Archive for June, 2009

Replanting in the Garden

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

One way to harvest a great deal of food from a small space is to replant several sections of your garden in June, July and August.  My garden is only 300 square feet, which translates into 4 beds that are each 15 feet long.  In April I plant a bed with peas and a bed with salad greens, spinach, lettuce, beets, green onions, and endive.  In May I plant a bed with some beans and more of all the same salad vegetables.   Without replanting, that would leave me with only one bed for the rest of the summer.  Hard to imagine that I can grow enough to feed my family into November in that one bed. Hence the replanting, which I thought I would talk about in some detail.

If I look at the April beds around the first week of June, the peas are just flowering and will be in the garden for at least another few weeks.  But in the “salad bed”, the greens and the spinach have been finished for some time now.  The greens were dug under and the spinach plants pulled and put on the compost.  The remaining lettuce, beets, green onions and endive are all ready and somehave been harvested and others are still waiting.  This bed is perfect for planting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini in.  In the space that is wide open – where the spinach and greens were – it is easy to see how to replant this area.  Neither tomatoes nor peppers need a great deal of compost so the whole bed does not need to be composted.  It is enough to put a small shovelful with each individual plant.  The rest of the bed calls for what I call ’strategic harvesting and planting’.  Harvest your salad vegetables so that there are gaps between what is left in the garden.  So say you have a section of lettuce – harvest every second one.  The space that is made available between them, assuming they are 1 foot apart, is about 2 feet.  Perfect to fit a small cucumber plant where that lettuce was just taken from.  Use a hand shovel to work the area up and again, add some compost before you plant the seedling.  By the time those cucumbers start to grow and sprawl, the rest of the lettuce will have been harvested.  I do this with all of this section of my garden and fit my cucumbers and zucchini into my strategically harvested blank spaces.

There is still a fourth bed that is open and that I use to plant my June salad bed – lots of basil, some dill and coriander, some more beans, and the usual flat of lettuce, green onions, beets, endive, and fennel transplants.

I try to start a flat of what I call ’salad vegetables’ every month.  In July I will plant that flat in the area that the peas were growing in.  They are usually finished in my garden by mid July.  The advantage of starting your lettuces, etc. in flats is that if the peas are still producing, you can delay the transplanting for a week or two.  Finally, the bed that was planted in May with salad vegetables and beans can be replanted in early August with more salad vegetables, some salad greens, lots of spinach and some more herbs.

My last planting is in early September – I find a blank space and plant a 6-8 foot section of salad greens.  As long as they go in by the end of the first week of September here in southern Ontario, they will produce a long harvest that will often last into November or early December.  Lots of food from a very small space!

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.