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Container Vegetable Gardening for a Cool Spring

by Sheri
Looking back over my previous blog entries I was reminded that in June of 2011 we were also dealing with a cooler than normal spring. While I hope this is not how next month, June 2014 turns out, it certainly looks like we’re on track for it. So, my potato tower blog entry will have to wait a bit, we should probably talk instead about cool weather spring vegetables. By way of a refresher: The warm season crops include tomatoes, peppers, beans, and the entire squash family, etc. Cool weather crops include radish, beets, kale, and the entire cabbage family, etc. Cool weather crops are often planted twice in our climate; in the cool of the spring and again in late summer or early fall, allowing the majority of their growth to take place in the cool weather of fall. Unless you have a green house environment to extend the season, warm season crops in the Lower Great Lakes region are relegating to the (typically) warm months of June, July, August, and September. An interesting side note: The hot southern climates in the United States reverse this planting pattern somewhat. It is too hot for most vegetables in the heat of their summer so they plant the warm season crops twice, once in the spring and again in the fall, growing little in the hot of the summer. Their cool weather crops are then planted in the winter months. But, back to our climate. Still without a garden of my own I’ve managed to find a few squares of cement this spring situated in full sun. I was also quite fortunate to find a gardening center willing to part with three of those large, thick sided, plastic containers that trees and large shrubs are sold in. Sheri's container garden started for 2014 - all 3 potsWith these three containers, my little patch of cement, and a spot in the sun I’ve created a small organic vegetable container garden. As you can see from the photo of it, I’m not so good at taking my own cool/warm weather vegetable advice. In my defense, when you’re dealing with such a small space and so few plants it is easier to take risks. If I lose the warm season plants to a cold snap it is inexpensive to replace them. Not so in a large garden, obviously. Planted in the three pots are 3 cool season vegetables: kale (planted by seed and just up, so barely visible), Kohlrabi, and lettuce. Additionally, there are 3 warm season vegetables: pole beans, butternut squash (both from seed, not visible yet), and one lone Roma tomato. A very tight arrangement to be sure. The trick to growing vegetables in containers is to sequence the plants properly so one plant is harvested before the next needs more space to grow. Sheri's container garden started for 2014 - rightIn this example I’ve planted the outer two containers with lettuce, Kohlrabi, kale, and the butternut squash. As the squash plant starts to get larger it will likely be too hot for the lettuce anyway, so they will be removed. And, if my timing works out, the Kohlrabi will be harvested and enjoyed at the dinner table long before the squash and kale need the additional root and soil space. This will leave the container with squash and kale for the summer months. The squash is a vine variety (versus bush shaped), allowing the plant to be tied up along the fence it’s sitting next to, leaving the kale to enjoy the space in the pot on its own. Sheri's container garden started for 2014 - centerThe center pot has the tomato, more lettuce, and the pole beans. Again, the lettuce will be pulled before the other plants need the space. The tomato and beans work together only because the beans planted are pole beans and as it grows the mass of the plant will be strung along the fence (using a string trellis, not yet crafted), and thus will not compete with the tomato for room in the pot. The plants will, however, compete in the soil for root space and thus for nutrients so, as always in container gardening, I will have to watch closely for signs of nutrient deficiency. And, being an organic container garden, perhaps a word about the soil. Three types of soil were added to the containers, a first for me so it’s a bit of an experiment. The bottom third of the pot has good, but simple, organic black soil. On top of this was added pure organic compost. The top third was filled with composted rabbit manure and mixed together ever so slightly with the compost layer below it. This should allow for the seeds and young seedlings to receive a healthy dose of nutrients right from the start. With repeated watering, the nutrients will settle deeper into the soil, allowing the mature plant roots to have nutrients later in the season as well. If all goes well, I will be able to enjoy lettuce and baby Kohlrabi leaves very shortly. In a few weeks the kale might be large enough to snipe a few leaves here and there for salads. And, in a month or so my dinner plate should have green beans and Kohlrabi, followed shortly by butternut squash (I tend to harvest this squash when it’s very small) and, eventually, tomatoes. Can’t wait!

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