Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good things growing -- a garden update, finally!

Farm life hasn't been all doom and gloom lately, though it certainly seems that way with my last few posts concerning our barnyard woes. (Peppy -- the chick being co-raised by our duck/chicken parenting team -- is doing great, by the way!)

We've got good things growing here, albeit slowly, so I thought I'd give a update of where we're at in the veggie garden.


In early April, once the snow was gone for good, we started prepping the garden area. The plan was to map out about 10 - 20 ft x 7 ft garden beds with two foot paths running in between and then a few larger plots for tomatoes and potatoes. Whether we get all that under cultivation is debatable, but I've got 40 plus tomato seedlings, at least 10 peppers and a whole bunch of cukes, zukes and melon seedlings that need a home, not to mention the beans, beets, carrots, herbs and flowers that I still have to seed plus the 250 sweet potato slips that I'm waiting on.

These beds are wider than the three to four ft bed that every gardening book I've ever read recommends, but I decided on the wide beds (with a plank path down the center -- this will make sense when you read further down) to put the greatest amount of garden into cultivation with the least number of paths (aka conduits for grass). Whether this is a good idea is also still debatable.

The area I'm growing in had a large vegetable garden a few years ago but when we inherited it in July 2008, it was totally overrun with weeds. Last year, I managed to get about a quarter of it cleared and a small garden planted.

This year, our biggest problem has been clearing out the invasive grass and keeping it cleared. When we lived in our old house in suburbia, we couldn't grow grass if we tried. Here it's relentless. I've had good results pulling the deep entangled root systems out by hand after loosening the soil with our handy dandy broadfork (which also gives me the opportunity to collect Japanese beetle larvae that feed on sod roots) but it's incredibly labourious and slow going work.

But I've been plugging away and I've got five beds ready for this year's planting while the sixth one is used for perennials (more on that later). I hope to have another two beds ready by the end of this weekend and then the rest cleared by the Victoria Day long weekend (May 22 to 24, or May 2-4) weekend, which is around the last frost date in my Canadian zone 5a garden.

For our earliest direct seeding, we planted Scarlet Globe and Sparkler White Tip radishes, Parade green bunching onions, Tennis Ball lettuce, a Gourmet Heirloom leaf lettuce mix from The Cottage Gardener (includes Black Seeded Simpson, Green Oak Leaf, Red Deer Tongue, Australian Yellowleaf and Cracoviensis) and Longstanding Bloomsdale spinach.

Except for the Tennis Ball Lettuce, which I planted on a homemade seed mat made of thin paper towel and some of my kids' white glue, I either scattered or individually seeded in rows.

Almost two weeks have passed since our initial seed sowing and our radishes are the only ones to make an appearance.

See them? You might need to squint a bit. That's it. Now turn your head to the left and close your right eye. Yep, those are radishes.


I've been wondering if the combination of dry weather and sandy soil has slowed or prevented my lettuce from starting as I've read that it's important to keep the seeds damp during germination. I'm going to try growing some in pots close to the house and equip Ella with a spray water bottle to use at will.

I planted a second crop of spinach just before tonight's big boomer of a thunderstorm so hopefully we'll soon see some green there or in the first planting. It's a heat-resistant variety that's slow to bolt so even if it's a bit late, I'm hoping we can enjoy it into early summer.

We also planted 100 Sturon yellow onions sets, which is an early maturing dual purpose storage onion.

See what I mean about the 7 ft wide bed with the plank down the middle? When I'm weeding or harvesting, I can work from the edge, walk down the center plank or straddle both the outer-edge and center plank. It's also a great way to practice my circus performing skills.
Ella's job was to "tuck in" each of the onions. Little hands for little onions.

Almost two weeks later, the onions are poking their heads out. No, that's not grass. It's an onion. Trust me.

We also put in some Sugar Snap peas, which I soaked in a garden inoculant before planting.

I planted two rows about 3" apart and installed a trellis with some leftover hay baling twine, a recycled piece of heavy duty nylon netting, a few wooden stakes and some rebar. We run a class act here, as you can imagine.
While I've read that peas prefer soil that is light and alkaline and my sandy soil is certainly light (though I'm not sure of its pH), I'm still waiting to see signs of germination. Again, I think the absence of rain has really put the brakes on this year's sprouting.

While my son is at school every day, my daughter only goes to senior kindergarten every other day so she's had lots of time to cultivate her own little green thumb. She thought the garlic looked lonely and some green bunching onions would provide the perfect company.




As for our perennial bed, there's a small bed of garlic from last year's fall planting. I wasn't sure how well it would overwinter so I only planted about 15 cloves from three giant bulbs. It did so well I plan on quadrupling the size of the bed this fall.


And of course, there's the strawberries -- Ella's favourite. It's a small plot but the kids just added three more plants today after school and I'll be adding more later this week.

While we haven't harvested anything yet, I think our prospects for local eating are looking pretty decent this year. It is only our second year in the garden, after all.
Besides, this is just what's growing in the garden. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post about what's growing in our indoor seedling starter spa.

7 comments:

Erin said...

Everything looks great! I'm intrigued - what's senior kindergarten?! I take it you love your broadfork? That's one of the things I think I see in my future here, lol! I just want to know how you manage to do all this planting and then the harvesting, animals, etc and still work outside the home? You go, girl! I'm jealous of all your energy!

Fiona said...

Thanks, Erin. Despite all the books and blogs I read, I still don't feel like I know what the hell I'm doing! I'm kind of winging it half the time but I figure I'll at least learn from the experience.
Re your school questions -- kindergarten is like preschool or nursery school. When kids are 4 (by Dec 31st) they go to junior kindergarten, then senior kindergarten before starting grade one at age six.
And yes, I love my broadfork -- but I admit, I have to get hubbie to do the first pass -- I'm not quite big enough! But as the soil gets worked more, it'll get easier, I'm sure :) It's still a great tool.
As for energy -- I have none ;) But it helps that my work outside the home is from home. It often means working evenigns and weekends but at least I get to do that here.

Mr. H. said...

It sounds like you have been extremely busy but have a couple of excellent assistants. I enjoyed looking at the pictures of your garden last year, it looks like everything did quite well for you...I can't wait for it to be warm enough to go barefoot in the garden again.:)

250 sweet potato slips, wow, I look forward to hearing how they do for you. We grew a few sweet potatoes a couple years ago and were happy with the results but decided to put them off this year to make room for other crops.

I like the way you did your beds this year.

Fiona said...

Thanks, Mr H.! Yes, I love being barefoot in the garden! Bring on the warm weather!
The sweet potatoes should be interesting. A farmer friend is putting in a bulk order and that was the smallest number I could order. I'm going to see if I can share some or I'll be putting up a roadside stand to sell off the extras! I'm really not sure where I'm going to put them all, to be honest. More juggling, I suppose :)
Thanks for the comment re the beds. I'm not 100% sure if it'll work -- there is method to the madness but maybe all the gardening books say to make narrower beds for a reason! At least it's more experience gained :)

Mama Pea said...

Coly How! You have done a TREMENDOUS amount of work this year reclaiming your garden spot. I've been feeling so grateful this year because the soil in both our raised beds and field garden is (FINALLY!) in really, really good shape. But, oh, how easily I can remember battling with the sod and weeds and insects!

Why do we gardeners garden when it's such hard work? Dunno, but I'll never stop doing it.

Fiona said...

Thanks, Mama Pea! Yes, it's been a lot of work but I keep telling myself it'll pay off in the future. It's nice to know that you were once in my gardening clogs, dealing with sod issues and bugs etc. I have a tendency to compare my garden to other people's forgetting that everyone's garden probably looked like mine once!

Mama Pea said...

Oh heck, I'm STILL dealing with sod issues! All it would take would be one little, short summer season and I'm sure the sod would completely reclaim all cultivated areas including the raised beds! Staying ahead of it is never-ending. We just have to go on believing (or at least acting like) we're bigger, smarter and stronger than the sod!

But the evil, slimy, ugly-buggly parasitic predators in the garden DO definitely decrease as your soil gets better. There were a couple of years here when I thought the cutworms were going to win. Now I rarely see one . . . and when I do I kill it twice!

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