#2: Babies picking stawberries

Today is Day 2 of 30 days of blog posts about why we love growing our own vegetables (and fruit!)

Reason #2: Picking and eating our own strawberries

Strawberries are one of Nature’s most delectable little creations. I would argue that there is no more perfect a moment than biting into juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberry that you have just plucked from the plant… except perhaps sharing a bowlful of juicy, sun-ripened, non-GMO strawberries that this adorable little toddler has just pluck from the plant! At 20 months of age, our daughter Sophia is an expert strawberry pick-and-eater, and is getting very good at (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) sharing her haul with mummy, daddy and even granny.

It doesn't get any sweeter than this!

It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

Now, I don’t like to brag, but have we got a motha f*ckin’ bumper crop of strawberries this year! You really do want to get invited to dessert at our place.

It has taken two seasons for the strawberry plants to get really well-established in the garden. They spent last year reproducing themselves like crazy; strawberries do this by putting out “runners” that then take root and establish a new plant. I was a bit skeptical about how much fruit our plants would ever produce, given they are located in a spot in the backyard that gets only partial sun, but they really don’t seem to mind. In turn, we don’t mind that the new growth is slowly creeping out of the garden bed and onto the lawn. We are just going to expand the bed to accommodate their search for more sunshine. This spring we spent a lot of time thinning out the plants, moving some of them around and giving some away to friends and family. Then we carefully turned some peat moss and compost into the strawberry patch. They seem to have loved the pampering!

Most importantly, this year we have been very careful to keep our stawbs under cage as soon as we saw the first flower. Without a moment’s hesitation, squirrels will gobble up your entire crop in one sitting… and those little bastards don’t even wait for the fruit to ripen! Last year we made the mistake of waiting until it was too late to protect the plants. This year we are hyper-diligent about keeping the strawberry patch secure. Borrowing some great design ideas from our friend Mark (of PLOTNONPLOT), Ben constructed an 8′x4′ cage to cover the patch, consisting of a wooden support frame and three arcs of salvaged plastic tubing, covered in chicken wire. (You can see it, somewhat out-of-focus, in the photo of Sophia.)

We have two varieties of strawberries growing in the garden. One of them, I am pleased to say (with a bit of a lump in my throat) I dug out of my Mum’s garden back home in Rossland B.C. a few years ago. I’m very happy to be sharing this taste of the Kootenays with little Sophia, who is arguably even sweeter than the strawberries. (awwwwww)

Seedy Saturday! Getting into “garden mode”

Seedy Saturday is happening in Ottawa this Saturday, March 2nd at the Ron Kolbus community centre at Britannia Park. Seed exchange table, organic local farms selling heirloom seeds, free workshops and all kinds of goodies. An organic gardener’s MUST DO to get ready for planting season… check it!

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So I am a bit sheepish to admit this is my first blog post in nearly 6 months, basically since returning back to work. Call me lazy, but I find there is something about working a full-time job and raising a toddler that kind of eats into your “Oh, I think I’ll write a blog post about composting or garbage-picking” time.

Aaaanyway.

Here, I am, back at the computer, after all this time, motivated by the rapidly approaching spring and the need to start planning for indoor and outdoor planting. I know it’s hard to imagine that planting season is almost upon us when we have had such a hardcore winter that we’ve come to call -12 a “mild enough” day. But believe me people, it is almost here. Last year we planted our indoor seeds on March 10th… that’s in, like, only 2 weeks!

Ok, stop panicking (note to self: stop panicking.) Two weeks is a perfectly adequate length of time to plan a garden, provided you know where to start. Shameless self promotion here: If you DON’T know where to start and you’re thinking, after getting a few paragraphs into this post, that maybe you would like to grow some veggies this year, please shoot me an email and I’d love to come by and help out.

It definitely helps to have some experience testing out different seeds when you’re planning out what to grow. I find that with each passing year of experimenting with growing vegetables, I’ve gained a better understanding of what I like growing, how much is not enough/too much to plant, how often to plant, how much water things do/don’t like, what sorts of pests to watch for and how early and how often I can plant something, etc. etc.

I find it really helpful to sit down and make a plan, starting by thinking about what we loved from the last year(s), what we could have done without and what new veggie we’d like to try that we’ve never grown before.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Planting planning! And making a shopping list for Seedy Saturday.

Last year, we introduced Jerusalem artichoke – a definite winner, and I must learn to make a good roasted artichoke soup with them this year. We also planted our two peach and one nectarine trees, which produced a small but outrageously delicious crop of insect-free fruit. We also sprouted a sweet potato indoors and planted the slips… no spuds, but we’ll try again earlier this year! And of course there was the garlic. I still can’t believe it was the first year ever growing our own. We gifted several garlic braids to friends and family and ate garlic like we were living in a Twilight novel. We are definitely growing a lot more of that this year!

The big new thing for me this year is going to be flowers. Namely, medicinal or edible flowers. For starter, to keep it simple, maybe flax, echinacea, camomile, lavender, bee balm, nasturtiums and sunflowers. Other suggestions? I would also really love to get some raspberry and ground cherry bushes going. An old neighbour of mine grew ground cherries here in Ottawa, and they were off-the-hook. Ben and I tried planting some from seed here last year and failed miserably. This year I’ll do a bit more research.

See you at Seedy Saturday!

 

Early Season Planting… Hurry Up and Wait!

Getting the garden going in the spring is always an exercise in patience. The snow melts, then it comes back. The temperature jumps up to 20+ degrees for a few days but then is back down to near freezing. It can be hard to know what should be planted and when, and how to plan for a garden that doesn’t all get planted at the same time.

Several crops can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, and actually prefer to germinate in cool soil, including spinach, radishes, beets, greens, kale and peas.

Sprouted Giant Winter spinach, Jericho romaine lettuce and Early Wonder beets, early May

Sprouted Giant Winter spinach, Jericho romaine lettuce and Early Wonder beets, early May

Here is a list of everything that we planted outdoors in the month of April and the source of the seeds. The items that are in bold are things that we’ve done before that we’ve loved and would recommend:

  • Romaine lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Red Oak leaf lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Curly green leaf lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally plant given by friend)
  • Astro Arugula (seeds harvested from 2012 season, Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Black Seeded Simpson lettuce (Page Seed Co)
  • Giant Winter spinach (Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Rainbow Dinosaur kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Vates Blues Curled kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Red Russian kale (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Plum Purple radish (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Raxe radish (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Atomic Red carrot (Urban Harvest)
  • Scarlett Nantes carrot (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Detroit Dark Red beet (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Early Wonder beet (Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Sugar Snap pea (Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Fordhook Giant swiss chard (Urban Harvest)
  • Sweet Peas flowers (Aimers – bought at Lee Valley)
Plum Purple radish and Sugar Snap peas, early May

Plum Purple radish and Sugar Snap peas, early May

This year we really had our shit together and got our early planting started as soon as the ground was thawed enough to turn over the top 12 inches of soil. But we didn’t just bury the seeds any-old-where in the garden. We planned the early planting with a few things in mind this year – succession planting, crop rotation and interplanting with later season crops.

Succession planting -  Some crops mature quickly, which means that you can/should plant several “batches” of them throughout the growing season to maintain a constant supply of your favourite salad fixin’s! These include lettuce, arugula, spinach, beets and radishes (and carrots to a lesser degree.) Successive rounds of planting can be done every 2-4 weeks for these crops.

This has implications for your first round of planting in the early season; it means that you don’t need to plant all the beets you can eat in one go! Plant some now and more later…  We planted our sunniest garden plot with a small assortment of salad greens, beets and radishes. 2 weeks later, we planted another plot in the garden with radishes and beets. Another round of lettuces will be planted in the coming week. It should be noted, however, that certain crops don’t do well when it gets hot, hot, hot. Spinach and beets will likely not do well when planted into July and August; best to do a couple of plantings in spring and wait for later summer to plant again for fall harvest.

(Tip: The book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew has some extremely helpful and simple planting charts to help plan succession planting. Highly recommended for urban gardening newbies!)

 Crop rotation - Each crop in the garden needs a different balance of mineral nutrients (namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) from the soil. As a result, the soil can become depleted of one or more nutrients when the same crop is planted in the same place year after year. To avoid this, we are doing our best to switch up the location of crops in the garden. For example, cucumbers are nitrogen-suckers! We will be putting cucumbers in a different spot this year and planting beans – a nitrogen-replenisher – in their place. This is an important consideration in the early season as you plan out the location of your crops in the yard and put in some of the longer-growing early season crops such as kale, chard and peas.

Interplanting – This year we are going to dabble much more with interplanting – the art of planting more than one type of crop together in a harmonious and beneficial way. As noted above, we did our first spring planting in the sunniest garden plot, which is also occupied by our garlic, planted last fall. (See previous post Why yes I do have garlic breath.) This sunny spot is primo tomato growing location, so our plan is to interplant tomato seedlings with the early season greens, radishes and beets. As the tomatoes grow and require more space we will be eating the radishes and beets and will thin out the lettuce. In the heat of the summer the few heads of lettuce that remain will enjoy partial shade from the towering tomatoes and (in theory) will not bolt as quickly as lettuce that is exposed to the direct blazing sun… stay tuned to see how that works out!

If you haven’t planted anything yet and are reading this thinking “Aww man, I’ve missed the boat and now it’s too late!” then please stop worrying. You can plant now. Or next week. Just please do plant this spring!

Why yes, I do have garlic breath. Thanks for noticing!

The first thing to come poking through the soil as soon as it thawed this spring was… garlic! This is our first time growing garlic, which is strange because it is one of our kitchen staples. Perhaps it’s because garlic is one of those crops that has to be planted a full two seasons ahead of its harvest; planting is done in mid-autumn (October) for a late-spring harvest (June).

Garlic shoots

Garlic shoots peeking through the soil, early spring.

Ben’s dad, an avid gardener with a kick-ass property south of Ottawa, generously gifted us 12 bulbs of his home-grown garlic for planting – a 4-clove hardneck variety. At four cloves per bulb, we planted a total of 48 garlic cloves, spaced about 4 inches apart, taking up about 14 square feet of garden. After planting we covered the soil with a layer of leaf debris to provide some insulation to the cloves for their long winter sleep.

We chose one of the sunniest garden plots for the garlic since it is the first to thaw in the spring, encouraging the garlic to sprout as early as possible. Since garlic is an early-season crop, this primo sun real estate can be taken over by later-season crops, such as tomatoes, as the garlic is harvested and thinned. In fact, “companion planting” tomatoes with garlic can help to deter pests that may be attracted to your tomato plants.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

We have a seriously obnoxious squirrel population in our backyard, and not yet knowing their tastes for garlic, we opted to protect our dear little bulbs with a couple of simple chicken wire cage boxes. These are very easy to make and consist of a rudimentary square wooden frame (using scrap/rescued wood) with a “tent” of chicken wire stapled to it, weighed down with a few rocks, juuuust in case.

Can’t wait for sweet sweet garlic… breath!