Food & Wine Photo Credit: Alana Paterson

Expert Advice: 6 Tips for Planting a Late-Season Vegetable Garden

Lisa Giroday of Vancouver’s Victory Gardens insists it’s never too late to grow a batch of fresh veggies.  

During the world wars, citizens planted “Victory Gardens,” crops of herbs and vegetables, to help ease pressure on the public food supply and to boost morale.

Today, though Lisa Giroday, co-founder of Vancouver-based Victory Gardens, doesn’t have an army to feed, she works hard to maintain and promote home gardens, teaching people how to grow their own organic produce and removing the barriers between people and production—a small victory in itself. Starting a vegetable garden is a great way to exercise your green thumb and to become less dependant on the long-distance transportation of supermarket produce: “[By] teaching people how to grow food in their gardens successfully, or helping people maintain food in their gardens, we aim to make it enjoyable and easy for folks to become productive in their space,” says Giroday.

Lucky for us, the mild Vancouver climate is perfect for growing produce for an extended period of time (from March through September!). So even though it’s late in the season, it’s not too late to start planting. Here, Giroday offers her best tips.

1. Rule of Three

Every garden plot should have the right soil composition, especially if you’re expecting to grow sweet, flavourful produce. At Victory Gardens, the team uses organic compost-rich soils (a.k.a. “veggie mix”) and fertilizers that adhere to the three-three-three rule–an equal breakdown of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Keep in mind, however, that some fruiting plants (like tomato) do require higher levels of phosphorous. According to Giroday, the best veggie mix is a blend of composite and sand (an excellent drainage component).

2. Rooted in Place

Giroday recommends planting root crops (beets, carrots, turnips, radishes) this late in the season. Beets and carrots can be harvested in autumn and are known to survive cooler temperatures. Turnips and radishes, on the other hand, are quick to mature (roughly 32 to 35 days) and offer quick gratification: “Often there’s this really fun element of surprise when you pull them out of the ground, especially with kids,” says Giroday.

Fields of easy-to-produce and long lasting green onion.

3. Personal Tastes

Vegetable gardens vary depending on everyone’s personal likes and dislikes. “When I’m talking to people who are going to start gardening I always ask, ‘What would you eat a lot of’?'” says Giroday.

4. It’s Easy Being Green

“I like [to think of greens as] being user-friendly,” laughs Giroday. Spinach, kale, chard and arugula are all quite happy in autumn temperatures and have high germination rates, meaning they can produce a more bountiful harvest for even the most inexperienced gardener. Green onions are another great choice for beginners—they take up very little space and grow like weeds. Simply buy a cluster from the grocery store, save their bulbous tips and plant them. Herbs are also low maintenance, but the pods are more expensive and tend to expire more quickly than others; that said, it’s important to know that herbs are a perennial crop (a.k.a. they last from one year to the next and don’t need to be replanted each season).

A bounty of homegrown produce.

5. Companion Planting

Most home gardeners would rather avoid pesticides, especially those with children who tend to roam and play in the gardens. Planting certain crops side by side is an organic form of pest and disease control: “Plants have this really beautiful and natural symbiotic relationship with one another where they’ll offer benefits that [act] like pest control—but also flavour benefits and nutrient advantages,” explains Giroday. Carrots, for example, are susceptible to a pest called Carrot Rust Fly, which onions repel so planting these two root vegetables near each other will reduce the chances of rot. Legumes also offer benefits: beans and peas fix imbalanced nitrogen levels in the soil, a structural component of any plant’s protein, crucial to growing healthy plants.

6. Staggered Harvests

Producing more food than you could consume before it wilts is a good kind of problem to have, but wasteful nonetheless. “The one challenge that a lot of folks find in their first few seasons is not planting their gardens all at once,” she says. Some crops that take longer to age, such as bell peppers, should first be planted indoors (for approximately two months), and then be transplanted outside where they can be harvested two to three months later. Remember to save space for quick-to-mature green onions and arugula, suggests Giroday. They can be planted multiple times throughout the season for a balanced harvest that will last the summer.

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