10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens


Best Techniques for a Sustainable Four-Season Garden

      
by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
September 25, 2018

Gardeners often ask how they can grow and harvest vegetables all year long. Here are our top ten tips for a sustainable, organic year-round garden:

Plant a winter garden. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

1. Plan to harvest year-round. Include a winter garden.

Vegetable gardens aren’t only for spring and summer. Fall and winter gardens reward you by providing newly harvested food when fresh produce is not readily available.

Many gardeners miss out on winter crops because they don’t know what to grow in the colder months. In general, winter gardens have two basic components: cold-tolerant plants and protection against weather extremes.

To start a winter garden, plant most vegetables, such as carrots, chard, kale and hardy greens, between June and October. Use this winter planting chart for cold-tolerant vegetables.

Be sure to also explore lesser known winter salad greens such as mâche (corn salad), radicchio, claytonia (miner’s lettuce) and mizuna. There’s a surprising range of cold-tolerant greens you can grow.

 

An urban balcony garden. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

2. Grow where you can. A year-round garden can be anywhere.

You don’t need a backyard (although that’s a great place to garden). Community allotment gardens—with a chance to swap seeds and share growing tips—offer much more than just a place to grow food. You can also grow edible gardens in all kinds of urban spaces: in containers on rooftops, balconies, and patios; in window boxes, curbside medians, and walkway borders, and in vertical spaces such as on trellises against a wall.

 

Digging in to healthy soil. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

3. Start with healthy soil. Amend your soil naturally.

Healthy soil is key to a productive year-round garden. Start from the ground up, and find out what kind of soil you have with a do-it-yourself soil test.

You can also read the weeds in your garden to learn about your garden earth. Surprisingly, weeds, when composted, also help enhance your soil.
Once you know if your dirt is acidic or alkaline, sandy or compacted, you’ll know what kind of adjustments will make your year-round garden thrive. Correct your garden’s soil deficiencies by adding natural amendments like compost, coffee grounds, eggshells and more.

 

Growing staples. Potato plants in a container garden. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

4. Grow what you like to eat. Include basic staple foods.

There’s nothing better that eating your favourite foods fresh out of the garden. So, plant what you like to eat. Many gardeners start with a few basic vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, and green beans.

If you’re planting a year-round garden, think about growing some staple foods that store well and can sustain you into the winter. These include grains, seeds such as quinoa and amaranth that serve as grains, dried beans, winter squash, root vegetables, and potatoes.

Contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t take a lot of space to grow some staple crops. For a home gardener, potatoes produce high yields in large grow bags or barrels. Dried beans can grow on patches as small as one metre square (3 x 3 ft). Expect a harvest about 3 to 4 cups of dried beans from an area that size. Grains, grown in gardens, can produce enough for several meals, especially if you cook them up whole, like rice.

 

Pear-shaped heirloom tomatoes. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

5. Experiment! Try something new each season.

The most rewarding part of year-round gardening is the chance to grow amazing tasting fruits and vegetables you can’t get elsewhere. You won’t find the juiciest, most flavourful fruits and vegetables in the grocery store. The foods we buy there have been bred for travel durability, not for taste.

As a gardener, you can choose from hundreds of unique, incredibly delicious heirloom varieties passed down through generations. You’ll find seeds for these heritage plants at Seedy Saturdays and small organic seed companies. (Search the farm map under “Plants & Flowers”, “Seeds.”)

In addition to heirlooms, gardening gives you the opportunity to grow foods that aren’t normally cultivated in your area. This may include plants like tea or Mediterranean fruits that push the boundaries of your climate zone. Try growing warm-weather plants in containers you can take indoors. The possibilities are endless.

 

A ladybug crawls on a mint plant. Natural pest control. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

6. Practice natural pest control. Let nature do the work.

Create a garden that maintains itself with natural pest control. By including wildlife-attracting herbs, flowers and native plants, you bring nature’s great balancing powers to your garden.

First and foremost, avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Pesticides wipe out the very same beneficial insects that help your garden thrive.

Next, forget about the tidy rows of vegetables with bare, clean earth underneath you’ve seen in so many garden magazines. Instead interplant your food crops with a diversity of plants that attract beneficial insects.

Companion herbs and wildflowers attract helpful insects like ladybugs, lacewings and flower flies, which eat crop-damaging aphids and mites. Native plants, and the proximity to a pond or water source, attract frogs and birds that eat slugs. Fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms regenerate the soil, promoting healthy plants that can withstand predatory insects and diseases.

Over time, your year-round garden will develop into an ecosystem that supports many kinds of interconnected life, and you’ll find there really isn’t much need to intervene to control pests because nature does the work.

 

A bee on a cosmos blossom. Attracting pollinators. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

7. Attract bees and other pollinators to the garden.

Your year-round garden depends on bees and pollinators such as flower flies, butterflies and hummingbirds to produce fruit. Plant a bee attracting garden by including food for pollinators (flowers that provide nectar and pollen).

Native wildflowers and herbs are powerful attractants, and make good companion plants for your vegetables. Some flowering plants also help bees through the winter.

As we learn more and more about the decline of the bees, it’s important to provide bee habitat in the garden: a shallow dish of fresh drinking water, and areas of shelter such as hollow stems or bare areas of earth where solitary bees can nest.

Find out more about how you can help pollinators.

 

Deer at a garden. Deter deer. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

8. Plant defensively to keep out deer.

Deer are a problem for many year-round gardens, even in urban areas. Before you spend money on tall fencing to deter these active browsers, try a deer-resistant food garden.

You may be surprised to know there are quite a number of plants that deer avoid. These include pungent onions, leeks and garlic, stongly-scented flowers and herbs, prickly plants like artichokes, many root vegetables, and fuzzy edibles like cucumbers.

If you’re wanting to draw pollinators to the garden and deter deer at the same time, try out this list of deer-resistant plants that attract pollinators.

 

Protecting winter garden plants with a cold frame. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

9. Protect your plants against weather extremes.

Unpredictable weather extremes like wind, rain, cold, drought, and heat can pose formidable challenges to year-round gardeners. By creating microclimates in your vegetable garden, you can mitigate the stresses your plants face. Microclimates use simple constructions like raised beds, terraces, sun traps, mulch, and wind buffers to moderate weather conditions and protect plants.

In early spring and late fall, you can also gain several extra weeks of garden growing time using simple season extension methods like cold frames, cloches and mulch. If you have a greenhouse or atrium, you can extend the season for tomatoes and other summer plants into the late fall indoors in containers.

For the winter garden, try borrowing an idea from Parisian market gardeners. In 19th-century Paris, extensive hot bed gardens (covered raised beds with “hot” manure under a thick layer of dirt, topped by glass cloches) provided much of the winter vegetables for a city of a million people. Four-season farmer and author, Eliot Coleman, who pioneered methods of winter growing in snowy Maine, drew inspiration from Parisian hot bed gardens and has adapted them for modern growing.

 

A hand holds pea seeds harvested from the late summer garden. Tips for a sustainable year-round garden.

10. Save your seeds for a thriving year-round garden.

Seed saving is one of the most important things you can do—for your garden and for the world at large. When you save seed, take from the most robust, most flavourful plants in your garden. Then, by preserving the best of each season, you’ll be able to grow plants exactly adapted to your growing location.

To start a seed saving garden, choose heirloom and open-pollinated plants which grow true to type (as opposed to hybrids which will not reproduce accurately). If you’ve never seen what vegetables look like when they send up tall seed heads, check out these common seed-saving vegetables.

It’s easy to save seed from tomatoes, lettuce, peas and beans because they require little or no isolation. Other vegetables require some distance from plants in the same family, or seeds can cross.

Once harvested, you can separate your seeds from debris and chaff using a few simple tools. It takes only minimal effort to screen and winnow your seeds using strainers and wind power. For larger crops like dried beans, use a low-tech threshing box with a small air compressor to separate beans from their pods within minutes.

When you save seeds, you’re preserving the best of your garden for years to come. And not only that, you’ll always have enough.

Grow well!

More about seed saving:
The Seeds of SustainabilityThe Seeds of Sustainability

Open Source SeedsOpen Source Seeds

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