This week’s Spotlight on Sustainability is written by Concrete Garden subscriber Richard de Candole. Richard details his experiences in cultivating his year-round garden, including what’s worked and what hasn’t. It was submitted last year, so it doesn’t account for this winter’s unusual snowfall!
My big break-through, growing food year-round on our acreage in Coombs, came when I finally figured out how to keep root vegetables like potatoes, beets and carrots from sprouting and going rubbery by February. The answer was to leave them in the ground because then they stayed cold and crisp right through until May.
So for the last four years my wife and I have been eating our own potatoes year-round—very satisfying indeed! (My daughter and her family have also benefited.) Getting to the same point with other root vegetables is now just a matter of figuring out how much of each to plant to seed and hope for good germination. So far my crop hasn’t made it much passed February. That’s partly because I’ve had a lot of trouble getting carrots and beets to germinate. Now I water them up to four times a day during the first 10 days to ensure the seeds are always damp and that seems to have solved the problem.
For almost all the other vegetables I’ve now set up my own bedding plant operation. This way there’s no waiting to see how well things germinated and also if it’s a bad slug year—they love destroying seedlings of all types when they first emerge—I have an instant supply of plants to replace their fallen comrades.
I start the first batch of plants indoors—particularly tomatoes—but the main production site is my 200 sq. ft greenhouse. I’ve wanted a year-round growing building ever since market garden guru Ellen Rainwalker sold me a bag of fresh-picked salad greens in mid-March one year. Then I visited her 50-foot long, unheated, double-walled greenhouse on the Horne Lake Rd and saw how she did it: a series of raised beds ran down either side with a different green in each bed. Soil prep, ventilation, and lots of hand watering were the keys to her success. Not much happens from November to mid-January, but by February plants that had overwintered started growing again and you can harvest greens up to four months earlier than those grown outdoors.
My greenhouse is tiny by comparison but I’ve had some success copying Ellen’s method. After reading Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook, I realized the greenhouse season actually starts the first week of August so this past year was my first full season. I can report we were eating greens by late March, mainly arugula, mizuna, parsley and kale, topped up with sorrel from outdoors.
But my dream of eating spring carrots as per Eliot’s approach was a failure. They overwintered okay but didn’t come back to life so I reseeded in April but they’re still behind my outdoor carrots. My greenhouse also has a rain barrel, work table, and shelves on the north wall for raising bedding plants.
The biggest adjustment from summer-only to year-round is developing a fairly elaborate succession planting schedule. This means seeding your various veg in trays every couple of weeks from February to October. Man, you’ve got to be organized! But it’s nice having something sitting on the shelf ready to go when a spot opens up in the ground.