Discovering (and Taming) My Inner Garden Grinch

All that beautiful nitrogen laden snow has melted, delivering its magic formula down to the soil and roots that are revving up below.

The Peace Country is infamous for going from winter to summer overnight. The joke among local farmers goes, “Spring came on a Tuesday this year, but I was in town and missed it.”

Fall can be brief as well. Some years the leaves turn colour and then a huge wind sweeps through and knocks them off the trees all in the same week.

For all my defensive chatter about needing to live in a place that gets four seasons and not being able to live somewhere warm all year round, we really only have two seasons…winter and summer. Some years it is more like the nine months of winter and three months of poor sledding that is often joked about. But none of that matters now, for we are about to plant a big ole kiss right on summer’s cheek.

Speaking of cheeks, I once read your garden is ready for planting when you’d be comfortable setting a bare butt cheek on your soil. If I followed that adage I might never plant my garden (!) but I get the wisdom behind it. If your soil feels comfortably warm against your own sensitive skin, then it will be comfortable against the seed’s skin too. I just went out to test the soil (with my hands) in my raised beds and the soil is still a bit cool to the touch, but I am sure it will be warm enough in a day or two.

You can always speed things along with a cold frame or a sheet of poly to get your soil up to a comfortable temperature. Some people have quite deep raised beds and can afford to leave a few inches between the soil surface and the top of the bed frame. This allows room for an easy and instant cold frame simply by laying a sheet of greenhouse coroplast over the top of the bed and weighing it down with bricks. Be sure to remember to remove or at least vent during warm days to avoid frying the plants though! Having extra top space also offers side shelter for baby transplants, with the walls around it acting as a windbreak.

My own raised beds are only a foot deep, so I don’t have enough space. I need to fill them right to the brim. It is still possible to build cold frames that set over top with fancy lids and the whole shebang and we may do that one day. In the meantime, ahem, I have also rented a few deep beds over at the school which look like they are filled to perfection for easy covering.

All the elementary schools in our city have installed gardens in recent years, with beds reserved for the school, students and a few extra for the community besides. It’s a wonderful thing. It is ran by the wonderful people at NEAT (Northern Environmental Action Team). Last I heard, they still had a few beds available at some of the schools as well as at their main community garden, so contact them soon if you’re interested.

The school is a two minute walk from our house, so when I heard there were beds available for rent I couldn’t resist. I am ashamed to admit that at first I hesitated and not because I already have a garden. I was worried the garden would be vandalized or my produce would be stolen by the kids who frequent the playground over the summer.

I was busy thinking of what sort of things I could grow that wouldn’t hold any appeal for the little thieves, when I caught myself. It was like I suddenly stepped outside my own body and started observing my own thoughts. It wasn’t pretty. What kind of person was I ageing my way into being? Why would I even think the children would want to steal anything? A vision of me chasing some poor little kids across the playground while waving a hoe over my head, popped into mind. Good Lord.

What if, instead of being a pessimistic garden grinch, I thought of things I knew kids might like, planted them on purpose and encouraged them to pick things? I imagined growing peas, carrots, strawberries, cherry tomatoes and purple dragon beans (just so I could tell kids the bean’s name should the opportunity arise). Maybe I would add some herbs like lemon balm and lavender for them to pinch off and smell.

I imagined kids eating out of my garden, relishing the sight, the smell and the taste. Maybe one day they would look back on that summer and credit raiding that old lady’s garden at their school with instilling a love of growing and eating fresh vegetables. Maybe they would go on to do something super botanical that would save the world. Or maybe they would simply go on to plant a garden of their own. That would be reward enough.

The thought of growing a garden for the purpose of sharing, instead of hoarding it all for myself, caused my green grinchy heart to grow three sizes that way.

We will see how it goes. And grows. All I know for sure is I am now feeling grateful for the opportunity to be part of our community garden, grateful for my garden at home and crazy grateful for summer!

Everything’s Coming Up Radishes

Everything’s coming up radishes…and peas and potatoes and shallots and onions and beets and lettuce. So much growing on and that’s just in one little red box! My square of beets are a bit of a mess. So many here, so few there…I may try carefully moving some about.

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Overall, things are growing well at the gardens. And I am learning some lessons about community in the process.

The other night I drove down to the garden to water. Upon arriving, I was secretly pleased to find no one else there. I sighed in contentment, looking forward to some solo watering time.

I had just finished uncoiling the garden hose and dragging it over to the boxes when a father showed up with his young daughter. The little girl was fairly leaping in the air with enthusiasm. I told them to go ahead and water their garden first, hoping they would then leave so I could carry on with my watering in solitude. Don’t judge me.

After they finished the little girl asked if she could water my garden and, of course, I told her that would be wonderful. She flew about spraying water here and there with unabated joy.

I’ll just water it properly after they leave, I told myself as I smiled and thanked the girl for all her help.

“You can leave if you like,” the father said unexpectedly. “We’ll put away the hose.”

The conversation that followed went something like this.

Me “No, no, I’ll do it. You’ve helped enough.”

Him “No, I insist.”

Me “That’s okay, I’ll finish up.”

Him “No, no, we’ll put the hose away. You can just go.”

What could I do? There was nothing for it. I left.

At first (did I already say don’t judge me?) I was a bit annoyed. But as I drove home I thought about that beautiful little girl helping me with my garden and I had to smile. It is a wonderful thing to see a young person taking an interest in gardening. It’s even more wonderful to see a young father taking time out of his busy day to encourage that interest. I hope to see them at the gardens again.

And that, dear Shannon, is what community gardening is really about.

And here I was thinking it was about deeply watered carrots. Pffft. Amateur.

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A Loss and A Gain

 

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Kale harvested from our balcony just days before it all went wrong

 

When I finished planting up the pots on our deck we had upwards of forty ranging in size from six inches to a couple feet across. For awhile all was green, growing and great. And then on July 2nd it all came to an abrupt halt.

I was on the phone and Darcy was heading off to the recycling depot when he opened our apartment door and discovered a letter on the carpet. He read the contents, came over to where I was sitting at my desk talking to my mother, set the letter down in front of me and, well, fled.

I don’t blame him.

The letter was from our strata stating that neighbours had witnessed some overflow from the pots on our deck and noted some staining on the side of the building that they suspected was coming from our pots. The head of the strata were giving us 48 hours notice before coming to inspect our deck. If the problem continued we would be fined $200 for every week that the overflow/staining continued.

I went numb. I hung up the phone, went down to our storage locker in the basement and pulled out our hand trolley. When Darcy returned the elevator doors opened to our floor and there I was on the other side with the first load of pots loaded up and ready to go.

So you’re just going to get rid of them all? Darcy asked.

Every last one, I replied.

The tone of my voice and the look on my face did not encourage discussion. In silence we emptied the deck and loaded up the pickup. It took two trips. I told Darcy to leave them outside the gate at our store for people to take. Knowing I was not in my right mind, he loaded them onto pallets and forklifted them to a corner of the lumber yard where they ended up spending the summer offering up snacks of kale, beans and tomatoes to all who worked there.

When the strata arrived two days later the deck was barren. They were aghast.

“All those beautiful plants! You didn’t need to take them all off. We just needed to find out what was going on,” they said.

Yes, it is possible I may have slightly overreacted. The thing is there is no overhang, so when it rains it is impossible to control the moisture hence overflow. It was a problem I should have taken into consideration from the start.

Later, after they had cleaned off the siding, we were told that the substance was sticky and more like an adhesive used in construction and they weren’t even sure it had anything to do with our pots. I was pretty sure the source was a few of my larger pots that I had added sheep manure to. That would explain why it was such a dark brown. It was a lesson in what not to put in balcony pots. They were not convinced. It was kind of funny (not in the beginning, but much later) that I was arguing that it was my fault, while they were arguing that it wasn’t. Either way, it was done. The container garden experiment was over. The pots were gone.

That was my loss.

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Looking forward to gardening here this summer…

The gain came in September when I visited the community gardens. I had considered getting a plot there last spring, but the idea of only getting a measly 4 X 8 box to garden had seemed too small to bother with. I wasn’t so sure anymore. The pots at the store had worked okay, but they were always in the way and a pain for everyone to work around. The situation had been less than ideal. Even a 4 X 8 box would be better than nothing.

When I arrived at the community gardens I was impressed by how many vegetables the growers had managed to get out of each box. I eyed a few empty boxes with hope and wondered how long the waiting list would be. When I got home I phoned, and to my delight I was told that I could definitely have a box for 2016.

“There’s no real limit,” the organizer informed me. “You could even have two if you wanted.”

Just like that my garden for 2016 had magically been handed to me and doubled in size. I mulled over the words “there’s no real limit” all the way to her office to pay for my plot. When I arrived I summoned my courage and asked, “Could I have four?”

She was quiet for a beat or two, before admitting there were a couple other gardeners who had four beds each, so she supposed that I could have that many if I really wanted to.

I really wanted to.

And then, possibly noting the greedy glint in my eye, she firmly added, “But that’s it. No more than four.”

I couldn’t say thank you enough.

That was my gain.

I am now busy planning out my square foot garden and looking forward to meeting all my fellow gardeners.

Never a door shuts, but a window opens.