There is something innately satisfying about growing your own vegetables. Van Luyk’s extensive selection of veggies has been carefully chosen to ensure you plant only the absolute best.
One of the most common questions Van Luyk customers ask at our store is: “Is it safe for me to plant [vegetable name] right now?” This helpful tipsheet will clarify what veggies are cold hardy, and what veggies are not!
We divide our vegetable selection into three broad categories: hardy, semi-hardy, and tender.
Hardy vegetables tolerate hard frosts (usually -4 to -2 degrees C). They are good for spring and fall gardens. The hardiest -– kale, spinach, and collards –- can tolerate temperatures between -5 and -8 degrees C. All of them taste best when they mature in cool weather, so they are also very well suited to late summer planting for fall harvests.
- Brussels sprouts
- English peas
- Mustard greens
Semi-hardy vegetables tolerate light frosts (usually -2 to 0 degrees C) late into fall and through winter in mild climates. They are good for spring and fall gardens.
- Chinese cabbage
- Seed Potatoes
- Lettuce / Gourmet Salad Greens
- Swiss chard
Plant these in high spring, after the threat of frost has passed. These tender vegetables need warm weather (18 to 31 degrees C) to grow and are killed by frost. They are for summer gardens only.
- Summer squash
- Sweet potatoes
Selecting what types of seeds you wish to grow can be a confusing process at times. There are many different types of plants to grow (i.e. tomatoes), but this choice can be further complicated by the variety of different seed types that are available. This document will outline some of the advantages and disadvantages of several common seed types.
Open Pollinated: Your Own Backyard Varieties
Open-pollinating plants produce seeds that you can gather and use in the future. When you collect and replant these seeds, there is a high chance that the seed will produce a plant that is very similar or exactly the same as the parent.
A major (and fascinating) advantage to open-pollinated plants is that year-by-year the plant will become more and more suited to the growing conditions you’ve provided it with in your yard. That’s right – in a matter of a couple years you may have a slightly different variety of tomato from what you started with, specifically tailored to your own garden!
This advantage of course comes with its own drawback – many open-pollinating plants will readily cross-pollinate with other compatible plants in your bed. Without isolating your initial variety, you might experience significant variance in your crop year-to-year as the original plant’s pollen intermingles with that of other plants. In addition, if you isolate the plant from the corrupting influence of other plants, you may be forced to do the pollinating yourself.
This disadvantage does not apply to plants that are already self-fertile. Self-fertile plants take care of themselves and do not as easily ‘mingle’ with other plants.
The “Heirloom” Factor: Higher-Risk, Higher Reward
Though it is still a contentious issue among growers, it is generally agreed upon that heirloom/heritage varieties of plants are those that have been in existence for 50 or more years. The sheer number of heirloom/heritage varieties available on the market is staggering. Many gardeners will go to great lengths to secure their favourites because these varieties have rich backstories coupled with incredible flavours unrivaled by any of the more modern hybrids.
Whether or not a robust selection of heirloom-type seeds will be suitable for your garden depends on what your goal is come harvest time. If you eat most of your fruits and veggies fresh, then heirloom varieties are an excellent choice. However, it is important to note that heirloom maturity times and yield quality can be rather inconsistent. If you intend to take the crop and turn it into preserves or otherwise prepare them for non-fresh-eating uses, you will be greatly frustrated by the varying quantity, quality, size, and harvest time of your heirloom crops.
A final note concerning heirloom varieties: they can be prone to disease issues. Modern hybrids have been bred specifically to resist many common diseases, but heirloom varieties are the opposite – they have been preserved for generations with minimal alterations – and so they sometimes can’t stand up to these diseases without our help.
Hybrid Varieties: Safer Plant, Safer Taste
For the record, hybrid plants are not the same as genetically-engineered plants. The act of hybridization has been carried out for thousands of years in the form of selective breeding (long before we even had a term for it), and we’re better for it. Hybrids are the child of two different parent plants that are intentionally cross-pollinated to harness the unique advantages of each – completely different from GMOs, which we (somewhat accurately) picture as plants that are tweaked in petri dishes by lab technicians.
Hybrid seeds tend to be more expensive because the process of creating new hybrids is often painstakingly difficult. In addition, hybrid seeds need to be re-purchased on a yearly basis because the seeds produced by your parent plant will not reliably produce the same plant in turn.
These disadvantages are more than made up for by all sorts of combinations of superior disease resistance, heat and cold tolerance, adaptability, heavier yields, uniform production and generally better consistency.
These consistencies are sometimes at the expense of flavour. Hybrids are considered to be less flavourful than heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. If your intention is to can or pickle, however, the loss of some flavour in favour of superior harvests is definitely worth it.
Diversity Is Key
The truth is, a robust vegetable garden grown from seed will likely have a good combination of all of these seed types. Each has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Diversity ensures that if one plant or seed type fails, you will still have others in your bed to pick up the slack. No matter what you choose to grow, ensure the varieties you select are listed as suitable to grow in our climate!
Starting a new vegetable garden can seem intimidating, but as with many new gardening projects, good sense and careful planning will make your experience far easier and successful. This handout will give you all of the general information you will need to prepare a vegetable bed without getting into the specifics of cultivating certain kinds. At the end of this document you will find a list of vegetables organized by frost hardiness for your own reference.
Planning Your Bed
There are many considerations that need to be made before you can start building a vegetable garden. Most importantly, you need to decide which vegetables you want to focus on, and what exactly your end goal is; we don’t usually grow veggies just to admire them – we want to harvest them for canning, freezing, or table use. Some vegetables need more “growing room” than others. Some veggies are sensitive to early frosts or are particular to certain soil types. Ask our knowledgeable staff about the specific needs of your choice vegetables.
No matter what vegetable you end up going with, you will need a location that receives at least 5-6 hours of direct sun each day. Any harvestable crop including veggies and fruits will require amble sunlight to grow and produce a good yield.
Preparing Your Bed
In the London area, most soils are either sandy or heavy clay. You will almost certainly need to improve the soil to grow vegetables. Vegetables usually require a very organically rich soil including well-rotted manure and a healthy heaping of compost. Using a 3-way soil mix (such as Triple Blend) is the easiest route to take. You will want to lay down a two or three inch-thick layer of this soil in your new bed before working it into the top six inches of existing earth.
The Raised Bed Alternative
Using a raised bed for a vegetable garden has been shown to produce superior results. Raised beds reduce disease and pest issues as well as drainage and air circulation problems. If you want to build a raised bed, a six-inch height is usually enough. You can make your raised bed as long as you want, but take care not to make it too deep – you want to be able to reach the plants in the middle without having to physically step into the bed itself, which will result in soil compaction.
A reliable, constant supply of water is essential. Differing soils, weather conditions, and seasonal temperature variations makes it difficult to prescribe a specific watering schedule, especially when some veggies despise overwatering and others can tolerate a bit of it. Keep a close eye on your plants – if the soil is wet down at the root level, you probably do not need to water it.
Once your seeds have germinated and have a bit of growth to them, feel free to add two inches of organic mulch to the top of the soil. This will help reduce the amount of watering required and will keep weeds at bay. Do not mulch before the seeds have germinated, or your plants will never see the light of day.
Fertilizing needs vary from veggie to veggie – some have very specific needs while others are more or less indifferent. Always closely follow the directions outlined by the manufacturer on a package of fertilizer.
Plantable in mid-April, these can stand a degree of coolness or even a decent frost.
Asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnip, radish, rhubarb, peas, spinach, and turnip.
Plantable in late April or early May, these can handle cool temperatures but only very light frosts.
Beet, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, endive, head lettuce, potatoes, and most herbs.
Frost Tender Vegetables
These are plantable only after all risk of frost has passed, usually after the 24th of May.
Beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, melon, okra, pepper, pumpkin, squash, tomato, and watermelon.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden-grown foods. For some, growing and successfully harvesting tomatoes can be a challenge. This handout will walk through some of the basic needs of tomatoes.
Tomatoes can be grown from seed, and must be sown indoors about eight weeks before the last expected frost. Some gardeners prefer to skip a step and purchase already-rooted seedlings to make things easier. We sell a wide variety of delicious, tried-and-true tomato plant varieties during the growing season.
If you choose to plant already-growing tomatoes, soil preparation is very important. Use soil with plenty of organic matter – three way mix is ideal for this purpose, as it contains peat moss, manure, and compost. At this point, mix in a good general garden fertilizer with your new soil.
Set each plant a good 15-20 cm deep. Even if a good section of the stem appears to be buried, don’t worry – the entire underground section will produce roots and anchor the plant firmly. If you’re dealing with particularly lanky seedlings, plant them on their sides with the entire stem up to the first set of leaves underground.
The initial fertilizer you added to the planting mix will take care of your tomato plants until they begin to set fruit. At this point, you should begin to feed them with Tomato Food once per month (or however often the fertilizer manufacturer’s label suggests) until the fruits reach something close to their mature size. Tomato-specific fertilizer is important, because tomatoes require several micronutrients (such as calcium) which may not be as plentiful in other fertilizers.
Tomatoes require uniform moisture after the fruit has set. Prolonged wet or dry spells can stunt growth and lead to an issue known as blossom-end rot. When harvest time is near, cut back a little on watering to get less watery fruit and better flavour.
‘Determinate’ types of tomato plants are bushy and stop growing when the fruit sets on the terminal (or top) bud on the plant. It’s important to know this because you should not prune or remove suckers from these plants. ‘Indeterminate’ plants, conversely, are vining varieties that will produce fruits continually until the first killing frost. These plants can reach heights of six or even ten feet!
If it’s safe to do so (based on the type of tomato you have), you may prune your plants to a single main stem by breaking off any side shoots as soon as they appear to keep them from producing too much leafy growth. You will notice these side “suckers” growing between the main stem and the stem of each leaf. Cut them out while they are small. If you see suckers growing from the base of the stem, remove them too.
The easiest method of staking tomato plants is to simply drive a tall stake into the ground next to each plant. You can loosely tie the main stem to the stake with soft twine as it grows taller. Many people also use tomato cages, which help keep tomatoes off the ground and well-exposed to the sun.
In ideal conditions, tomatoes ripen between 60 and 85 days from the time seedlings are planted. When the fruits begin to turn red (or yellow, or purple, depending on the cultivar), check the plant every day and pick those tomatoes that are fully-coloured. Ensure the fruit you pick is firm but not hard. If a frost is imminent, be sure to cover your plants with an old bedsheet or other closely-woven fabric.
What Can Go Wrong?
If the leaves are tattered, look for green tomato hornworms and if present pick them off by hand. Flea beetles may also feed on the leaves; they are difficult to ward off but an application of Safer’s Tomato and Vegetable Insecticide may help. If you see leathery-looking scars or patches of rot on the blossom end of the fruit, your tomatoes have blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot occurs when the plant experiences extended periods of drought followed by excess moisture, resulting in a calcium deficiency. Too much fertilizer (especially nitrogen-heavy ones) can exacerbate this issue. An application of mulch aids in prevention by helping to moderate soil moisture.
Even if last year’s crop was disease-free, tomatoes should not be grown in the same location until three years have passed. Cycle your tomato planting site to a different part of the yard each year. Do not compost diseased plants – throw them away. Some diseases can survive year-to-year in a compost heap.
- rich loose soil free of any perennial weeds
- well drained
- sunny location
- add well-rotted manure or compost as well as vegetable fertilizer
- asparagus cannot tolerate weeds, control with straw or leaf mulch
- soil pH should not be below 6.0. Add lime in the spring if necessary
- planting is best done in the Spring
- use one year old roots; they look like an octopus
- dig a trench 30 cm (12″) wide by 30 cm (12″) deep and fill the bottom 10 cm (4″) with humus rich soil and vegetable fertilizer forming a central mounded ridge
- place the asparagus crowns on the ridge 38 cm (15″) apart spreading them like a star and cover with soil to the level of the crowns
- fill the rest of the trench with soil gradually as the stems grow, leaving 8-10cm (3-4″) exposed
- fertilize each fall and spring with a vegetable fertilizer
- the second spring after planting a few spears may be harvested when they are approximately 18 cm (7″) high
- restrict harvesting to a month at most
- it usually takes 3 years to produce a good crop
- cutting takes place in late spring until late June
- use a sharp knife to cut the spears on a diagonal just below the soil surface
- cut all spears except very thin ones
- let small shoots grow until fall, and when they dry up, cut them down to one inch above ground level
Grow in an open, frost-free site. Potatoes need well-drained, fertile soil at least 60cm (2′) deep that is rich in organic matter. An excellent way to prepare the soil is to spread 8-13cm (3-5″) of well-rotted manure over the area to be planted; this will enrich the soil and improve drainage. A 5-10-10 fertilizer may be applied at the rate of .5 kg/ 3 metres (1 lb/10 ft.) of row if no manure has been added and half the rate if manure is added. Mix the fertilizer thoroughly with the soil.
Use certified disease-free seed potatoes. Potatoes from the previous year may be used, but it is best to buy new seed every other year. Cut potatoes into pieces (about the size of a large walnut). Each piece should contain at least one eye. Allow the pieces to cure in a bright, airy place until the cut surfaces dry slightly and harden.
As soon as the soil can be worked, plant the seed pieces in furrows or in individual holes 10cm (4″) deep and 8cm (3″) wide. Rows should be 90cm (3′) apart. Set the pieces 45cm (18″) apart with the eye facing upward and cover with 8cm (3″) of soil.
About 3 weeks after planting sprouts will push through the ground. When the sprouts are approximately 15cm (6″) high, mound loose soil around them or use a mulch of straw or peat moss – the stems will create more roots and grow heavier yields of potatoes. Mounding protects the potatoes from sunlight which can turn potatoes green which develop a toxic substance called solanine. Be sure the soil around them remains loose and free of weeds.
Harvesting and Storing
New potatoes may be harvested at about the time potato flowers bloom. Gently push away the soil from the plant and pick a few from each plant leaving the remainder to mature for fall harvesting. Make sure to hill the soil or mulch around the plant after harvesting new potatoes.
When the plant foliage begins to wither and die down, the potatoes are ready for harvest. Dig the potatoes from the soil with a spading fork. Potatoes may be left in the soil for a time after foliage has died, but they should be dug before the first heavy frost. Normal production for a potato plant is 10-15 potatoes. Store potatoes in a dark, cool place at 3-4oC (37-39oF). Never expose potatoes to direct sunlight.
Early Maturing – 60+ DAYS
Superior – High yielding, round white. Excellent taste. Moderate scab resistance.
Yukon Gold – Attractive yellow flesh and skin, shallow pink eyes. Tops in eating and storage.
Medium Maturing – 75+ DAYS
Kennebec – Very high yield, good flavour. Fair French-fry quality.
Late Maturing – 90+ DAYS
Chieftan – Red skin, white flesh, high yielder.
German Butterball, Bintje
The most important requirement for onions is a well drained soil, heavily enriched with well rotted manure or compost.
Bunching onions are best grown from seed, but the large bulbous kinds are more quickly grown from sets.
Seed should be planted as early in the spring as possible. Plant them 1.25 cm (1/2 in) deep in rows 23-30 cm (9-12″) apart. Later they can be thinned to 15 cm (6″) between plants. Frost will not harm the plants.
Space the sets 2.5 cm (1″) apart and pull every other one for spring scallions leaving the others to mature into regular size onions for late summer and fall harvest……a 7-10 cm (3-4″) spacing may even be desirable.
Multiplier sets will produce very early spring onions. These sets each have several bulblets that can be divided and planted individually. Each bulblet will send up a cluster of very tasty young shoots ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks.
Care and Fertilizing
Apply a vegetable fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Onions are shallow rooted, therefore frequent watering during dry periods will be necessary. Keep weeds down by hoeing shallowly between the rows and pulling weeds by hand within the rows.
Onion tops wither as the bulbs reach maturity, turning yellow and then brown. Allow the onion tops to fall over on their own. Bending the tops can delay rather than speed maturity. Loosen the bulbs by gently lifting from beneath with a spading fork. In another two weeks the bulbs can be lifted. The tops can be cut an inch from the bulb or left for braiding. Spread the bulbs in a warm, airy space for a few days until they are completely dry. Braid them, hang them in mesh bags or store in loosely in shallow, open boxes. The storage area should be cool and moderately humid.
ONION SET TYPES
Green Onions, Spring Onions or Scallions
Are cultivars of bulb onions suitable for using young. Pull them up when green leaves are 15cm (6″) tall, with a whitened shank and tiny bulb.
Also known as shallots. Multiplier sets will produce very early spring onion. These sets have several cloves or bulblets that can be divided and planted individually. Each set or bulblet will send up 6-8 mild flavoured green bunching onions, ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks. Successive plantings should be made for about six weeks or as long as the bulblets remain firm.
Small bulbs produce green onions if picked early, or mature into large cooking onions. Can be used for winter storage.
Can be used for green onions if picked early. Ideal for salads, sandwiches, slicing and fried onion rings. Spanish onions require a long growing season. Plant sets or seedlings.
Small bulbs produce green onions if picked early. Mature into large cooking onions. Great for salads.
Can be used for green onions if picked early. Matures into large cooking onions that are great for boiling and using around roasts. They store extremely well.
Planting Requirements and Care
Avoid areas where tomatoes or eggplants have been previously grown, as these are all susceptible to similar diseases. Enrich the soil with a 7-10 cm (3-4″) layer of organic matter and work in a vegetable fertilizer at the recommended rate. Space the rows 60 cm (2′) apart and 45 cm (18″) between plants. Water the soil well.
Peppers are not heavy feeders. If sufficient fertilizer has been provided prior to planting, there should be no need to fertilize again during the growing season.
Pepper plants require a moist soil for fruit formation; therefore, covering the soil surrounding the plants with a mulch once the soil has warmed, and watering at least an inch a week during the growing season. Check the peppers often during periods of extreme heat and drought, when each plant can easily take a gallon of water a day. If weeds manage to grow through the mulch cover, pull them up carefully by hand.
Sweet peppers can be eaten at any stage of their growth. Full size green peppers left on the plant will turn bright red and become slightly sweeter. Harvest them as needed or desired – but do not leave fully ripe red peppers on the plant. Their presence will reduce subsequent yield. When harvesting peppers, always cut the fruit off its branch. Pulling the pepper off may break the branch.
Since peppers mature late in the season, frost may occur before all the fruits are harvested. If frost threatens, protect the plants by covering them with plastic sheeting anchored to the ground with rocks or soil. If the frost is not too severe, this method may save the plants. If the plants are nearing the end of fruit production, pull them up by the roots and hang them in a cool spot indoors; the peppers on the plant will continue to ripen for a few more days.
Hot peppers should be allowed to achieve full growth and flavour before harvesting. They will keep well if a string is threaded through their stems and hung indoors.
Garlic grows best in an open, sunny location on light soil that does not have to be very fertile – do not grow in freshly manured soil. Good drainage is vital.
Sowing and Planting
Split off individual cloves at least 1cm (1/2″) in diameter from a mature bulb. Always use healthy virus-free stock. Garlic needs a long growing season to produce large bulbs. If possible, plant cloves in the fall. In very cold areas and on heavy soils, delay planting until the early spring, or plant the cloves in cell packs in winter, one per section. Place the cells packs in a sheltered spot outdoors to provide them with the necessary cold period. In spring, plant them out in the garden after they have started to sprout.
Plant the cloves upright with the flat base downward, at about twice their own depth. Space them about 18cm (7″) apart in rows 30cm (12″) apart. The bulbs tend to push themselves upward as they grow.
Little attention is required during growth other than keeping free of weeds.
Harvesting and Storing
Garlic takes between 16-36 weeks to mature depending on the variety and time of planting. Uproot the plants as soon as the leaves have started to die back so that the bulbs do not re-sprout. If they are allowed to re-sprout, they are more likely to rot when stored.
Dry them thoroughly after lifting. Handle the bulbs carefully to avoid bruising. Store the bulbs hanging in bunches or braids made with the dry leaves, or place them loose on trays kept in dry conditions at 5 – 10 C (41-50 F). Garlic may be stored for up to ten months, depending on the variety and storage conditions.