Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mama Bean feels her thumb turning green, it must be Spring!

When we moved to the Prairie Valley City, we knew we wanted to grow our own vegetables. This would require a sufficiently large yard, which is fairly easy to find here. You wouldn't think that, to hear PVC residents tell it. They complain about how small 50x100 (or more) city lots are. I hate to think what they'd say about the 40x80 lot we left behind in Cowtown. Every time I look into the yard of our 50x120 lot here, I feel an abundance of lawn. In fact, I call it my laaaaaaaaaaaaawn.

The previous owner grew a variety of perennial flowers - beautiful lilies, peonies, and hostas. The latter do not thrive in Cowtown's drier climate, which is just one example of the relative fertility difference between the two locales. My impression, growing up, was that growing vegetables took a lot of work, especially things like tomatoes. They needed water and pampering and special houses and backbreaking, heartbreaking labour. In this province, that just didn't seem to be the case. Put a seed in the nutrient-overloaded soil and leave it alone. This area is wet enough to avoid much additional watering. We were super excited to take advantage of these glorious conditions.

We constructed a 4x12 raised bed in our yard, with plans to build two more when we could afford them. Then our neighbour told us we could join the Community Horicultural Society, which operates community plots about ten blocks away from us. He has been a member for over 30 years - he was totally our in, smoothed the way for us to get a choice plot of our own. 30x60 - it's more square footage of growing space than our house, for only $25/year plus $8 for the society membership.

Last summer was a terrible growing season. Cold spring, with a fast thaw, a late final frost the first weekend of June, and a strange combination of flooding but not much precipitation through June, the crucial month of sprouting when extra water would have actually been helpful. Then constant unremitting rain from July to August. It was a tough season for n00bs to be learning how to garden, but learn we did. We even harvested some vegetables!Things we won't grow again (this year, at least):
  • radishes (too spicy, wormy)
  • asian watermelon radishes (super wormy, taste gross)
  • turnips (not for our palates)
  • garlic (didn't grow, fall-planted sets would be better, garlic greens are delicious beyond belief)
  • scarlet runner beans (didn't bloom well, and we didn't eat them)
  • mesclun (turns out Papa Bean is a lettuce wimp, doesn't like anything too bitter or flavourful, must choose mild lettuces)
  • watermelon (melons do grow here, short season varieties, but the seedling we started early froze, and the direct-sown plants didn't have enough time or heat to flower, let alone fruit)
  • broccoli (our seedlings froze, not enough time for direct-sown plants to make good heads, what grew was bitter)
  • cauliflower (seedling froze, direct-sown plants didn't get anywhere)
  • corn (tiny ears, not tasty, poor season last year, nutritionally demanding, not worth it)
  • spaghetti squash (Papa Bean didn't like the taste, not as versatile as other squash)
Things we will grow again:
  • beets (yummy sweet, good for Bean)
  • onion sets (didn't grow very big, fall-planted sets would be better, but very tasty)
  • carrots (primarily imperator varieties this year, Nantes types are not as successful in our clay soil, purple carrots are fun to grow)
  • potatoes (not many harvested per plant, but the potato beetles were a scourge last year, will be more aggressive with them this year, probably red and yellow varieties)
  • peas (sugar snap, the kind with an edible pod)
  • bush beans (green or yellow wax like last year, and maybe a more exotic variety)
  • lettuce (not leaf lettuce again, hearting varieties like a Bavarian summertime or buttercrunch)
  • spinach (Papa Bean doesn't like it, I love it, hopefully Bean will too)
  • cucumbers (grow like gangbusters here, can't wait for more)
  • yellow zucchini (mild flavour, thin skinned, amazing in baked goods)
  • tomatoes (mostly snack varieties this year, maybe Early Girl for canning/freezing, Papa Bean doesn't eat them raw, only in sauces/salsa, so I'm going to put more in jars this year)
  • peppers (did surprisingly well last year, will try some sweet and some chile/banana plants again)
  • thyme, sage and basil (thyme and sage dried well, great on roasts, didn't harvest basil early enough, will make pesto this year)
Things we are growing for the first time:
  • soybeans (edamame)
  • giant pumpkin (another hobby for Papa Bean, his goal is a 100 lb squash this year)
  • cantaloupe (better for our climate than watermelon, will start very early and keep in the raised bed at home, which will have warmer soil)
  • cabbage
  • chard (our garden neighbour gave us some to try, and I loved it, hopefully Bean will too)
  • butternut and acorn squash
  • cilantro (if I see plants at a good price)
  • mint (in particular, a chocolate mint variety that smells delicious)
We have some homemade compost and sheep manure to spread for the squashes and cantaloupe in the raised bed at home. These are heavy feeders, and the melon will need extra water, plus the warmer soil will encourage them. We intend to trellis one side of the bed for the squash to climb. We will also try a weed guard fabric, which serves a double purpose of heating the soil surface.

We did not amend the soil in the community plot at all last year, just wanted to see what it was capable of unaided, as it were. This year we'll add sheep manure for nutrients, peat for moisture control and to deal with the clay, plus a mineral product called clay buster sold by a local greenhouse. Papa Bean tilled the dirt by hand last year, but we will get it motor tilled this year, to help incorporate the additions. Also, going slightly less organic than last year, we will probably kill the crab grass patch in the middle of our plot with Round Up, several weeks before we start seeding. This stuff is impossible to eradicate by hand, and I hope we only have to use the herbicide one or two years. Anyway, that was a bunch of boring detail to document, in essence, that I'm super excited about our garden this year!


  1. Love your blog. Very "from the heart" - and much less "mommy blogger".

    Keep up the good work/play!

  2. Y'all need to come visit me and help me start a small garden.

    Every year I try peppers and tomatoes (allegedly easy to grow here) and EVERY YEAR I get tomato worms LIKE WHOA.

    I'm a lettuce wimp too. I knew there were many levels where me and your hubby connected. :P

  3. exactly the info I was craving. And versatile, what a great word. :)