One for the Mouse, One for the Crow…

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.

One of my rows of rutabagas planted in the beet bed. So far so good. Fingers crossed. And toes.

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!

I hope.

If you have any tips to offer on growing rutabagas I would appreciate hearing them. Hope your garden is growing well.

Gardening and Thinking

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.

Enough said.

Is it SNOWING???

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.

The Garden is Finally Planted. I Think.

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.

Isn’t this potato gorgeous? I love the purple etching. This variety is Rode Eesteling

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.

Apple Blossoms on the espalier tree.

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.

Even when I am being crazy indecisive.