Know Thyself

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

On our recent trip out to the east coast to visit my folks, my parents gave me a book called The Gin-and-Tonic Gardener: Confessions of a Reformed Compulsive Gardener by Janice Wells. Do they not know me? How could they have missed the fact that going out to the garden to work is one of the things that provides me with relief and keeps me sane? But perhaps I missed the point? Maybe my parents were hinting that not everyone feels the same about their work in the garden and they are trying to save my customers and clients from my rather extreme view on weeding (LOVE it!)?

Don’t Be Afraid of Me

Okay, I’m (probably) not that bad. I understand that there’s more people out there who view gardening as something to be avoided at all costs then there are those of us who have to watch others eyes glaze over as we explain how to care for a shrub (hey, if you don’t want to listen, then don’t make the mistake of claiming, within my hearing, that you can’t keep a plant alive). So I keep the lecturing down to a scarce 5 minutes.

Shh! Want To Know a Secret?

But here’s the thing…despite what all the television shows and magazine articles tell you, gardening takes work! Really, it does! They just don’t want to tell you that because they’re worried you’ll be scared and not want to try it.

That was part one of the secret. The second part of the secret is that, if you know yourself, gardening can be less like work and more like play. Case in point, I hate to water! Funny, right? An essential part of keeping a plant alive is providing it with water and I can’t abide standing there with a hose, swishing water around and getting attacked by mosquitoes. So, knowing and accepting this about myself, I’ve installed an above-ground irrigation system on a timer – it costs a bit of coin but now I’m free to spend my time weeding.

Now I know there are people out there with a distaste for other gardening tasks so, briefly, I’ll try to offer some advice…

Not fond of weeding? Plant close together (the technical term is ‘intensive planting’) and mulch.

Can’t stand thinning? Sow thinly or start plants in individual containers so that, when you plant them in the ground, you can control the spacing and not have to thin (unfortunately, doesn’t work for most root vegetables).

Watering doesn’t work for you? Do what I did, mulch thickly, or plant a cactus and succulent garden.

Can’t figure out the fertilizer requirements? Use compost on everything – it’s a natural, slow-release fertilizer, an excellent soil conditioner, and a useful mulch.

Don’t like to provide support? Plant low-growing, self-supporting varieties (avoid non-determinate tomatoes and climbing snap peas, for example).

Pruning bores you? Can’t help you there!

Another Secret

As you have now found out, I don’t have all the answers.

And, if you found yourself memorizing all the ways to avoid having to garden, accept the truth – a gardener you shouldn’t be. And that’s okay! I’m sure you have other skills just as important and maybe one of them is the ability to support a local food grower, either in your own household (as in the case of my husband), or in your local farmers’ market. That way, we can all bring something to the table.

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Garden Remix

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Every year, especially in the beginning, I always tweak my kitchen gardens.  For me, that’s part of the fun of gardening – nothing is permanent, change is good (and necessary), and I don’t have to live with my mistakes.  When one is a perfectionist (there, I outed myself!), gardening can be a free-ing experience.  So, while I’m waiting for my seed catalogues to arrive (thanks to the list from The Far North Garden), I’ll take a look at what worked – and what didn’t – in my garden. 

Below is a scaled sketch of my kitchen garden where 1 square = 1 foot.  I find photos can be tasty and inspirational but there’s nothing like a plan to show you how it all works together.

Garden plan and planting schedule 09

Garden plan and planting schedule 09

  • The size of it (300 sq. ft. total with about 187 sq. ft. of growing space), I realized, worked for my schedule and energy levels – I design, plant, and maintain the garden mostly by myself and spend, on average, a couple of hours a week pulling weeds, tying up plants, cleaning up, etc.  My network of paths cuts down the amount of growing space I have but, in the future, I can always convert the paths to beds if I need more room (and have the time and energy too). 

 

  • For the most part, I like the path and bed layout.  The central axis (2 ft. wide) relates to the kitchen window and formalizes the garden style (order and control is another reason I garden but feel free to laugh, since I often do, at the thought that I have more than a smidge of control over any of it!).  The narrower 1-1/2 ft. cross-axis paths allow me to create 4 x 4 ft. beds – a dimension that suits my body proportions since it allows me to stand in the path and comfortably reach halfway across the bed, protecting the soil from compaction.  I think I’ll remove the bed in front of the garage door though (on the left-hand side of the plan), since it makes the space feel too congested.  Ditto for the bed by the garden gate (at the top of the plan).  I’ll lose planting space but I like to have room to inhabit my kitchen garden so I’m fine with the trade-off. 

 

  • Speaking of beds, I really need to find an edging material.  Right now, I’m leaning toward wattle edging, a material I used in my Nova Scotian kitchen garden with fairly good success (unfortunately, this was before I learned the importance of documenting my work).  It’s a relatively easy, if time-consuming, DIY project and is free if you know someone who doesn’t mind you harvesting young willow saplings from their property.  It might be a little too rustic looking though, for the modern urban aesthetic I crave…

Bare soil paths = weeding nightmare
Bare soil paths = weeding nightmare
  • …but that might depend on the path material.  Last year I didn’t do anything because I couldn’t decide on what I wanted but that state of affairs can’t continue – even I, who loves weeding, was getting a little tired of keeping the paths free and clear.  I was quite taken by the twig carpet how-to idea from Chez Larsson but combining that with the wattle edging would be too much!  (The same can be said about plain old wood mulch.)  My favorite idea to date is 2 x 2 sq. ft. concrete pavers floating in pea gravel but it might be more than I’m willing to spend at this point in my garden’s life.  The debate rages on…

 

  • I need to extend next year’s harvest so I’m planning hoop houses and trying to find a spot for at least one cold frame.  And I need to decide if the compost bins are going within the garden space or in the back driveway.

 

  • The spiral tomato stakes worked fairly well, particularly on the cherry tomatoes.  The same could not be said for the bamboo stakes so it’s back to the drawing board for not only the tomatoes but the cucumbers, as well – they didn’t like the fence netting and kept trying to escape into the neighbor’s garden!

 

  • The garden was very colorful and lush, mostly because of the nasturtiums and Rainbow chard.  I’ll be keeping them in the planting scheme but seeding less of them and adding more flowers, with borage and calendula at the top of the list.  (I recommend Rosalind Creasy’s The Edible Flower Garden as a good primer on the topic.)  Once the seed catalogues arrive, I’ll start listing what else I’d like to try this year.

I think that’s probably going to be enough to ponder for now.

The First Season

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Snow is covering the kitchen garden and nothing is left for me to do but plan for next year (while this last season’s harvest is still fresh in my mind).  Still, while I am familiar with what went on in my garden, you’re not, so here’s what happened…

 When we moved in to the rental house, we identified this patch of lawn to be the best place for the kitchen garden – the most sun, visible from the kitchen window, and with existing boundaries that made sense.

Facing south

We stripped off the sod, added 2″ of compost and a sprinkling of bonemeal, and tilled it all in.  After digging out the paths and using the soil to create slightly raised beds, this was the result.

Just planted

After planting, we went away for a couple of weeks during June/July.  Fortunately, I’d installed an above-ground irrigation system on a timer (and we had some rain while we were gone) so I came back to a garden that looked like this (if you look closely you can see my husband in the background taking it all in).

Early July '09 facing north

Early July '09

But then things started getting out of control and by August the garden was a mess!  Part of the problem was that I couldn’t decide on a mulch material for the path so I just left it and weeds started to take over.  The other issue was that I’d fertilized three times during the season with a combination of a liquid fish fertilizer and nettle tea and the plants became rambunctious.

Wild Garden facing S

Wild Garden facing N
After some significant thinning and cutting back though, I think I got it under control…

Late Summer '09
…until the cold weather hit!

Fall cleanup '09

Now you know the story of the first season in the garden so you’ll be ready for my next post…making changes.