Caroline and I are well into our third year of tending our vegetable garden plot at a local community garden. Previous years I blogged more often on our efforts to become locally renown green thumbs. Come to think of it, other years I just plain blogged more often.
Since it is August already I’ll give a very quick history of our efforts and observations to date:
Planning next year’s garden starts pretty much as you are gardening in the current year. It also takes up to three mid-winter coffee and muffin meetings at Grounded Kitchen and Coffee House where you spread out all the books and records and bring out the planting wheel. We talk crop rotation, soil amendments, powdery mildew and companion crops. The planting wheel indicates which crops grow well or not well next to each other. It’s planning to make a project manager proud.
We decided to start many plants from seed this year. Let’s just say Caroline is much better at it than I am. For weeks on end I had plants downstairs with grow lights, upstairs in the bedroom and living room, using watering mats and transplanting when they got bigger. End result? By the time I moved the plants out to harden them off gradually, I’d say at least 50% of those plants perished. Someone, please, tell me what I did wrong! What a bunch of work for nothing, I thought when it happened. I’ll never do try that again, I thought. And the next week I thought, this won’t beat me, I’ll go at it again next year. You have to be part masochist part eternal optimist to be a gardener. At least if you have my level of knowledge, you do.
Spending money on vast amounts of mushroom compost, Lee Valley Tools Drip Irrigation systems and row covers is a good investment. Accountants and economists would not find the investment cost-effective if you look solely at the cost of buying things at the grocery store versus our inputs. We rationalize by factoring in the value of working with Mother Nature (good for your soul), knowing how the food was grown (totally organic, no animals were harmed in the making of these beans), spending time with a dear friend and boring our family and friends with talk about our “farm”. I think it’s similar to having an ugly baby where the parents see beauty and others look and say politely “Well, that’s a baby!”
Parsnips are very difficult to grow, at least for us they are. They don’t want to sprout and after two plantings we have 4 lonely parsnips. Pretty pathetic. We had trouble last year too. However we learned then it was because we thought their tops looked like carrots and when other shapes emerged we weeded them out. Pulled out our very own parsnips, we did!
You cannot outsmart Mother Nature. For example, we didn’t plant potatoes this year as there were too many potato bugs and diseases in the past. So this year the potato bugs decided to go at our tomato plants as a surrogate! Fortunately they haven’t been too bad at all compared to past years. Also, we have some sort of grassy weed that grows right next to our wanted plants. If you pull up the grass then you pull up the vegetable too. The weed is saying “Oh yeah! If you take me, I’m taking your plant with me .
For every hour you spend picking vegetables be ready to spend one to two times as long cleaning and storing them when you get home.
Zucchini wear camouflage. You look for them one day and there are none and a few days later they are as big as a baseball bat.
Your vegetables will not necessarily be the size you see in the grocery store. We waited for a few of our tidy smallish cauliflower to grow into monsters and they grew grotesque and discoloured instead. We should have picked them earlier.
I used to be more trusting of the way things worked. If a product was available for sale, then surely it met standards and was safe. Then I got older and wiser and learned of stories where the system didn’t catch things. I worked at an agency whose work was health technology assessment where I learned to be circumspect about drugs and devices even though they were approved for sale in Canada. While it’s easy enough to think someone must be looking after it all, it’s also true that more information comes out after a product comes to market about its true benefits in the real world and unfortunately some times about harms that weren’t first identified. Now I do some research before purchase and use. Except for the other day and the purchase of an insect repellent. And it’s laughable, really.
I was thinking that all this DEET can’t be good for you and thought I’d try for a less toxic insect repellent. I found something called Repel ” Natural Insect Repellent”, DEET-Free. I was in the USA and didn’t have access to the internet so I read the label-it contained Geraniol “a natural active ingredient, effective against mosquitoes for up to 2 hours”. Geraniol sounds like geranium and perhaps that the source, I thought.
When back home I looked up research on the product I found that it is supposed to have some repellent effect. However there’s another feature of the repellent. It attracts bees. Really? Now that’s not on the label. It’s humorous, don’t you think that you might not be swatting mosquitoes but you may rival the local roses for the attention of local bees.
I was thinking this might be a good repellent to use in the garden if it kept garden pests away and attracted bees.
If you see someone who is not bothered by mosquitoes but is running from bees, it’ll be me.
Have you ever come across products where you wonder how it came to market when its benefits are sometimes at cross purposes?
True story: when I first started pruning there were few references or how to books available. A co-worker back then advised me that one should prune a tree so a bird could flew through the branches. I started with our apple tree. Well, one thing led to another and when my husband came out of the house to view the result he said “You were to leave enough space for a bird, not a 747!” Yes it looked pretty barren but you should have seen the apples the next year!
We are taking our time putting our allotment garden to sleep this fall. Most of the plant material has been cleared except for some swiss chard and a half row of lovely fall carrots. We’d tried the carrots a few weeks ago and they were delicious. After a frost we knew they would be even better.
The worst of people
You can imagine our surprise (and perhaps some of the things we said) when we met at the garden this week, shovels and forks in hand, thinking of enjoying those carrots and they were gone! Pulled up and taken. The thief or thieves must be into composting for they pulled the tops off the carrots and laid them neatly down on top the now empty row. The nerve! Carrots are pretty inexpensive in the store. Whoever you are, we’d rather you go to the green grocer for your vegetables! You have to be a certain sort to take something someone else has planted, watered and tended.
The best of people
On the same visit to the garden, a woman who has walked by and chatted with us throughout the gardening season came by to say hello. We had given her some swiss chard earlier in the year and she wanted us to come by for coffee and a snack to say thank you. And so we did. The snack turned out to be hearty delicious Lebanese lunch complete with Lebanese coffee! Mmmm good!
Within a 3 hour period on a sunny late fall afternoon we saw the worst of people and the best of people.
Gardening is coming to an end for the 2012 season. It is time to put the “farm” to sleep.
We continue to marvel at how things grew this year. How most things grew might be more accurate. Here’s a few lessons learned as the season draws to a close:
Little seedlings that look like 90 pound weaklings can grow into behemoths. Have faith. And a watering system. And add lots of mushroom compost.
Do some research about what plants might look like if you have never grown them before. In our case, it was parsnips. We have been lamenting that our parsnips never germinate. We plant, they never grow up. We buy news seeds. Nothing. Late this year we discovered we had been mistaking any little parsnips for weeds and had been regularly plucking them out of the ground. Darn things don’t look like carrot tops when they emerge.
Pay close attention to invasions of insects and other pests. And then try to figure out what to do about it before it’s too late.
Cleaning up the garden can be bittersweet. Good bye to the growing season, sigh. No sooner does that thought enter your mind than you start thinking about crop rotation and what you’ll plant next year.
One of the greatest joys of gardening is sharing the results with others. This year we actually had some produce to share and we did so with great joy. Do you have any gardening or horticulture highlights from 2013?
We have a dear friend who loves soup. Any kind of soup. I wish we lived closer together for I think he would like what I made yesterday. It started with this picking from the garden:
And thought I’d make cream of broccoli and cauliflower soup. Most of the ingredients were fresh from the garden.
Onions, broccoli, cauliflower simmered together
I used a hand blender to puree the soup. Add a little cream and fresh parsley and there you go! Now if I could just figure out how to get a bowl of it across three provinces and still serve it hot. And so it is really a virtual bowl of soup across the miles. I hope it’s the thought that counts.