Nothing Is Perfect

I came to an important realization last week.  This was that if I continued to wait until the conditions improved, and the sun shone brightly, and the night temperatures stayed consistent, and it stopped raining constantly... I might not begin my gardening season until it was half over.  My friends, there is no such thing as a perfect Spring, despite what last year afforded us.  Nothing is perfect, and this little fact is one of the things I love most about gardening.

Shit happens, and lots of it.  There is a strong possibility that my seedlings will be munched by the bunny I suspect may be living under my deck.  The weather might stay crappy all summer and cause diseases, rots, mildews and a poor yield.  I might muck everything up myself without outside influence.  But the truth of it is that without risks, there are no rewards - it's in the uncertainty of this activity of growing that lies the joy of it.  

It was with that simple realization in mind that I planted my first 2 veggie beds of the season on Monday, in the pouring rain, with cold-hardy veggies and seeds.  I tied up my old, weather-worn bamboo poles into tripods with twine I found in the shed with chilly, damp fingers covered in clay, and prodded peas into the soil beneath in the hope that they will eventually climb to the top.  I set out my seedlings, having coddled them since early March, into the mucky dirt in the hope that they'll thrive and will eventually form heads of broccoli and stalks of brussels sprouts.  I drew lines into the earth and dropped tiny beet, radish and carrot seeds into the spaces available in the hope that they won't be washed away before they have a chance to germinate.  I constructed a crude little cold frame out of u-shaped bamboo canes and an old plastic drop sheet in the hope that it just might help one bed germinate faster than the other. 

It was cold.  

It was muddy.  

It was messy.

I was happy in every moment of it.  
And I am hopeful.


Diggin' In

New beds were dug last weekend - good thing!

Rain, rain, go away... and take this April snow with you too!  It's a good thing that last weekend was so productive, because this weekend was a disaster!  I started creating brand new veggie beds while the sun was shining last week, and was planning to set out all of the broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks and onions today.  Add to that sowing of some beets, lettuces, radishes and some early carrots and it was promising to be a nice, busy weekend. Hmph - best laid plans, right?

Ah well.  While I'm waiting for the weather to cooperate, here's a look at how my veggie beds are shaping up and how I went about creating them...

The season begins with planning & measuring.
 Starting new garden beds in a lawn can be intimidating.  You look across a perfect sea of green, and it takes a bit of visualization to consider the possibilities.  There are many ways to start a veggie garden, and my plans changed the moment I stuck my spade into the soil.  I had thought that I'd construct raised beds by removing the sod, building cedar boxes out of 2x6 boards and filling in with loads of compost... BUT, I was thrilled to find that beneath the monoculture of my ordinary lawn laid extraordinary native soil.  

My existing soil is lovely, rich and free of toxins or heavy metals.
Oh, the luck!!  It's a lovely clay loam that's rich in colour and easy to work with a shovel.  My friends, it would be criminal not to take advantage of this! I decided that I'd start with 4 beds, each 4' wide by 10' long, separated by 2' of space between them.  I'd turn under the sod, add some additional organic matter, and count myself a lucky gal. 

The sod is turned over with a spade and I worked it in by hand, filling in large air pockets.
It didn't take long to turn the sod over.  I methodically dug a spade-depth down and tossed the sod under, working back and forth across the width of the bed with Arcade Fire providing the soundtrack... not a bad way to burn a few calories!  After all of the sod was loosely turned, I went back over it by hand and with a small trowel, setting the chunks into place and filling in any large air pockets and breaking up the biggest chunks of clay.  Here's what it looked like after that:
The hand-worked soil looked great! 
 At this point, some may think, 'Why the hell didn't you just use a tiller?!'  Hand-turning soil is tough work, and yes, a tiller would have been much easier.  But I think that the easy way isn't always the best way - we're finding that out every day, aren't we?  A motorized rototiller rips up the soil in minutes, but the process is pretty violent.  I'd have obliterated the helpful earthworms that are in the soil (and I saw LOTS of them - a good sign!) and tilling can cause compaction of the sub-soil, which can inhibit healthy root growth over time.  So, I decided to put in the work, save the gas, and now I have beds that will never need to be tilled and will teem with life.  Not a bad deal.

Organic matter like composed manure further improves the soil.
  With the bed turned and ready to rock, I began adding some extra organic matter to further improve the condition and fertility of the soil.  First, I put down a thin layer of newspapers, which I hope will help to inhibit the re-growth of any of the sod.  I watered the paper well, and then topped it off with beautiful, black, composted sheep manure.  

The finished bed, ready for planting!
Finally, I topped off the whole thing with some loose triple-mix, loaded with more organic matter and bonemeal.  The consistency and texture of the new bed is perfect, with well-worked, loose soil that will allow teeny little roots to grow.

One down, three to go.  Lola Mo knows it's not as easy as it looks.
Three more identical beds will run along the fenceline, and Mo Farm will soon be producing some great food.  Starting small like this will allow me to make adjustments and plan carefully for expansion as I go along.  I would have loved to turn under the entire lawn... but I know that this is a smart start!

So, if it ever stops snowing, the next step is seeding and planting beds 1 & 2 with brassicas, onions, lettuces, and root veggies, to start.  Are you in a more fortunate climate than I?  What have you planted so far?

In the near future, I'll share my planning process with you, and discuss the benefit of my 4-bed system.  Until then, happy growing! 

I Picture Myself in Summer

Image borrowed from
I'm making a promise to myself to re-post this on August 19th, when the heat of summer has begun to feel like old news, and I'm tempted to take the smell of sun-warmed honeysuckle for granted.

I picture myself standing barefoot in grass; not soft, but smooth like straw.  The leaves of the tomatoes are fragrant from the late afternoon thunderstorm that shook the trees for fifteen minutes and then departed to wreak it's havoc eastward.  Golden rays now filter onto my face, dappled from the hulking maple in the neighbours' yard.  Beans groan on the trellises, twined thickly and begging to be picked... I know what's for dinner tonight.

Kids shout and throw things in the park across the street.  I can't see them, but their voices carry to my yard in the humid air, and the dog sits up with ears pricked, but doesn't bark.  I bend and pluck halfheartedly at some chickweed in the carrot bed, but at this point in the summer, the plants have won the battle for dominance in the veggie patch and it's little more than idle habit.  The garden is a grand and wild spectacle now, with grasses that talk in the evening breezes and coneflowers in a carnival of pinks and oranges that hum with bees.  As the storm eases further away, the sun strengthens to awaken the cicadas, and their thrumming songs resume in the trees as they whine to one another.

Sweet summer... you're only a breath away.  I ache for your warmth and bounty.  When you return, I'll welcome you with open arms and heart.  

Novella Needs Help

I love Novella Carpenter.  I've never met her, I don't know her personally, but after reading her amazing account of turning an abandoned lot in a bad part of Oakland into a thriving little farm in her book, Farm City, I felt like I knew her.

Well, Novella's in trouble.  If you've been following the saga in the blogs, I'll spare you the details, but basically the city of Oakland is slapping her with a fine for unauthorized use of her land and she needs to purchase a $2500 permit in order to sell her produce, or face shutting down the farm.  With about $2500 being the amount that she makes in a year of selling her surplus in a pop-up stand, you can see the conundrum.  You can read the whole story on her blog here, and if you've got a few extra bucks that you can spare via PayPal, I'm sure it would be appreciated.

Novella is a hero to me, and she's been a source of inspiration to countless thousands of others just like me.  If I can help in any way, you can be damn sure that I will.

A Back-Up Plan

Linda at Tree & Twig Heirlooms will host her annual Tomato Days event on the May long weekend this year.
Everyone needs one, whether for a little bit of insurance in case something happens to your seedlings, or in the case that you read the last post and thought... to hell with that!  If you're not into the idea of growing your own veggies and fruits from seed, there is certainly no reason that you can't get into the fun of having a garden this season.
On the May long weekend, Linda at Tree & Twig Heirlooms will host her annual Tomato Days sale, where unthinkable numbers of tomato seedlings will be available to purchase, along with other started veggies.  I won't be able to resist expanding my collection, but for others, the event presents a unique opportunity to get in on the grow-your-own action and to meet others who want to do the same.
Check out Linda's post on her blog about Tomato Days, and mark it on your calendar!