Monday, 12 March 2012

garden plans

I spent, um, way too much time dreaming and planning and messing around on the computer last week, trying to organize my thoughts and ideas for my garden this year. I haven't done much gardening before; last summer was our first growing season as homeowners, and in previous years I never wanted to invest the energy into gardening in our rental homes. I wish I had, in hindsight- I missed some valuable years of learning opportunity, but I always wanted to own my own land before I started to work it. 
Last year I simply let everything grow, and watched. Watched the sun patterns, watched the dozens of perennial flowers in our yard bloom and fade, bloom and fade. I only knew what a handful of them were; somebody who used to own this house was a real gardening enthusiast and the beds are chalk full of little surprises that pop up one after the other throughout the warm months like a slow, elegant symphony. First the forget-me-nots and tulips, then the flowering almond and lily-of-the-valley, then the lilacs, the day lilies, the hostas and the peonies. Then the poppies and hollyhocks, the daisies and the bleeding heart. And those are just the ones I recognize. There are raspberry bushes, ferns, browallia, violets and a big hydrangea. 
Giving myself a year to leave the garden alone and just "see what was there" before I started messing around was a welcome excuse, because frankly, I was quite intimidated. I know pretty much squat about gardening, though I'm reading as much as I can while the snow flies. My mother always tended multiple beautiful gardens in home we grew up in, and I remember helping her plant annuals and being sent out to the bed by the kitchen to snip chives or parsley for dinner. My sister and I were always tasked with harvesting the red currants in the back bed, where zucchini bigger than my legs grew in a little vegetable patch along with rhubarb and a less-productive black currant bush. Raspberries grew beside the compost pile, and cherry tomatoes and basil grew in pots on the porch. I am so grateful, looking back, for all the unconscious homesteading lessons my mother wove into our lives as children. She never lectured us on the values of raising your own food, but she involved us in the simple joy of it. That was more powerful than any verbal lesson. Those little curly cucumber tendrils gently wove themselves into the fabric of my upbringing, and wound their way around my heart, without me even realizing it. In fact I'm only realizing now, as I write this, that so many of the inner tugs I feel towards certain things and ways were laid there long ago by my parents. It is an astounding personal affirmation of the power of leading your children by example, and consciously crafting a life and home right from the beginning that will nourish their spirits forever. 
Hunter won't be able to help me much this year, but I suspect I'll be toting him on my back a lot as I sow and weed and water, or watching him with one eye roll around on a blanket in the grass. It's just as well, really- give me another year to make lots of mistakes before you try to learn anything from me, baby. 
I'm planning on leaving all the perennials as they are and just cleaning up the beds. The squash patch in the little peninsula garden I started last year, knowing nothing about male and female flowers and proper spacing. I also planted too late, and all I got was a lot of pretty flowers. I'll resow pumpkins in there again this year, or maybe summer squash, a little wiser about their needs this time. 
I want to find some old pallets and make a three-walled compost bin in the back corner. Eventually I'd like a three-compartment system to properly compost in stages, but I think I'll keep it simple this year. I also want to get a rainbarrel to collect rainwater from the eavestroughs for watering. 
The big project (besides all the house renovation plans- new deck and siding, and shed demolition) will be the raised beds. I've planned for three 4 by 4 foot beds, with two or three veggies in each. I also scored a beautiful old storm window from the neighbours across the street; they set it out by their curb and I snagged it about two minutes later. I'm going to try turning that into a cold frame to grow early lettuce in the next few weeks. 
This weekend I'll decide what vegetables to grow. I'm reading Storey's Basic Country Skills section on companion gardening to figure out what species grow well together and which ones are on the outs. This is entirely new to me, the fact that certain vegetables will grow in symbiosis with each other when planted close together, each benefiting from the other in some way. I may also plan to incorporate a few pest-repelling plants like marigolds in amongst the edibles. So much to learn. Composting, mulching, fertilizing, sun exposure, pollinating, spacing, lions, tigers and bears- oh my. 
I have to remind myself to Keep It Simple Stupid. My main goals this year are to produce some food, and learn a lot. I'm not expecting to harvest bushels of produce that will have me canning and freezing a winter's worth of food- when it's time to learn how to preserve, I'll head to the farmer's market and nearby farms for baskets of tomatoes and apples. This year is about laying a solid foundation of basic knowledge, and focusing more on the process than the yield. 
Can I just say- I am so excited! I look at my seed trays every day and practically have to sit on my hands to keep myself from starting my seeds already. Especially with this unusually warm weather tricking us into thinking it's time to get things going. Hopefully the cold frame project will soothe the itch until it's really time to start sprouting indoors in April. 

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