It’s taken us a little too long to get this post in order, but better late than never, right? While some of us started the gardening season in January-February, most are after all just about coming out of winter hibernation and only beginning to think about what to grow this year, so we hope this piece will come in handy and be enjoyable for all of you, novices and professionals (well, maybe not) alike. We’re beyond excited for this second season of vegetable gardening – both because we know the endless joy it’ll bring and the wonderful food it’ll serve up, but also because we’re eager to practice the lessons we learned last year and streamline our little operation as much as we can. Even though we’ve only been at this for one teeny tiny year, it’s fun to notice how much we have in fact picked up and feel comfortable doing (and not doing) this time around.
It’s the beginning of April now, and the spring birds are already busy at work warming up the vocal cords. We still have a giant pile of snow on the property (we’re the last house on our little street, so we end up with all the snow being cleared from it), but we’ve also already had our sitting-on-the-deck-premiere. And spotted the first common brimstone (Swedish: citronfjäril). So it seems safe to say: spring is here (even though we woke up to a thin snow cover this very morning, on April 9th).
For those unfamiliar with who we are and where we live, here’s a short recap: we’re in zone 3, on an island in the archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden. We have 10 (well, 8 currently but 2 are in the making) garden boxes (see Guide to Building Your Own Garden Boxes for plans) measuring 90×160 cm, a small green house (2x3m) and a dug patch of 2x3m for growing vegetables, and wish to expand a little more for every year. Our ultimate goal is to get at least close to self-sufficiency, but we’re in no rush. Last year, we grew vegetables for the first time ever, and came away with 150 kg worth (see A Garden Year in Review for a recap of last season). Despite some definite failures (hello onions, where did you go?) and some mishaps along the way, we couldn’t believe how well everything did and what an enormous yield we could get from our humble number of square meters. Needless to say, we’re hooked!
Our approach to growing vegetables with regards to self-sufficiency and money-saving (which is another thing we feel passionately about) is this: we choose to grow what we eat a lot of that also either costs a lot to buy organic + Swedish grown in the store or isn’t available at all. For example, we eat tons of carrots and green/red cabbage, but these are products we can buy organic and Swedish grown year round at the store at a low cost. Thus, we don’t grow green or red cabbage at all, and only a little bit of carrots for snacking during the summer. We’ve also chosen to opt out of growing onions, for the same reasons. Green curly kale and dino kale are examples of products we eat our bodyweight in, and even though they’re available for purchase most of the year, the cost adds up. Hence, we set aside plenty of space for these. Organic and Swedish grown broccoli is only accessible for a few months out of the year, and when they are, they’re really expensive. Therefore, we grow a lot of broccoli. We also don’t grow lettuce all that much, which is simply due to the fact that we’d rather grow stuff higher in nutrients. Again, when space is limited, prioritizing the way that suits you the best is necessary. This is our approach, and we’ll stick to it until the day comes where we have enough space to grow everything we need for the whole year. To us, this saves the most money, gives us the greatest pleasures and nourishes our bodies the most. More on our thoughts on food can be found in Our Food Philosophy.
Let’s move on to taking a look at what we’ll be growing this year, and then how/where we’ll be setting our plans in motion, shall we?
Bell pepper (Yolo Wonder)
Pointed bell pepper (Ferenc Tender)
Chili pepper (no name)
Summer squash (Striato d’Italia)
Summer squash (Dark fog)
Winter squash (Acorn)
Winter squash (Delicata)
Green curly kale (Westland Winter)
Green curly kale (Curly Half-tall)
Dino kale (Nero di Toscana)
Pointed head cabbage (Filderkraut)
Savoy cabbage (Vorbote 3)
Spinach (Bloomsdale LS)
Chard (Five Colors)
Chard (Fordhook Giant)
Radishes (French Breakfast)*
Radishes (Plum Purple)*
Scallions (Ishikura Long)*
Corn (Double Standard)
Pole beans (Neckarkönigin)
Green beans (Speedy)
Green beans (Provider)
Green beans (Sunray)
Purple beans (Royal Burgundy)
Sugar snaps (Cascadia)
Parsnips (White Gem)
Carrots (Purple Haze)
Jerusalem artichokes/Sunchokes (no name)
(*It didn’t go very well with these last year so we haven’t given them a designated spot in the garden this season, in case you wonder where they are in the plans you’ll find below. We might try some, we might not)
Parsley (Gigante di Napoli)
Chamomile (Roman) – we grow this for tea
(We have perennial herbs from last year – rosemary, thyme, sage, mint and oregano – that all seem to have survived the winter)
Ok, so that’s what we’re looking at as far as kinds and varieties. Below, you’ll see the plans for the 8 boxes in our fenced off garden. We’ll do all the squashes in two new boxes in a different location, and all the potatoes and sunchokes in the dug patch in yet another location. Tomatoes, cucumber, and various peppers will all go in pots in the green house. It’ll most likely be something like 5-10 cucumber plants, 15-20 tomato plants and 5-10 peppers of different kinds. Currently, we have a round of early Savoy cabbage (7 heads) and pointed head cabbage (2 heads) growing in pots in there, but they’ll hopefully be ready to harvest before the other little friends are ready to move out. All herbs except dill will be growing in either big pots or smaller dug patches.
We divide the season into three parts – early, summer and late – and the plans above show the summer outline. Thanks to lessons learned last year, we will for example only do spinach early and late, since it bolts during the summer (see note above box 5 and 6). We’ll do the Calabrais variety of broccoli during the summer, but will then replace all the plants with a fall batch of Waltham. And the row of Savoy in box 3 will be replaced by green curly kale in the winter, since this is something we want to have a lot of when the colder season arrives and green kale plants can be left standing the entire winter with minimal upkeep required. Also, we’ll do the Westland Winter kale variety for the late season, and the Curly Half-tall during the summer. The flowers we’ve chosen this year have been selected with regards to their pollinator-popularity (and prettiness), and will hopefully work well in the designated spots. We also have plans on creating mini flower meadows here and there around the property, in attempt to help the bees, butterflies etc. as much as we can.
When you look at our plans, you might wonder if we forgot to read the instructions on the seed packets – because hey, all the plants are so close together! Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that you don’t need to worry too much about spacing (at least not most of the time). As long as you replenish the soil continuously (whether with compost or by covering with grass clippings and other plant material etc.) and make sure all the plants get enough light and water, we find that you go very tight. Also, since we now know that you can eat the enormous leaves from the broccoli plant, we dare placing them closer together as well – because once you cut the leaves off, they won’t take up half a meter each anymore. I could go on and on and explain our thinking and plans for each square centimeter, but I feel like this is probably enough (or too much already). Forgive me, but it’s just so much fun sharing!
Hm, what else could there be for us to talk about, though, before letting you go? Maybe a quick look at what we have started or will start inside vs. what will be sown directly outside? Well, all tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squashes are growing tall underneath the grow lights as we speak. We have started all the cabbage family plants as well (dino kale, green kale, savoy cabbage and broccoli) and will replant these at least once before they get to go outside. Let’s see, what more… Oh, we have snap peas, parsley and chamomile going inside too, and basil as well. Parsnips, carrots, beets, chard, dill have been sown outside already (fingers crossed this return-to-winter-weather doesn’t mess anything up), and spinach of course. In a few weeks, we’ll start corn and some beans (those that are to follow in the spinach box, since they’d get too late of a start if sown directly, after spinach harvest is over). For the flowers, we have started a bit of everything inside, but will also sow outside as soon as the weather allows for it. I think that more or less sums it up. I think it’s also safe to say I’ve probably been babbling way too much about way too little – but hey, that’s ok too! We’ll keep you guys posted on the happenings in our dirt, and want to encourage you to share as well, mishaps and successes alike. Until then, we’re wishing you all a great start to the spring season, with all that comes with it. Eat ice cream, wear SPF and stock up on fresh air and vitamin D as much as you can! Happy veggie growing!