Balzer: Planting, harvesting and blooming this summer: A four-dimensional garden project

In Calgary, we plant and grow like crazy in May and June and then pack it all up and take down the tent in just a few short months.  Wanna give it a try anyway? Here are tips for making the most of the 4th dimension in your Calgary garden this summer — time.

Late Spring:

New gardeners ask when to plant and when to harvest their gardens and this makes me smile because there is no single planting or harvesting date. Instead, I plant almost all spring and sometimes while I am still planting I am already harvesting, too.

Last week I finished harvesting my first greenhouse crop of radish. This week I am seeding more radish, broccoli and lettuce in my greenhouse for summer planting and fall foraging. At the same time, my beautiful ornamental onions, planted 10 months ago, are in bloom. And in just over a month, I’ll harvest another member of the onion family planted last fall — garlic.

And finally, this week, it is safe to plant frost tender plants like watermelons, begonias and squash for the coming summer. I think. I have been caught in the past with a heavy snow or frost after June 7 so I always keep a cover, like Agribon, on hand to shelter tender crops when frost threatens (see the white cover in the photos behind the ornamental onions.)

Early Summer Veg:

Between this week and next, we transition from late spring into early summer and some plants will naturally go to seed. The herb cilantro, for instance, should come with an owner’s manual. I also think every time someone buys this plant they should be given free cilantro seed to go with it. That way when you transplant the fast-bolting little herb you can also scatter seed between plants for a later summer crop.

By next week, crops like arugula, spinach and cilantro will all start bolting and going to seed and, if I fail to plant more, the harvest will basically finish for the year.

Spinach is not a summer crop in Alberta so, luckily, Margo in Carbon, shared her best idea. She leaves her spinach in the same patch every year. That way, once her early crop is finished, it flowers and reseeds itself in the same place. The new seedlings come up in fall or by next March and the spinach harvest begins again in April well before most of us would think to seed it.

The Importance of Cutting flowers:

In the garden, cut back dead perennial blooms as soon as they fade to stop energy lost when seed pods form. Early bearded Iris, perennials like moss phlox and little Leo leopard’s bane blooms all finish early while late plants like hostas are still coming out of the ground.

Early summer bloomers like dianthus, peonies and Siberian Iris start blooming in a week but finish quickly if we get a heat wave so they need clipping as soon as blooms are spent, too. And remember this: the only way to get plants to bloom all summer is to plant annual flowers. They are designed to keep blooming and, unlike perennials, which shine for a week or two, annuals give us blooms all summer and sometimes into October.

Keep the Food Coming:

The only cure for gardener’s desire to have food to harvest weekly is to keep planting fast crops like radish (30 to 45 days), lettuce (60 days), arugula (45 days) and green onions (60 days) but seed them indoors or in your greenhouse first so you can transplant them outside as quickly as you remove the edible plants.

By harvesting and planting continuously, you truly have a 4D garden full of changing delights. I look forward to the colours and flavours of the season and even though it is peak asparagus season now, harvest transitions into zucchini in July, tomatoes in August and pumpkins in September. If we want baby beets or baby carrots in late summer, reseed them next week and thin the ones already planted. If not, the carrots and beets will become giants as babies outgrow their beds.

My personal happy season in the very short season we call summer is when tomato, cucumber and pepper harvest overlaps. I call it Greek salad season and it only lasts a few days or maybe weeks because all of these plants are frost tender. We plant them in late spring and they are finished by early fall.

Gardening season in Calgary is short but we can keep the fun coming. If there is a hole in your culinary or colour palette just visit a local garden centre weekly for seed or plants additions. This is 4D gardening at its best.

Donna Balzer is a horticulturist, author and speaker. To see more from Donna see her website at donnabalzer.com

 

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