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.
Our town is out of toilet paper. Toilet paper! I read about a grocery store owner who had stocked up on the usuals for disaster-type situations; canned goods etc in case people lost their minds and went hoardy, but he never guessed there’d be a run on toilet paper.
First off, we do NOT have a shortage of toilet paper in our country. Stop hoarding toilet paper people!
What we do have is humans being human. Oh, how we need to feel in control. The thing is, we never really are. Being in control is always just an illusion, but the ego struggles with accepting this. Bad news shows up and we toss it around in our brains like a crazed marble in a pinball machine, trying to find a way to make the bad news go away.
None of us are immune to the ego’s persuasive charms. When I first heard the news we were out of toilet paper, I scoffed. What the hell is wrong with people?
Lots of others agreed. Comments flooded Facebook and Twitter, asking if people were planning on spending a quarantine dressing up as toilet paper mummies, or what.
“Covid-19 effects your breathing not your bum” one person said. I laughed, but then I thought, well, there could be diarrhea. But even so, how many packs of toilet paper do you really need? Turns out diarrhea isn’t even a side effect of the Coronavirus.
The only thing creating a shortage is people thinking there’s a shortage. Interesting how that works.
I closed my iPad, shaking my head at human stupidity, and then I thought, Wait a minute. How much toilet paper do we have? Even as Common Sense rolled its eyes, Ego hustled me down the hall and made me look in every bathroom closet to do a roll count and calculation. By my estimate we have a month’s supply. Maybe two if we ration out the squares instead of just pulling them off the roll all willy-nilly.
”FOR GOD SAKES, RATION OUT THE SQUARES!” Ego screamed, wringing his hands.
We were going to run out of toilet paper. I just knew it. Oh why hadn’t I stocked up when I had the chance? We were done for. Remember back in the old days when aisles used to be filled with all sort of choices and you could buy all the toilet paper you wanted? You know, like last week?
I enlightened Darcy of the grim situation. It took a bit of time to spark even a bit of panic, but I finally managed to get him at least mildly interested.
“Maybe we should buy a few more flats of canned goods too.” I continued. “Beans and chickpeas, high calorie stuff like that. Just in case.“
“But if we live on beans we’re just going to need more toilet paper!” He pointed out.
Oh God, he was right. Everything was coming undone. There was no solid ground to be had.
The ego seductively whispered, “Calm down. If you can just manage to find a case lot of toilet paper and a pallet or two of beans and sanitizer, everything will be alright. The stock market crash, North Korea getting all nuclear-trigger-happy, the pandemic, global warming, none of it will have any consequence for you or your loved ones, I promise. But only if you stock up on toilet paper, sanitizer and beans.”
And so comes the wave of relief. Yes! Finally. Here is something I can do about it. Everything will be okay. All I have to do is find enough toilet paper, sanitizer and beans, and then the future will be back in my control.
Which is all bullshit of course. We don’t control anything. You can fill your house with toilet paper, sanitizer and beans to the rafters, and you are still going to die. If not now, then later. The world is going to do what the world is going to do. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for social change or use some common sense, but panicking is only going to lead to worse problems. Like toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages. If no one had panicked there would still be plenty for all, just like there has always been.
We bought a cup of coffee at a restaurant yesterday and the owner said he was unable to get any hand sanitizer, because everywhere was sold out. These are the sorts of places we need sanitizer. Fat lot of good it does standing in rows on a shelf in someone’s house gathering dust, while public places go without.
What we need is for everyone, self included, to take a collective deep breath and think about each other instead of ourselves. This is not the end of the world, even if it kind of feels like it. Look back through history and you will see that it has always been thus. Before vaccines there were all kinds of terrifying epidemics-polio, measles, the bubonic plague-but humanity still prevailed. Stock markets go up, then they go down, then they go up again and then they crash, but the world keeps spinning around. People panic and chaos, even war, ensues. People calm down, and peace returns. There is always a never-ending cycle of growth, death and rebirth to every single aspect of life on this planet.
Maybe we need to find out when the next shipment of toilet paper arrives at a store near us, and then those who are able, need to go down with whatever rolls from their own bathrooms they can spare, and offer it up to the madding crowd. Maybe the sight of people sharing, instead of hoarding, will help us all see what we are becoming, so we can find the strength to put our cartload of toilet paper back on the shelf and calm down.
There is no shame in saying, You know what? I let fear get the best of me. Turns out I have seven lifetimes worth of toilet paper, but I really only need one. Here. Have some of mine back. Imagine the impact that could have.
As I noted earlier, I totally get the fear. I feel it too. We all do. But this is a time for summoning the best in us. Of showing each other all the compassion we can muster. If anything, we should be hugging each other instead of wrestling packs of three-ply out of each other’s arms. Except, well, Covid-19, so maybe elbow bump each other instead; but gently and slowly, with plenty of eye contact and meaning.
No one knows what is really going to happen. But the truth is, we never have. And furthermore, we never will. If you think about it, this is both unsettling and deeply comforting all at the same time All we know for sure is we are here together at this moment in time and that’s pretty incredible. So have a little faith. Pull together. This too shall pass, and when it does let us feel proud of ourselves for how we got through it. Let’s be an example to our children of what the future world can look like. Let’s find ways to spread kindness, joy and hope, instead of fuelling fear. Kindness is just as contagious as fear.
In fact, let’s commit to doing at least 19 acts of kindness before this latest panic passes. Whenever you feel overcome with fear, take a deep breath and do something kind for someone else instead. We could call it Kind-19. You never know. It could become infectious. If we’re lucky, it might spread its way around globe.
We could even set a roll of toilet paper out on our front step for whoever needs it, as a symbol of our compassion and solidarity with the human race. As a beacon of hope. Or simply just to say, I overreacted but now I am here for you. We are in this thing together. For better or worse. Here, have some of my toilet paper.
I just want to state right at the outset, that I have no affiliation with Storey.com whatsoever, but I am always stalking them for their flash sales. If you are an e-book reader it is a cheap way to build up your garden e-library.
I see they have one of my all-time favourite books on flash sale right now for just $2.99. Despite already having a hard copy AND an e-copy I was so excited I almost tried to buy another one. Ha. Anyway, I thought I would pass it along here in case anyone was interested. Just click on the book and it should take your straight to the site.
The only issue I have now with The Backyard Homestead, is our lot isn’t even a quarter of an acre – the land base starting point for self sufficiency in the book. However, since I’m not trying to raise any animals, I have plenty room to grow most of our vegetables and some fruit. This book is a treasure trove of information on how much to plant. It is always amazing what you can cram into small spaces when you put your mind to it!