What’s a Determinate?

determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoesIf you ignore the yellowing, early blighted leaves (which were snipped moments after this photo was snapped), you’ll see a still-producing Isis Candy cherry tomato towering above its neighboring Gold Nugget.

It towers because it’s an indeterminate — that is, it keeps going and growing and going. Until diseases finally fell is, that is. The Gold Nugget, one the other hand, has about had its day. It has reached its determined height, produced a couple pounds of tomatoes, and is about to expire.

The determinate vs. indeterminate is an important consideration for gardeners, especially those with limited space. Like, for instance, this particular roof deck gardener.

This year, POD selected two indeterminate varieties (the late Chocolate Cherry and the ailing Isis Candy) and two determinate varieties (Gold Nugget and Tumbling Tom). Because POD’s seduced by the idea of an ever-growing, ever-producing tomato, the larger and ungangly and space-hogging indeterminate is quite fetching. However, because disease is a constant lurking threat, the short(er)-lived and compact determinate has its merits.

Move It and Use It

With limited space for plants on deck, it was time to sacrifice the lovely chard and give the delightful Minnesota Midgets a little more breathing room. Midgets are an excellent choice for container gardens — the soft-ball sized fruits are sweet and juicy and can handle the limited space. Three vines are currently creeping their way up a hand-trussed bamboo trellis.

Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget

While it may seem nothing short of insane  to grow muskmelons (cantaloupes) in a five-gallon bucket on a roof deck garden, they worked pretty well last year — despite misfires at the transplanting stage. Melon Growing Tip: if your climate is warm enough,  don’t transplant your melons. They germinate quickly if you wait until the weather has thoroughly warmed.

Thus far, blossoms abound and the deeply-rooted space-hogging chard has been replaced by a shallow-rooted summer lettuce.

Goodbye chard.

the end of chard
the end of chard

Beach to Deck

Just because you’re growing vegetables, doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. Or, for that matter, import a little bit of beach beauty into a city garden.

michigan rocks

Here, basil is accented with lake-evoking glass tiles from last summer’s miserable (but successful) bathroom renovation; bathroom tilelong walks on the beach are commemorated by pots bearing herbs and seashells; shattered pottery finds new life with still more basil; iron- and copper-infused rocks, petoskey stones, and granite from the shores of Lake Michigan keep the bachelor buttons company; actual beach glass lends some contrast to the slow-growing bay; and Kalamazoo’s and Battle Creek’s finest brews — the delightful Bell’s and Arcadia —  shellsare honored alongside some beautiful eggplants.

beer capsbroken potterybeach glass

Picking Pots

If it’s big enough to hold dirt and you can drill a few holes in the bottom, it’ll probably work.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother: So, you have a roof deck garden that’s maybe, maybe not built to code? Keep it light! No terra cotta, no stone, no clay, no concrete, no ceramic.

It’s like Death Valley Up On Deck — Plus Humidity, Plus Wind: Your soil will dry out fast. So, avoid porous materials. Synthetic resin pots stay cooler and retain moisture longer. Light colors reflect the sun’s hottest rays; dark colors soak ‘em up and bake the roots. Metal also conducts heat pretty efficiently but you’ll notice that most of POD’s containers are aluminum.

choosing containers
choosing containers

Why? Because they’re pretty, okay? They’re cheap, too. Forget the garden section and check out classic Behren’s galvanized garbage cans – you should be able to find a 6-gallon container for well under $15. When a real scorcher of a day is expected, move your planters  to the shade. Besides, aluminum and plastic are also frost-resistant and therefore easy to store and/or plant for the winter.

Size Matters: The bigger the better, my friends. Cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes must be grown in 5-gallon or larger containers. Basil, peppers, lettuce, and even bush beans can be grown in smaller containers. Still, shoot for something that holds at least a gallon of dirt, preferably more.

Fakin’ It: Honestly, if I hadn’t spent so much money on containers over the past decade, I’d be buying fiberglass and resin pots. Synthetic planters (formerly hideous monstrosities) have come a long way since POD’s planters were purchased. Now they’re light, durable, frost-resistant, and attractive.

Fakin’ It and Lazy: Okay, next year POD’s totally splurging on at least one self-watering synthetic container. If you’re just starting out, try a couple of these puppies. Let me know how they work, ‘kay? You can also make your own on the cheap (if you’re less interested in aesthetics): self-watering planter instructions