Every year I warn fellow gardeners not to rush on getting seeds into pots for warm-weather vegetables. Tomatoes, in particular, outgrow their indoor space under lights much faster than you’d think, but you can make this mistake with many plants that shouldn’t go outdoors until the chance of frost is past and the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees F. There’s often a several-week gap between the average-last-frost day that you used to count back from when calculating start dates and the actual day that it’s safe to put the plants in the garden. That can go either way, of course, but unless you’re inclined toward taking risks, it’s better to err on the side of later planting. The seedlings will grow faster under warm conditions and catch up with their early-planted peers.
So, there was no reason to put the pepper seeds in as early as the very end of February, but I did it anyway. We all have those moments. Mid-March would have been fine, but I know I was feeling anxious about other things and probably projected those feelings onto my peppers. And now I have some large strong well-grown pepper plants that are more than ready to go into the ground–which some of them are going to do this week, soil temperatures notwithstanding.
If you have been in this situation, which most of us seed-starters have, here are some things you can do, more or less in chronological order. This applies also to plants you may have bought a while before you could plant them–we all do that too!
It’s seed catalog season! If you’re anything like me, you’re paging through them right now marking possible purchases for the 2022 growing season. (Happy New Year, by the way.) On my first pass, I always mark much more than I can plant in my own gardening space, and now that I’m no longer choosing what to grow in the Derwood Demo Garden, my selections are further limited. I have to make sensible choices, darn it. Nothing too big or aggressive, or that takes too long to produce, or is marginal in our climate, or that I’m not sure I like to eat. Good thing I’ve had all that practice trying and failing.
Now, I would never limit anyone else’s choices, or tell them they won’t succeed at what they’re attempting. I’m usually all for stretching the boundaries. So the spirit of the list below is not to discourage; it’s just to pass on what hasn’t worked for me. Maybe some of these plants have done great for you, or you’re convinced you can get past the challenges. But if your space and time is limited and you have to be realistic, feel free to make use of my what-not-to-grow advice.
Gardeners adding fruit to their landscapes tend to think first of familiar treats such as raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, which are all great to grow in our region, or fruit trees like apples and peaches, which present some challenges but are possible. But if you’re the typical suburban homeowner, you look at your proposed fruit orchard, and then you look at your yard, and the two don’t match up. Maybe that’s a matter of sheer space available. But often, it’s a matter of sun.
Most fruiting plants really prefer a full-sun location, which is something that those of us with mature trees lack. If your landscape trees are still small–well, someday you’ll get to the point where you have more shade than sun. Trees are wonderful and we should all plant more of them, but then we do end up without much space left for that meadow of sun-loving native perennials, never mind the vegetable garden and the orchard.
But what if I told you that you can plant fruit in the shade?
Earlier this week, I finally took all the pepper plants out of my community garden plot, in anticipation of a predicted frost. It’s ridiculous that I was still harvesting peppers in November, but this is the world we live in.
The final plant to go was a variety called Aconcagua, which I bought seed for and planted for the first time this year. It’s a sweet fryer-type from Argentina that’s described as growing up to three feet tall and producing fruit up to a foot long. I didn’t get quite those results, though I will admit that I didn’t plant it in the best location in my plot (lots of thistle competition). It was, for sure, a big pepper plant, with fruit frequently at least six inches long, with a fresh fruity taste that was great in salads or fried.
Here’s my last harvest (in November, again! From one plant!).
Two of the vegetable crops I grew this year are known for loving the heat: okra and eggplant. I grow eggplant in pots on my deck, to avoid flea beetle infestation, and okra directly in the ground in my community garden plot. Both of them produced adequately over the summer. Now it’s fall; we’re having days in the 70s and nights in the 50s, and there are fewer hours of sunlight in the day. Time to pull the summer crops, right?
Except – boom! Both the okra and the eggplant are going gangbusters. More flowers, more fruits than in the hot summer months, by far.
So why aren’t these plants following the rulebook? Do they not know how to read? Or have the rules changed?
I am way late to the party on this (it happened in December 2020) but recently I’ve caught up on watching the videos connected with Collard Week. This is part of the Heirloom Collards Project, an ongoing collaboration between Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seed Savers Exchange, plus farmers, seed-savers, chefs and others who want to celebrate and explore the world of collards.
This is my crop of potatoes for 2021, harvested July 14. They’re nice-looking and they’ve been delicious, so I can’t call it a disappointing harvest entirely. But I would have liked more of them! This was my first try at growing potatoes in straw, a technique I’d heard good things about. I’ll probably try it again, but I’ll adjust my approach.