Today, I finally got around to getting my potatoes in the ground. In preparation for planting, I chitted the potatoes for a couple of weeks first. What is chitting you ask? It's a word that you should enunciate very carefully as to not cause confusion. Also, it is a word that describes the process of encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting them. I do this by placing the seed potatoes in an empty cardboard egg carton and arranging them so that they are not touching. I put the egg carton in a sunny warm window until they start to sprout. I have now planted them in the ground, placing them about 3 inches deep, 12 inches apart, with about 24 inches between the rows. I hilled soil between the rows so that I can scrape it over top of the growing plants when they need their first hilling. This will probably be when they are around 6 inches tall. I have reserved additional garden soil and straw for when the time comes. I selected Norland and Yukon potatoes so that I would have versatile red and yellow potatoes that are quite productive and pretty good at storing.
I also have 3 russet potato plants in each of two 20 gallon upcycled nursery pots. I tend to not have as great success with container potatoes, but they still offer a reasonable yield for a small space. I am hoping that since I have not crowded them as much this year, that they will offer a heavier crop. Containers are a great way to add instant capacity to your garden without digging or tilling an in-ground bed (especially when you are working with rock hard clay in the absence of rain.
This post is more for my sake than yours. If you are interested, read below everything that I have in the ground this year (unless otherwise indicated). This gives me a clearer idea of how much food I (hopefully!) will be harvesting over the next several months. It also shows you that it doesn't take a farm to feed a family. You'd be surprised at how much will fit on a suburban lot if you get creative.
All right, here we go...
Sown in the ground, uncovered:
Peas (snap, snow, shell)
In the polytunnels:
Chard (overwintered and newly seeded)
Miniture bell pepper
California Wonder bell pepper
Tomatoes (Roma, cherry, beefsteak)
Melons (cantelope, watermelon)
Squash (butternut, kobocha)
Apple, young honeycrisp, container
Pear, young bartlett, container
Fig, young Ruby, container
Cherry, young Stella, in the ground
Baskets of strawberries (6)
Blueberry shrubs (6)
Raspberry shrubs (3)
Whew! I think that's it for now. I will be adding to this list as the season progresses. These are just all the things that have hit the dirt so far.
I can dig it! So can you.
I have officially begun the journey of actually planting my front yard foodscape. It was only coincidental that we decided to remove the lawn and beds before the coronavirus/COVID pandemic unfolded.
In the days and weeks following the clearing of our yard, the coronavirus pandemic began hit much closer to home. Then the panic buying started at our own grocery stores. Events and vacations were being cancelled. People began to go into self-isolation, hiding from an invisible danger. Soon, we realized the detailed plan for the garden didn't really matter. We had bigger things to deal with. We had to worry about the health and wellness of our family first and foremost. Our lives felt much smaller and more precarious. Schools, community centres, pools, libraries, public services have closed. Access to medical services is narrowing in the face of possible impending healthcare disaster.
I, like many others reading this, have felt overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of grim information and imagery day in and day out. There is a feeling of loss of control in these uncertain times. While social distancing and self-isolating, we are most likely stuck at home. What better thing to do than plant a garden? Working the soil, sowing seeds, and planting flowers, shrubs, and trees are all very therapeutic activities in my books. Fresh air, the elements, and some good old fashioned heavy lifting. You are connected with nature and you feel alive as much as the plants, bugs, birds, and critters around you.
One of my favourite gardening quotes of all time is "to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow" (Audrey Hepburn). Gardeners are hopeful people. You don't plant a seed expecting it to rot; you expect it to grow. Gardening is about hope, patience, optimism, and vision. You plan to be there to watch your garden grow and unfold. Like many people, gardening has helped me through some tough times. I have leaned on it many times throughout the decade that I have been seriously gardening.
Right now, I am leaning on my garden to get me through this. If you are having a hard time right now, I encourage you to do the same. Whether you have a yard, or a balcony, or a plant pot in a window sill, plant a seed and watch it grow. It needs you to be there tomorrow. You will be there tomorrow.
I want to sow a seed of happiness and hope in you. Yes, we are in some very tough and destabilizing times. But I believe in tomorrow. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but when I awake my garden will be there for me.
Oh, and my second favourite gardening quote is "gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes!" (unknown). A very compelling statement indeed!
So, go order some seeds online. You don't even need to leave your house! My favourite source is Westcoast Seeds, based in Ladner, BC.
Have you ever watched the show Doomsday Preppers? Years ago, I watched several episodes which I found both entertaining and enlightening. The show followed individuals who put a great deal of effort and energy into preparing for a number of catastrophic (‘sh*t hits the fan’ = SHTF) world events which would change life as we know it (‘the end of the world as we know it’ = TEOTWAWKI). These people are probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves right now and muttering “I told you so” while sitting on a mountain of toilet paper.
Similar to some of those people (but not in the same extreme), I love being prepared. I love planning and making lists. I meticulously combed through our emergency kits within the last few months and replenished and supplemented our supply. It felt pretty good and gives you a feeling of control when faced with the unknown. And it’s reassuring given our current circumstances that I have these modest supplies in the event of an emergency.
However, one thing you can’t include in an emergency kit? Fresh produce. Yes, fresh food might be considered a non-essential luxury in the event of an emergency. But what about sustained circumstances which impact your food security? I am fortunate to have the confidence in my ability to produce a long growing season of fresh produce. And now that I have polytunnels, hopefully I will have access to fresh food all year-round.
In all likelihood, in most types of emergencies, you will be “bugging in” (I picked up on some of this prepper language!) if it’s safe to do so. That means you’ll be staying home, where your garden is most conveniently located. If you have a productive garden, you can use it as part of your emergency plan. I’ve even seen some “preppers” refer to their garden as their TEOTWAWKI garden. Perhaps not a bad idea.
In my previous post about food security, I described how I was in the midst of changing my garden plans for this year. I am going to try to stuff every reasonable nook and cranny with fruits and vegetables. My front yard foodscaping plan will weigh more heavily on the edible plantings this year. In thinking about my garden over the last few days, I have decided to prioritize FIVE things in particular:
I want to choose varieties that I have planted before and that I know work well for my climate and soil. I want to select things that are tried-and-true so that I can have a greater degree of assurance that it will be a successful harvest.
2) Trouble-free Crops
I want to choose cultivars for pest and disease resistance. I don’t want to lose the time and energy (and soil!) that is put into a flop crop. I don’t feel like I have time to waste
3) Long Harvest Windows
Ideally, I want something that is going to keep on giving. I want to include lots of cut-and-come-again veggies and I want varieties that are going to produce more as you continue to harvest them. I want something I plant at the beginning of the season to produce until it runs out of steam in the fall (wishful thinking).
4) Heavy Yields
I want something that is going to give me the more edible material for the least amount of effort. I want one seed to give me a large crop.
I want to ensure that I select varieties that can be stored long term. I plan on freezing, refrigerating, or self-storing (cellar-style) as much as possible.
Selecting Vegetables for My Emergency Supply Garden
Having said all of the above, I realize that perhaps it might mean that I won’t be planting as many heirlooms or varieties with ornamental value. I will still try to use high-quality non-GMO and organic seeds whenever possible.
So you ask, what are my top picks and why? Well, here we go…
Potatoes: A reliable crop, which is usually trouble-free, with a long harvest window starting with new potatoes, a potentially very heavy yield, and excellent storability with minimal effort depending on variety. I have selected Norland and Yukon Gold. I have a full 4x8 bed set aside for my seed potatoes.
Onions. A reliable crop that is usually unbothered by pests and diseases. The harvest window is short but they can have a very long shelf life if stored correctly. Onions are a versatile vegetable that can be cooked with virtually anything! I selected a variety pack of onion sets (yellow, white, red); I will not be planting from seed due to the extra time and effort.
Peas. Peas are a staple in my house and they are eaten abundantly fresh and frozen. Last spring, I grew enough to eat fresh and sometimes even two meals per day. I plan to freeze extras or give some away if we have an excess. I want cultivars that will grow vertically on trellises to maximize the square footage of my garden. My choices? Oregon Sugar Pod II (snow pea), Super Sugar Snap (snap pea), and Alderman (shell pea), all of which I have grown with great success.
Beans (snap, i.e. long). As with my peas, I want to grow my beans vertically. This means that I will be using pole beans which have a longer harvesting window but they still have heavy yields. My crop last year suffered from bean mosaic virus and stink bug damage, so I’m actually going to try changing the variety in hopes of remedying this. I plan to freeze excess as usual. I have selected Seychelles and Hilda Romano.
Beans (drying). I have not tried growing beans for drying before this year, but I feel like this could be very important for fall and winter protein. They are grown in the same way that snap beans are grown, though they are left to fully mature before harvesting. It is important to note here that drying beans may also be eaten as snap beans if harvested young/immature. I have selected: black turtle, Taylor Horticultural, and Dragon’s Tongue.
Carrots. Depending on the cultivar, carrots can have a long shelf life if stored correctly. I wanted a longer harvest window, so I chose both quick and slower growing varieties. I have selected Bolero (slower growth, longer storage), Nantes, and Napoli (faster growth, better for fresh eating).
Cabbage. This is a new choice for my garden. It is something that can be directly sown in my zone (8a) and stored for longer periods. I am starting with a fast-growing variety (Tiana) and following with a storage variety (Danish Ballhead).
Swiss Chard. Even before this post, I would wax poetic about Swiss chard. It is a cut-and-come-again vegetable which just keeps giving (until November in my garden!). It is a real workhorse in the vegetable patch which doesn’t get as much attention as it should. I have used Ruby Red for the past two years with great success and I will be using it again. I blanch the stems and leaves separately to freeze and they turn out great.
Spinach. Another cut-and-come-again vegetable which can be planted early and keep on giving until the weather gets too warm. Spinach is versatile and very nutritious. It can be blanched and frozen without taking up much freezer space. I prefer Bloomsdale.
Lettuce. Yet another cut-and-come-again vegetable. I find Coastal Star tolerant of a range of temperatures and slow to bolt. It is a pretty resistant variety of romaine, which I find doesn’t get a buggy or sluggy as other lettuce.
Tomatoes. I want versatility in my tomatoes. I want cherry tomatoes for eating fresh, and I want Roma for slicing, stewing/sauces, roasting, and freezing. I don’t want a fussy indeterminate variety as I don’t want my time occupied by staking, training, and pruning. I want determinate varieties; Tiny Tim and Roma are what I have selected.
Squash (winter). I have selected to include winter squash, rather than summer squash, for their storability. Squash take up a lot of space, especially the vining/trailing varieties. I have chosen buttercup (First Taste), butternut (Waltham), and pumpkin (Early Sweet Sugar Pie). I am probably going to have to add these to my front yard to give them the space they need.
Parsnips. These will serve as my fall root vegetables that can be stored in-place in the garden, or in a root cellar. I have selected Hollow Crown.
Rutabaga. As with parsnips, these will be one of the root vegetables that I will be growing for fall harvest and beyond. They keep well in the garden or a root cellar. I have selected Laurentian.
Turnip. Yet another long-storage root vegetable. I have selected Purple Top White Globe.
Parsley. Parsley is easy to grow and it produces plentiful foliage for a very long period. The best part? It is highly storable once dried and sealed properly. It can be used to season pretty much any vegetable dish. This is a decadent add-on.
Garlic. Along with parsley, garlic is not a necessity (though some might argue that!) but it is versatile and stores well. It is very low maintenance, just set it and forget it. For those reasons, I will also ensure that I include more garlic this year.
And there we have it. These are the vegetables that I will really be throwing my efforts behind this year. I will be growing a variety of other things (especially because I already have them growing) but I want to make sure that I baby these crops.
In addition to these vegetables, I also have a number of fruit trees which I will ensure that I give some extra TLC so that I can maximize my harvests.
Have a look at your access to outdoor spaces. Do you have a deck or balcony which can fit several pots or containers? Do you have space for raised beds in a yard? Can you plant vegetables in your existing beds and borders? Do you have access to a community garden or friend’s or family member’s garden? You may have multiple options for finding and using outdoor spaces for growing. Once you find a space, you can make a plan. The sooner you make a plan, the sooner you are going to be eating your own fruits and vegetables and improving your food security.