Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Summer of Backyard Vegetables (Part 1)

Since I just started this blog this past month, I thought I would take you on a whirlwind tour of my vegetable garden over this past Spring and Summer!  It was our first year at our house where we have an actual backyard to plant stuff, and we were unsure of how much sunlight certain areas received, how things would grow in the backyard, etc.  This year was certainly a learning experience all around and thankfully we had an abundance of fresh veggies!

Let me take you back to May 18, 2011:

Searching around online for local organic vegetable plants was rather difficult. I wanted to buy plants that were non-genetically modified, organic and heirloom varieties. Not only would I love access to fresh veggies from my own backyard, but if I am going to the trouble of growing veggies, I would like them to be non-GMO and free of pesticides.

I visited the retail location of Urban Harvest and found an amazing selection of organic veggie plants and seeds. They have a wonderful philosophy and commitment to saving our seed heritage. They also only sell open-pollinated varieties so you can save your own seeds. Their selection is quite diverse with over 350 varieties of seeds and they have been operating for 15 years.

I picked up the following organic, heirloom, and even some endangered varieties: Sweet Pepper Carmagnola Yellow, Little Bells Sweet Pepper, Chinese Five Colours Hot Pepper, Red Cayenne Pepper, Hungarian Wax Hot Pepper, Variegated Fish Hot Pepper (apparently these will have stripes!), Tom Thumb Snap Peas, Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato, Rona Tomato, Baxter's Bush Cherry Tomato, and Principe Borghese Tomato.

I will be planting everything over the weekend, provided that we have good weather. I can't wait to start up my veggie garden again! A sure sign that Spring is here and Summer is around the corner!

I should also mention that the retail shop of Urban Harvest is in the West end of Toronto. They have their seeds at multiple retail locations near Toronto and you can order online as well. If you would like to purchase seedlings like I did, I highly recommend visiting their store. There are so many types of tomatoes and plants, you won't be disappointed!

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A couple of days early, on May 16, 2011:

Today after work, I drove out to the country, beyond Toronto and Markham to Goodwood, Ontario. What's out there, you may ask? A wonderful gem called Richter's Herbs is worth the drive!

There are so many unique varieties of herbs and seeds there; everything and anything you could possibly want! They grow the herbs there and they don't use harmful pesticides, plus many plants are organic.

I can't wait to plant some of these outside, or transplant them to bigger pots. It will be wonderful to have access to fresh herbs again! I purchased: Pedro Perpetuo Basil, African Spice Basil, Oriental Breeze Basil, Rex Rosemary, Greek Oregano, Lady Lavender, Vietnamese Cilantro, and Salad Burnet. As for seed packets, I bought Cilantro, Chia, Thai Basil, plus Mizuna, Green Leaf French Purslane and Salad Bowl Lettuce to grow indoors as I am going to try to grow some microgreens.

If you're not in the area, they have an online catalog and they do mail orders! What an amazing greenhouse full of herbs (also, a friendly orange cat was following me around the greenhouse, who instantly captured my heart!). Now, just to buy my veggies soon and it will be time to plant my garden!

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Then, on May 26, 2011, everything was fully planted:

The vegetable seedlings are fully planted and now they can grow into glorious plants with loads of fresh veggies waiting to be picked, right from my own backyard!  I only have a small space in the backyard where I can plant veggies directly into the ground, so I decided to plant the tomatoes there and do the rest in containers.  As you can see here, I have all of my peppers and herbs up on the deck.  I decided to buy some raised shelving units just so I didn't have pots sitting directly on the deck.  I found this shelf in the garage/automotive section of Walmart for a very low price of $29 - it is designed to be one 5-shelf unit, but I broke it down into a couple of shelves to allow the plants to get more sun.

Here are the tomatoes.  It is a bit tricky to see from the picture as there are tons of pink petals all over the ground.  Our neighbor has a beautiful large cherry tree in their backyard that is blossoming, and the tree shades part of our backyard.  We have tons of pink blossoms all over our backyard and it looks so pretty!  Hopefully the tomato plants don't mind!

Two balcony container planters full of herbs.  This is my first time growing veggies in the new house and I have had great successes in the past, so hopefully this year is as good as ever!

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Then, on July 4th, 2011, I call this one: "Learning from Vegetable Garden Mistakes":

This was our first year in the new house and I had to adjust the way that I grow my veggies to the new backyard.  With that said, I made plenty of mistakes this year that I will be learning from for next year!  I think that everything is starting to grow a bit better now that I have tried to correct these mistakes for the rest of the growing season, but some plants may not survive - time will only tell.  Here is a wrap-up of the mistakes I made so you won't make the same errors that I did!

1.  Make sure everything gets enough sunlight.  I planted all of my tomato plants in a wonderful bed in the ground that ended up being shaded by the neighbour's giant cherry tree.  I thought the tomatoes would have gotten more sun than they did.  The plants themselves looked beautiful, but this resulted in very little fruit being produced on the plants.  In an attempt to correct this mistake, I dug up all of my tomato plants after they had been in the ground for over a month and transplanted them to pots.  It is hard to tell if the tomato plants will survive at this point.  I may not get tomato plants this year, but I will know to just plant them in containers for next year where they will receive full sun.  Lesson learned:  Make sure your tomatoes (and peppers!) get at least 8+ hours of full sunlight, especially the hot afternoon sun.

With that said, I had my peppers in a spot where they did receive full sun, but I moved them to a spot where they get full sun for longer and they also seem like they are growing better.

2.  Make sure you purchase the correct soil for your containers.  I bought a cheap potting soil at Walmart thinking it would be okay and it wasn't.  There was very little (if any) nutrients in the soil, and my peppers suffered in the beginning.  I transplanted some of the peppers to a better potting soil with nutrients in the soil and they seem much happier now.  Then, after talking to some really nice employees at a local garden centre, I found out that it is fine to plant your vegetable garden in containers using triple mix (peat moss, manure, soil mixture).  This way, the soil has an adequate amount of drainage, the plants get the nutrients they need, plus the soil is a bit heavier than potting soil so you don't need to water nearly as often.  Potting soil is good to use, but triple mix works as well, so I'm glad that I learned about that tidbit of information!

3.  Make sure your peppers aren't in a windy location.  Sometimes this is out of your control, but I think that my peppers were in a windier spot being up high on my deck as opposed to on a lower level.  One of my pepper plants ended up dying due to a combination of poor potting soil (see above) and being a tall plant in a windy location.  Try to shield your plants from the wind as much as possible, especially when the plants are still small and don't have as strong of a root support system.

With that said, I have learned from these mistakes for next year and I am starting to get some nice looking peppers at least!  Not too sure about the tomatoes yet, but hopefully they survive and can at least produce some tomatoes this year.  I love make a fresh salsa each year with tomatoes from the garden, so I'm hoping I can do that again.  One more thing - if you are going to be planting in containers, make sure the plants are off the ground in some way so they can drain easier.  Mine are lifted off the ground on some plastic shelves that have spaces in them for drainage.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "A Summer of Backyard Vegetables" to be posted tomorrow!

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