includes fried zucchini, lots of it, with mushrooms, onions and eggs. Naturally, zucchini plays a big role in my garden. I have tried for many years to get zucchini to grow consistently and well. It is not as easy as I thought it would be but this is the second year now we have been enjoying early and great abundant zucchini. So I think I have the knack of it now.

As my followers will recall, we live in Manitoba near the 51st parallel and so we have to adjust our gardening for late and early seasons frosts and occasionally even snow in May. Zucchini are delicate when it comes to frost, and slugs and cutworms love to eat them. After trying for years to get really good zucchini, I finally gave up on growing them in the garden and I switched to container gardening. This way, on nice spring days we can put the plants outside but if we have one of our late May frosts (or even snows) they can be carried inside to warm safety until the cold passes.

Since they are going into containers anyway, it makes sense to start them indoors under artificial lights. I started mine April 15th this year from seed I saved from the previous year’s harvest. I had both yellow and green (actually called “midnight” variety) that grew very well for me. Since we like to eat our zucchini young, that meant leaving some to grow large enough to produce mature seeds. That happened more towards the end of the season when we had so much I was actually getting sick of it.

The zucchini grow quickly. In this image they are only about three and a half weeks old. The tiny tomato plants beside them were started at the same time. Zucchini like rich soil, and they require a lot of water but they also like good drainage. This is why some successful gardeners put them on hills in the garden. I started mine out in high quality potting soil. Zucchini are subject to blossom rot (like tomatoes) so I added extra calcium powder and ground egg shells to the soil. Deeper pots work better in the early stages as the zucchini like to set deep roots fast. Zucchini also like to grow with companions so I start with about six seeds per pot and then reduce it down to two plants per pot once the first leaves are open.

Zucchini also need abundant sunshine and so as soon as possible I put them outside in my little greenhouse. At about six weeks, I repotted them into some large pots I scrounged from the local dump that were originally used for transporting trees, again using the best quality potting soil with water conserving beads and fertilizer. (Pot size is 12 inches (30cm) around and 10 inches (24cm) deep.) I topped up the calcium in the bigger pots as well. I started with six pots going. Four are yellow and two are green. I gave one to my neighbour who has also had trouble getting good zucchini in the past.

Another advantage to getting the plants outside well before it is warm enough for the garden is to let pollinators get at the blossoms. My plants had blossoms by when they went into the big pots at 6-7 weeks and they were soon full of busy bees, especially bumble bees. The plants grew and overflowed the edges of their pots. By June I didn’t have to worry about carrying them inside overnight. I moved them into their own sunny location in the back part of the lawn. The nearby trees provide shelter from the occasionally fierce prairie wind and they are near the rain barrel. Even in these pots they need watering almost every day. They do much better with soft rain water than our extremely hard iron laden tap water.

It is important to pick the zucchini young in order to keep the plant producing more. Last year I noted that the zucchini ran roots out of the pot into the ground and seemed to halt growing for a few days when I moved them. So once they are in their place on the lawn I now try to mow around the pots rather than move the pots to mow. My final tip is that as soon as the first two plants are producing zucchini, put in more seeds near the edges. Allow two of these secondary plantings to reach maturity for a total of four plants per pot. The second pair of plants will take over peak production just as the first set are getting too old.

And we are now enjoying the rewards of my not-too-hard work. It is more about planning than work. I picked my first zucchini last week which is nine weeks after I planted the seeds. Yesterday I harvested four good sized zucchini. Two are yellow and two are green. One of the green ones I made into a layered zucchini vegetable lasagna. (Cooking tip; zucchini have a lot of moisture so I find you need to double the typical cooking time fora lasagna and leave the lid off for the last half of the cooking to make a good texture that is not watery.) The other three are in my fridge and will be consumed soon.