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


Toughening Up & Hardening Off

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Over these last couple of weeks I’ve been reminded that surviving an Edmonton winter is nothing compared to surviving an Edmonton spring!  A week of warm weather that prompts the pulling off of sweaters and putting on of shorts is abruptly terminated by a week of temperatures barely hovering above the necessity of a parka, and I, along with my tomato, tomatillo, pepper, basil, cucumber, and zucchini plants, are all struggling to adapt.

Zucchini blossoms

Zucchini blossoms

Tomatillo blossom

Tomatillo blossom

Tomato blossoms

Tomato blossoms

Lemon basil cold damage

Lemon basil cold damage

I admit, the plants are having a tougher time hardening-off than I am.  Because we have yet to create sweaters for basil plants, some have leaves that are slightly blackened in spots (a sign that temperatures have been too cold for them).  Two out of the four lemon cucumbers I started informed me, in no uncertain terms, that they were unhappy by quickly wilting and then, just as quickly, by dying (wimps!).  The peppers won’t let me know for a while whether they’ve been affected – if they have, they’ll delay blossoming until they feel they’ve met their heat quotient and, if I’m lucky, push out a few fruits before the temperatures drop again.  My heart goes out to the tomatoes and the tomatillos though – they’ve been so eagerly growing, pushing out flowers, clearly anticipating their new life out in the garden (in the newly renovated beds we recently constructed).  But they’re weathering the disappointment the best of all of them except maybe the zucchini; they’ve started to open up some exuberant, relentlessly cheerful blossoms, optimistically hoping for, I guess, a winged pollinator to stop by – but it’s too cold for even a house fly. 

So the hardening-off process will have to start all over again – when the nightime temperatures don’t fall below 10 deg. C.  Usually I start hardening-off my plants by putting them outside in a shaded spot for about four hours when the day time temperature is about 15 deg. C.  I gradually extend the time the plants spend outside and, by the second week, when I start leaving them outside overnight, I move them into a sunnier spot during the day.

If only I could toughen myself up in a similar way…please let spring arrive soon!

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.