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

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Square Foot Gardening

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I wonder why it sometimes happens that a topic or thought I’ve been utilizing suddenly starts popping up in unrelated places?  Have you ever had this happen to you?

Last week I pulled out my copy of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew while planning our 2010 potager.  A few days later, a woman in my knitting group, out of the blue, asked me whether I’d heard of the book and what I thought of it.  And a few days after that, I pick up a new magazine called Urban Farm, only to discover that there is an article on square foot gardening methods in it.  On the off chance I’m being told something, I thought I should post about what I think is a pretty fabulous method of growing food.

For those who aren’t familiar with this technique, square foot gardening is the process of planning and planting based on a square foot grid system.  It was created by Mel Bartholomew after observing gardeners in his community garden in the 70’s.  It seems that every gardener starts out with good intentions and high hopes in the spring (I know those emotions well) but very few remain diligent enough throughout the season to realize the dreams they had in the beginning; vacation plans, barbeques, cocktail parties, and lounging in the shade seeming to be more important than weeding, watering, staking, and harvesting.  So Mr. Bartholomew set about to create a system that, in his words, would “be so simple and easy that anyone can enjoy a weed-free garden all year and produce a continuous harvest” (Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening 2). 

Basically, the growing space is gridded, typically into 4 ft. by 4 ft. beds, although you could set up a 4 ft. by however-long-you-want (2 feet is the maximum distance an average person can reach into the centre of the bed from either side), and that 4 ft. by 4 ft. bed is further gridded into 1 ft. square increments.  Those 1 ft. squares are then each planted with your vegetable/fruit/herb choice, except in the case of some larger plants that might require 2-1 ft squares.  This is a highly efficient system that makes succession planting and crop rotation a breeze and, because you plant tighter than you think you should, you get more food from a small amount of space.

If you’re a newbie gardener, this is the best ‘grow by numbers’ system I’ve encountered to date, since, in addition to garden plans for 1, 2, and 4 person households, the book does a lot of hand-holding and details exactly when to fertilize, how much to water, when to harvest, and even has suggestions on how to eat the fruits of your labor.  If you are apprehensive about where to start, have a small amount of growing space, and/or are only concerned about gardening efficiently, this is the book for you.

As an experienced gardener and designer, I use the book differently.  Already possessing numerous books on French kitchen gardens before Square Foot Gardening found it’s way onto my shelves, I’d been looking at why North American food gardens were always planted in rows (has to do with the size of the machinery typically used), and I’d been experimenting with other types of garden layouts and sizes (edible landscaping and permaculture systems being a couple of the easily identifiable ones).  But the design schemes those systems generated didn’t satisfy my formalist (okay, I admit it, control) aesthetic.  I had a typical small urban plot of land that needed to be efficiently yet beautifully (as I defined it for me) planted and, when I started reading this book, I realized that it lends itself wonderfully to my kitchen garden style – a potager where beds are bordered with basil and lettuces and edible flowers, and plants are arranged with an eye toward complementary and contrasting color and texture pairings.  My beds revolve around the 4 ft. by 4 ft. dimension although I sometimes make them longer when I want to accomplish a design attribute like, for example, a strong axis, or I’ll lop off  a corner (as I did last year) to make a wider path.  When I pull this book off my shelf – which I do every time I start planning the coming season’s garden – it’s to refresh my memory on the spacing of the plants and seeds, which I plant in each bed in squares or rows as the design dictates.

Spinach and bush beans - planted using the spacing from the Sqaure Foot Gardening book.

Spinach and bush beans - planted using the spacing from the Sqaure Foot Gardening book.

That’s my contribution to the square foot gardening zeitgeist.

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.