Archive for the ‘Organic Gardening’ Category

April Eating and Gardening

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Spring has been wonderfully early here in Southern Ontario and most people feel that we are about 3 weeks ahead of schedule in the garden.  It is still a challenging time to eat seasonally but I do find that there is a surprising amount of food, one just has to be creative.

Here is a list of what I have available to me

  • carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes in my root cellar
  • one last butternut squash
  • mung bean and alfalfa sprouts in jars on my counter
  • sorrel, chives and garlic chives in my herb bed
  • kale and green onions in the garden -  I plant about 12 bunches of green onions in August specifically to leave in the ground over the winter, they survive almost every year without any special care.  Kale always comes back as small leaves on the larger plants that were in the garden in the fall.
  • Spinach in the garden – last August I planted an 8 x 4 foot bed of spinach and harvested it throughout the fall.  I made sure that I left 5 or 6 leaves on each plant in November and then covered it with about 6″ of straw.  This spring about 2/3 of the bed had survived and I have been eating spinach salads for about a week now.
  • Garlic in the garden – I always plant about 50 cloves of garlic in the fall specifically for spring eating.  They too are mulched with straw in November/December and most of them survive.  This garlic I eat like a green onion, harvesting the whole shoot when it is about 8-10″ tall.
  • Buckwheat and Sunflower seed sprouts that I make in trays of soil and grow under lights or in a sunny window.  These sprouts do require soaking and are then broadcast in about 1/2″ of soil.  (See the March chapter of From Seed to Table for detailed instructions).
  • Jerusalem Artichokes in the garden

So, that is the list.  So far this month we have enjoyed baked squash, raw carrots, Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Soup, Pasta with garlic, green garlic, and chives, stir fries with carrots, onions, and mung bean sprouts, egg salad sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts, spinach and sunflower sprout salads with hardboiled eggs, feta, mushrooms, and/or toasted sunflower seeds,  fish in a wonderful sorrel sauce, Vietnamese Fresh Rolls with buckwheat sprouts, julienned carrots, and chives  – a new invention and very yummy, and lots of mixed bean salads with red onions, chives, garlic, and garlic chives.  I seem to have problems getting to the kale!  When I finish writing this blog I am heading out for some wild leeks for this weekend’s supper.

If you are planting a garden, there are many things that can go in in April.  Green onions, more green garlic, radishes, peas – shell, snow, and sugar snap, salad greens, lettuce, spinach, and beets all can be planted and don’t mind a few frosty nights.  I like to start green onions, lettuce, spinach and beets in flats indoors in mid March so I get a head start on the growing season.  The other way that I speed up my harvest is to cover my April planting with a layer of floating row cover.  This cover is available from Seed catalogues and will warm your soil up by about 4 degrees celcius.  I find it works better than a cold frame and speeds up my harvest by about 3 weeks.  Nothing grows quickly in cool soils!  Around now I like to start another flat of lettuce, endive, beets, fennel, and green onions to be planted in the garden mid May.

So surprisingly lots to eat and a few hours worth of planting for April – all in all a great month!

Why is growing our own food so important?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Someone once said that you could solve 95% of the world’s problems if you addressed the issues surrounding food.  As I thought about this statement, I began to see all of the aspects of our life that food touches.  I thought about greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, waste issues, obesity, stress, degenerative diseases, poverty and loss of access to land and water in developing countries, genetically modified organisms, corporate control  – the list just kept on getting bigger.  The ways in which we set up our systems of food production governs much of the way that our society, and the societies that we trade with, function.  So, it would follow that if we changed our relationship with food, we could begin to reshape our society and address the problems that we face.

A century ago, almost everyone knew how to grow something, growing food and harvesting and storing it were very much part of day to day life and therefore part of a person’s education.  Often the academic year was arranged around the growing season, to allow children to help with the work on the farm.  Food was relatively simple, unprocessed and unpackaged.  But food production has become big business and today fewer and fewer people are actually involved in the whole process.  This has led to several generations of people who have very little understanding of their relationship to food or to the land that grows it.  I also believe it has led to a host of very poor environmental decisions that are beginning to have real consequences.

As an organic market gardener, one of my first real lessons in understanding consequences came when I was faced with an outbreak of cucumber beetles.  These tiny beetles are very fast and hard to catch, and they can easily destroy young cucumber plants.  I remember going to the local farm co-op store and looking at the remedies – this was before they had organic insecticides.  I read the labels, looked at the price (very high), and actually bought a container of something and brought it home.  Then I went out into the garden and as I worked I thought about the chemical, about the whole physical action of putting it on my cucumber plants, and then finally about harvesting those cucumbers and feeding them to my family.  I realized that the chemical insecticide was just not an option.  I think we lost most of that cucumber crop, but there were lots of other things to eat, and the next year we paid far more attention to the growing conditions for cucumbers.

Growing one’s own food also brings up many questions concerning value.  Science, technology, and industry have replaced so much of what was once an inherent part of human existence with artificial alternatives.  Why would anyone grow a head of lettuce when it can be bought for 60 cents at the grocery store?  Having grown my own food for 25 years now, I would ask why anyone would want to forego the experience of harvesting and eating something they have grown themselves for something that has no connection to their own life.  Taste and quality are definitely superior, but more than that, it is the satisfaction and the richness that gardening brings to my life that cannot be replaced.  In harvesting my own food year after year, I feel the sun, the wind, the soil.  I also feel deeply grateful for all that the earth has provided.  Somewhere along the way I have made a big shift from thinking that I grew my own food to realizing that what I am doing is caring for this miracle that is the soil and in doing so, am blessed with abundance.  For me, this is a way of knowing and of being in the world that comes only through thoughtful and mindful work in nature.  I also believe that it is the foundation for the kind of earth centered philosophy that we need so badly if we are to preserve this planet for future generations.

Turnip recipes and seed catalogues

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

For those of you who are trying to eat more seasonal meals this winter, I thought I would share a few recipes.  I have been trying to find more ways to use turnip – it is a great winter vegetable but one that can be harder to get people to like.  I find it always tastes nice cooked with equal parts carrots and then mashed, with butter and salt and pepper.  But recently I have found a few interesting recipes that both children and adults have seemed to like.

Oriental Turnip Fries

  • 4 cups turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4″ by 2″ matchsticks
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2-3 tsp tamari or soy sauce

In a large cast iron pan warm the sesame oil over medium heat.  Add the turnip and saute for 3-5 minutes.   Add about 1/3 cup of water and place a lid on the pan.  Steam the turnip fries until tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and let the water evaporate.  Add the tamari or soy sauce and saute another few minutes.  Serves 4-6.

Mashed Turnip and Potato

  • 4 cups turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4″ chunks
  • 2 cups potato, peeled and cut into 3/4″ chunks
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (this is why kids like this recipe!)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper

Place the turnip in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.  Add the potato and more water if necessary and boil until both the potato and turnip are tender, about 15 minutes.  (The turnip takes longer to cook than the potato so that is why I cut it into smaller chunks and also why I cook it slightly longer).   When tender, drain the water and add the butter and cream.  Using a hand blender or potato masher, puree until smooth.  Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.  Serves 4.

I was also given some golden beets and decided to make a grated beet and carrot salad.  I wanted a different dressing than my usual oil and vinegar and so came up with this one:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tamari sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp honey
  • 1 large clove garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

The ginger and rice vinegar flavours seemed to work well with the salad.

And finally on the subject of seed catalogues…

Canadian Organic Growers is a great place to get inspiration for gardening.  Membership is $40 per year (www.cog.ca) and includes a quarterly magazine as well as a monthly enewsletter.  It is a great way to stay current on what is happening in agriculture, and has many great articles for both commercial and home gardeners.  It also has an  extensive lending library which is free to members.  The Winter 2010 magazine has articles on growing garlic from bulbils and on saving seed.  There is also a comprehensive directory of seed sources for organic growers  – seven pages of small and large seed companies.  One that was recently recommended to me and which I think is worth checking out is the Cottage Gardener, one of the few smaller organic seed companies that offers seed in both packet sizes and larger quanties.  (www.thecottagegardener.com).

Best wishes for a happy rest of the winter.

Time to order some seed catalogues

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Happy New Year to all.  I find it interesting how one’s energy can follow the seasons – as the light levels go down and we approach the winter solistice it seems as there is little thought of starting new projects.  But once we emerge from those really short days and find the beginning of January, it feels like enthusiasm and energy return.

So, for those of you contemplating a garden this year, I would really encourage you to go online and order some seed catalogues.  While it is possible to buy all of your seeds from gardening and hardware stores, you will find that seed companies offer a far greater variety of both vegetable varieties and package sizes.

Canadian seed companies seems to come in several different sizes, each with advantages and disadvantages.  The larger seed companies include Stokes, William Dam, the Ontario Seed Company and Dominion Seed House.  These larger seed companies all publish beautiful colour catalogues that they will send out for free.  Generally larger seed companies give a much better catalogue description of the vegetables that they are selling, in terms of taste, days to maturity, productivity, disease resistance, etc.  They also sell their seeds in many different package sizes, from packets to kilograms.  This allows one to purchase larger quantities of seeds, which is far more economical for vegetables such as salad greens, peas, and beans.    To their disadvantage, some of their seeds are often treated with a fungicide (to prevent rotting during germination – something that I have never found to be a problem.  Also they offer only a limited number of organically grown seeds.    By far the best larger seed company that I have found is Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine.  While it is an American company, it is committed to providing a very high percentage of organically grown seeds, many of them older heirloom varieties.  The quality of their seed, in terms of germination rates and longevity of the seed, is the best that I have ever found.

There are many smaller Canadian seed companies that publish very simple, black and white catalogues.  These companies are generally committed to selling only open pollinated (i.e no hybrids) and organically grown seeds.  What I have found to be the biggest disadvantage with these smaller companies is the lack of description in their catalogues.  So while they may sell several varieties of peas or carrots, there is very little information about taste, days to maturity, etc.   As well, the seeds are generally only sold in one size which is a small packet size.   Some of the smaller Canadian seed companies include Greta’s Organic Gardens. Prairie Grown Seeds, Terra Edibles, Salt Spring Seeds, West Coast Seeds and Full Circle Seeds.   Salt Spring Seeds is run by Dan Jason who has worked for several decades now to develop varieties of grains, dry beans, and pulses such as lentils, suitable for growing in Canada.  He also specializes in many varieties of garlic.

If you have the time, order a few seed catalogues in the next few weeks, they are wonderful for dreaming about spring and the seeds that they have to sell are far more interesting than those sold on racks at grocery, hardware, and gardening stores.

Wrapping up the year

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

I haven’t felt that there has been much for me to write about in the last few months – my apologies.  My planting for the year is finished and I have been trying to make what produce  is left in the garden survive as long as possible.  It is surprising how long one can harvest food from a garden, especially if the fall is reasonably mild.

Winter hit southern Ontario on Tuesday, December 8th.  Up until that time we had had many frosts but nothing drastic and no snow.  In my garden I managed to prolong the harvest of beets, green onions, spinach, kale, swiss chard, parsley and salad greens.  I served my last spinach salad yesterday, December 9 to friends.  This year I have covered the spinach with a thick layer of straw and I am hoping that much of it will survive the winter and grow again in the spring.  Over wintering of vegetables is really worth trying to do, as it means there are full sized salad leaves for the picking by late April.  If this snow melts soon, I may be able to cut the last of my salad greens and have a few more salads.  Nevertheless, salad from the garden in the first week of December is very impressive and really does show that we have potential to do so much.

For the most part I am beginning to eat from my cold room.  I stocked that in early November with 2 bushels of potatoes, 2 bushels of carrots, 6 large cabbage, 8 turnips, 2 bushels of onions, 1/2 bushel of leeks, 1/2 bushel of parsnips, 1/2 bushel of beets, and about 3 dozen garlic bulbs.  It is amazing how well this all stores, even though there is nothing fancy about my little cold space.  It is located in an unfinished basement, insulated from the rest of the room and at the end furthest away from the furnace.  I make a trip to a local organic farmer and buy all of these vegetables at once – my Honda Civic  struggles under the weight but we manage.  I find that leeks and beets do not keep as well as my other vegetables so I work at eating these first.  The rest really do well into late March and often into April and May.  I store my carrots in damp sand and have often had wonderfully crisp and sweet carrots in late May and early June.  Sometimes I wonder why such simple solutions have been forgotten.

In an email newsletter entitled Good Food Nation I see that MIT researchers think that America’s obesity epidemic can be reversed via ‘foodsheds’.  Essentially this means that we should eat food that is grown within a certain distance of our home.  By doing this we would find that our diets would change from processed and packaged foods to foods that are healthier and also more affordable.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 90% of American foods are processed.  Eating food that is locally grown and comes to us through farmers markets and local stores, would in essence mean a shift to far more fruit and vegetables, and a shift away from sending those fruit and vegetables elsewhere for processing.  Sounds like a good idea.

Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemna has voiced support for the idea of building regional foodsheds.  By creating a regional system of food distribution, transportation costs can be reduced, making nutritious foods cheaper.  Studies show that locally grown fruit and vegetables travel an average of 56 miles, while imported fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1500 miles.  In this issue, it never seems to fail that an analysis of the numbers reveals some pretty shocking information.   Pollan also lends his support to the idea of individuals growing some of their own food in their own gardens, noting that the Victory Gardens of World War II supplied over 40% of U.S. fruit and vegetables.  This is quite significant and hopefully all of you that are reading this blog will be thinking about their gardening plans for next year!  Send away for some seed catalogues – I recommend William Dam and Johnny’s among the larger companies as well as many of the small, organic seed companies that have sprung up over the last few decades.  Just google ‘organic seed companies’ and your area and see where the search takes you.

Extending the Fall Garden

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

As the weather begins to get colder, there are many ways in which one can protect the fall garden and extend the harvest into December and sometimes even January.

The floating row cover is usually my first line of defence against early and light frosts.  The row cover is an extrembely lightweight blanket made of spun polypropylene, a bit like a light fabric interfacing.  It comes in different widths and is placed directly over the garden.  It provides four degrees of frost protection while allowing the rain through and 80% of the sunlight.  In the spring it works to protect small seedlings  from frost and to speed growth.  In the fall it provides about 4 degrees of frost protection.  I buy my row cover from Stokes Seeds in St. Catherines, Ontario.  There are many different weights and widths available, their product is light enough that you do not need to raise it off the plants with hoops and comes in a 5′ width which works perfectly for my 4′ wide beds.

If you are using the row cover to protect low lying plants such as lettuce, you can probably anchor the cover with a few strategically placed rocks.  If you are covering larger plants such as tomatoes or peppers you pretty well have to drape it over the plants and hope that the night is not too windy.  Luckily frosty nights usually are relatively still.

Often there are light frosts in September and October.  A light frost means that the temperature goes slightly below zero, maybe 2 or 3 degrees.  Vegetables such as lettuce, salad greens, beets, carrots, cabbage, and kale will easily survive a light frost, without any protection.  It is the more tender vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and basil that need protection – often covering with the row cover can mean a month to 6 weeks longer of harvest. Once the nights get colder, below -4C, I find it is hard to protect these tender plants and I allow nature to take its course.

My next category of frost is the medium frost, this means that the night time temperature will drop to between -4C and -8C.  For these nights, I use the floating row cover to protect all of my salad vegetables, beets, swiss chard, cabbage, and kale.  Root crops such as carrots and parsnip will not be affected by this kind of frost, and in fact, their flavour sweetens considerably after several frosts.

As the weather gets colder, I try to save as much as I can in the garden by using a double layer of floating row cover.  Then I pull out some old sheets bought at second hand stores.  These are arranged as puffily as possible to trap air and insulate the plants.  It is important not to leave these covers on during the day as your vegetables will start to suffer.  Straw is another nice insulator and can be hilled around the base of kale plants to help them survive some very cold frost.  I also like to place a light layer of straw over spinach and swiss chard in the hopes that these plants will survive the winter and regrow in the spring.  Kale and Swiss chard are perhaps the two hardiest green vegetables in my garden, and I have often harvested them well into December and sometime again in January if there is a thaw.

note – I do not write about cold frames, which can be used to successfully protect lettuce, endive, beets, etc. into December, mainly because I have seen too many cold frames left out after the first snow and in the spring there is a mess of broken glass on the garden.  Also, if at all possible, do not leave the floating row cover out all winter – it usually disintegrates and is no longer usable.  Row cover that is stored inside can last 5 or 6 years.

Why I like transplants so much

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

In From Seed to Table I try to make a pretty strong case for making transplants as much as possible in one’s garden.  I start making my first transplants in March, when I start tomatoes and peppers as well as a large flat of early spinach, lettuce, green onions, beets, and endive.  I also like to start any brassicas and squash family plants a few weeks early and then transplant them into the garden.  There are many advantages to transplants – an earlier harvest, good germination, seedlings that are a few weeks ahead of the weeds and better able to cope with pests, eliminating the need for thinning later on, to name a few.

But what really makes a difference for me in having a steady supply of vegetables all summer long is that I also make a flat of ’salad’ transplants around the middle of every month from April to August.  These are some combination of salad vegetables and greens – kale, swiss chard, basil, spinach, lettuce, endive, green onions, beets, fennel, collards, this year I tried cutting celery.  The flat holds 48 cells and I fill it with whatever combination of vegetables takes my fancy.  By making this one flat every month, I know that I will have a small but steady supply of vegetables that mature evenly throughout the summer.   I find it easier to discipline myself to start the flat than to direct seed in the garden every month.  But more importantly, I don’t have to worry about watering and getting seeds to germinate in the garden, instead I have a small tray to keep moist and care for once the transplants are up.  I can keep the transplants in the tray anywhere from three to five weeks, depending on how busy I am and also on the weather.  And almost every transplant that I put in the garden matures into something that I can harvest.

These past few weeks in Southern Ontario have brought home to me the benefits of transplants.  In early August I started my last ’salad’ tray – a flat with only spinach in it.  The seeds were up within about 5 days of planting and I moved them outside to a small structure – I call it a mini greenhouse – that I use for my transplants.  Then we had our first real heat wave of the summer,  which lasted about 10 days.  During this time I was able to move the flat to a shady area in the heat of the day and one quick pass with a mister and it was well watered every day.  To me, this is so much easier than caring for small plants in a garden space.  Now that the heat is over, I can transplant them on a rainy day and they will hopefully thrive without much care.

I try to help people to grow a lot of food in a small space without too much work. For me, once you are in the habit of making transplants, they are quick and easy to do and make for a much more successful garden.

Last kick at the can for fall vegetables

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I start my last major flat of transplants before the middle of July.  These are planted in the garden in early August and mature towards the end of September.  Many of these vegetables will keep their quality, without growing bigger, through into November.  This timing works for me in Southern Ontario at around 45 latitude.  The big factor in the timing is the way in which growth rates are affected by the decreasing light levels.  You want your plants to mature to full size but not to grow past full size and begin to bolt – if I plant one week earlier or later, then either of these scenarios are what happens.  If I plant between the 10-15 of July, I generally find that they grow to be just right (said the little bear!)

I like to start lettuce, endive, kale, beets, and green onions.  Often I will try a few broccoli as well.  Sometimes I have wonderful luck with fall broccoli – with nice heads and side shoots into December.  Multi-plant tranpslants are desribed in detail in the March chapter of my book – for green onions each transplant cell holds 8-10 green onions and is planted out as 1 bunch.  Try to do 1-2 dozen transplant cells of green onions as these will grow into the fall and easily survive the winter.  They are then up and growing in early April and ready to harvest in May – far earlier than any that are seeded indoors in spring.

Other plants that will often survive the winter and provide some early greens are spinach and kale.  I like to direct seed spinach into my garden in early August, again going for a large planting.  The area that my peas occupied is now open and so there is ample room for a second crop of something here.  Try putting a light mulch of straw on half of the spinach plants in late fall and see if these survive better than those that are not mulched.  Kale does not need any special care, it is always a dependable early spring plant in my garden.  If you let it, will go to seed in its second year. sometime in early June.  I have two plants in seed in my garden this year, the seed pods are fully formed right now and will dry over the next month or so.  They can then be harvested and stored – one or two plants allowed to go to seed with provide you with enough seed to last many years – it is one of the easiest seeds to harvest and will maybe get you wanting to learn more.

Fertility in the Garden

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

As part of the work that I do I teach a series of nine monthly workshops that are essentially based on the material in From Seed to Table. I have about a dozen people in each workshop and once a month I bring a meal of local and seasonal foods, we eat together, talk about gardening, and then have a small discussion on a related environmental topic.  The workshops are hosted at someone’s house – they provide the space, dishes and tea and coffee, and a vacant garden.  In return the host gets the workshop for free and, along with the other participants, I plant their garden.  Through the course of the workshops we watch it grow, and eat from its harvest.  I really enjoy these workshops, both because I have met many wonderful people but also because it is really rewarding to see how much people love to grow their own food.  People seem absolutely thrilled by the whole process.

As a total aside – I do think that growing one’s own food is an integral part of our humanity, an essential part of life.  I think that over the past 60 years we have had so many of our essential tasks taken from us by science and by business, tasks such as growing food, cooking food, caring for and feeding our children, and understanding our own health.  I am not quite sure why we have embraced science and professionalism quite the way we have – to the extent that we have lost our own power and knowledge – perhaps our ancestors experiences during the war and the depression were so difficult that they were happy to have someone else ‘take charge’.  But what I see is that many of us feel empty without these tasks and find incredible fulfillment is rediscovering them.  It always brings me joy to hear the excitement that people get when they harvest those first garden vegetables, the pride they have in what they have done.  It reaffirms my belief that growing and nurturing are so important for human health and for the health of this planet.

Back to the original point of this Blog!!!

In our workshop last week my hosts showed me their 500 or so square foot garden.  The section that we had planted in April looked beautiful, lush and green, with peas, salad greens, green garlic, lettuces, and beets.  However the rest of the garden looked somewhat sad.  When we talked about it, it turned out that the April bed had been fertilized with quite a few bags of purchased sheep manure.  The remainder of the garden was fertilized with some compost from a nearby horse farm.  My host said she felt that the compost ‘did not look quite right’ – good for her for understanding her intuition.  She showed me the remainder of the pile and it certainly did not look that good.  There were no worms in the pile and the colour was dull.  To me it looked like a pile of decomposed shavings with some manure in it – which it probably was.  I ride horses and get most of my manure from horses, but I do know that different stables have vastly different management practices.  Some are very frugal with the shavings that they use for bedding, so the poop to bedding ratio is high and others throw away a large amount of shavings for a small amount of manure.

There were many parts to this learning experience.  First of all, look for healthy compost, dark and rich with lots of life in it.  Second of all – at least in my part of Southern Ontario – it is almost impossible to find  animal compost that does not have shavings as the bedding.  Shavings do not provide the dark, rich compost that straw or grass does.  Similarly, many municipal compost facilities provide compost that is very high in leaf matter, again this lightens up the soil but it does not provide much in the way of nutrients.  Both shavings and leaf matter are acidic, and eventually they lower the pH of your soil to where it is not optimum for growing vegetables.  You can compensate for this by adding agricultural lime to your soil, but in my opinion, you are still undermining the overall health of your soil.

So what is the answer here.  For years I brought home shavings and manure which I added to my compost along with straw and kitchen and garden waste but I began to see a change in the look of my soilI.  I now only bring home the poop, but this means I do not get any urine in my compost mix – a major source of nitrogren.  Anyone who I have seen that has used the purchased sheep manure has had a beautiful and bountiful garden, but this can cost a significant amount of money each year.  And organic farmers, as well as many conventional farmers, know that their manure is valuable stuff and needed on their own fields.  As more and more people begin to grow some of their own food, where will we find an economic and viable source of fertility?  At the rist of being controversial, I would argue that we need to think about human waste.  If organic farming is about closing the nutrient cycle and recycling nutrients, then we as a culture have ignored one huge part of the nutrient cycle.  We mix our own compost with toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and water and send it out into the oceans, instead of returning it to the ground where it belongs.  Composting toilets, anyone?

The June Garden

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I really try to spread my work load out over the summer and so I wait until June to plant my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini.  It is only a small kitchen garden, but nevertheless, it does even things out somewhat.  I also find that temperatures in May are still erratic and this year  has been unusually cool.  So, by keeping my transplants in a small glass frame, they grow much better than they would in the garden.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my gardening dilemnas – I no longer live on a 50 acre farm but on a tiny lot with no backyard other than a steep limestone bank.  So my garden is confined to about 300 square feet of my front lawn in front of my shed.  It would be tempting to dig up the lawn in front of my house, but I think my children would disown me.  The point of all this rambling?  Well, the point is that there are only 4 beds in my garden.  The first bed has shell peas in it.  The second has my April planting of greens, spinach, radishes, green onions, lettuce and beets, and the third has my May planting of greens, spinach, lettuce, endive, beets, beans, etc.  There is one bed left open but I want to plant salad vegetables, more beans and some herbs as well as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini.

The challenge is to find a place for 2 beds in my June planting.  The peas are still growing and won’t be finished until the end of June or early July and the May planting is still small.  But April’s spinach and salad greens are finished and the rest of the bed is steadily being harvested.  So the trick is to reuse this April bed even though it is not completely finished.  In the space that the greens and spinach occupied, dig it all under and compost any larger plants.  Replant this area with tomatoes and/or peppers.  In the rest of the space, leave what is there and plant strategically where there are gaps.  All of your peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers are still relatively small and can fit in the small spaces that you picked green onions or lettuce from.  Later, when they begin to grow, all of your April harvest will be finished.

Add a small amount of compost to the area where each plant is to go, but don’t worry about fertilizing the whole bed.  Tomatoes and peppers do not like a lot of compost – they will grow into huge bushy plants but will not produce much fruit.  Cucumbers and zucchini can use about a shovelful of compost for each plant – they do like the fertility.

In this way, you can get far more out of your small garden space while maintaining a far smaller garden throughout the year.