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


Keeping Track

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

My system of keeping track of my kitchen garden plantings tends to be paper heavy. 

It starts with a scaled drawing of the garden, just the bare bones with only permanent plantings noted.  This basic plan is then photocopied a few times so I can play with different plant placements and arrangements, and the final plan is photocopied again because the original is sure to be stained, ripped or lost.  It is then laid aside while I make a list (on paper) of seeds I have, seeds I want, and which seed companies carry the seeds I need.  After ordering my seeds (usually done online but this year I mailed a paper order form and a cheque for reasons that escape me now), I calculate the sowing schedule on – you guessed it – paper.  That information gets transferred to my (paper) calendar where other important dates, like bill payments due and when the parents are coming to visit, are scribbled down.  I generally don’t make notes of when seeds germinate, or what the weather’s been like, or whether I’ve had any seedling damping off (because I’ve never had to) but I do annotate on the planting plan the dates of when I direct sowed or transplanted into the garden, and I’ve found those notes useful in later years.

So much paperwork!

So much paperwork!

I’m still using my paper system this year but I recently stumbled on Folia, a site for tracking my garden(s) online.  I’m still feeling my way around it and it’s not completely intuitive but I think it has a lot of potential for gardeners, like myself, who want to stay organized.  Two of the features I really appreciate are The Stash category and the ability to link photos.

With The Stash category, you can catalogue every seed and plant you own, including where you bought it, if there’s a special story about it’s acquisition, it’s cultural requirements, whether you’d be willing to trade the seeds, and attach photos of the seeds or plants.  You can then link any of those seeds or plants to a journal entry, task list, and/or garden, giving you a complete overview of what you have, where to find it, and how to care for it.

I always mean to take more photographs of my garden (and, hopefully, now that I have the pressure of a blog, I’ll fulfill that intention) but, because I didn’t previously journal about my garden(s), the photos would get filed under the appropriate heading on my hard drive, rarely to be seen again.  With Folia, because I can link a plant or garden or journal entry to a photo, that picture becomes a useful pictoral explanation of the garden’s activity.

Folia has two levels of membership – a free membership that offers lots of garden journaling bells and whistles, and a pay-what-you-feel-it’s-worth membership that allows you to track your plants on a timeline, keep private journals, track harvest quantities, and a multitude of other useful things.  And the developers, a couple living in London, England, who choose to do this in their off-hours, keep tweaking both levels of memberships.

Folia has a networking aspect to it as well so you can follow what gardeners in your climate zone or with your type of garden are doing…or you can discover what a gardener in your fantasy growing zone is having to combat (proving the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence).  If not in the mood to make a more extensive observation, you can give a cheerful ‘thumb’s up’ to any gardener’s journal entry or garden or planting.  You can join a group (and they have groups for everything – hypertufa pots, anyone?) and post questions to that specific group, or write a journal entry as a question and query the Folia community at large.  In many ways, it’s the best garden club you could ever belong to.

If you’re like me, a gardener struggling with her paperwork and looking for a better way to keep track of her garden’s progress, you might find Folia to be the answer to your journaling needs…it’s worth a look

(And once you join, feel free to follow my urbangardener kitchen garden’s progress.)

Full disclosure: I contacted the site’s creators to do a little fact-checking and they offered me a one-month-free subscription to the paid portion of the website when I mentioned that I am writing a blog post about Folia.  Since I’d already written a draft about the free membership portion of Folia (and hadn’t made any significant edits), the offer didn’t influence my (for the most part) glowing recommendation…still, I thought I should let you know, in the interests of full disclosure.


What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I admit that when I first heard about gardening by the lunar cycles I was, to say the least, extremely sceptical – it just seemed a bit too woowoo for my stolid northern soul.  But then – and I don’t know why – I decided to try it out…and became a convert!  How could I not when my peas went from planted to harvested in less than a month, a good week and a half before the seed packet said they were supposed to be ready?  And I noticed other things too, like the fact that shrubs respond better when pruned during a waning moon, or that weeds take longer to come back if beds are weeded during a waning moon.

But don’t take my word for it…try it for yourself. 

I’ve included a link to an online site that shows phases and signs but I rely exclusively on the book  Guided by the Moon: Living in Harmony with the Lunar Cycles by Johanna Paungger and Thomas Poppe.  It’s the reference I use when, for example, I need to calculate the correct time to start sowing my seeds, which is what I did the other day. 

After calculating the number of weeks to last frost – typically, May 7th, here in Edmonton – and determining the length of time needed from seed to tansplanting for each type of plant, I cross-reference the date of planting with the moon phase and sign to find the optimal sowing date.  For example, tomato seeds need to be sown indoors 7 weeks from the last frost date which puts that sowing at March 19th.  But since tomatoes are a fruiting plant that bears above ground, they’re best planted during a fruit sign and a waxing moon.  The closest that those appear to March 19th is March 17th and 18th – Aries in a waxing moon.

Too complicated?  Sometimes it can only make sense if you do it but if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, I’m linking a spreadsheet showing my planting schedule based on the lunar cycle.  Using my schedule and the website I linked to, you should be able to calculate something similar, keeping in mind the following guidelines:

  • Plants and vegetables that grow above ground should be sown when the moon is waxing.  The exception is lettuce, which should only be sown when the moon is waning.
  • Vegetables that grow below ground should be sown when the moon is waning.  With the potato though, you should plant as close as possible to the full moon.
  • Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are fruit days.  All fruiting plants are marked in red on the spreadsheet.
  • Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces are leaf days.  All leaf plants are marked in green on the spreadsheet.
  • Virgo, Taurus, and Capricorn are root days.  All root plants are marked in orange on the spreadsheet.
  • Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius are flower and medicinal herb days.  All flower and herb plants are marked in purple on the spreadsheet.