An important garden answer…

… to any garden question is “It depends.”

“How early should I start tomatoes?”

“Should I mount my potatoes?”

“Do I need to succession sow lettuce?”

“How far apart should I space my cabbage?”

“Is no dig the best method?”

“What grows well here?”

“Does it eat all the plants?”

“Should I trellis melons?”

“Will carrots tolerate my soil?”

“Do I need to pre-start onions?”

“How much broccoli should I grow?”

Just a little bounty from the ol’ farm that was supplied to a friend for some creative cooking.

Etcetera. I could write these questions ALL day. There are various answers. Some people will swear there is only one GOOD answer but I’m here to tell you that’s rarely true. Gardens, gardeners, weather, varieties are variable. Pretty much any question can be answered with a selection of responses depending on your situation. The important thing is to stay curious and become a systems thinker.

“How early should I start tomatoes?”

Do you want to grow them inside? No? Okay, what variety of tomato do you have? Is it determinate or indeterminate? Do you plan on tending to them or are you just going to let them grow wild in the corner? Are you expecting super early fruit or just some stuff at some point to can maybe? What’s your garden like? Is it in full sun or partly shady? The selection of replies could be September to direct sowing in the ground in May.

Micro Tomato ‘Venus’ grows 6-8 inches

“Should I mound potatoes?”

What kind of potatoes? When will you be planting? What’s your soil like? Are you mulching? How deep do you plant on planting? What do you think mounding will accomplish? How many potato plants will you be planting and in what sort of situation? A huge field or a small pot? Do you have equipment/help/whipping winds?

“Do I need to succession sow lettuce?”

How do you eat your lettuce? Full juicy hearts or small baby leaves? Do you think you’re going to have lettuce all year? What’s your tolerance to bitter in your lettuce? What else are you planning on growing? Is lettuce the only green you are willing to consider in a salad? Do you have a cold frame or other season extension device?

Tatsai Asian Greens

Now the tricky thing is that if you are a fairly inexperienced gardener, you may not even be aware of the possibilities for growing and gardening. And if you are feeling a bit nervous about making a mistake, you might want a really clear answer.

“How far apart should I space my cabbage?” “One foot spacing on three feet rows.” (I mean not exactly but that would be ‘an’ answer). What often happens is that the answer you’re given faces an obstacle such as desire to interplant your cabbages in your perennial bed. What’s the spacing on that? Or perhaps you desire to have a no dig garden AND carrots meets The Year of the Earwig. You find yourself removing the mulch and cultivating at least that year for that crop.

Some questions might seem to have obvious answers such as potatoes MUST grow better than sweet potatoes in the Ottawa valley because it’s fairly north but in reality they have surprising answers. Potatoes grow well (most of the time) but sweet potatoes can out produce them in certain situations on certain years in my experience. If you have only ever tried Southern adapted types than you may have had disappointing ‘string’ sweets or if you tried growing them like potatoes (solanaceae) rather than as sweet potatoes (convolvulaceae) then you may be convinced that people who can grow themare magicians. Tales of them storing two years? Impossible! Sure if you try to cellar them cold and damp like a potato… Or if you are just not satisfied with the answer that sweet potatoes can’t possibly do well this far north (or are only orange or have long trailing vines or whatever) then you might want to do some adaption of that plant if possible. That’s what I did with sweet potatoes and discovered an exciting diversity.

Mix: sweet potato

Most new growers I meet are pretty excited about their new hobby. Even some very experienced ones bubble over with excitement at pea fronds popping out of the ground every spring. So they are naturally curious about their surroundings. Stay curious! It’s one of your greatest assets to becoming a good grower and will help you become a better systems thinker. It’s easy to assume that the mildew on your lilacs will spread to your pumpkins but these are two different strains of mildew that have different hosts. What it does tell you is something about the weather conditions meaning a mildew bloom and the garden conditions that allow it take hold more easily. To ‘answer’ another question. “Does it eat all the plants?” Many insects are specialists but some are indeed generalists. But just because a pest ate everything one year does not mean that the conditions will be right the next year for Fleabeetle Buffet (ps there are various flea beetle species, some of which are more host specific than others). Treat your garden like the fascinating world it is and learn about the life that lives there. This will both lower the panic (usually) and give you a sense of life’s flow.

Speaking of flow, look at how light, water, air and nutrients move through your patch. Trellising melons might make sense if you have a smaller space where training vines upward is reasonable but is not necessary when you have an open field with good air circulation and sun so you can just mound. You don’t need to do that extra work.

So if you catch yourself thinking there is only one soil for carrots: sand. Then know that there are other carrot varieties like oxheart types that will grow better in more clay type soils as they are squat in shape. Or if you didn’t start those old onion seeds so you are just going to give up now, think about growing them as bunching onions OR start sets for planting next spring!

There are so many possibilities. Heck instead of broccoli you can grow Raab or kale or … even the Italian broccoli variety that is bred for the tender leaves rather than the buds INSTEAD of traditional heading broccoli. But if you must grow broccoli then know that I don’t know how much your family is obsessed with that vegetable nor how much room you have to grow!!

Dazzling Blue Kale

Now that I think I’ve addressed every question in the above list (feel free to ask more), I’ll leave you with this:

Stay curious. Stay flexible. And remember the garden is a beautiful system that we are part.

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