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It’s okay to clear the garden and start again

| gardening

Around this time each year, with the heat of summer sending the lettuce to seed and sending us indoors, I usually fall out of love with gardening. I don’t feel like cooking, so the herbs go unharvested. The lettuce, spinach, and other greens bolt, going bitter and sending up more flowers than I can pinch off.

Having neglected to harvest as much as I could have, I tell myself I’ll just let them go to seed so that I can collect and replant those seeds. But then the garden becomes dry, overgrown, and scraggly, and slugs and other pests decimate the leaves. Only the tomatoes keep me interested throughout the season. If I’m lucky, I remember the rest of the garden in time to plant lettuce and peas for the fall.

This year, I’m trying something different. Seeds are inexpensive and plentiful. Instead of waiting for my lettuce to go to seed, I’ll simply pull them up and start new plants. This keeps the garden feeling more orderly, and gives me more sprouting to enjoy and look forward to. Maybe I’ll even walk to the florist at the corner and buy more seedlings to take advantage of the warmth and sun. Maybe beets or zucchini? I’m clearing a few squares at a time so that I can stagger the planting and keep things manageable. Perhaps the rest of the lettuce and the peas will have fully developed their seeds by the time I get around to pulling them up. I think this will be better than waiting for the whole box to finish. At least I’ll always have something on the go.

Someday, when I’m more of a gardener–perhaps when I have heirloom variants that are hard to find and easy to enjoy–I’ll look into saving seeds again. In the meantime, I’m still working on developing that summer-long habit of gardening, and I enjoy the exciting days of sprouting.

Where else in my life am I letting things go to seed unnecessarily? What else would benefit from pulling things up and starting fresh? Sewing, perhaps. I have a lot of scraps and patterns I haven’t looked at or used. Writing, too – lots of snippets and outlines that I haven’t fleshed out. Sometimes it’s good to clear things out and start again (perhaps with a smaller goal, perhaps with more deliberate attention). That way, the remnants of past decisions don’t weigh down enthusiasm.

How about your garden? How about your life?

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The garden is becoming part of my daily life

| gardening

I’m in the garden almost every day. Almost 40 hours in total since the beginning of April. It’s my new favourite transition activity before dinner. I plant, water, pick off bugs. I’m beginning to learn what leaves feel like when they haven’t gotten enough water and when they have. The oregano, mint, cilantro, basil, and lettuce are growing much better than they did in previous years. None of the snow peas have made it indoors yet, since I’ve been eating them off the vine. The tomatoes, zucchini, winter melons, and bitter melons haven’t hit their stride yet, but maybe during the hotter months.

I like filling the salad spinner with cut-and-come-again leaves. I should let some of the plants go to seed so that I can collect them for the next batch, but it’s too tempting to snip off the flowers in order to keep the current batch going. I planted a salad mix, so I have no idea what some of these are. I know bok choy, spinach, arugula. Peppery and red-veined? Probably beet greens. I’m relying on frequency here. If there’s a lot of a type of plant, it grows in a somewhat regular formation, and I don’t already conclusively know it’s a weed, it’s probably okay to eat. So far, so good.

I have salad every other day or so. Today I had three small bowls of salad all by myself (W- had the other bowl). I shook up a quick Asian-style dressing in a small mason jar and sprinkled sesame seeds on top. We don’t normally buy those boxes of salad mix, since I feel guilty about not finishing them before they have to go. If it’s still growing, I don’t mind, although I try to harvest leaves before the slugs and leaf-miners get to them.

The salad garden is doing so much better this year compared to last year. Frequent watering and frequent harvesting, that’s probably the ticket. I should make pesto this week. Maybe Wednesday. Basil likes being harvested often, too. =) I’ve been picking flowers off every day, but there are definitely enough leaves here to make a good-sized batch of pesto.

Nom nom nom nom nom…

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In the garden

| gardening

The garden is doing pretty well. We have salad every other day or so, and I’m constantly thinking of recipes to use the herbs before they totally take over the garden. =)

  • Various leafy greens, with tomatoes and peas in the background

    Various leafy greens, with tomatoes and peas in the background

  • The strawberries are tiny

    The strawberries are tiny

  • Garlic, other herbs

    Garlic, oregano, mint

  • The cilantro towers over the other herbs

    The cilantro towers over the other herbs in this planter

  • Thai basil is pretty dense

    Thai basil is pretty dense

  • The sweet basil is quite happy, too

    The sweet basil is quite happy, too

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More gardening notes

Posted: - Modified: | gardening

The weather has been warm and sunny. The other week, we bought bags of compost from Home Depot and seedlings from the corner store. Bitter melon, basil, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, dill… The lettuce and bok choy we started from seeds have been doing okay too. I can tell them apart from the weeds. Yay!

I’ve been turning the compost heap every week, too. Things are breaking down slowly. Maybe we’ll get a chance to use it by next year. Perhaps we should’ve kept a few bags of leaves back, for a second round of compost this year.

2014-05-17 Gardening day

2014-05-17 Gardening day

Mrs. W2 (who has an amazingly productive vegetable garden up the street) gave us some of her surplus choy seedlings last weekend. So exciting! I planted them, and now the main box (4’x12′) is full.

I’m still figuring out watering. We’re regrowing the grass on the boulevard, so I’ve been watering that frequently. The internet recommends twice-daily for a few weeks. As for the other plants… I’m learning to test the soil. The soil for basil shouldn’t dry out, and blueberries are like that too. Too much water for tomatoes results in blossom-end rot and splits; the Internet recommends 2-3 times a week, checking that soil is moistened 6-8″ down. Lavender is drought-tolerant and doesn’t like soggy roots. For sorrel, I should check the first inch of soil for moisture, and water if it’s dry. So much to remember!

2014-05-23 Gardening - Things to learn more about or try

2014-05-23 Gardening – Things to learn more about or try

I’ll get the hang of this eventually… =)

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Started gardening – April 2014

Posted: - Modified: | gardening

The weather finally warmed up last weekend. W- and I raked the back yard, and I started planting seeds that would likely survive just in case we get another frost. Spinach, peas, lettuce… I don’t know how well the seeds will do, but I want to get things growing again. I can’t grow anything indoors because the cats love nibbling on greens, so I’ll just have to buy my tomato and basil starts from the garden centres. In the meantime, though, I can experiment with seeds.

The soil feels better now than the sandy mix we started with, although there’s always room for improvement. We’ve added lots of compost to it over the years – mostly manure, but there was a year that our compost heap was active enough to steam. Toronto gives away leaf compost every Saturday, so we might check that out too. We’re thinking about ordering compost in bulk this year instead of getting bagged manure from the store. I’ll probably put in the compost around the time that we clear out the peas and get started with tomatoes, so I can get some sprouts going while waiting to sort all of that out.

What am I going to change this year? Here are my notes from October 2013:

Gardening notes

I changed my mind about irrigation. I think I’ll start by hand-watering the plants. It’s not that hard to do, and I’ve marked the rows a little more clearly now so I know what to expect. I probably won’t pay for a landscaping or gardening company. Maybe I can share more notes on our garden and ask folks for tips. I’m looking forward to growing more greens and herbs, and giving bitter melon yet another shot.

I planted the first batch of seeds this weekend, going through many of the leftover seeds from 1-2 years ago. After all, the seeds aren’t going to get any fresher, so I may as well plant them and see what sticks. Some of them germinate in a week, so let’s see if there’ll be any progress.

Yay growing things! (Well, eventually. =) )

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Gardening plans for 2014

Posted: - Modified: | gardening, plans

The weather has really cooled down. W- turned off the water outside so that the pipes and hoses don’t freeze, and we’re letting the plants ride out the rest of the season before putting everything to bed. I have some garlic that I want to plant, although last year’s batch didn’t do too well. Anyway, here are my plans for gardening next year:

Gardening notes

I’m going to focus on the center box. Irrigation will be more expensive than watering by hand, but it will let me be more consistent while I focus on building habits around weeding, planting, and harvesting. If things go well, I can branch out to other boxes. Doesn’t make sense to add more growing areas – even a box on our much sunnier deck – until I can get the basics sorted out.

The box that I’m planning to plant in gets about 3-4 hours of dappled afternoon sun, which isn’t much. Maybe some of the greens will work well. The eternal optimist in me will keep giving bitter melons a try, since W- really likes them and there was that one season where they nearly took over the garden.

I met with Alex of Young Urban Farmers recently. The company offers garden coaching, so we might go for that since the feedback cycle for growing is just sooooo long. Alternatively, anyone in Toronto up for getting together and swapping notes? The Internet is great, but it’s hard to troubleshoot things that you don’t recognize or have the words for, and I have a feeling I don’t even know what I’m missing. =)

Update 2013-11-08: More plans!

2013-11-08 More garden plans for 2014

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Gardening review: 2013

| gardening

gardening

We’ve been readying the garden for winter. The blueberries in the front yard have already changed into their fall colours. I’ve trimmed the lavender back so that it won’t get too scraggly next year. I’ve pulled up all the basil and processed the leaves for pesto. I removed the rest of the tomato flowers to encourage the remaining tomatoes to ripen. I harvested the spring onions and froze them, chopped, on a cookie tray. I pulled up all the carrots (a couple of decent-sized ones and a handful of tiny ones). I’m waiting for the rest of the tomatoes to ripen and for us to finally feel like eating lettuce, and then we’re probably done for the season.

What worked well this year?

  • The spring onion cuttings grew really well. Instead of planting starters, I simply saved the last inch or so of the green onions that we bought for cooking. I grew them in a ramekin of water, and then moved them out into the garden once the roots were established. Free spring onions for the rest of the season!
  • The cherry tomatoes were great to snack on. Whenever I passed the garden cage to or from the shed, I raided the plants for a couple of ripe tomatoes if some happened to be within reach. (Or sometimes, even if they were harder to get to.) Sweet and juicy!
  • The carrots were an interesting experiment. Most of the carrots were really small because I planted them late (and in a box that we weren’t really tending because it ended up taking the overflow of the limestone screenings), but they leafed up nicely and some of them actually grew to a decent size. Next time, I’ll overrule W- and save the carrot tops for stock or other things instead of composting them. =)

Things that didn’t work so well:

  • It turns out that I’m not particularly keen on eating lettuce.
  • Many of the plants in the more shaded area didn’t get around to setting fruit.
  • I didn’t water the plants as regularly as I probably should have. Next time, I should stop wondering about the weather forecast and regularly schedule some time to give the plants a good soak.
  • The dwarf peas grew only halfway up the strings. Maybe a regular variety next time, and sugar snap peas for extra crunchiness…
  • We realized we weren’t using the lean-to greenhouse, so we gave it away.

Next year:

  • I want to grow tomatoes and basil again, although I might need to move these around to avoid pests or blight.
  • I’d like to have planter boxes up next year. We skipped them this year because W- was working on the deck, so I didn’t end up using the bag of potting soil that we bought. The basil grew really well in the planter boxes last year.
  • I’m going to keep giving bitter melon / kerala a try, maybe with more sun. Ever the optimist!
  • I’ll grow carrots along the borders. They look pretty.
  • I want to cook with more herbs.

We gave the strawberries a rest this year, although a couple of them decided to “volunteer” in the back garden. I saw a little sage plant growing too. I transplanted it to the opposite side of the garden so that we’ll have sage growing there too, although I don’t know how established it will get before winter.

The house gets very little light and we have cats who like munching on plants, so I don’t think I’ll be able to start plants from seed before the last frost. I could set up the spare room with lights, but it’s carpeted, so that can be messy. Although it’s more expensive to buy starter plants and the selection is smaller, the tomatoes and basil that we bought did really well, and I don’t mind doing that again next year.

I’m getting better at recognizing weeds versus regular plants. Yay!

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