My current garden is only about two and a half years young. We inherited it from the previous owners in a serious state of neglect; overgrown with weeds (ugh, bind weed!), diseased and unpruned trees, and overgrown, wild beds with dead, compacted soil. It was a mess but it was full of potential. It could only get better!
When we moved in, I was pregnant with a toddler, so I began in earnest. I have completed most of the work since last spring. I know it's going to take years before it evolves into the microfarm/potager that I envision. I need some flexibility as my garden takes shape so I have put in extra effort into making the most of raised beds and container gardening. Our raised beds are constructed such that they can be lifted and moved when emptied of soil. I also have over two dozen large upcycled nursery pots in which I grow everything from arugula to apple trees. These pots generally range in size from 5 to 25 gallons, though I have two HUGE ones (3'Hx5'W) that were used to grow bamboo.
I use the 20 to 25 gallon pots for growing fruit trees. The size of these pots are large enough that they have enough room to develop a strong root system but not too large so that the trees put more energy into developing roots and foliage rather than fruit. Some degree of constriction is helpful in encouraging the trees to set fruit. They are all planted in a soil that is tailored to tree growth; the consistency is similar to garden bed soil mixed with bark mulch. You can likely buy a shrub and tree mix at a nursery.
This is a temporary solution. It allows me to grow productive fruit trees and grow them to a size that will allow me to expand my mini (i.e. seven tree) in-ground orchard in the future. Given the size of the pots and the growth rate of the trees, this should give me about three years before they'll need to go into the ground. I anticipate that my garden will have changed a great deal up to that point. Right now, I can move them around the garden to protect them from the elements and to chase the sun. I can find their 'sweet spot' before I ultimately put them in the ground. If I let them outgrow their pots, I risk needing to replace the trees, so I'll have to keep my eye on them.
I currently have two mature fruit trees (unidentified cherry and asian pear) in my garden which were severely neglected when we moved in. They are in a state where not even a pruning 'rehabilitation' will rescue them and they are showing signs of distress and disease. If (or, likely, when) they come out, I'll be able to replace them quickly with other sizable fruit trees.
You might be wondering what trees am I currently growing in containers. Like any other specimen in the garden, I chose varieties that I enjoy and are suited for my climate. I also selected them for their root stock, where applicable. The root stock is the root system to which the tree is grafted and this determines it's ultimate size. Here's what I have growing:
So, why plant trees in containers?
It’s no secret to those closest to me. I don’t like to spend a lot of money. I don’t need shiny, new, expensive things to be happy. I shop second-hand, peruse clearance racks, clip coupons, and pore over flyers. No name? No problem. I love generic and I love a good deal.
All that said, this does of course apply to gardening as well. There’s a lot that you can do without a thick wallet. It is dizzying the amount of money that you can spend very quickly in your outdoor spaces, especially when someone else does it for you.
With some shortcuts, hopefully you can find you way to the garden of your dreams without breaking the bank.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're no stranger to wet, cold weather. We try not to let that deter us from getting out in the garden, even in January. We like to play outside but we also like to be snuggly warm. No matter how active you are outside, little fingers get cold fast. Gloves don't work particularly well for kids since they get their hands wet so quickly and they need the fine motor movements of their fingers to play.
My solution is simple AND free! Before I head outside, I boil my kettle and fill my cool/room-temperature dutch oven with some small landscape rocks. I pour the boiling water over the rocks to warm them up and I put the lid back on. With a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon, you can pull the rocks out as needed. I set the rocks on the lid to cool down if necessary. When they are the right temperature, the kids can hold them in their hands to warm up or they can put them in their pockets to stay use as needed. They can also rest their hands on the side of the pot if it has reached a comfortable temperature. The kids really love doing this!
So, in summary, these are the steps:
1) Boil a kettle with hot water. DO NOT BOIL THE WATER IN THE DUTCH OVEN.
2) Add several small river rocks to a cold or room-temperature dutch oven.
3) Fill about 2 inches of water in the dutch oven, covering the rocks.
4) Add a couple of drops of essential oils (optional).
5) Replace lid and get a pair of tongs for removing the rocks, then head outside.
6) Rest rocks on the lid to cool to optimal temperature for holding.
7) Put the rocks in hands or pockets. Rest hands on dutch oven if it is a safe temperature.
8) Repeat! Stay nice and toasty.
For a really special treat, add a drop or two of essential oil in the hot water to have a wonderful waft of your favourite scent as you open the lid. I've used pine essential oil and it's a real wintery pick-me-up.
Oh, and a thermos of hot chocolate is always a good idea!
Eco-Anxiety?? Grow a garden.
So one of the driving forces behind my unfolding suburban homesteading lifestyle, is healthier living. Healthier for me, healthier for my family, and healthier for the planet. When I first stumbled across the phrase 'eco-anxiety,' I thought "Ah ha! That's it! That's what happening to me."
We are so bombarded with news of impending doom that it is inescapable (as it should be). This needs to be forefront in everyone's mind as we reflect on how our own lives and behaviours impact the world around us. We are so overwhelmed by suggestions on how we need to make changes to avert (or mitigate) disaster for future generations. Now that I have two young children, I understand this more deeply and urgently than ever before. There are so many ways in which we can change our daily actions which can result in positive (albeit small) result However, these small changes are cumulative, and when combined with the multiplier effect, can have a very real and very significant impact on climate change. We need to make these changes NOW. The thought of all the little things that we need to do can be paralyzing which results in no action at all.
As a family, we have generated a list of things that we can do or change to reduce our carbon foot print. We are making a lot of little changes that are driven by the Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Rot, Recycle mantra. It's hard changing ingrained behaviour but we have to do it for the future of our planet. Sometimes a little anxiety is necessary to spur this change.
One of the objectives of our garden is to grow organic and non-GMO produce using organic products and practices alongside Integrated Pest Management. We want our garden to feed us clean and healthy foods while keeping it a safe place for kids, pets, birds, insects, and other wildlife. In addition to our vegetable garden, we have an organically grown wildflower bed that is approximately 200 square feet to attract beneficial insects and local songbirds. One of the most beautiful sounds in my garden is the symphony of honeybees and bumblebees congregating in the wildflowers on a warm, sunny day. Bees are critical to our survival and we want to provide them with a healthy habitat and food source.
Growing your own organic food is not just healthy for you and the garden, it is good for the environment. When you grow your own food, you are reducing carbon emissions and potentially reducing adverse commercial growing impacts. Firstly, when you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you need only walk a few paces to gather your meal. Buying produce (fresh or frozen), can have a number of steps involved in the harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation process. You are saving on processing/equipment emissions, plastic packaging, and transportation emissions. Secondly, you are also growing your produce in a manner that does not exploit the land. You are not using synthetic fertilizers and industrial strength pesticides. You are not contributing to foreign countries decimating endangered habitats or foregoing locally necessary crops.
Gardening is not just a hobby. Gardening gives back in more ways than might be apparent at first glance. You can make a real impact on this world by rolling up your sleeves and grabbing a packet of seeds.
You can make a difference.
Seeds, Seeds, Seeds!!!
There are few things more exciting in the dead of winter than the arrival of a seed catalogue! It signals the impending arrival of growing season and encourages daydreaming of all the delicious produce which you will (hopefully!) be pulling from your garden.
My personal favourite catalogue is West Coast Seeds. As it name suggests, it is a seed company based in British Columbia. Its catalogue doesn't just read as an alphbetical list of seeds offered for sale. It is practically a gardening manual! It includes critical information geared toward coastal (~zone 8) growing, with offering for home growers, market growers, and commercial growers alike. It offers and encourages the use of organic and non-GMO seeds, with even some heirloom seed offerings. I purchase the majority of my seeds directly from West Coast Seeds, or their nursery resellers. Thankfully, I live within driving distance to their retail store so that I can show up with my seed list in hand and end up with a bushel of other fantastic must-have gardening items. If you do only one thing to prepare for planting vegetable seeds, I highly recommend picking up or printing a copy of their panting charts. I laminate my copies so that I can bring them in the garden with me, no matter the weather. I also find that I constantly refer to them so this makes them so much more durable. For what it's worth, I have no affiliation (financial or otherwise) with their company. I personally just love the quality of their products and their mission.
In your hunt for the perfect variety for your harvest table, I encourage you to check out and support organic, heirloom, and non-GMO seed growers, These seeds can sometimes take longer to grow or are more susceptible to pests, but the wait and the risk pays off in colour, flavour, and beauty! It is also important to ensure the future of these seed varieties; they don't cater to mass consumption and production of their commercially preferred counterparts (which are often bred or modified for shelf-life, mechanical processing, disease resistance, and uniformity above flavour and nutritional content). You have many options for suppliers within Canada, including Walkerland, Salt Spring Seeds, Heritage Harvest Seeds, and Hawthorne Farm Seeds. Hop on a search engine and you may be able to dig out a few more.
I must confess that I am often guilty of picking seed packets whenever I see a rack of them at a nursery ("did I use all of my arugula seeds...?" or "it's prime time for planting calendula!"), so I find that I have a variety of seed sources by the end of the season. Whenever possible, I try to stick with organic, non-GMO, untreated, or heirloom seeds. If I am going through the effort of growing and babying these beautiful vegetables, I want them to be the highest quality possible. They should be extraordinarily tasty and uncompromisingly healthy for my family and garden. The difference in cost between a generic packet of seeds and a carefully curated selection is minimal in the grand scheme of creating your ideal garden.
Right now, I am sitting at my dining room table in the thick of garden planning. It is only the first week of January but I've already been out in the garden, kids in tow, a few times. I can't wait to start popping some seeds into the soil and watching the magic unfold.
First things to hit the dirt are my artichoke seeds! I'll need to take an inventory of my several seed boxes to see what else I will need to purchase this year. I also try to grow something new each year, so I look forward to getting inspired!
Before you get started, you need to know your hardiness zone as a starting point before growing. Here in the lower mainland, we hover around zone 8. While this is a useful number, it is not the only thing that dictates when or what to grow. Within an average suburban backyard, you are going to potentially have a number of different microclimates. You will need to take into account sun, rain/moisture, soil and wind exposure, as all of these elements are going to affect what you can grow in any given square meter. For example, when the snow falls and the ice melts in my yard, there are areas that stay frozen for much longer than others. Other areas might get little to no snow or ice at all.
The days to maturity indicated on a seed packet are based on optimal conditions. You can expect that your harvest will be delayed (or non-existent!) if your beds are located in a spot that is not ideal for that specific plant. I have fallen into the trap of counting down the days to maturity on a plant only to be disappointed. You can't cheat the system, the plants know if they're not getting what they need! Where I have situated my beds such that they get full sun exposure and they are protected from any biting winds. It also helps that they are raised bed so that they have good drainage and the soil structure and content is easily amendable.
If you are in Canada, I find the information provided by Vesey's Seeds helpful. It shows a hardiness zone map and lists popular AVERAGE (not definitive!) first/last frost dates by province. Again, you can use this information as a guide to determine which plants to include in your garden, when to sow your seeds, and how to protect plants which are marginal in your area.
If you are gardening during the traditional growing season in your area, the first frost date will determine when you should start sow seeds indoors and direct sow in your beds. I find it helpful to have a separate calendar for gardening each year. You can grab an inexpensive one at a dollar store or print your own from an online template. I have my first frost-free week boldly marked in my calendar as if I'm counting down to Christmas! Each week prior to the frost-free, I have it marked to indicate 'frost-free week -1,' 'frost-free week -2,' 'frost-free week -3,' and so on. I list each task I want to accomplish in these weeks leading up to my frost-free date, including the seeds I need to sow and whether they are indoor/outdoor sown. When using seed packets or planting charts, I can quickly and simply pencil in the type of seed on the calendar depending on when it needs to be sown relative to the frost-free date. It sounds more complicated than it is in practice and I find it saves a lot of time to have everything in one place for reference. You probably also find that you have a little extra time on your hands in the dead of winter as you stare longingly through your windows as you plan your garden. If you are really keen in your planning and love taking notes (ahem), you might consider making a small investment in a garden journal which helps you track everything including activities such as sowing, harvesting, and even budgeting.
Below is are two photos of my brand new polytunnels, taken less than 24 hours apart. Oh, what a difference a day makes.
Ok. Now that we've got the basics sorted out, the fun can begin!
This is the inaugural post for my blog. After a decade of puttering in my own garden, I have decided that this is the year that I will be attempting a year-round vegetable gardening. My gardening journey started with containers, evolved into flower beds and borders, and then geared up into self-provision edible gardening. I say self-provision because my garden, while very productive, is no where near to self-sufficient at this point. I have dabbled in food storage and succession planting to extend the time during which we are able to eat delicious, homegrown food. This year, I am going to try to stretch my growing and harvesting season through the winter so that even on the coldest, darkest days of the year I can pluck fresh food from my vegetable patch.
Now, those of you reading this in zone 6a (hello, Toronto!) or zone 3b (shout out to my old hometown, Saskatoon!), you might pooh-pooh this effort as I am spoiled with mild weather in coastal BC. I am eternally grateful for my hardiness zone because it already affords me a generous growing season with no additional equipment. However, we do get freezing temperatures and snow, so a little extra effort and equipment (and TLC!) is necessary for year-round growing. I hope that no matter where you are in Canada or beyond that you are able to find something helpful about the journey that I am about to share with you.
Now, let's DIG in!
A zone 8a gardening enthusiast!