The Efficiency Garden

One shovel at a time can move a mountain…or a pile of soil. It took me a week but it is finally done!

Ten yards of soil – the equivalent of 90 full wheelbarrow loads – have been ferried about the property and the driveway is empty once again.

We went from this….

To this…

Back to this…

I not only filled the five new beds…

I had enough left over to top up all the other beds and (was there ever any doubt?) create several more smallish beds here and there!

I made some narrow beds along the west backyard fence for more peas and we moved the compost bin to the other side of the yard, freeing up a sunny space behind the shed for a raspberry bed.

You can’t really see it, but there is another 16 foot livestock panel for peas on the other side of the stock troughs as well. I love these panels. I have never found anything that works better for peas to climb up.

But oh, look at that pathway! What a trampled, muddy, mess. I would love to put some flagstone along there, but one thing at a time. As it were, we kept leap frogging about on our projects this week.

In the middle of moving all the soil, Darcy put a couple windows in our garden shed.

It went from this…

To this…

And finally to this!

The lines in the raised bed are vermiculite. I sprinkled it on top of the carrot seeds both to help keep them moist until they germinate and so I know where they are, since they are so slow to poke their little heads up.

Now it feels a bit more like a potting shed with the added bonus that I am no longer left groping around in the dark when the wind blows the door shut.

With Darcy having his table saw etc set up in the backyard while he installed the windows, and me weaving my way around with the wheelbarrow, the yard felt more than a tad cramped.

Notice how Darcy has his music headphones set on “spouse mode”. One ear exposed so as not to miss out on any of my helpful and welcome observations.

At one point, as I was weaving my way through the maze, my somewhat loud observation was that our yard was perhaps starting to look more than a bit ridiculous.

“You can barely move, it’s nothing but garden beds everywhere. Our yard is way too small for all of this.”

“It’s not too small,” said Darcy. “It’s an efficiency garden.”

Now I can’t get “efficiency garden” out of my head. It makes me smile. I definitely have a step saver efficiency garden.

And for better or worse, this little piece of ground is starting to grow on me.

It’s Arrived!

If there is a more exciting sound than the hiss of air brakes in one‘s driveway on a spring morning, well, I don’t know what it is.

The sound catapulted me out of the shed where I was busy organizing my tools, trellises, containers and other such things.

My truckload of soil had arrived!

It was all I could do not to hug the driver and dance around the driveway with him for a bit, but Covid 19 and, well, not wanting to scare him off from making any such deliveries in the future.

Instead I settled for politely waving from the porch like a grown up and then doing a happy walk around the pile after he left.

There is nothing like fresh soil to get one’s dreams (and wheelbarrow) rolling!

When Growing Small means Growing Big…or something like that.

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.

Which is just as it should be.

Our Lower Vegetable Garden in the country in June 2012. The hay mulch kept in moisture, added nutrients and helped smother the weeds aka Ruth Stout Method!

Garden School for Life

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.

We’ll see.

I say that a lot when it comes to gardening. That, and “next year” and “I wonder when the soil will arrive.”

Wishing you all a hopeful spring. Stay safe.