Can I Get A ‘Do-Over’?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

I had to take a hiatus from blogging – started a new job with a steep learning curve – but you didn’t miss much in my garden last season. Spring was cold and rainy so the mosquitoes were horrendous and the aphids prolific. I put in the garden about 6 weeks too late so the tomatoes didn’t ripen well before the first frost. The slugs chewed up every broad-leafed vegetable I planted because I just didn’t have time to constantly troll for them. And it wasn’t just the insects and diseases my plants had to contend with – they also had to compete with each other for space and nutrients. And when it’s a battle between the zucchini and the carrots, guess who’s going to win?! I have to say, though, it’s impressive what my poor little neglected garden was able to produce despite my absence and the horrible weather.

2011 Season...Yes, I know it looks lush but where's all the fruit?

2011 Season...Yes, I know it looks lush but where's all the fruit?

So, despite my threats to turn to plastic plant gardening, last year’s little successes have encouraged me to get back in the garden again (and, hopefully, back to blogging) because, as we all know, gardeners are an optimistic lot – and there are so many things I still haven’t tried growing yet like strawberries from seed…and Brazilian verbena…and tuberose…and black radishes…and purple carrots…and there are some interesting new/old lettuce varieties…

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16 Days…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

…until the last frost! We’re coming down the homestretch to spring, to digging in the dirt, to sowing seeds. But we’re not there yet so, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m still depending on CBC Radio to keep me sane until the snow melts, and, specifically, this morning, it was a Spark interview that I enjoyed with my morning coffee – an interview with Ingrid Fetell and her research into the “aesthetics of joy”.

I felt she made a convincing case for the importance of designing for joy but it’s probably because I already believe that we need more joyful spaces – more places that lighten our mood, make us smile, engage our hearts. It’s why I designed my kitchen garden the way I did.

Believe it or not, but I’ve gotten flack for my kitchen garden. I’ve been told it’s not efficient, it doesn’t make the best use of the space, and some parts are too tight to work easily in. These things are all true, to a certain extent, but only if the goal of my kitchen garden is to produce the most amount of food in the allotted space with the least amount of effort.

Hear that sound? That was the sound of joy being sucked out of my garden!

That’s not my goal for my kitchen garden. My goal always has been for it to bring me joy - in the looking at, the working in, and the eating of.

I designed the garden with raised beds because I like tidy edges; with bamboo trellises because I like the feeling of walls; and with lots of flowers…because I like flowers. These things also allow me to control the type of soil I use, provide support for tomatoes and climbing vines, and attract pollinators, but that, to me, is secondary to the joy it brings me to see these elements.

I decided to lay down gravel for the paths – I love the crunchy sound it makes when I walk on it and raking it smooth reminds me of those Japanese sand gardens. Okay, so it’s an inexpensive and easy to lay surfacing material – that’s so not the point.

I plant things we love to eat fresh – peas, radishes, tomatoes, lettuces, beans. These are almost all consumed during the course of the growing season because to me, the flavor of food harvested right from the garden, sometimes still warm from the sun, brings me intense joy. Frozen beans eaten in the dead of winter don’t always produce that same intense sensation – although the Romano bean I grew last year tasted better after being frozen, which was a joyful discovery (Ingrid talks about surprise being one of the elements in creating joy).

And the other thing that gives me joy in my kitchen garden, when the snow is white and thick on the ground, is the designing of it. Below, is this year’s plan for the garden. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan; click on plan for a larger image

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan

Playing With String

Monday, August 9th, 2010

It’s often been my experience that my most successful projects have been ones where the constraints have been clear and immovable – such as a small budget or a difficult site. When it came to coming up with some way of elegantly supporting my tomato plants, I was definitely constrained by a limited budget (having already spent a goodly amount on the lumber to build the beds and the gravel to cover the paths). So I quickly discarded the idea of using copper piping (so sad – how gorgeous would the patina-ed copper have looked?) and, I soon discovered, plain old metal piping wasn’t much cheaper (it would have cost $120, at least, to have supports for only four beds). Plastic piping wasn’t the look I was going for so, in the end, I settled for bamboo – a slightly more rustic aesthetic than what I aspired to but it was well within budget and I learned a new skill.

I’ve previously used metal spiral stakes to support my tomato plants, curving the stem around the stake as the plant grew. The problem is that my stakes aren’t tall enough for the cherry tomato varieties and not sturdy enough for the heavier fruiting varieties (they tended to lean during the more prolific seasons). The concept for the new supports is the same except that string is used instead of the spiralling metal – a technique used by commercial tomato growers that’s easily adaptable for a residential kitchen garden.

All I needed was a way to support the string and that’s where the bamboo came in (and my knowledge base expanded).

The first step was connecting two bamboo poles together to form an upside-down vee.

Shear lashing is used to connect two bamboo poles together.

Shear lashing is used to connect two bamboo poles together.

A search on the Internet revealed that the best way to do this is with a shear lashing. I calculated how high I wanted to hang the string and marked the height on the two poles. Making sure the tops of the poles were level, I connected them using the shear lashing with some regular garden twine at the location of the height markings.

The second step was installing the vees.

Two of those vees were pounded down onto either side of a bed, making sure that the distance at the base of each vee was the same. A fifth pole was laid horizontally between the two vees and eyeballed to see if it was level – if not, the vees were adjusted up or down.

Bamboo vees installed and levelled.

Bamboo vees installed and levelled.

The third step (and the most time-consuming) was attaching the string.

Using the same garden twine that was used for the lashings, I tied a length of twine to the base of each vee. Then I connected those lengths with another piece of twine (paralleling the horizontal bamboo pole at the top of the vees). Lastly, I tied a length of twine (one per tomato plant) to the horizontal bamboo pole and secured it to the bottom piece of twine – not too tightly because you need this supporting string to have a little give so that you can easily twist the tomato stem around it.

It took me an entire day (including researching knot tying) to build enough supports for 8 beds. The grand total for 36 eight-foot lengths of bamboo and a ball of garden twine cost me $49.93, including tax.And the new supports appear to be more than adequate for the dizzying heights reached by my cherry tomatoes and the heavy fruiting stems.

The vertical support string is tied to the horizontal bamboo pole.

The vertical support string is tied to the horizontal bamboo pole.

The vertical support string is tied to the horizontal base string.

The vertical support string is tied to the horizontal base string.

Twine is tied to the base of each vee pole.

Twine is tied to the base of each vee pole.

The finished result: the tomato is (gently) twisted around the vertical supporting string.

The finished result: the tomato is (gently) twisted around the vertical supporting string.

Best of all, the supports make the kitchen garden feel more like a garden room, although they are visually light enough to not make the small space feel constricted. Birds have taken to perching on the poles and, in my more eccentric moments, I imagine hanging tea light lanterns on them and tenting them with billows of fabric (maybe not at the same time though unless I like all my vegetables to be grilled). Definitely another case where constraints made the project.