November, December and January are typical months to be planning your outdoor-activities for the next year. I will be doing the same and I need to be doing this for my garden, my small livestock and my apiary. In this post I’ll explain how I decide on new varieties to plant. I’ll limit myself to planning the vegetable garden in this post.
What did I see last year?
Every year throws something new at you. That’s why gardening and raising livestock are such interesting things to be doing. Before planning for the next season, I try to take note of what went wrong in the previous.
There will be some major changes done, most of them have to do with the extreme weather we’ve had in spring and summer of 2018. In Belgium, and most of Europe was in the same boat, we had two separate periods of very hot temperatures, lots of sun and almost no rain. Belgium and the Netherlands are both known for their problems getting rid of excess water, and usually this is the problem we have. This year was completely different, and I’d say we weren’t prepared very well. In spring, we saw our seedlings shrivel up and die unless shielded very well and watered with great care. The first drought was bad enough, but on top of this, after we had some mild rain and a few weeks of cloudy weather the sun was back. Manure that was put into the ground in March and April didn’t digest, everything turned to dust and in an area where this doesn’t normally happen, gardeners are found unprepared because we normally prepare to save our plants from drowning. Oak trees dropped their acorns a month before they were ripe, which meant we had less to feed to our animals and what we had was quicker to rot away in fall.
In short, this year was very different and difficult for the garden and for wild flora. I will learn from this by planting more crops that do well in hot weather. I won’t, however, change everything. This was a weird summer and I don’t think we’ll see an extreme one like this any time soon.
The vegetable garden
I have 2 separate areas where I grow vegetables, plus a greenhouse. I use what little space remains there to help extra sensitive seedlings through the early part of spring. The greenhouse is not heated and isn’t very well insulated. It is enough though, for growing tomatoes, starting seedlings and housing animals. There are ditches running through and alongside each plot, so water can escape. The greenhouse rarely has any trouble with excess water. I’m going to put some effort into finding out which warm-weather crops can thrive in our area, and still give a crop when the weather is “normal”.
I will be going through how I choose seeds to try when I’m working with things that are completely new to my own climate, or new to me. You’ll see my list of suppliers I use is quite short. This is because I’ve tried many different ones and found some more reliable than others. When I’m trying out a new type of plant, I don’t want to worry about the quality of the seeds I bought. I have enough trouble deciding WHAT and HOW to grow the newbies!
Remember it’s important to save your seeds! Sometimes a new variety to your area doesn’t do well the first year, but improves drastically in the second. I experienced this with the Lemon Queen variety sunflower I used for the first time in 2016. The first planting of these gave sad little sunflowers that grew thin and were diseased. Now, the Lemon Queen sunflowers do very well and give lots of small sized sunflowers.
A big factor you must consider when buying seeds from another country or continent besides temperature and water needs are the daylight hours required. According to the map I added, even in the northernmost states of the USA, you can expect more yearly hours of sunshine than on the same latitude in Europe. I think if you’re an American grower wanting to try European varieties this is probably good news, although you may want to be vigilant to harvest before anything bolts. In Europe that means we had better get ourselves a nice greenhouse and maybe a light to help start seeds.
Most western/northern European countries have the same rule saying; do not plant anything outside before the 25th of May. This is the day when the risk of frost has passed, and we can consider our young plants safe at night, not needing extra protection. This is important, because before this date we protect our plants with shade cloth if they’re outside. Usually we can omit this during the day when the weather is alright, but if we get a cold spring the shade cloth will have to stay on, further reducing the sunlight the plants get.
Artichokes & cardoon
Cardoons are plants which are grown for their leaf-stems which are grown, covered up to keep light off them. This suppressed the development of the fibers in the leaves which would make them inedible. They are decorative (might have great bee-flowers!), grow fast and according to the seed seller they like to grow in damp conditions. This plant might do well both in hot and normal weather. A local seed-supplier, De Bolster, from the Netherlands sells these so I’m assuming these will already be adapted to a Belgian climate.
For some reason I do not see artichokes sold by any local sellers I like. These might be a bad decision, perhaps there are difficult to grow locally. I love the look of artichokes though, so I will buy the ‘violet de Provence’ from Baker creek heirloom seeds. I don’t dare buy the ‘green globe’ variety, I’m sure this is the more productive type that American growers might use commercially, but because of the general difference between Europe and the USA in daylight hours, I think it’s safer to try a French or Italian variety.
Okra is an uncommon vegetable in Europe. It’s definitely a warm-weather plant, so I will be keeping it in the greenhouse. This will be a welcome change, as most years the greenhouse is full of vegetables from the nightshade family; tomatoes and bell peppers. I’m also exited to add a new vegetable suitable for canning! I’ve seen many amazing displays of jars full of beautiful okra fruits canned by American canning-enthusiasts.
The only source of seeds I know and often use is Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. I’ve decided I’ll go for their ‘Star of David’ okra. If my experiment goes well, I hope to add a red okra type as well.
Asian long beans
My best harvests usually come from green beans. This year I failed spectacularly! I’ve never seen anything like this. Beans would not sprout, no matter how much water I gave them. Whatever did decide to show itself above ground shriveled up even when protected with shade cloth.
I think Asian long beans could insure me against this happening again. Long beans are grown and eaten in the same way we can grow ‘common’ green beans. We like to pick them when the beans inside the pods are not yet visible, I think if we do this with these long beans we’d make a lovely meal out of them. I’m going for the Chinese red noodle bean from Baker Creek, because this one is advertised as an early variety and as needing only 80 days of growth.
I’ve been inspired by Charles Dowding’s youtube channel to start a no-dig experiment. For this I’ll need more clean compost than I have (ours is very rough and has lots of weed-seeds). I’ll use rabbit manure as a mulch instead of plant based composed and work on improving the overal composting system we have. I’ll use this system on one of the outdoor vegetable gardens, not inside the greenhouse. I’m quite sceptical of whether it is a good system to grow a good potato crop, but I think Charles has some phenomenal-looking cabbages, beets and leafy greens.