Friday, July 8, 2011

Garden 2011

After Yuletide and the turn of the new calendar year, one of my goals for 2011 was for us to grow a more amazing and bountiful garden than we have ever had before. In all fairness, that's not a very lofty goal considering that we've never actually had a garden ourselves... We would either make our weekly pilgrimage to the veggie garden we help set up at my parents' place or we would grow little things in containers indoors or off of our fire escape fancy balcony. This year, living in our first house, the space we have up front is about 190 square feet and our back plot is a mere 45 (and that doesn't even count back porch space), so we're not letting that stop us! We're going big or going home. Sure we don't have that much space, but we're going to make the most of it!

This page is going to be a log of everything we're doing when it comes to planning for and growing our garden. It'll be our trials and tribulations, our successes and our angry rantings about squirrels trying to get at our produce (crossing my fingers that this won't be a big issue!). This'll be down in the dirt Organic Gardening the City 101. Enjoy (and feel free to contribute with expertise or comments)!

February: Time for Planning

Especially in Canada, sure, it might seem a little early to be thinking about gardening. There's still feet of snow on the ground, and we can't really tell where our garden even ends and where the pavement begins... that's no reason to stop us though! With the frost date in our area pinned down to about May 6th, February is actually the perfect time to take out a sketch pad and start brainstorming. What's our garden going to look like? What are we going to plant? Where are we going to plant it?

While both of us have been pretty savvy gardeners in the past, in never hurts to get a refresher, especially if you're working in a new space. To help me get my bearings, I checked out Janette Haase's From Seed to Table, a wonderful straightforward resource for anyone looking to start their own no nonsense veggie garden (and sure, I'm also biased because I both interviewed her for a radio show I ran back in Kingston and she's from our area). But what better way to get excited about gardening than to make an event out of it, everything from the planning stages to your first harvest? So with pens, paper, gardening books, and plans in hand, we headed to our favourite place for vegan eats in Ottawa, the Green Door, for a brainstorming session.

It really didn't take much. The biggest things we did before sitting down to plan was measuring out our garden to see what kind of space we were actually looking at, and take inventory of our equipment and all the seeds we've had saved for this special occasion. With that, we mapped out where we wanted to plant things based on esthetic, what kind of sunlight these plants mind need, and what kind of space they require. Because we're also going to have to chew up most of our lawn to set in gardening space, we took the time to plan out exactly how we're going to want the garden to look. Right now, I think we're set on making three tiers, with flowers on the bottom tier (closest to the street, fumes, and potential dog pee), a big salad extravaganza in the main middle plot (greens, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, radishes, carrots, and beets), and TBD veggies on the top row near our lilac bush (we're thinking climbing beans?). The back is going to be some amazing rows of sunflowers and potentially corn, while the porch is going to be all herbs and ornamentals. I'm psyched!

March: Time for Seeding

 So I'm probably updating way too late, but the next step in any gardening process is to start planting your seedlings indoors. Some plants can and should be started directly outdoors, but some both take more time and need more TLC. These indoor babies include tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Peppers need to be started 10 weeks before the average last spring frost, and tomatoes need to be started at T-8 weeks (cucumbers are at 4 weeks before last frost). For us, that meant starting the peppers in early March, and the tomatoes earlier last week (oops). If you don't know when the average last frost date is in your area, you can find tons of calendars by doing a quick Google search.

It's quite simple to start plants from seed (and much more rewarding!). Either get a seeding tray or just get some small pots, make a small indent with your thumb (seeds don't need to be planted very deep, usually at about 1/4'' to 1/8'' deep), stick the seed in, wish it well, and cover it up. I used a spray bottle to water them after I'd planted them so as not to drown them out. We also have to make sure we keep them in full sun and their dirt moist.

So that's where we are now. We used a mix of organic potting soil and some leftover soil and compost from last year's herb garden. Once these babies start to be peek their little heads out of the ground, we'll know that we're in good shape!

April: The Dirty Work

I love playing in dirt. It's actually something I wish I would have taken advantage of more as a kid. I realize now that while I'd be psyched if a stranger asked me to help them garden any day, I used to be quite the complainer when it came to helping my dad out in the yard during all those lazy teen years. This month has been all about playing in the dirt. It started off with doing a spring dance once all the snow had actually melted, raking up all the dead leaves and stuff from the plots we already have, jumping for joy when we saw little green buds starting to come out under all that mess, and the biggest job of all: killing grass.

I hate lawns. They're absolutely pointless. Every time I go by houses with large expanses of lawn, I think "why the **** aren't they using that space to grow something instead?" You could plant trees, food, flowers, anything! You know who invented lawns? Royalty, because they wanted to show off how large and sweeping their properties were, and/or how wealthy they were by not having to grow anything on it, aka. lawns are stupid... but back to the point, we have to get rid of all the grass in our "front yard" (it's small and sad, but we plan to make it beautiful and abundant). It's a b****.

We ended up covering the whole thing with all the humus from our front and back plots (that being leaves, dead grass, dirt, etc.) and covering it with cardboard. Soon enough, the grass will die with no light and all of that junk packed on top of it, and we'll be able to turn it over into two or three lovely raised beds. 

As you can probably see from the picture, we're also going to have to replace the wood that's kind of falling apart around the garden space (as well as make those raised beds and levels). How? I'm officially a dumpster diver. They're building a condo building down the block (boo) and every day the construction guys pile tons of totally re-usable wood planks into these giant dumpsters on the side of the street. Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Well, don't mind if I do! So we took a couple trips into that big dumpster bin and probably have enough wood to go around our plot. Sure it's a little bit of extra work: we Andrew has to take out all the bent rusty nails, and we'll have to sand and varnish all those planks, but 1) the wood is free; 2) we're saving it from being thrown away for no legitimate reason; 3) by varnishing it ourselves, we can choose how to finish the wood rather than buy pre-treated wood which is usually dipped in formaldehyde (hello, crap going into your soil), and opt for a more eco-friendly option instead.

Oh, and on a final note:

We have life!!!

May-June 2011: Waiting... and waiting

Hardening the seedlings outside
You all probably know by now that I'm a DC girl born and raised (well, suburbs, but whatever). In this context, that means that I'm definitely not used to this whole long winter, no spring nonsense. I went back to the nation's capital (the other nation that is, not Canada) to visit my family in May, and their farmers' markets were bustling with produce and life already. Here, we were just getting the end lots of what was saved up for the winter so tubers, meat, and some sprouts... I was majorly jealous.

With global warming, I think we're all become even less accustomed to the massive amounts of rainy days we had in April and May. While all the seeds I started indoors were doing beautifully (except my peppers, I have no idea what happened to all but one), they were were itching to go outside by the end of May, but it kept raining and raining and it was still cold enough that we kept them inside, waiting for our lawn to die so we could turn it over and make magic happen. I think they all did get to go outside by about mid-May for hardening, at which point I know they should have gone into the ground. However, life was busy and they had to wait in their pots, which they had grossly outgrown by the time they went into the soil a few weeks later.

Cover your compost with tarp to keep
the light out to kill any unwanted grass!
Because we went from a random-compost-covered lawn to a big-blue-tarp-and-reclaimed-wood covered law, we also started to get a lot of sidelong glances from our neighbours because our lawn was covered in tarp for probably far too long, and they were starting to ask questions (at least we got to meet our neighbours this way!). 

By very early June, we also realized that we wanted to go in a different direction than the whole fancy raised bed thing and let things run a wild a little more. While it was kind of a bummer because we had gotten all the wood, environmentally-friendly wood stainraised bed stakes, and Andrew had even spent quite some time cutting and sanding everything, we knew that we had procrastinated a little too long to put all that together... That and we honestly like the less manicured look.

At that point, the tomatoes had to get in the ground and I was waging a war with the squirrels who kept eating my seedlings and who turned over one too many of my pots. So off went the tarp and with an edger, our garden-glove-covered little hands, and a lot of enthusiasm we turned everything over and planted two rows of tomatoes, and a third row of peppers (I ended up buying a couple heirloom varieties) and my one surviving cucumber. In between the tomato plants on the first row, I planted greens which I have never actually grown from seed before:

Lesson #1: Don't pour out the whole bag of seeds into the ground just because the seeds are small and don't look like much. Too many of them will grow and crowd each other out and won't have room to grow.

Lesson #2: When that happens, thin them out quickly. They won't have their feelings hurt if you choose to pull out about 70% of them so the 30% can grow into big beautiful greens for you...
The Creepers

I did not do either of these things, and consequently, we have no greens. I have learned a lesson for next year though: I will probably buy my greens as seedlings next year to avoid all the emotional trauma.

In between the tomatoes on the second row, I planted radishes and carrots. The radishes were successful on the sunnier side of the lawn, but the tomato plants grow so fast and so fierce that they completely covered the radishes from getting any real sun so they couldn't really grow. My carrots also seem to be kind of just sitting there. 

Finally, we covered the bottom half of our garden with ground cover and creeping plants that will avoid soil erosion onto the street. I believe we planted creeping thyme (which flowers beautifully in June) and some other creeper (hehe), as well as a whole bunch of silver and english lavender plants to line the street.

July 2011: Watch 'em Grow!

Tomato craziness
We've only just gotten into July but our tomatoes have grown at an exponential rate over the past couple weeks. They're all flowering, and even the cherry tomatoes have started to grow actual fruit. Our pepper plants seem to be healthy and well, also flowering, but no little peppers in sight yet. Mr. Cucumber seems to be mellowing out and taking his time, producing lots of leaves, but little else for now. 

And as of July 8th, we've officially harvested! I've just pulled out my radishes, which I'm quite please with:

Cherry Tomatoes! 
Purple Bean Plant
So far so good!

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