Welcome 2022

It has been over a year and a half since I last posted, but I needed the time to just learn how to be on my own again.

As I begin this year I have set some goals for myself. One is to get back on track with this blog and website. It has been neglected for far too long.

Second is to stay consistent on my other website. I have been publishing weekly blog posts and my readership has increased, which makes me happy.

Third, I just want to enjoy what life has to offer. Summer 2020 was a major challenge for me but I got through it, and built a deck almost all on my own; simply because it was something Ross and I had talked about and I needed something to do. Summer 2021 had its own set of challenges, with the almost zero rainfall and wasps that kept me inside. Here’s hoping Summer 2022 is better in that regard.

Now that I’m moving forward in life, let me tell you about the few things I have done since May 2020.

As mentioned, I built a deck onto our house; a project that was supposed to be ours since travel was out of the question. (Damn COVID.) I may have built it a little bigger than we had talked about, but I’m happy with the result. When the package was delivered I took one look at the pile of lumber and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” After some googling I found some information I could work with, and proceeded to mark out dimensions.

Fast forward to September 2020 (I started it in July, after we had Ross’s Memorial Service and family get-together) and the deck was done. Aside from a little help from my daughter, my son’s girlfriend, and a friend, the majority of it was done by me. And I only bled once when I cut my leg with the handsaw (no stitches required, just a band-aid). Finished size: upper level 8′ X 20′ and the lower level is 16′ X 24′.

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After taking a Leave of Absence from my library position after Ross passed away, I handed in my resignation at the end of September. I decided I could manage on my savings and some life insurance; a choice I’m glad I made. I did the occasional writing gig, and made some sales on Etsy that helped pay some bills.

I invested in a snowblower so I could do most of my own snow removal. My father-in-law did use his tractor and plow a couple of times, which was appreciated. The downside to it all was we didn’t get near the snow we should have, which led to a very dry spring and even drier summer.

Summer 2021 was spent tending to my raised beds (I built two more with the help of my daughter), camping with a friend, and fighting off the wasps when I was outside. I made a self-watering planter and filled it with herbs and put it on my deck. It was nice to have fresh herbs right outside my door. I have plans to build at least one more this summer for more herbs.

Photo above was taken March 19, 2021, just after my daughter and I put my new outdoor furniture together.

The yard changes continued in November when I hired an arborist and his crew to take down some dying poplars, Manitoba maples, and a very overgrown caraganna hedge. I now have somewhat of a view from my office window, and a winter view of the field north of my house. When spring rolls around the row of young caragannas will fill in and I’ll no longer be able to see the field, but that’s okay. I do plan on having the crew back to get rid of some other dying trees, but that will have to wait until my budget allows.

And now here I am, with the first two weeks of 2022 already gone. As I anticipate a summer filled with more rain and less wasps, I have plans to plant some roses, build an arbor, and create a living fence around the firepit. My goal is to publish at least two blog posts per month, and add more articles to the website as well. Life does go on, and moving forward is something we must do no matter what life has handed us.

Oh, and my houseplant collection has grown considerably as well. I’m seriously thinking about adding on a 4-season sunroom to let in more light and give my bigger plants a better home. Did I mention the only south-facing windows I have are my office and where my dining room table sits?

I am excited to be back on track, and am even more excited to share my gardening experience and knowledge with you.

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So Many Projects; So Little Time

Oh my! Where has the time gone?

Oh wait! I know!

Spring is finally here and I have been taking full advantage of it. I have my greenhouse frame in progress, the Hugelkultur bed almost ready for planting, my asparagus and rhubarb planted, and the holes dug for my raspberry bushes. We have also cut down some dying branches in the yard, and enjoyed our first fire Saturday evening.

Whew! Just looking back at all we have done is making me tired, but all that still needs to be done is more overwhelming. However, I have decided to cut back on the number of raised beds I build this year because I want to see how the Hugelkultur one performs first. I’ll be utilizing smaller planters, recycling some old tires, and am going to attempt a couple of self-watering containers. I think the latter will be ideal for peppers and some salad ingredients.

Another addition we have planned this summer is a deck. I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy the sun and shade without the danger of a garter snake slithering past my feet. Just the thought of them makes me shudder. (The fear of them goes back for as long as I can remember.) I haven’t quite decided if I want to plant climbing roses or grapes by the deck though. Or perhaps an espalier fruit tree.

The photos below show the progress of my 4 X 16 foot Hugelkultur bed, which will have a permanent home inside the greenhouse. As you can see the framework has not been covered with plastic yet, but hopefully I will get it done by mid-month. It needs a little more reinforcing and anchoring, then the plastic can be added. I firmly believe I’ll have to get up before the birds one morning (groan) and put on the plastic while it’s calm. (Can you tell I’m not a morning person?)

After I filled the bed, I laid weed barrier down around it to try and keep the grass and thistles down. The soil was brought in from the garden so hopefully some earthworms hitched a ride in the bucket as well. The soil settled considerably when I watered it so I will have to top it up before I plant in it. I’ll give it a few days to settle a little more, then top it up. By that time I should have the plastic on the frame and I can class it as a real greenhouse.

In the last photo you can see the black strip of ground beyond the frame. That is where I planted my asparagus, rhubarb, and also where the raspberry bushes are going. We won’t be harvesting any rhubarb or asparagus until 2022, but I’m looking forward to getting a few raspberries this summer. I’m also quite tempted to transplant a saskatoon tree to see how well it does. We have several along the road just south of our driveway, but they are quite difficult to get to. It would be great to have one in the yard.

I’m quite excited to transform our yard into the vision I have, even though it’s going to take longer than I’d like. I do suppose since Rome wasn’t built in a day I shouldn’t expect our yard to be either.

Have you tried the Hugelkultur method of raised bed gardening? Let me know in the comment section below.

Thanks, and happy gardening!

Planting to Save Space and Grow More Food

Much of Canada is still under a blanket of snow but that’s not stopping me from thinking of warmer days. In fact, it’s the dreaming of warmer days that are getting me through. I have to admit, I’ve about had enough of winter.

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Introduction

The little tips and tricks used to get more bang for your buck (or in this case, more food).

Compact Gardening

As someone who has had gardens of different sizes over the years, I prefer the more compact ones. My reasons are two-fold.

Firstly, saving space is a big concern for anyone who has limited real estate. I am a big fan of Square Foot Gardening (a method designed by Mel Bartholomew) because it serves more than one purpose.

  • Space Saver. His method encourages close planting. In his book he states, “most gardeners are not farmers”. We don’t have tractors and big equipment to get between the rows to keep the weeds down. As a gardener who has spent countless hours trying to get a handle on the weeds after several rainy days, I am with him one hundred percent.
  • Better soil aeration. Anyone who has had a traditional row garden will know the consequences of walking between the rows, especially after a rain. You sink into the soil and it is no longer light and fluffy; it’s compacted with every step. That’s not healthy for the roots because it inhibits air circulation and encourages drowning in wet conditions. And if your soil is mostly clay, you’re just asking for trouble. (Ask me how I know.)
  • Less weeds. I have to admit, this is my favourite part of this method of gardening. I hate weeding, especially when the weeds are more prolific than my crops. That in itself has caused me to throw my hands in the air, say a few choice words, and walk away. Of course, that didn’t solve anything, but it did make me feel better for a few minutes.

Secondly, a bumper crop is more easily achieved. That’s what I have found in my experience anyway. The reasoning for a better crop not only comes from what I mentioned earlier, but also because there’s less chance of the plants being stressed.

The water doesn’t evaporate as quickly, the close proximity of the plants inhibits weed growth (and any weeds that do start to grow are usually spindly and easy to pull), and by companion planting more can be grown in the small area.

What is Companion Planting?

Planting vegetables, fruits and flowers together helps them benefit from each other. For example, planting runner beans at the base of sunflowers not only saves space but it also provides a natural “pole” for them to climb. A little tidbit on this strategy though: give the sunflowers a head start, or else the beans will soon be too tall for the “poles”. (Yep, you guessed it; I did NOT do that the first time.)

Planting flowers amongst the vegetables will also attract the pollinators. Sometimes they need to be bribed to come to the garden, especially if it’s a new one. I’m going to be ‘bribing’ more bees and other good bugs this year since I’m changing where my vegetables are going to be planted.

Other plants are pest-deterrent, such as onions, garlic, marigolds, and nasturtiums (all of the above are edible by the way). With the method explained in Mel’s book, no matter where in a block you plant it’s close enough to be beneficial.

When I first implemented this method of gardening, I made sure I had at least one square of marigolds in each section to help keep the mosquitoes away. I would brush my hand along the flowers as I walked by to release whatever it is in them that deters the mosquitoes.

One thing I did learn (the hard way of course) was to NOT plant a watermelon and zucchini in the same bed. Funny story: I was super excited when fall came along and my watermelon was almost the size of a football (but more oval). My mouth was watering just thinking of how good that watermelon would be. Imagine my dismay when I cut into the watermelon to find it the same colour as the zucchini.

Lesson learned: they cross pollinated and I had an oval zucchini and a regular zucchini. Aside from the outside, nothing resembled a watermelon. Now I have yet to figure out just how far apart I should plant the two so it doesn’t happen again, but I will say eight feet is too close. Maybe this year I’ll try again but with a much bigger distance between the two.

Succession Planting

In the SFG method, new crops can be planted in squares which have been harvested. The key to remember is to not plant the same type of vegetable, otherwise you’ll most likely end up with soil-borne diseases. This is known as crop rotation, just like the farmers do when they plant their fields year after year.

By filling in the squares with plants you have waiting in the wings you’ll be utilizing your growing space. Not only will you not end up with blocks of weeds, you’ll be producing a lot more food per season. I have harvested radishes, then planted tomato plants in that spot. I essentially was able to get two completely different crops out of one square, where in a traditional garden I would have had separate rows for each.

Interplanting

Interplanting works well in this method. For example, a pepper plant can be put in the middle of a square because it needs twelve inches of space when it’s mature. Adding some radishes or lettuce in the same square will utilize the soil and space. By the time the pepper has grown enough to fill in the space your radishes and lettuce will have been harvested and enjoyed.

Remember the sunflower and bean example I used earlier? That’s a perfect example of interplanting. Another is to plant vining crops on the north-most side of your garden bed and install a support, such as a trellis. Lower crops can then be planted in the front part of those squares. For example, cucumbers for climbing and say, lettuce to help shade the roots.

In-ground or Raised Beds?

In Mel’s book he shows the system in place in an in-ground format. I have tried it and it does work well. However, with that being said, using raised beds also works well for anyone with mobility issues. Sometimes it’s not easy to get back up after being on your knees for any length of time. And if you have bad knees or a bad back, you’re not doing yourself any favours by subjecting yourself to injury.

Raised beds is my preferred method, and for more than just the safety aspect of it. The soil heats up sooner in the spring so you can begin gardening sooner. And to extend the harvest, you can easily add hoop houses to each bed. (I’ll be talking more about hoop houses in a future post.)

When I had my raised beds several years ago, they were only a few inches high. That was fine for the warming aspect, but it would still be too low for the ease-of-access aspect. My goal this year is to build my garden beds almost waist-height to make planting, maintaining and harvesting easier on my knees and back. I don’t consider myself old, but my body sure feels it.

The options for raised beds are becoming more readily available, and easier to build. The key to remember is to use pressure treated lumber and not chemically infused (such as railroad ties). The best option is to use naturally rot-resistant wood such as cedar, but that can become quite pricey if making several beds.

Granted, by using the Square Foot Gardening method, less really is more.

In Conclusion

Planting a huge garden isn’t necessary when you know the tricks to get more produce from a smaller space. Saving water, time and energy by compact gardening will give you more time to stop and smell the flowers. Stay tuned for how you can design your garden beds to accommodate relaxation features as well as being practical.

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