We have had so much rain the garden is practically gasping for air.
During tonight’s deluge we even had some hail scattered in for good measure. Fortunately it was both small and short lived.
If the rain would only stop and if the heat would come, things would grow like crazy. I still have hope that will happen, but in the meantime, the forecast is for another few days of rain.
I saw a cartoon that featured two people perched on a roof to escape the rising waters and one says to the other, “At what point do we stop saying ‘At least it’s good for the garden’?”
I am having some issues with my cabbage. I found three of my Chinese Cabbage completely severed from their roots. I noticed they were looking an odd shade of green. When I reached down to examine them and they simply toppled over like a domino of cabbage corpses. It was like something out of a horror movie. A rather weird vegetable horror movie, but a horror movie just the same. I suspected cutworms, but a closer inspection revealed cabbage root maggots as the culprit.
After successfully saving these very same cabbages from aphids only a couple weeks back, it was all a bit disheartening. I started to blame the nursery, as these were the only cabbages I had purchased rather than started from seed, but then I noticed my purple cabbage were starting to go south as well.
At first I so wanted to believe that the wilting leaves were simply from too much rain. Only a few days earlier they were looking so full of their usual promise.
Now some are looking like this…
There doesn’t seem to be a lot one can do about root maggots at this point. Floating row covers or cardboard collars might have helped at the start, but now it’s too late.
One garden site advised digging the cabbage up and soaking it in a tub of water in order to drown the maggots and then replanting the cabbage.
This seemed like a crazy idea, especially given how developed the cabbages already are. They are already stressed from the maggots, how are they going to survive a mature stage uprooting and transplanting?
So of course I tried it.
I mean, why not? I only chose half a dozen of the ones that looked especially near death’s door. I figure I have little to lose at this point. And with all this rain, it is perfect transplanting weather. It did occur to me that we have had such a ridiculous amount of rain, if this theory actually worked, it should have drowned the maggots right in the bed already, but who knows.
Another garden site advised shoring up the stems with organic matter such as leaves or compost, to give the stressed roots extra support and encourage more places for rooting. I am not sure how well this would actually work, but am willing to give it a try on a few of the ones that are only mildly stressed. I am a bit concerned that it will cause root rot, but I will just have to keep an eye on things to see.
Of course there is always a chance the maggots will simply finish their life cycle and some of the cabbages will prevail without interference. I am choosing to be cautiously optimistic. I am not ready to give up on all those winter meals of cabbage and sauerkraut so easily. Surely some will survive.
As I quipped in the last post, one for the mouse, one for the crow, one for rot and one to grow.
Peruse a how-to book on gardening or visit some online discussions and a garden can sound more like a war zone. Words like enemies, combat, traps, chemical warfare and more can seem aimed at creating some sort of sterile Eden. I get it. I mean, who wants to go to all that work just to have your plants ravaged by insects, deer, disease or what have you?
On the other hand there is something very alluring (not to mention stress reducing) about just trying to get along. The birds and the bugs have to eat too.
There is an old farmer’s saying that goes “One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.”
The take away message is that Nature can take back three out of four of the seeds you plant, leaving you with a quarter of your crop to keep. It’s not much different than wages and taxes when you think about it.
If you count on that formula, you will certainly never be disappointed. It could even change your whole outlook. No one likes to pay taxes, but we learn to accept it, however grudgingly. The same acceptance can go a long way in a garden. Maybe you might even start to feel like a philanthropist, out there doing your part and helping to feed Nature.
Personally I count on at least a fifty percent return on my crop and I aim for a complete reversal of the Farmer’s Formula by allowing one plant out of four to return to Nature, while hoping to have three for me. Which put like that, makes me sound rather greedy. I prefer to call it optimistic.
I try to keep on top of things, but my efforts are fairly benign. I am not capable of pouring hot water on ant hills or shooting rabbits. Have your nibble, build your hill. Nor do I see the point in putting in all that effort to grow your own food, only to resort to pesticides.
I inspect the leaves of brassicas frequently and if I find some cabbage worms, I pick them off and carry them far away from the garden. I plant nasturtiums to attract aphids and sacrifice them so the aphids can feast to their tiny hearts content…but if it gets out of hand and they spread to the vegetables I do take action.
In the past this has pretty much just meant removing any yellowing leaves covered with aphids. I also find planting onions, leeks or garlic among the vegetables helps confuse the insects bent on devouring crops. This year an aphid outbreak occurred on my Chinese Cabbage. I had planted way too many, way too close together in one of my stock troughs.
I took the time to carefully wipe down every single leaf with a damp cloth. Since I only had 24 plants (a dozen in the trough and another dozen in an alley bed) it didn’t take that long and it worked. It’s been two weeks and the aphid population is still next to nil. Never have I ever spent that kind of time doing something like that, but when you have a small garden, you have the time to spend.
This year I painted some rocks red and put them in the strawberry patch just as the plants have come into blossom. The theory is birds will notice the red rocks, peck them, discover they are inedible and then later they will ignore the red strawberries thinking they are rocks. Or something like that.
I also keep the bird feeders full, hoping they will choose the seed they are used to over the garden. But if not, I will simply have to share. I haven’t seen a single bird checking out the rocks, so I am starting to have my doubts as to whether or not the ruse will work. They are likely a lot smarter than we think.
I have tried netting on berries to keep out the birds and fabric covers over brassicas to keep the cabbage moths at bay. However, I find keeping the nets and cloth in place while getting at the plants to weed, water or harvest, exasperating and not worth the bother. Plus I get as much enjoyment out of watching my garden grow as I do eating it, so I can’t bear to cover it up. I’d rather share if I have to.
So mostly I simply grow and let go. I figure nature knows what she’s doing and if I plant enough, surely there will be something left for me at the end of the season.
I have, however, pulled out all the stops in a determined attempt to grow rutabaga. I have never managed to do so successfully. Some people set goals to run a marathon, climb a mountain or start a successful business. I just want to grow a rutabaga to harvest. Is that so much to ask?
I have tried direct sowing them at different times. I have even tried transplanting them from starts. It always ends the same. The transplants never quite recover from the shock, and fail to develop any sort of meaningful root. The direct sown seeds barely germinate before flea beetles pepper their leaves with tiny holes. The few that valiantly carry on are wiped out by cutworms or simply fail to thrive.
This year I have tried so many things that even if it works, I won’t know which method to repeat. I’ll have to repeat them all! I seeded some of the rutabagas in toilet paper tubes cut into thirds and then when they were still at the infant stage, I set them into their rows with the gentle precision of a surgeon. I wiped off their under leaves every couple days. I sprinkled crushed eggshells around each stem. Later, I tucked small squares of tinfoil around them and when the flea beetles still showed up, I quickly resorted to a mix of one quart water, one teaspoon olive oil and two drops of dish soap which I sprinkled lightly on the leaves. I also dripped some onto the tinfoil after making tiny depressions to hold the mix in place. I also snipped some fresh peppermint and got some dried lemon verbena and sprinkled both over the plants. Then I snipped some garlic tops and tucked them between the leaves as well, for good measure.
At that point I wasn’t even sure what I had read and what I was simply making up on the spot. So far (whisper) so good. Today I am going out to insert toothpicks on either side of each stem. According to research this will prevent cutworms from wrapping themselves around the base.
All of this extra care is feasible when you only have a couple dozen plants. On the farm I devoted entire 60 foot rows to rutabagas, often not even getting the “one to grow” that the Farmer’s Formula promised in return. Instead, more often than not, I would have a hundred percent loss. One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one God only knows.
What really rankles me is that I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents talk about living on “saskatoons, potatoes, turnips and moose meat”. The turnips they referred to were rutabagas. It all implied these were safe crops guaranteed a harvest in The Peace. I am sure they didn’t go to any of the lengths I am going to. Maybe the soil wasn’t infested with flea beetles or cutworms back then. Or maybe there is just something about the way I tend a garden that rutabagas hate. But not this year baby!
If you have any tips to offer on growing rutabagas I would appreciate hearing them. Hope your garden is growing well.
With everything going on in the world, it can seem superfluous to be prattling on about my garden. And yet, I don’t feel like I am one to add anything meaningful to the conversation. As a privileged, older, white person, it feels more than ever like a time to just be quiet, listen to the stories being told and to think.
At the same time, being quiet and simply escaping to my garden to think, feels more and more uncomfortable.
I do all my thinking while on my knees in the garden and lately, I have been thinking a lot.
I have often romanticized homesteading and will always have tremendous respect for all the hard work and difficulty my ancestors endured.
At the same time I know I haven’t thought enough about the dark side of homesteading and what it did to the indigenous people who were here first.
In our corner of the world the racism towards indigenous people cannot be denied.
I feel hopelessly inadequate to speak to it at all. Not to mention nervous. The last thing I want is to offend anyone. Like I said, this is a time to listen respectfully to the stories being told. And the stories are heartbreaking.
As I understand it, the indigenous people had no word in their language for selling or owning property. The very idea was preposterous. You couldn’t own land. You respected it, you hunted on it, you harvested from it, you lived on it, you moved across it, you cared for it, but no human owned it.
I read one account where an indigenous person said there was always a haunted, craving expression on the white people’s faces that they didn’t understand. He spoke to how white people were always wanting more, more, more and were never satisfied with what they already had.
If you take time to read or listen to the stories about having a whole way of life taken away, being forced onto reservations, told to adopt a european culture or the tragedies of the residential schools, you can’t deny we need to make amends.
Imagine if someone came to your home, told you it was now theirs, took your children and put them into schools where they were horribly abused and relentlessly tried to void everything that defined your culture. Now imagine being told to get over it and move on. Would you? Could you?
Imagine ships arriving on your shores, kidnapping your loved ones and taking them across the ocean where they were now called slaves and sold like animals simply because of the colour of their skin.
Imagine still being treated like your life didn’t matter as much as a white person’s, centuries later.
Could you just ignore it? Would you not come to a point where you said enough was enough?
White people can deflect what is happening by condemning the protests for taking place during a pandemic. Or we can point to the violence or looting instead of the peaceful protesting that is predominate. We can preface our defensive opinions with, “I’m not a racist but…” which almost always means we probably are racist, but just don’t realize it. Or we can simply deny there is a problem at all.
Or we can do the very minimum being asked of us and simply listen and seek to understand. We can listen hard, speak soft and above all, be kind. We can take time to think.
So I go to the garden, get down on my knees and think.
While I’m down there I notice the pockets of the garden with the most diversity are always the areas that thrive.
Nature hates a monoculture.
When one variety dominates a piece of ground for too long, disease eventually sets in. Companion planting has long been seen as a way of making a more beautiful and productive garden.
I went out in the drizzling rain today to (what else) move some more plants around. I just can’t seem to stop. It’s like a sickness. I just keep having different visions for the garden and everyone knows that rainy weather is perfect transplant weather. It’s almost reckless not to take advantage of it, right?
I went into the backyard and to my horror, I was suddenly surrounded by a flurry of falling white specks.
Snow in June!
Which was the title of the very first CD Darcy and I ever bought. It was by Northern Pikes. We couldn’t afford another CD for several weeks, so we played our first and only one on our new CD player so many times I can still sing every word to every song.
But I digress.
I stood frozen in place watching huge white flecks land on my cabbages and greens, before sweet relief rolled over me.
It wasn’t snow in June at all, but simply our May Day tree shedding her blossoms.
Suddenly the rainy weather didn’t feel so miserable after all!
Things are slowly growing. Here’s a look at the efficiency garden…
I still like the black boxes but they do show the dirt after a rain. Especially where the lawn has been reseeded. The rain splashes up the sides and shows everything. Bird droppings also create quite the startling contrast against the backdrop of black. Oh, well. At least it isn’t snow.
The side chute is coming along as well…
The path still looks terrible, but the peas, cabbage, radishes and all the rest down the line are growing nicely.
Like life, it all depends what you choose to focus on I suppose.
The front yard is going through its bloom rotation. The crocuses have finished, but the tulips and daffodils are still humming along.
I always envision a carpet of crocuses followed by blanket upon blanket of seasonal blooms, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. There are always lots of bare patches and long awkward pauses, especially in a garden so young. It takes time for the perennials to fill their positions.
Even then, it seems like some plants are always looking doubtful, while others are looking fantastic. Gardening is a great teacher of patience and acceptance. Instant gratification is never harvested here. And that’s a good thing. I think.
If you look in front of the garage door you will see some very doubtful looking tomatoes. I grow mine from seed and I always start them too early. By the time they get outside they are already a bit stressed and things usually go downhill for a bit from there. However, one day I will go out and they will have finally “grabbed” and will be looking lush and green with starry eyed little yellow blossoms everywhere. Once again, patience and fortitude is required.
Or maybe the tomatoes will all die. It could happen. You never know what each year is going to bring. We could wake up tomorrow to baby tomatoes or to a foot of snow. Or it might turn out to be just a sprinkling of May Day blossoms.
That’s what I love about gardening. You never know what the day will bring, but you can always count on being surprised. Usually in a good way.
You know those “find the difference” cartoons that used to appear in newspapers (and maybe still do)? The ones that featured two seemingly identical scenes and challenged you to find the different things in each one. I could have done that with the garden this week several times.
I don’t know if it is Covid Stress, natural aging or having a relatively new garden, but despite having planned and planted a vegetable garden for almost forty years, I can’t seem to settle on anything this time around.
I created two additional new beds, only to change my mind and take them back out with apologies to the yellowing grass below. I planted potatoes and then a week later, dug them back up and moved them to another patch. I sowed an entire bed to Swiss Chard only to decide that bush beans would be better suited in that spot. And then I planted a second bed of carrots there instead and put the bush beans where the cabbage was meant to go. Darcy commented that every time he looks out the window my tomato/cucumber cages (sans tomatoes or cucumbers yet thank goodness) had migrated to a different spot.
I moved the raspberries for the fourth time in three seasons. And as anyone who grows raspberries knows all too well, these are not plants who leave their former digs easily. Each time I have spent weeks rooting out suckers that keep popping up to see where all their companions went.
It’s madness. And in the case of the chard bed, horribly wasteful on my part. At least I didn’t actually plant the beans or cabbage before I changed my mind. Again.
Maybe it’s because at a time where so much has been going wrong, I am determined to at least make my tiny garden go right.
Maybe I see it as something I can control, when the future feels so uncertain. Which is silly. As I’ve said before, our future has always been uncertain and we have never been in control of anything.
But oh, the seductive illusion of thinking we can predict what will happen! Surrendering is hard.
Not surrendering is even harder.
For better or worse, the garden is planted and done. No more changes. Tonight the new transplants are settling their toes into their new homes. The seeds are swelling in their rows with my solemn vow to leave them undisturbed. Some are already up. Maybe they decided they had better get on with it before I had time to change my mind.
Peas are poking their way through…
Salad greens are up….
And despite their crazy disruptive move, most of the potatoes have sprouted as well.
There are apple, plum, pear and haskap blooms promising what’s to come. I have spent several joy filled moments watching bumblebees tumbling amongst the blossoms. Fingers crossed we will soon see small balls of fruit forming.
I love this time of year. It is so full of hope and possibility. It is this continuous cycle of planning, seeding, growing, hoping, harvesting, gratitude, rest and back to planning again, that I find eternally fulfilling in so many ways.
Trying to grow the equivalent amount of food I once grew in the country, but on a small city lot might seem like a fool’s mission, but I think it is possible. For me at least. And I don’t mean because I am extra gifted at growing food, because I most certainly am not.
With my gardens in the country I was always in expanding, moving, planning, developing mode. That meant things got spread, not only far and wide, but thin. It was a challenge to keep up with it all. Beans, peas and zucchini often got too big before getting picked, meaning a loss in taste as well as in potential harvest. With so many vegetables the more frequently they are picked while still at their prime, the more they will produce. Miss that window and both taste and harvest diminishes.
Other things suffered from neglect. With three separate garden spots and a busy life, things often got overlooked. Plants wilted before I noticed they needed watering and not all beds got topped up with compost before each growing season. Sometimes weeds got away on me and sucked up valuable water and nutrients meant for vegetables instead. Other things bolted and went to seed before I noticed. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And with having so much space to spare, I often (and by often I mean always) fell to the temptation of trying to grow things that were never meant to be grown in our northern climate. Entire beds were given over to these ne’er do well experiments that always started off in great bursts of optimism, only to end in predictable disaster, providing only fodder for the compost pile. Still, it was worth it for the hope and fun that inspired the planting.
Despite all of this, I always somehow managed to fill our freezer, pantry and cold room simply because I planted a lot of vegetables, rather than because I was a savvy grower or harvester.
Of course, most gardeners do a much better job and would have likely needed only a third of the space to achieve the same harvest. And that’s precisely why I think I can grow as much on our city lot as I did on the farm. And it’s also why I may have been better off growing a smaller garden really well, even when we lived in the country, but that’s neither here nor there.
Right now I am here, not there. What I lack in space I hope to make up for with dedication, attention and decades of experience, such as it is.
When your yard is tiny, no plant goes unnoticed and even keeping up with weeds is a breeze. Well, maybe not a breeze exactly, but doable anyway. Everything I water is within reach of a single length of hose. Moreover, I quickly hit a fence or curb whenever I start hatching up any distracting expansion projects and am therefore forced to focus solely on what I already have going on in the ground.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t any expansion projects left to be hatched. I mean, good heavens, that’s just crazy talk! A gardener always has projects to be hatched. Otherwise what we would do all winter? However, the scope of any future projects are far more limited and far less distracting than when I had 60 acres of potential ground to work with. So again, my main focus will be on my small garden instead.
For all these reasons, and probably more that I haven’t even thought of yet, I think my garden will be just as, if not more, productive.
Or that’s the hope anyway! There is never a more optimistic time for a garden and its gardener, than in the spring.
One of the many things that keep me engaged in gardening is the endless opportunity for learning.
No matter how many springs you have sown seeds or started transplants, there are always new lessons to be learned. A lot of these lessons come from brand new gardeners who approach gardening with fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas of how it should or should not be done. Wonderful things can result.
A great example of this was Mel Bartholomew who invented the square foot gardening method. He took up gardening after retiring from a life’s work as an engineer. He wondered why city gardeners grew vegetables in narrow rows with wide paths instead of in wide raised beds and narrow paths to maximize space and production and voila! Square foot gardening was born.
With so many people taking a new interest in gardening, I can’t wait to see what will come out of it next. While gleaning advice from seasoned gardeners is invaluable, never be afraid to ask questions, push boundaries and experiment. You never know what you might invent!
Speaking of experienced gardeners, Charles Dowding is one of my go-to garden gurus. He gently questions the dogma of companion planting and rotating crops and advocates for no dig gardening. He theorizes that if you take care of amending the top of the soil, just as nature does, everything else will take of it itself.
He also transplants beets, which blows my mind. I watched this vlog and was impressed enough to try sowing a few into seed trays this year for the first time. I am stuck enough in my ways to hold back and sow the other half the same way I always have…by soaking the seed for 24 hours and then direct sowing into the beds and thinning to a couple inches apart when they pop up. We will see which method works best for me. It is these sorts of experiments that have kept me fascinated with the whole garden process for decades.
Right now I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of a load of garden soil so I can fill my new beds and top up the old ones. It takes time for the winter piles to thaw out. Gardening is also a teacher of patience.
While I’ve been waiting, I painted the outside of the raised beds. Painting the inside would keep the wood from rotting as fast, but it also might leach unwanted chemicals into the soil, so I just leave the insides naked. There are eco friendly paint or stain choices you could use, but what with the pandemic and all, I simply used what I already had.
And what I already had was a gallon of exterior gloss black paint!
I’ve seen black raised beds trending on pinterest and they can look kind of pretty, especially when contrasted with all the green growing things inside them. I also have a lot of black containers that will match. Still, black seems a bit of a somber choice, especially at a time where perhaps cheerful colours might be more welcome. Like hot pink or sunshine yellow or, well, anything other than black. But black is what I had and black is what it is!
I’m thinking black will likely absorb more heat from the sun and in our cold climate that should be a good thing. A better experiment would have been to paint at least one raised bed white to see if it makes any difference. There is an older bed to the left painted a light brown that might offer a clue, if I resist painting it black to match the rest. However, anyone who has ever suffered through the protocols of a school science experiment could see that the size, location, depth etc would be too variable to be conclusive.
I say that a lot when it comes to gardening. That, and “next year” and “I wonder when the soil will arrive.”
While I was never a prepper, I was always appreciative of self sufficiency. I have long recognized the freedom that comes with growing your own food.
Plus it was a lifestyle I loved.
For 16 years we lived in small log house on 60 acres. We had a wood cookstove and large vegetable and fruit gardens that grew bigger with each passing year. We kept milk goats, chickens and bees.
Six years ago we moved into town and now here we are, living in a city during a pandemic. As Alanis Morrisette sang, “And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
Yeah, I really do think.
Even so, though I truly miss the country life, I am not going prepper/hoarder/head-for-the-hills crazy. I continue to believe in humanity and our ability to unite and adapt to our circumstances and not only survive, but thrive. Everything will be okay in the end, and if it isn’t okay, it isn’t the end.
I also recognize how privileged we are to live in a country like Canada.
However, I do think the pandemic has exposed problems in our food supply chain and highlighted more than ever the importance of supporting local farmers, markets and ranchers instead of a handful of massive processors. We have put way too many eggs in way too few baskets and this has been a wake up call that will serve us well going forward.
Instead of panicking about global food shortages or lining up at Costco, this is a time to reach out and commit to supporting our local producers, now and in the future. Prepare to be impressed with what has been available all along in our own backyards!
Speaking of backyards, I am also heartened by the surge of recent interest in gardening. I look forward to having even more fellow gardeners to exchange tips with in the Peace Country and beyond.
This year I have set a challenge for myself to grow the same amount of vegetables on our small city lot, as I did when we lived on the farm. Not because I think we are going to starve without it, but because I am curious to see if it can be done. Also, there is nothing that helps me achieve mental health more than time spent in a garden. And it is a great place to practice social distancing while getting some much needed exercise and fresh air.
This means saying farewell to a lawn altogether and having a backyard that is pretty much fence-to-fence raised beds.
Here’s a photo of our five brand-new yet-to-be-filled 4 x 8 foot beds.
Good Lord. Looking at this picture, the whole yard looks a bit horrific. Only a gardener could see the beauty in it. Or understand how I envision it already filled with vegetables, trellises, neat paths and painted wood, instead of a trampled mud bog of a mess. But such is life. A series of messes, with some dreams sprinkled in to keep us going along.
Anyway, these new beds are in addition to two 4 x 16 foot beds, one 2 x 24 foot bed, one 3 x 32 foot bed, one 3 x 20 foot bed and the three stock trough beds that were already in place from last year. We’ll see how it goes.
The front yard will continue to be a potager garden of sorts, with a bow to beauty as well as a bit of food production. There are lots of perennials and shrubs for curb appeal, but once again, I plan to tuck in things like rainbow chard, purple cabbage, lettuces, potatoes, herbs and what-have-you as food filler.
Where there’s a will there’s a way and where there’s soil, there’s always abundant opportunity for hope and growth. And with time, much beauty.