Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
You can garden year round in a small space or container garden. This is called four season gardening. You need to grow the right vegetables for the season and use some season extender strategies.
Four-Season Garden Explained
You hear people talk about a four season garden. This just means growing a garden that you can harvest from in all four season-spring, summer, fall and winter. Crops fall into 2 categories-cold season crops and warm season crops. Cold season crops are those that prefer when temperatures are cool. When warm temperatures hit (80’s), the cold crops “bolt” which is simply sending up a flower stalk to make seeds.
Warm season crops are those that abhor frost or getting their feet chilly. Most of the warm season crops are killed by frost and won’t grow unless the soil is nice and warm. As you can guess, cold season crops are grown in the spring and fall. The really cold (and freeze) hardy ones are also grown in the winter garden. Warm season crops are put out after all danger of frost is passed and the soil has warmed.
Cold crops - arugula, broccoli, cabbage, celery, fennel, leek, lettuce, marjoram, onions, parsley, peas, summer savory, sorrel, cilantro, spinach.
Warm season crops - basil, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and beans.
So, when you go to plant in the spring, you will start with the cold season crops. Once the danger of frost has passed, you can then add in your warm season crops.
For fall gardening, you actually start your seeds in July. These will be the same type of veggies you planted for your spring garden. You may have to start them indoors as some seeds will not germinate in the hot temps of summer. You can extend the fall harvest by covering your veggies with crop fabric when chilly temperatures arrive in late October.
For winter gardening, you need to look for varieties specially bred for winter. These will have descriptors like winter hardy, freeze hardy, bred for winter. There is not much growth that happens from October through January so you have to get your winter crops to full size by the end of October. Look at the seed packet (or seed catalog) for the days to harvest and add 2 weeks. Back up from October 31st and this will give you the date for starting your seeds.
Like fall crops, winter crops benefit from extra protection. Using a fabric cloth will help raise the effective temperature around the plants and protect them from hard freezes. As you get into the mid 20’s and below, a portable green house will keep your plants nice and toasty. Be careful on sunny days as the temp inside a greenhouse can skyrocket if not cracked open.
Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials and can be planted spring, summer or fall. You can plant oregano, thyme, lavender, sorrel, winter savory, ARP rosemary, chives, tarragon and sage once and have them year after year.
Most of your warm season crops are actually subtropical perennials and can be brought indoors in the fall like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. You can dig up your favorite, bring inside for the winter and replant in spring to get a big head start on the season.
Don't be afraid to interplant your veggies with your flowers. Flowers not only look great, but they also attract pollinators, increasing your yields, and insects that take care of the dreaded veggie eating insects. It is a win-win all the way around. I tuck onions between my day lilies and plant marigolds all around the perimeter of my flower and veggie patch. Day lilies are edible and marigolds are a great pest deterrent.
Seed catalogs that have a good selection of organic vegetables, garden fruits, and herbs - Abundant Life Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Company, Cook’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interest.
If you are just starting out, choose a catalog that also gives growing instructions for each vegetable and fruit type. Ones that I have that do a nice job are Abundant Life, Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Territorial Seed gives a month by month planting guide along with detailed growing guide. Johnny’s gives a seed germination temperature guide. They will send you free catalogs or you can go on-line to visit their web page. High Mowing is offering free shipping this season.
Here is a map of where many seed companies are located.
The most adapted crops to your garden will be those that are grown near you. Choosing a seed company you trust is even more important than where they were grown. Just look in the descriptor for key words that describe your growing conditions. You can save seeds from your best producers of any heirloom or open pollinated varieties to have crops that are perfectly adapted to your garden.
You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days. It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February. The force of life is amazing.
For more tips on small space organic gardening, see Melodie's webpage.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.