This is the fifth installment of our season-long adventure in elevated gardening. Our friends at Gronomics have provided the Western Red Cedar planters we are using. In our first installment, we received the planters and documented putting them together. Both of us were quite pleased with how easily they went together without using a single tool. In our second installment we filled them with our growing medium and planted them with seeds and transplants. Both of us chose a combination of edibles and ornamentals and in the third installment, readers were shown how things were growing. In the fourth installment, their planters were brimming full of ornamentals and edibles and their harvest was beginning in ernest. In this fifth installment, Terry and Melody are making plans for their cool-season gardens.
Melody: One good rule to live by when container gardening, is to know when it is time to say goodbye to something. In preparation for cool season crops, I've removed the beans, peppers, eggplants, carrots and beets. All were past their prime and starting to show their age. I've also removed most of the zinnias and some of the marigolds. They were still quite healthy, maybe too healthy, as they were taking up quite a bit of real-estate and I want the space for other things. The chocolate cherry tomato is churning out yummy little nuggets of tomatoey goodness, so it stays. I've had to stake it with an old hoe handle, as it is now top-heavy and the cage isn't holding it up. I think next year, I'll find or make a cage with a solid wire ring on the bottom, as it will be less likely to tip over. My sweet potato never had a chance. Something ate it down to the nubs overnight. Rather than try to coddle it along, I removed it. Growing organically does tend to have some pitfalls when it comes to pests, but the thrill of finding a sweet little tree frog nestled in my zinnias makes up for small losses. I'm excited about the fall crops and even planted a few cucumbers and squash, since we're still weeks away from frost. This summer was a battle to keep anything alive and I'm really looking forward to cooler werather!
Terry: Melody is right - knowing when to "cut bait" is equally important when you're fishing and when you're gardening. As soon as the baby watermelons finish ripening, the sprawling mass of vines will be history, and replaced with some cool-season spinach, which will should hold up through all but the coldest weather. We love fresh spinach and we're looking forward to having some available for several more months. Another lesson to keep in mind is to choose varieties carefully, especially when space is at a premium. A small-fruiting variety may still be a full-size plant. Patio-type tomatoes such as 'Tumbler' and the 'Yum Yum Gold' miniature bell peppers are good choices for elevated container gardening, or even in traditional containers. Choose herbs that will stay compact, such as some of the smaller basils and parsley. Big lanky herbs like dill and cilantro are just not good choices for tight spots. I've had to severely whack my lemon basil several times, which makes it look unsightly, where a smaller mounding globe-type basil would have naturally stayed more compact and required less maintenance. The fennel was a risk, as it can grow up to 5 feet tall. But so far it has stayed relatively compact, hovering just a couple feet tall. The third and final lesson learned so far this year: if I had it to do again, I would have put the tomatoes in the bigger/deeper container where the roots could spread more, and a tomato cage would have more soil to hold it up. As it is, the tomatoes in my cages are pretty mild-mannered, but more aggressive indeterminates would have pulled them out and over the edge by now. I may try a peony support ring next year to help my somewhat lanky peppers - they need just a little help to stay upright.
Melody has thinned the plant material out of the herb bed. She's removed the eggplant, beans, peppers, most of the zinnias and the marigolds.
Melody couldn't bring herself to remove the pentas and marigolds just yet. They are still attractive and the butterflies and hummingbirds love them.
Here's the roots of one of Melody's eggplants. They were healthy and thick when she pulled the plant out of the soil. Eggplants were a great choice for the Gronomics beds.
Surprisingly, Terry's fennel has flourished in spite of the heat. It was nip-and-tuck earlier in the year, but it's growing great! Now to find some recipes when it's time to harvest it. Frying peppers have been so-so, many of them developing soft spots just about the time they ripen.
Terry's cherry tomatoes have suffered along with the others in the extreme heat of the last month. But slightly cooler daytime temperatures, and a break in night-time temperatures have spurred a flush of new blooms. Here's hoping for some dark cherry toms before the season ends.
Gardening in confined spaces means choosing varieties carefully. This small-fruiting melon may seem like a good fit, but it is still a sprawling plant, hogging up a lot of room in one of Terry's raised beds. A squash is struggling to grow beneath the mass of watermelon leaves and stems.
The poor little sweet potato was completely stripped by an unknown pest. Melody gave it an honorable burial in the compost pile.
Melody planted a few cucumbers and squash for a late summer harvest.
The resident praying mantis is growing and changing into his late summer colors. Still vigilant and quick to pounce upon the pest insects, Melody's happy to see it around.
Thyme is best when sheared back several times a year. It prevents the stems from getting woody and unpalatable.
Melody gave her thyme a big haircut. It was time. (pun intended)
A huge bundle of thyme was the result of the heavy trimming. Melody dried some, froze some in ice cubes and made some flavored vinegar.
Terry re-learned another lesson this year: sometimes labeled plants are not true-to-name. These are supposed to be 'HealthKick' tomatoes, which are roma-type tomatoes with extra lycopene. Instead, these are just run-of-the-mill small salad tomatoes.
Notice the 'Bush Pickle' cucumber is nearly as large as the icebox-type watermelon. For some reason, the cukes have not performed well in Terry's beds, despite a replanting mid-season. Fortunately, friends have shared their surplus all summer.
A bright spot (literally and figuratively) in Terry's beds have been the Anaheim and 'Yum Yum Gold' peppers, both of which continue to produce prolifically despite the searing heat of July and early August.
A morning treat is the friendly little tree frog nestled in the zinnias. He probably spent the evening gobbling up insects.
Since Melody is planting new things in her planters, a dose of fish emulsion is in order. Fish emulsion is a great organic fertilizer and is fine for ornamentals or edibles.
One thing about fish emulsion, it is...'fragrant'. Carly thinks it is quite interesting and wanted to 'help.
Melody's Chocolate Cherry tomatoes are doing great. They're a bit top-heavy and she expected that, but next season, she's developed an idea that will keep things stable.
The fall brassicas are starting to germinate. Melody has turnips, radishes and pac-choi planted. When the flowers are spent, she'll add some lettuce and maybe some peas.
Melody's Gronomics planters are still as attractive and stable as they were the day she unpacked them. She's seeing absolutely no signs of wear or deterioration. The planters are sturdy, beautiful and the plants are healthy and happy.
We welcome your questions and comments. Stay tuned for future installments as we transition to cooler, wetter weather and plants that thrive in those conditions.