Archive | Vegetable Garden RSS feed for this section

Planting a garden; Our 2013 layout

2 Jun

This spring has come very fast! We are writing this about two weeks after we started to plant all the seeds and work with the soil. When May arrived, the weather shifted to spring, almost instantly! We are currently getting over a frost scare with snow and had to water the entire garden the other night and cover all the young seedlings with bed sheets and towels. The weather has been a little volatile here in Ontario this past two weeks but things are looking up and spending time in the garden has commenced.

As April rolled around, we started to get into planning mode and adapted the garden layout that I made last year to acquire some of the improvements we noted at the end of the season which you can read here. To get organized and prepared for the planting season and have a successful garden again this year, here is our list of steps that helps to get us started:

1. We set up a large seed list of all the seeds we currently had stored (How to properly store your herbs/seeds) and categorized them into medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, vegetables, and ornamental flowers.

This is our list of seeds we had saved for the 2013 growing season!

This is our list of seeds we had saved for the 2013 growing season!

It really helped put into perspective the diversity of our garden when we went to plant. This list is only our saved-seed list and does not include all the perennials and starters we already had in the garden. As you can see, we plan on growing more edible leafy greens this year and a few less medicinals. Also, planting more flowers for the insects and pollinators to eat – We have been working towards a blooming schedule that allows spring, summer, and fall flowers so there is a continual food source for bees and other insects.

2. Design a layout of your garden/yard space with rough dimensions to allow you to plan where you can plant your vegetables or flowers. The help of a ‘companion planting’ books helps out a lot!

This year was a much easier year to design the garden because last was a huge experimentation and educational growing period. We already designed our 2012 garden using the measurements of our backyard and then figured out an aesthetic and practical design that we both agreed on. You can see our garden layout here: Garden Layout 2012, 2013
– After the shape and size of the garden was determined, we started to look up the plants that needed full sun vs. partial shade. I recommend watching the sun’s path during full summer to see the clearance (or lack of) of any buildings or trees around the area. If in spring or fall, the path will be much lower to the south so account for a higher crest during mid-summer.
– We also use a companion planting book for all of our culinary herbs and vegetables to have as diverse a garden as possible! For example, planting garlic or onions around some greens or vegetables helps to deter aphids or other insects that could become a detrimental problem to your garden.

Garden layout 2013

Garden layout 2013

3. Till and supplement your garden soil with hearty, dark compost to nourish your plants!

The first real account of spring, at least for me, is when you can actually put your fingers into sun-warmed soil. This really signifies spring in my mind and is my sense of connection between the planning phase and the planting phase. We first started tilling at the end of April or first week of May, here in Ontario, Canada, and just worked in some high carbon leaf compost mixed with home-made vegetable compost (high in Nitrogen). We tilled and stirred the soil in our beds, mostly around the perennials, while adding a deeper trench of carbon rich leaf compost beneath the vegetable seeds.

tilling the garden bed with a hoe

tilling the garden bed with a hoe

The next step in the garden is the most fun – PLANTING! Once all the planning and organizing is done, we are so happy to be able to plant the seeds and transplant our starters in the earth and watch them grow.

Spring-time garden greening

20 Apr
catching not only a honey bee, but another wasp too

Our first Honey Bee and a friend

Everbearing raspberry buds ready leaf

Ever-bearing raspberry buds ready to leaf

It has been a long time coming but the ground is thawing and our soil is breaking with small green sprouts, reaching for the sun. I have been itching to touch the soil the past few months so a daily walk through the mucky garden paths subdues my anxiety. The major difference we have this year over last is that many of our herbs were perennials so we actually have many garden surprises popping up each day. I have taken a look through the leaves and covered spaces to see what is coming to life. Here is what I have found:

This month my sister, Alissa, and her partner Kevin, arrived from a winter in Mexixo and will be staying with us. They will be helping us out in the garden as well as enjoying the bounty of home-grown, organic veggies. We plan on really expanding the greens and vegetables and hopefully berry canes. We were a little late on planting our starters in the basement but thanks to the warm weather forecasted in May, we will be able to start planting outside (we live in Ontario, Canada so our growing season starts a little later). One of the many things we have starting to grow is Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica). It is one of my favorite herbs as it so nourishing for the blood, liver, and body. It is also a powerful pain reliever  when you apply or rub the stinging hairs to a sore or inflamed area of your body.

The soil is warming up and we are getting ready to plant! We have been busy organizing and planning our garden, building our 2013 layout plan which we are excited to share with you in a few weeks! With the accompaniment and advice of our companion planting guides, along-side our growing experience from last summer, we have made some major improvements that we hope help our yields and  growth. We will be posting our next blog soon about the accounts of our May planting as well as some of our planting methods we used. Thanks for reading,

Adam D.

Our 2012 Medicinal and Vegetable Gardens Summary Part 2

14 Jan

DSC03200Scurrying vines of oregano, great bounties of tomatoes, rows of nodding chamomile, fresh bunches of cilantro, and bright orange butternut squash safeguarded under their enveloping leaves like sleeping giants; a victorious summer harvest to end our venture in raising awareness of the concept “Dig up your lawn!”.

IMG_1292

Sage, Wild Oregano, Thyme, Mugwort, St.John’s Wort, Chamomile and Feverfew

Many different colors and shapes were present in the garden, starting with baby mustard and spinach greens in the spring, followed by zucchini, green onions, mint, and raspberries in the summer, and finally potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and other root vegetables in the early fall. They were all growing and breathing in our backyard and we created a great relationship with each plant; many of them are still resting and their offspring dormant in the soil until the first break of spring. I have to admit that there is absolutely nothing I have ever experienced that is more gratifying than obtaining the simple indigenous knowledge of working with nature. I watched her grow a luscious bed of food which only minimal influence of resting all but tiny seeds within her body of soil.

Ripening 'ever-bearing' raspberries

Ripening ‘ever-bearing’ raspberries

After the first few weeks of warm weather in which we hurried to create the beds and prepare the soil, it was now time to fully plant the copious amounts of seeds we ordered from two main seed suppliers. The first was Horizon Herbs, where we purchased most of our medicinal varieties, and from a much more local seed supplier, The Cottage Gardener, we ordered our vegetable seeds. We had a garden party in May and with the help of good friends, we planted the whole list of over 50 species, more were already started indoors and were set into the newly made beds. Things like raspberries, marshmallow and sun-daze flowers were purchased from a local greenhouse as the season went by. We made second, third, and even fourth plantings of greens which after harvesting the early crops like radish, we rotated certain greens since we eat such large salads. As the season progressed we took note of any changes we would like to make to next years garden. We noted some below.

Potato and beet harvest in late August

Bright purple and red dragon carrots

Bright purple and red dragon carrots

Some Major Lessons Learned:

Don’t plant the mixed-lettuce greens beside the potatoes, many potato flies and white flies were taking advantage of the soft greens

If you use mulch – do not excessively water as rot can occur, especially with plants like tomatoes.

Monitor the insect populations more carefully to see when they peak and which ones become an overburden.

-Make sure that when planting a root crop, you companion-plant surface crops like lettuce or herbs so they don’t compete for the same nutrients

Take note of the path the sun travels in early spring, and do a prediction for mid-summer through monitoring its heights and clearances of all the trees near the garden. We planted some high-sun needing plants just out of reach of full sun (like our raspberries and some tomatoes)

Make the paths a little wider for clearance and do not plant bushy plants too close to the edges, even if you are feeling a little zealous with the small sprouts

Leave LOTS and lots of room for the butternut squash… this herbaceous crawler can engulf everything like a sea monster in a Japanese film.

 Avoid planting anymore Thistles near the path edges, as they can become a fierce weapon and cause bloodshed.

– Make some bird houses, a mason bee straw home, and other homes for beneficial friends

– Plant more nectar containing flowers like Yarrow, Poppy, Borage, Wood Betony and others around the perimeter of our garden, this brings pollinators and more beneficial friends

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch – we need to add more chopped wood from tree pruning companies. We watched and learned a great method and technique from a documentary called ‘Back to Eden’ which explains a sustainable, low input method that stops weed growth, that is a natural soil-builder, reduces need for irrigation, and is tilling free – just use a light raking when planting!

– Do not add any green garden waste to your compost that has gone to seed. When the compost is finished those seeds will germinate and the new soil will be exploding with opportunistic plants that were not intended to be in your garden.

– Make sure any plants with infection like blight-ridden tomatoes, or leaves with leaf miners, are separated from all other compost matter. Again, when these plants decompose, they will be prevalent in next spring’s crops.

There are many more small changes that we are going to make to our garden this year – many species of vegetables just didn’t fare well in sections that did not have sufficient sunlight and some species, like Romanesco  Broccoli and Winter-Density Spinach, bolted and had little production from what we read was excessive temperatures for their liking since they are a cool crop. To see the layout of last year’s garden, click here.

Straw mulching our field cucumbers really saved a lot of water for irrigation!

Straw mulching our field cucumbers really saved a lot of water for irrigation!

Looking back on the course of the entire Season, from spring to summer, I was like an excited child on Christmas. I would anxiously get dressed in the morning when the spring sun was just stretching over the garage and illuminating the fence of wild grapes, and search through the soil to watch for any new sprouts that had begun to grow. I saw the intricate leaves of new herbs and vegetables that I had never seen before. While I watered the garden, I watched certain crops die from over-hydration while their neighbor flourished and exploded. I learned many lessons with my eyes and through touch and through these lessons I have become very thankful. It has been through the passion of food growing that I get to experience how my food is grown and where it comes from. I feel more connected to nature, more respectful of the intricacies in nature, more observant of the complicated matrix of synergies that we become so unaware of while we hustle and bustle away in our busy lives. Doing a backyard garden does this to you. It opens your eyes to the drastic framework that exists in nature and we are part of it! I know it seems weird to think that clumsy, destructive, hungry humans fit into all of this, but maybe it is just we are not opening our eyes and experiencing this matrix enough.

A view from the back of the garden; the herb circle

A view from the back of the garden; the herb circle

– Adam

Our 2012 Medicinal and Vegetable Gardens summary Part 1

6 Jan

NewspaperThis past summer of 2012 was one of the most awakening and deeply enjoyable garden experiences of our lives. Between the two of us, we both spent extensive time digging, sweating, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and exploring our new backyard organic garden.

The entire project began with a rich yearning to till the soil in the backyard’s green grass monoculture. We are both expanding in our knowledge and experience with gardening and being self-sufficient so growing our own food and medicinals was a clear next-step for personal growth. Actually, in my opinion, the best thing to do if you are not confident or not sure when/where to plant a garden, would be to just start with a small garden plot, pick out the plants you want to use, do basic research (even just on the back of the seed packs about which month to plant or how much sun/water), plant them in the spring, and watch them grow until they are ready to harvest! It is as simple as that. I cannot guarantee you will be successful with what you try to grow, but at least you observed, learned, and can take that knowledge to improve and  build upon the mistakes you just made.DSC02846

In our case, we both had some farming and gardening experience so we were not really starting at the bottom but after planting 60+ species of plants and not knowing exactly what grew best where, or which needed extra care or sunlight, as well as the quality of our soil… it all became a little wrenching to see if ANYTHING would grow. This was our best lesson; almost everything that germinated did amazing and we had tons of success with things like Butternut squash, which grew 17′ vines that crawled the length of our garden beds and produced seven 5+ pound squashes! The only major problem we had was with cucumber beetles and tomato blight- it was a very bad summer for that indeed.

Our indoor garden we made last winter and blogged about, started off the 2012 season. Many of our herbs were started inside and that allowed the roots to flourish and get a head start. We then hardened them off in the early spring as we began the immense and tiring task of plotting out our future garden and tilling the soil all by hand! We mapped out a space a little under 1300 sq. ft and removed the sod, and tilled about 12″ deep to loosen up the topsoil once the ground had dried from the receding frost. You can also see the full layout of the 2012 Garden here. We had only started our compost the fall before which forced us to purchase a half pick-up truck load of leaf and mushroom compost to use for adding nutrients to the dry topsoil. Instantly, the soil went from a light grey to a dark black earth, with much greater moisture holding abilities.

DSC02849

 Once May rolled around, and all the partially-raised beds were constructed, we converted two more 5 gal barrels into rain barrels and started collecting rain water and cheaply made a 50′ clothes line to help lower our electricity consumption for the summer (we also love the smell of clothes that had been drying outside on a

 warm, sunny summer day). We dug a large trench around the perimeter of our compost and shaded garden because in the past the rain load emitted by the garage roof swamped out the garlic and spinach planted near our path. After digging the trench and filling it with large crushed gravel, heavy spring rains washed into the deep trench and by-passed the beds and flowed into the corner of our property. One other project we completed before the season began was the digging of a small toad pond near the interior of the middle garden. We found 3 very small toads while doing maintenance gardening for a customer, and brought them home to live for the summer in case they got hit by her lawnmower. We only saw them from time-to-time but it was the hornets that we observed making frequent visits to the pond to collect water to drink, or to take to their hives. Another friend of the garden was the giant fuzzy bumble bees, burrowing their nest in the soil next to our potato mounds. In the early morning as we toured the gardens before work, we would pass the potatoes and witness a scurry of 5-10 big bear-like bees buzzing past; off to collect nectar.

IMG_0622

It was amazing the number of insects a large garden can bring – from thirsty hornets, to hover flies, honey bees to hawk moths, even lace wings and horned worms. This diversity was our goal in producing this years garden as the aid of specific flowers and native plants, like yarrow, that brought in beneficial insects was part of why our garden thrived and created balance. Overall, we had a great time, learned more than we could have hoped for and had so much fun being able to enter the garden at will and eat ripe and local food we watched grow from seeds! Growing your own food is a very liberating act 🙂

Check out part two of this blog (hopefully in the next day or two) to hear about our planting, harvesting, and finally putting the garden to sleep last fall!

Thanks for reading,
– A

%d bloggers like this: